The Dishcast with Andrew Sullivan

By Andrew Sullivan

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 Dec 12, 2021


 Oct 30, 2020

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Unafraid conversations about anything

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Episode Date
Ben Appel On Woke And Christian Cults
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This is a free preview of a paid episode. To hear more, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com

After working as a hairstylist for over a decade, Ben got a creative writing degree from Columbia University and started contributing to publications such as Newsweek and The Washington Examiner. Raised in a Christian cult, he’s close to publishing a memoir, Cis White Gay, about his liberation from what he calls the Church of Social Justice. You can also read Ben on his substack. I find his story a fascinating glimpse into our fast-changing world.

For two clips of our convo — why women bond with gay hairdressers, and what queer theorists and Iran’s theocrats have in common — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics: Ben’s upbringing in a Christian cult while being a “super effeminate girly kid,” his OCD through praying, his escape into alcohol at age 12, his parents’ divorce and leaving the church, his codependency with his mother, being tormented as a “f****t” at his public high school, his drug addiction as a teen and dropping out of college, his 17-year sobriety, his marriage to a man, his activism for gay and trans rights, getting a college degree in his 30s, and the brutal woke bigotry he experienced at Columbia.

Browse the entire Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety). Next week is Nicholas Wade on the lab leak theory. If you haven't already, subscribe to the Weekly Dish to get full episodes and the full written version every Friday in your in-tray: https://andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe

Feb 03, 2023
Rod Dreher On His Crises Of Faith And Family
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This is a free preview of a paid episode. To hear more, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com

Rod is an old-school blogger and author living in Budapest. He’s a senior editor at The American Conservative and has written several bestsellers, including The Benedict Option and Live Not by Lies. He’s currently writing a book about bringing the enchantment back to Christianity in a time of growing secularism. He was enchanted himself after taking LSD in college, putting him on the path to Christianity — something he hasn’t talked about in public until now. We’ve been sparring online for a couple of decades, while remaining friends.

For two clips of our convo — Rod coming to terms with his father being in the KKK, and breaking from the Catholic Church after learning of suicides by sex-abuse victims — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics: television as a way for Rod to escape the racism of the rural South, his struggle for his father’s acceptance, meeting gay kids for the first time in boarding school, his youthful indiscretions of drinking and casual sex, his family rejecting him after moving home for his dying sister, reconciling with his dad, his friendly correspondence with a gay meth addict, his current divorce and moving to Budapest, and Rod believing that homosexuality and transness are “disordered” — and my profound disagreement with him on both counts. It’s one of the most revealing episodes we’ve had yet.

Peruse the Dishcast archives for another episode you might enjoy — more than one hundred at this point. The podcast is part of The Weekly Dish on Substack. To subscribe and receive the weekly emails and full offerings, including the entire episodes, go here: https://andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe

Jan 27, 2023
Matt Taibbi On The Sad State Of The Media
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This is a free preview of a paid episode. To hear more, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com

The man himself. Taibbi is an investigative reporter in the Gonzo tradition who had a long career at Rolling Stone magazine, where he won the 2008 National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary. He’s written several bestselling books, including Griftopia and The Great Derangement, and now runs a wildly successful substack, TK News. Almost every less-talented hack hates him.

For two clips of our convo — how the MSM condescends to its audience, and what the Twitter Files achieved — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics: Matt’s madcap stories reporting in Russia, him ditching a newspaper job to play pro basketball in Mongolia, the Substack refugees of 2020, being biased and balanced, woke-checking over fact-checking, reporting uncomfortable truths, the insularity of Ivy League journos, lauding Wayne Barrett and Mike Kinsley, dinging Jon Chait and Rachel Maddow, the misguided coverage of trans kids, the Atlanta spa shootings, the reckless overreactions to Trump, Russiagate, and taking psychedelics for a gay leather event. Good times.

Peruse the Dishcast archives for another episode you might enjoy — 102 and counting. The podcast is part of The Weekly Dish on Substack. To subscribe and receive the weekly emails and full offerings, go here: https://andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe

Jan 20, 2023
Glenn Loury On Being A Minority Within A Minority
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Glenn is an academic and writer. At the age of 33, he became the first African-American professor of economics at Harvard to get tenure, and he’s currently the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of Economics at Brown University, as well as a Paulson Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His longtime podcast, The Glenn Show, is now on Substack, where he regularly appears with John McWhorter. He’s currently writing a memoir of his incredibly colorful life, The Enemy Within, which we talk about at length.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — how the insistence on the permanence of “white supremacy” hurts African-Americans, and how we are all hypocrites to some extent — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: Glenn’s upbringing on the South Side, his forebears’ migration from the segregated South, his parents dealing with him as a prodigy, dropping out of college with a newborn, rebounding to MIT and Harvard, being ostracized by the black cognoscenti, his drug addiction, his conversion to Christianity, his loss of faith, falling out with the neocon right, the racial wealth gap, and affirmative action.

The Dishcast is part of The Weekly Dish on Substack. To subscribe and receive the weekly emails and full offerings, head here: https://andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Jan 13, 2023
Nick Miroff On The Fentanyl And Border Crises
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Back for a second pod appearance, Nick is a reporter at the Washington Post covering immigration and DHS, and before that he was a foreign correspondent based in Mexico City and Havana. This time we discuss not just the unending border crisis but the spiraling fentanyl emergency, which Nick and his colleagues just covered in a must-read seven-part investigation. I know few people as honest and transparent as Nick on what’s actually happening at the border.

For two clips of our convo — on how the Biden administration is erasing the meaning of asylum, and how fentanyl should be seen foremost as a poison — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics: the overwhelmed court system, Title 42, the polarized and paralyzed Congress, the thankless role of Mayorkas, Obama’s record on immigration, Trump’s damage, the ineptitude of Kamala Harris, the effect of social media on migrants, many mind-blowing facts about fentanyl, its contamination in other drugs, Big Pharma, and what parents should tell their children.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Jan 06, 2023
Carl Trueman On Gays And Personal Identity
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Carl Trueman is a Christian theologian and ecclesiastical historian. He’s currently a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College, as well as an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He’s the author of many books, but in this episode, we discuss The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (a condensed version of which just came out: Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution). It’s been a hit on the paleocon right.

For two clips of our convo — on our disagreement over the nature of gayness, and whether gay marriages adversely affect straight marriages — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics: Augustine, Aquinas, Martin Luther and the printing press, Pascal, Calvin, Rousseau, mimesis vs. poiesis, Darwin, Freud, the Frankfurt School, postmodernism, Charles Taylor, contraception, Reagan and no-fault divorce, reactionaries, and sodomy. Yeah, sodomy.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Dec 16, 2022
Alyssa Rosenberg On Cinema And Kid Books
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Alyssa writes about mass culture, parenting and gender for the Washington Post’s “Opinions” section. Previously she was the culture editor at ThinkProgress, the TV columnist at Women and Hollywood, a columnist for the XX Factor at Slate, and a correspondent for The Atlantic. Check out her crowd-sourced collection of 99 children’s books, which we discuss on the pod.

For two clips of our convo — on whether social justice should be a centerpiece of children’s books, and how to get kids hooked on books again — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics: Dr. Seuss, Watership Down, The Famous Five, the Narnia books, Tolkien, Charlotte’s Web, Animal Farm, the complexities of Cate Blanchett’s Tár, the misfires of Billy Eichner’s Bros, rewatching Game of Thrones, Alyssa’s takedown of She Said, and the rise of homeschooling among black families.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Dec 09, 2022
Kyle Harper On Plagues And Covid
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Kyle Harper is an historian who focuses on how humanity has shaped nature, and vice versa. He’s a Professor of Classics and Letters at the University of Oklahoma and the author of several books, including The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire, and his latest, Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History. His mastery of the science is only matched by the ease of his prose. If I were to nominate a book of the year, it would be this one (alongside Jamie Kirchick’s Secret City).

For two clips of our convo — on the zombie bloodsucking fleas of the Black Death, and on how Covid doomed the careers of Trump and Boris — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics: the bubonic plague’s role in the fall of the Roman Empire, the Black Death, flagellants and anti-Semitism, the plague in 17th century London, the Spanish flu, the AIDS crisis, Thucydides, Camus’ La Peste, “The Roses of Eyam,” monkeypox, lab leak, and the uprising over China’s ghastly Covid policy.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Dec 02, 2022
Robert Draper On GOP Radicals
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Robert is a writer-at-large for the New York Times Magazine and a contributing writer for National Geographic. He is the author of several books, including Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush, and his new one is Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind. He’s a friend and a prodigiously productive reporter who truly seems intent in finding out the truth — rather than spinning some ideological tale. And he was there on January 6.

For two clips of our convo — on the MAGA supporters falling away from Trump, and on the rise of Majorie Taylor Greene — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics: the midterms, Trump vs. DeSantis, the epistemological collapse within our media bubbles, Tea Party hatred of moderate Obama, the growing diversity of GOP voters, our disagreement over the impact of CRT in schools, George W. Bush and the One Percent Doctrine, and the sheer careerism of GOP politicians.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Nov 18, 2022
Damon Linker On The Midterms And Extremism
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Damon is a political writer who recently launched his own Substack, “Eyes on the Right.” He’s been the editor of First Things and a senior correspondent at The Week, and he’s the author of The Theocons and The Religious Test. Back when we were both at Newsweek / Daily Beast, he edited my essays, so we’ve been friends for a while. We also both belong to the camp of conflicted moderates.

For two clips of our convo — on the impossibility of predicting politics, and on the question of whether DeSantis can dethrone Trump — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics: the mental illness of our mothers, Leo Strauss and his acolytes, Socrates, the state of liberal democracy, Robert Bork, Harvey Mansfield, the essential need for doubt, how we both misjudged the red wave, Kari Lake, Biden’s shortcomings and which Democrat could replace him in 2024.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Nov 11, 2022
Fareed Zakaria On Colonialism And Liberalism
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Fareed is the host of the CNN show “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” which has been on the air since 2008. He’s also a columnist for the Washington Post and the author of several bestsellers, including In Defense of a Liberal Education, The Post-American World, and his latest, Ten Lessons For a Post-Pandemic World. He’s also been a friend since 1983.

For two clips of our convo — on the silver linings of British colonialism, and how the war in Ukraine could end — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics: the remarkable immigrant story of Fareed’s family, colonial racism in India, Churchill, David Cameron, the rise of Rishi Sunak, falling in love with America, Burke, the rapid pace of migration and free trade, the threat from China, the Cold War, and Fareed’s mentor Sam Huntington and the “Clash of Civilizations.”



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Nov 04, 2022
Kathryn Schulz On Love And Grieving
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Kathryn is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she won a National Magazine Award and a Pulitzer Prize for “The Really Big One,” about a future earthquake that will wreak havoc on the Pacific Northwest. She’s also the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, and in this episode we discuss Lost & Found, a memoir about falling madly in love while her father lay dying.

For two clips of our convo — on how modern society avoids suffering, and how weddings can be a metaphor for America — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics: the familial impact of the Holocaust, immigrant resilience, love at first sight, how deep differences enhance a marriage, the assimilation of gays and lesbians, how Americans deal with trauma, and the pitfalls of writing a memoir.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Oct 28, 2022
Christopher Caldwell On Europe's Turmoil
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Chris — an old friend and, in my view, one of the sharpest right-of-center writers in journalism — returns to the Dishcast. A senior fellow at the Claremont Institute and contributing editor to the Claremont Review of Books, his latest book, The Age of Entitlement, is a constitutional narrative of the last half-century that is indispensable — especially for liberals — in understanding the roots of our polarization. We discussed the book last year. This time on the pod, Chris has just returned from Europe and discusses the rapidly shifting politics there.

For two clips of our convo — on how one-child families could be the downfall of Putin’s war, and how Biden is co-opting Trump on border policy and China — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics: Meloni and the US media meltdown, Truss, Remainers vs. Leavers, Boris, the energy crisis, possible off-ramps for the war, Russian dissenters, and the waning of American exceptionalism when it comes to religion. Good times.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Oct 21, 2022
Yoram Hazony On Making America Devout Again
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Yoram Hazony is a philosopher, Bible scholar, and political theorist. He founded the Shalem Center, a research institute in Israel, and he’s currently president of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem and serves as chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation in DC. The author of many books, including The Virtue of Nationalism, his most recent is Conservatism: A Rediscovery. He is one of the most compelling writers in the “post-liberalism” camp on the right. I think you’ll find I challenged him on everything.

For two clips of our convo — on how wokeness is a threat to civic religion, and how Trump can be a tool to reclaim Christianity — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics: woke neo-Marxism, the creative tension of the Constitution, Reaganism, Netanyahu, and thinkers including Burke, Hume and Jefferson.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Oct 14, 2022
Frank Bruni On The Silver Linings Of Suffering
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Frank is a longtime writer at the NYT — ranging from White House correspondent to chief restaurant critic to op-ed columnist, and now also a journalism professor at Duke. In his early days at the Detroit Free Press, he was a war correspondent, chief movie critic, and religion writer. We’ve known each other for many years, gay writers of the same generation. His latest book is the bestselling memoir The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision Lost and Found, about aging and optimism after Frank began to go blind.

For two clips of our convo — on the opportunities that can be found in suffering, and on the wisdom found in cringey cliches — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics we touch on include: the AIDS crisis, losing my best friend to the disease, the marriage movement, the alphabet people, psychedelics, Frank's dog, and the marvelous adaptations of blind people.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Oct 07, 2022
Richard Reeves On Struggling Men And Boys
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Richard Reeves is a senior fellow at Brookings, where he directs the Boys and Men Project. He’s also been the director of Demos — the London-based political think-tank — an adviser to Nick Clegg in David Cameron’s coalition government, and a Guardian journalist. His latest book is Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It. (For more, follow his new substack.)

I’m fascinated by the challenges of modernity for the weaker sex (men), and Richard has grappled with the questions more calmly than most. For two clips of our convo — on how boys are less resilient than girls, and on the racialized sexism against African-American men — pop over to our YouTube page. Other topics we touch on: the cartoonish masculinity of MAGA, the need for male teachers, the huge gains of black women, the gender pay gap(s), the class gaps of marriage, deaths of despair, sex-segregated sports, and the pathologizing of male sexuality.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Sep 30, 2022
Christopher Hitchens On Religion And Terrorism
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As you’ll tell from my brief new intro to this 2006 conversation, my voice right now is so eviscerated I can’t speak at all. Silenced at last! So here is a very early experiment I did with kinda-podcasting, when I took a microphone to Hitch’s place and let the tape roll. A blast from the grave in some ways.

We mainly debated the nature of religion and the global war on terrorism. For two clips — on the divinity of Jesus, and whether the Golden Rule is actually “cruel and stupid,” as Hitch put it — pop over to our YouTube page. The audio quality is a little rough, but a transcript of the two-hour conversation is available here.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Sep 23, 2022
Louise Perry On The Sexual Revolution
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Louise Perry is a writer and campaigner against sexual violence. This year she co-founded a non-partisan feminist think tank called The Other Half, where she serves as Research Director. Her debut book is The Case Against the Sexual Revolution: A New Guide to Sex in the 21st Century, where she takes on casual sex, porn, BDSM, dating apps and prostitution, all from a post-liberal perspective.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Sep 16, 2022
Matthew Rose On The Radical Right
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Matthew Rose is a scholar of religion. He’s currently Senior Fellow and Director of the Barry Center on the University and Intellectual Life — a project of the Morningside Institute — and he previously taught at Villanova. He’s written for magazines such as First Things and The Weekly Standard, and his newest book is A World After Liberalism. It’s an examination of five far-right thinkers, from Julius Evola to Sam Francis, who are proving increasingly influential in post-liberal conservatism in America.

It’s the first of several episodes in which I hope to explore more deeply the radical alternatives to liberal democracy being touted on the right. Think of it as a balance to my focus this past year on the illiberal alternatives being touted on the woke left.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Sep 09, 2022
Dexter Filkins On DeSantis And Trump
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How to think about DeSantis? We decided to ask Dexter Filkins, who recently wrote this super-smart profile of the man for The New Yorker, which the Dish discussed here. Dexter is an award-winning journalist best known for covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the New York Times. His book, The Forever War, won the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award. He’s the best in the business, a native of Florida, and a longtime friend of the Dish.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Aug 12, 2022
Sohrab Ahmari On The Failures Of Liberalism
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Sohrab is a founder and editor of Compact: A Radical American Journal, and he’s a contributing editor at The American Conservative. He spent nearly a decade at News Corp. — as the op-ed editor of the New York Post and as a columnist and editor with the WSJ opinion pages in New York and London. His books include From Fire, by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith and The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos. A new voice for a new conservatism, I tried to talk him through how he got to this place — politically and spiritually.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on whether the free market is actually a tyranny, and how many liberals actually reject democracy, e.g. Brexit — pop over to our YouTube page.

Sohrab’s appearance this week is a good excuse to publish a transcript from David French, his great nemesis in conservative circles. Here’s a clip from David’s Dishcast:

A reader wrote last week:

I know the Sohrab episode isn’t out yet, but judging by his Twitter presence, it’s going to be a real barnburner of sophistry. His latest quips regarding foreign policy are ones that I find to be ignorant, especially his quips at Yascha Mounk. I know you’ve already shot the episode, but I’d suggest you check out the book, The End of the World Is Just the Beginning: Mapping the Collapse of Globalization. I think it really puts into perspective what American military might has brought to the world (absent, obviously, some of the more glaring blunders), and it might give context, rather than rhetoric, to Sohrab’s arguments.

We clashed a little, but I also gave him space and time to explain his own strange journey to this brand of neo-reactionism. In my view, his biography tells you a lot about his need for moral and political “absolutes.” In my book, that makes him close to the opposite of a conservative.

If you’re sympathetic to Sohrab’s arguments, send us a comment for next week’s edition: dish@andrewsullivan.com. On last week’s episode of the Dishcast, a listener writes:

Terrific interview with Larry Summers. Though my politics are thisclose to Summers’, he floated two whoppers in his talk with you.

1) His suggestion that the United States and other liberal democracies can “build their ways” out of right-wing authoritarianism with more housing, infrastructure and health care is simply not true. Not even close. The evidence is very clear that the driving force behind right-wing illiberalism is demographics and left-wing illiberalism is culture. Under investment in macro-economic indicators is a problem, to be sure, but it has nothing to do with illiberalism.

2) The United States is decidedly not an exporter of inflation. The US dollar is at historic highs, which means foreigners are investing in America and in dollar denominated assets, because Joe Biden’s America represents the “nicest house in a bad neighborhood,” when measured by jobs growth, business investment, private consumption and personal savings.

Summers is right that the America Rescue Plan was too generous. But he seems reluctant to consider the historic relevance of the post-WWII era when American inflation was 14% in 1947, 8% in 1948 and -1% in 1949. As in the post-pandemic era, aggregate demand in the late 1940s rebounded a lot faster than supply, and consumers worldwide bid up the prices of scarce goods, services and raw materials.

Summers responds:

On the reader’s first point, it’s an interesting hypothesis, but my guess is if there were more and better blue-collar jobs, more affordable housing, and more prosperity, there would be less raging populism.

On the second point, I don’t agree. The demand from the US has contributed to global bottlenecks. The strong dollar means weak other currencies which adds to their inflation.

I have thought much about the post-WWII period, and I doubt it is a good parallel. There was the effect of removing price controls. There were very different expectations under the gold standard and given the recent depression.

I agree with my reader on the core cultural question of left over-reach. I suspect Larry does too — but it’s not a subject he’s comfortable with, especially since his Harvard cancellation.

Another reader looks to the deepening tribalism on the right:

Perhaps you missed it, but I haven’t seen the Dish comment on the Texas GOP platform yet. This surprises me, since the Dish is, in my view, the most important defender of classical liberalism on the web. The platform of the largest state Republican Party in the country can be found here. From the AP’s summary:

Approved by 5,000-plus party delegates last weekend in Houston during the party’s biennial convention, the new platform brands President Joe Biden an “acting” commander-in-chief who was never “legitimately elected.” It may not matter who the president is, though, since the platform takes previous language about secession much farther — urging the Republican-controlled legislature to put the question of leaving the United States to voters next year. The platform also says homosexuality is “an abnormal lifestyle choice” …

The platform is the guiding document of a political party that has controlled every executive office in Texas since 2002, a state of almost 40 million people. To put this number in perspective: that’s more than twice as many of our fellow citizens who attend college this year and 25 times as many of our fellow Americans who identify as transgender. Texas and Florida lie at the heart of today’s Republican Party, demographically and financially. To ignore what those Republicans stand for is as near-sighted as ignoring how California and New York stand in the vanguard of what the national Democratic Party will stand for a few years out.

The platform is an affront to liberalism and an example of the “movement after Trump” that you’ve speculated about. In my view, the movement preceded Trump and will proceed in his aftermath.

The extremism was on full display this week in Dallas, as CPAC cheered Viktor Orbàn’s denunciation of marriage equality (which has 71 percent support nationally). I agree it’s creepy and deranged. But so is the postmodern, pro-criminal madness of the CRT/CQT/CGT Democrats — and they run California.

On the growing affection for the Hungarian president on the American right, here’s “a Hungarian living under the Orbán regime”:

In my mind, he has become popular among Republicans for two reasons:

* The fundamental problems of Hungarian society (and most of post-communist Europe’s) are not dissimilar to those of the US — at least on the surface. The cultural cleavages between the “globalist elite” and the “deplorables” are similarly wide. Multiculturalism and the markets’ winner-takes-all logic hit these post-communist societies harder than most, because local communities had been extremely weak to begin with: the communists had been suspicious of any organic communities therefore had worked very hard to suppress and eliminate them as much as they could.

* Capitalism, financialization, globalization and the wholesale urbanization of culture all happened at once when these societies were completely atomized. No wonder many felt that nobody cared about their problems and all they received from the elite was some lecturing on the inevitability of these phenomena. The American society has gotten to a similar stage through a different path, nicely documented by Robert Putnam. Therefore, the US lower-middle class resonates well to the messages developed from a Hungarian experience.

* Viktor Orbán and his team have made conscious and expensive efforts to reach out to Trump Republicans (word in Budapest is that Arthur Finkelstein and Benjamin Netanyahu were instrumental in this effort). The regime has not spared any money to welcome, wine, and dine second- and third-tear MAGA influencers. They came, got impressed, and spread the word at home. It definitely helped that these tours have been all-inclusive: who would not like to spend a few days in cool and beautiful Budapest — for free? Moreover, they received and continue to receive official respect. This is all the more attractive now that they are far from the halls of power in the US. It should not be surprising that they were all too happy to believe the propaganda that the regime fed them.

I am sure I don’t see the full picture on the American side, but these factors seem to be quite important in explaining Orbán’s popularity in the US.

One of those American conservatives courted by Orbán is Rod Dreher. A reader defends Rod:

I’ve generally agreed with most of your recent output and was pleasantly surprised to read your more-than-lukewarm enthusiasm for a DeSantis administration.  However, I think you’re being rather unfair on Twitter to Rod Dreher regarding Orbán and Hungary.

First of all, you and Rod clearly agree that the current level of immigration to the US (and the West more generally) is unsustainably high, and that continuing to bring ever larger numbers of culturally, racially, and religiously diverse groups of primarily economic migrants into any country is bound to increase social tension and strain social safety nets. You also agree that this is especially reckless under a regnant elite ideology that constantly denigrates Western cultural traditions, antagonizing the native-born white population while simultaneously promoting the importance of group identity and solidarity for non-whites. It’s a recipe for civilizational suicide.

I get that Rod is enamored with Orbán and wants an American president somewhat in that vein, but it’s ridiculous to say that he thinks everything that Orbán does for Hungary will translate well for the US or that he would support every analogous policy here. Rod explicitly denies thinking that in almost every post he writes about Orbán.

In addition, Rod is right that racial issues are completely different in the US and Hungary. An ethnically homogeneous country like Hungary that seeks to restrict immigration levels in order to preserve its national character will necessarily exclude most foreign-born members of other racial groups from citizenship. White European countries that do this (and are explicit about their motivations for doing this) should not be held to a different standard than non-white, non-European countries such as Japan that do this (and are also explicit about their motivations for doing this).

It is perfectly reasonable for Hungarians to look at the recent experience of Western Europe and decide that they don’t want to establish another Molenbeek in suburban Budapest. Excluding prospective immigrants for any reason is in no way comparable to committing atrocities against long-resident minority populations like the ongoing Uyghur genocide in China.

Furthermore, the meat of the argument Orbán makes surrounding his objectionable Camp of the Saints reference reads to me as in the same vein as Douglas Murray’s thesis in his masterful anti-Merkelian philippic The Strange Death of Europe, the main difference being that Murray’s perspective is that of the tragic observer, while Orbán obviously has the ability to devise government policies in line with his views. And Murray was on your podcast recently.

In this speech, Orbán, like Murray, is not primarily attacking the migrants themselves, but rather the European political class that constantly ignores its constituents’ wishes on the matter of immigration levels and sources, and that will not be satisfied until every EU country “diversifies” itself by accepting large numbers of Third World migrants.

The same could almost be said about Raspail’s book, The Camp of the Saints, which, despite its disgustingness, provides a useful indictment of a decadent and self-loathing Western elite that is unwilling to fight to preserve its cultural heritage. Indeed, Murray, Orbán, and Raspail would essentially all endorse the same policy outcome (complete moratorium, or at least severe restriction, of non-European immigration) for essentially the same reason (desire to preserve historic character and culture of their societies). They only really differ in their level of empathy for the non-European migrants, with Murray capable of recognizing their individual humanity, Orbán treating them more as an impersonal force of nature to be repelled, and Raspail viewing them with racist contempt as a demonic horde who the last “heroes” of the West will die fighting against. None of them view chronic Third World immiseration as the West’s problem to solve, least of all by allowing the impoverished masses to indefinitely relocate to Europe.

The Covid era showed that Western countries do indeed have the means to control their borders when necessary. But their ruling classes do not think that voters’ preferences for less immigration — tainted as they must be by ignorance, “xenophobia” and “racism” — are a good enough reason to actually enforce their laws. And even restrictionist-leaning administrations have trouble following through with policies that inevitably appear heartless towards those who seek shelter in the West, because each individual migrant often has a generally sympathetic story and by himself wouldn’t pose a great burden on the receiving society.

Yet unfortunately the annual influx of millions of these individuals does strain Western countries, and sometimes tough choices must be made. It seems like an unfortunate reality that it takes someone who is otherwise unpalatable like Orbán to actually enforce immigration restrictions these days. I know I’d vastly prefer someone clear-eyed (even cold-hearted) and competent like him in charge of our southern border over Biden or even Trump.

Lastly, it’s one thing to criticize Orbán for the specific comments he made in the speech, but your continuing guilt-by-association smears of Rod are just lazy. I could analogously indict you on the same topic — not for anything you’ve specifically said or written, but that, say, “I heard Andrew Sullivan did a friendly podcast with Ann Coulter where he largely agreed with her about our current immigration issues… In a recent article she wrote ‘(insert egregiously inflammatory sentence stripped of any context)’… Coulter also endorsed articles that were published on the website of an SPLC-certified hate group… Ergo Andrew Sullivan endorses white nationalism.”

On his blog, Rod clearly and repeatedly says he disagrees with the anti-“race-mixing” language, especially as applied to America and other multiracial societies, and admits that The Camp of the Saints is a racist novel that shouldn’t be praised the way Orbán did. But those demerits don’t invalidate Orbán’s main argument. He can be “racist” by American standards and still right about the overall immigration strategy that is best for Hungary.

I know you despise Orbán, and Rod rankles you with some of his posts that deploy a knee-jerk “think of the children” outrage regarding gay and trans news. But you’re better than stooping to insinuations of racism against him personally, especially when you’re pretty much on the same page regarding the challenges that mass immigration poses for the West. Not sure if it’s something you could hash out with him on a podcast or if tensions are too high, but it could be productive for both of you. 

Thanks for these comments, which I don’t disagree with much. I haven’t called Rod a racist, and don’t think he is. The trouble for me lies less in his defense of Orbanism than of Orbán himself — to the point of becoming a near p.r. spokesman for this authoritarian. The only moment I have actually called Rod out was when he insinuated without evidence that a gay man with monkeypox may have raped a toddler to explain why the kid came down with the disease. Rod withdrew the remark. It’s also perplexing that he shares my disgust at Camp of the Saints but finds nothing significant in Orbán’s belief that the book is “outstanding.” At some point, the rationalization has to stop.

Another reader wants me to be less productive with Rod:

Please, please, Andrew! Do an old-fashioned fisking already! Dreher is totally unhinged! For example: I’m not saying gays are Nazis, but …

Or pick any of his recent articles. Twenty bullet points for defending the “race mixing” comment! Gays didn’t exist forever before Diaghilev! Libraries are groomers! They are so so far beyond. And if you try to comment, you are deleted or told you are doing “whataboutism.”

Best not to use the term “fisking” around Rod. From a reader who loves pluralism and cultural diversity:

I have trouble understanding why people in the US have trouble with newcomers.  Maybe because my dad and maternal grandparents were immigrants, I have a closer view. In my 76 years, I can’t even begin to tell you what I have learned from folks who are NOT like me: black people, immigrants from a whole lot of places in the world, plus their children.

I think people who are afraid of being “replaced” have to have some deep-seated insecurity that I don’t understand. For Tucker Carlson to spout the garbage that he does to get ratings is just scary to me, because it seems to help unleash the worst in people. And believe me, it’s not just a color divide. My Polish dad and Italian mom were subject to all kinds of discrimination and harassment, but it was much easier for them to assimilate because they were white and certainly much easier for their children. My life is so much fuller because not everyone I know and care about looks, acts, or thinks the same. Including you!

I’ve long lived in highly diverse places and love it. But I’m not a typical human being, and the desire to live among “people like you” is so deeply ingrained in human nature it deserves respect in public policy. I’m pro-immigrant, but the pace and scale of migration right now is far beyond what a country needs to retain a sense of itself, its history and identity. We’re at a century-high peak of immigration; and we could do with a respite for cultural and social cohesion.

“A long-time subscriber, first-time correspondent” has some guest recommendations for the Dishcast:

One theme I’ve particularly enjoyed on your podcast is faith and secularism in the contemporary world. I’m writing to suggest several thinkers who could bring a lot to that discussion.

First is the eminent philosopher Charles Taylor, the most important living Canadian intellectual. While he’s contributed to many branches of thought, his book A Secular Age transformed the study of religious faith in the modern world. He’s also interested in the concept of multiculturalism and has stood up against efforts in Quebec to stop Muslim women from wearing the hijab. His political stance is more communitarian than liberal, though, and he’s had fascinating dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and other thinkers.

Another suggestion is the Anglican theologian and philosopher John Milbank. As a founder of the Radical Orthodoxy movement, he’s taken on liberalism more directly, but I think the two of you could have a very constructive conversation about it. He would also have really interesting — and maybe provocative — things to say about continental philosophy (he has coauthored books with Slavoj Žižek!), Brexit, and the future of Western political systems.

Finally, I’d recommend the Protestant theologian James (Jamie) K. A. Smith, a philosophy professor at Calvin University. He’s written many books on Christianity in the contemporary world, drawing especially on postmodern philosophy. He is particularly interested in how Christian intellectuals can engage with contemporary art and literature, and is editor-in-chief of the journal Image.

I actually read A Secular Age in its entirety a couple of years ago. It’s magisterial but bloated: two words I’m not sure work on a podcast. But thanks for the other suggestions. Next up, a reader with some personal advice:

I wanted to tell you something based upon a comment you made discussing your testosterone shots. Get Biote pellets. I did, and I don’t have the ups and downs. You get them put in every 4-6 months, depending on how active you are with exercise and sex. I work out every day, so I get them replaced at the 4-month mark. 

It’s also referred to as hormone replacement therapy. I used to use the cream daily, but I felt like s**t every morning until I put the cream on again. I have no ups and downs now, and my levels stay around 1,200. You can do less if you want, but man, I feel great for months at a time and it’s not that expensive. 

One more reader:

You linked to an interesting piece by Lisa Selin Davis with the teaser, “What if ‘life-saving care’ for trans kids is really more about cosmetic passing?” Yes, it does seem like transitioning is mostly cosmetic. I wonder if trans advocates would support men who want to take testosterone for bodybuilding. What about professional sports, to get a competitive edge? What about Olympic sports? Any thoughts?

I’m not against adult men using steroids to get bigger and hotter. Au contraire. I’m not against trans adults using any safe, pharmaceutical methods to “pass” more easily. I’m against using these very powerful substance on children without extremely careful vetting and an expansive mental health assessment. Yes, transing them before puberty could make them more likely to pass as adults — but I don’t believe most are mature enough to make that kind of decision at that age, especially when it may guarantee them sterility and, in some cases, an inability to experience orgasm ever.

Keep the dissents and other comments coming: dish@andrewsullivan.com.



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Aug 05, 2022
Larry Summers On Inflation And Mistakes
5105

He’s in the news again this week — after persuading Joe Manchin that the climate and healthcare bill he’s pushing isn’t inflationary. Larry Summers has had a storied career, as the chief economist of the World Bank, the treasury secretary under Clinton, and the director of the National Economic Council under Obama. He also was the president of Harvard University from 2001 to 2006 and remains there as the Charles W. Eliot University Professor.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on how the US government spent way too little during the Great Recession and way too much during the pandemic, and how we can help the working class cope — pop over to our YouTube page.

The episode has a lot of thematic overlap with our recent discussion with David Goodhart, author of Head, Hand, Heart: Why Intelligence Is Over-Rewarded, Manual Workers Matter, and Caregivers Deserve More Respect. Here’s a new transcript. And below is a clip from that episode on how our economy overvalues white-collar brain power:

Back to inflation talk, here’s a dissent:

I’ve been reading your blog for a little over a year now, and listening to Dishcast, which is great. I’ve noticed a few things, however, that I would like you to perhaps respond to, or at least consider. First, what you refer to as “wokeness” on the left is, I agree, an obnoxious problem that has been exacerbated by social media. But I think your recent guest Francis Fukuyama has it mostly correct in his new book, Liberalism and Its Discontents, when he identifies illiberal trends on the political left as being more of an annoyance, or at the very least, far less of a threat to the republic than illiberal trends on the right.

Second, I completely disagree with this rather lazy salvo from you: “Biden’s legacy — an abandonment of his mandate for moderation, soaring inflation, an imminent recession, yet another new war, and woker-than-woke extremism — has only deepened it.” It simply is not the case that Biden has not, especially when forced to, hewed towards moderation. Yes, he is attempting to respond to a leftward shift in the Democratic Party by trying to govern more from the left, but this is simply a reflection of political reality. In addition, much of his agenda has been batted down, but more on that in a moment. 

Next, inflation and an imminent recession have a lot more to do with what the Fed has done over the last four decades — and definitely since the financial crisis of 2008 — than with Joe Biden. On this theme of a highly financialized economy nearing the end of the neoliberal era, I recommend Rana Foroohar on Ezra Klein’s latest podcast, where she talks about the popping of the “Everything Bubble.” Asset-value inflation, deindustrialization, a perverse focus on shareholder value rather than investing in Main Street or even R&D, and an utter lack of policy solutions, have caused this.

In addition, as Foroohar herself says, the changes we need to make in our economy are going to be, in the short-to-medium term, inflationary. This means policymakers have to start making policy that actually helps both people and infrastructure, which means spending money. Unfortunately, the garden has gone untended for so long that we’re teetering on the brink of becoming a really shitty country if we don’t take more aggressive action. 

In addition, with regard to an upcoming recession, Noah Smith wrote on his Substack recently that Keynesian economics would suggest that a quick recession now in order to stomp out inflation would be better in the long run than milquetoast attempts to curb it by raising interest rates too slowly. The idea is that recessions — especially fast and somewhat shallow ones — can be weathered, but inflation that goes on for too long leaves lasting scars on the economy. (Smith identifies the Volker recessions as probably permanently damaging the Rust Belt.) 

Personally, what I worry about more on the left is not “woke-ism,” but the trendy socialist/ironic/weird outlets like Jacobin or Chapo Trap House, which seem to be doing their damndest to convince younger, more impressionable and less educated people that the whole country is fucked; it’s designed to be fucked because capitalism is fucked; and only its imminent collapse will allow for problems to be solved through revolution/redistribution. Believe me, that sentiment is becoming a real problem, and the people who buy into it are every bit as ideologically rigid, illiberal, and closed to inquiry as those on the rabid right.

Next up, listeners sound off on last week’s episode with Fraser Nelson, the British journalist who sized up the prime minister race. The first comment comes from “a long-time libertarian in Massachusetts”:

I’ve been reading the Dish for about a year and finally subscribed thanks to your fascinating interview with Fraser Nelson. I was particularly glad to be alerted to Kemi Badenoch.

It’s taken awhile to pull the trigger on subscribing to the Dish because of your Trump bashing, since you sound more like Hillary Clinton than William Buckley. I’m perfectly fine with bashing Trump, but I prefer to see it paired with an acknowledgment of the forces that created him, i.e. the abandonment of the middle class by the two major parties, particularly the Democrats. I do think half the country would lose its mind if Trump runs again, so in that sense I sympathize with your sentiments. But the larger context is essential.

Some episodes our listener might appreciate — ones sympathetic to the concerns of middle-class Trump voters — include Michael Anton, Mickey Kaus, Ann Coulter and David French. More on the Fraser Nelson pod:

Thank you for an outstanding episode. Nelson has almost persuaded me to take out a Spectator subscription! I thought he summed up eloquently and fairly the state of the Conservative Party, Johnson, Sunak and Truss, and the challenges that lie ahead.

Like many Brexiteers — and Nelson half-acknowledges this — the Tories have not grappled with the realities of Brexit. The most obvious lacuna in your discussion was the economy. You cannot leave the EU and not increase the size of the state. You have to have more customs arrangements (as we have recently seen at Dover), more vets, more checks and so on, ad nauseam. It’s all very well for conservatives to argue for a smaller state, but they haven’t defined what that will look like and how the services people use now (education, transport, local government, the legal system etc) will be improved, i.e. funded to a better extent than now. Underfunding is obvious and no amount of arguing “we can do it more efficiently” will cut it — the Tories have had 12 years to fix this.

Moreover, picking fights with the EU has meant less investment, reduced business confidence and increased uncertainty — except of course in Northern Ireland, which has access to the single market and where business is booming. Listen to NFU President Minette Batters talk about the issues surrounding Truss’s free trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, or fishermen now dealing with the consequences of Brexit. They were once fans. Not so much now.

James Carville once said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Promising tax cuts now when much of the Western world is likely to enter a recession is ridiculously irresponsible, but hey ho, it’s a political campaign and reality will bite once we have a new prime minister, whoever she is.

Also, I look forward to hearing Marina Hyde on the Dishcast!

This next listener takes issue with some of my phrasing:

I enjoyed the Nelson episode overall! But I have to take issue with a rare faux pas from you, where you said that Rishi Sunak is “himself obviously a globalist, just by his very career and nature.” I can’t really understand how you came to this conclusion. Is anyone who worked overseas for some time a “globalist”? Are you a “globalist” because your moved to America? What about Sunak’s “nature” makes him so?

Back in 2016, Sunak supported Brexit, which was seen as the losing bet, despite much pressure from David Cameron. And he has set out very clearly in his leadership campaign that he thinks, for example, we need to be tougher on border control. Neither of these things strike me as globalist, nor a return to the Cameron era.

On the other hand, I agree with your characterisation of Truss — who voted Remain before undergoing a miraculous and instantaneous change of heart the day after her side lost — as a “dime-store Thatcher.”

Speaking of border control, here’s David Goodhart — also from a British perspective — on why elites favor open borders:

One more listener on Fraser pod:

As a Spectator subscriber (and Glasgow Uni man), I very much enjoyed Fraser Nelson. Mishearing (I think) at around the 37 minute mark when he seemed to refer to Boris getting a first at Oxford, I was reminded of this fine b****y exchange with David Cameron in the Sunday Times back in the day:

Surely Boris has been the man Cameron had to beat, ever since they were at school together. 'This is one of the great myths of politics', says the PM [Cameron]. 'These things grow up and it's so long ago no one challenges them, but I don't think we really knew each other at school, he was a couple of years ahead of me. He was very clever.'

Then Cameron explodes into a beaming grin. 'But', he says exultantly. 'Boris didn't get a First! I only discovered that on the Panorama programme the other night... I didn't know that'. He is suddenly lit up, almost punching the air with joy.

And in that outburst of public-schoolboy competitiveness — Cameron, of course, did get a First — he reveals everything we've always thought about him.

Also, when Boris was described as believing the untrue things he said at the time he said them, I’m reminded of George Costanza’s credo that “it’s not a lie if you believe it!” (which, for a fairly left liberal Tory, you’d perhaps take over a Trump analogy).

Lastly, a listener looks to a potential guest:

If you wish to continue to mine the vein of the global power landscape, its recent evolution this century, and its implications: Condoleezza Rice. She has an interesting perspective from one whose expertise is Russia and is a past practitioner of American statecraft with Russia and China.

Thanks, as always, for the suggestion.



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Jul 29, 2022
Fraser Nelson On The PM Race And Tory Diversity
5149

Fraser is a Scottish Catholic highlander who now edits (brilliantly) the Spectator in London. Deeply versed in Tory politics, and sympathetic to Boris, he seemed the ideal person to ask to explain what’s been going on in Westminster, what went so wrong under PM Johnson, and who is likely to replace him. It’s a one-stop guide to contemporary British politics in a mild Scottish accent.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on how Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss compare to one another, and what Fraser calls the “absolutely electrifying” effect of Kemi Badenoch — pop over to our YouTube page.

A good complement to this episode is the one I had last year with Dominic Cummings, the brilliant strategist behind Brexit and the rise of Boris. Here’s the transcript. Here’s a clip about Dominic’s break from Boris:

To continue the debate over my recent column on Trump and Boris, a reader writes:

Here’s a dissent: You are right about Trump. You are wrong about Johnson.

Lying comes naturally to Johnson. It’s not just to get out of trouble. He lies about everything. Max Hastings knew this and presciently forecast it would all blow up.  It has.

Let’s turn to Brexit. First take the term “elites.” This glib, trash term is overused, over-hackneyed and should have no place in your lexicon. Unless very carefully defined, it is completely meaningless. I know as many lawyers and city types who voted for Brexit as did Remain, and likewise for gardeners, carpenters, plumbers etc. The British public was conned, lied to and persuaded there was a problem of the EU’s doing.

To be fair, there were problems, some of which can be laid at the EU’s door, but for too many years, blame deflection was the name of the game. Most of the problems the country faced were homegrown. Now look at what has happened: we have a stuttering economy, low growth and haven’t yet introduced the checks at our borders we are supposed to, as it will cause even more chaos — Jacob Rees-Mogg has admitted as much. That’s what happens when you erect major trade barriers with your neighbours and largest market. We can debate immigration as much as you like, but the problem has got worse, and as you correctly pointed out, the numbers have increased.

Now let’s look at the so-called Conservative Party. Under Johnson, one-nation conservatism died. He killed it. It was replaced, deliberately, by a populist, divisive style of rule, not dissimilar to Trump’s, quite happy to bend or break laws and conventions in order to further its agenda. Its leading persona was Boris Johnson, and to the eternal shame of the Conservative Party, precious few demurred.

The problems the country now face stem directly from Brexit: a plethora of unfulfillable promises built on lies. There are still many who think Brexit was a good thing, but there is a growing and significant majority that now recognises it isn’t working and was a mistake. It’s happened, and Keir Starmer is right to say that the next step should be to improve relations with the EU and to see what can be made to work, starting with the Northern Ireland Protocol (putting a border down the Irish Sea was, you’ll remember, a promise Johnson swore he would never do.  And then promptly did “to get Brexit done”). All the deceit involved drives me mad, but the Labour Party, by electing a no-hoper and no-brainer in Jeremy Corbyn, made winning a majority inevitable (and remember FPTP didn’t require a significantly higher number of votes to achieve this).

It might be too early to write off the Conservative Party, much as I would like to, despite having voted for them most of my adult life. But they are tainted, out of ideas, and despite the diversity you applaud, not impressive. I fear the next few months may prove as entertaining as the last few years.

One aspect that you haven’t touched on is the role of the media. It is staggering to see the degree of partisanship on display. The Telegraph, Mail and Express appear to be living in an alternative universe where truth and fantasy commingle without differentiation. And why did the Times, which I read along with the Guardian, pull the blow-job report? This, along with the Londongrad money saga, is for another day.  

By the way, I am pleased you quoted Marina Hyde. Her sassiness, razor-sharp intellect and acerbic wit are spot-on.

We will have her on the Dishcast soon enough. Here’s a reader in London:

Sure, there was mounting frustration about Boris Johnson’s lying — not just the lying, but the fact that he invariably had to follow with “oh yes, come to think of it …” But voters, as opposed to MPs, think politicians lie all the time anyway, so I don’t think the cut-through is as great as might be supposed. 

I think the great point lost in all this is that Boris got his landslide because of Brexit and the increasing frustration with his inability to grasp the potential benefits became a hugely increasing sore, exacerbated by the daily shots of illegal immigrants turning up on our shores in rubber dinghies, often helped by the lifeboat service. This and his inability to grasp until too late how badly the economy was going to hit Mr & Mrs Average was what cost him public support as much as, if not more so, than his economy of truth. 

Another point not made enough is that Boris seemed to be a prisoner of focus groups and vocal groups of MPs, which meant he was constantly veering from one view to another. He made a string of supposedly exciting announcements that remained just that, never getting anywhere. You can only do that for so long before the public wises up.

Yes, it was the MPs who knifed him, but these were MPs getting it in the neck from their constituents for what was (or more often was not) going on. My neighbour tore up his Tory membership card in sheer frustration and told our MP about it. 

Boris could offer no clear guiding principles we could cling to that would help us bat aside the machinations of Cummings, the BBC et al, who were manifestly on a mission to defenestrate him. In the end, even those who fear for Brexit in the wake of his departure could see there was no other course.

Looking back to last week’s episode with Peter Staley, here’s a key moment where he calls the federal incompetence over monkeypox “Covid 2.0”:

The whole 20-minute segment on monkeypox is here. Another listener “enjoyed the episode”:

I share Mr. Staley’s concerns about the government’s handling of the monkeypox outbreak. I agree with him that the US did a disturbingly poor job of handling the Covid pandemic at the start. However, I have two important qualifiers:

* The US was hardly the primary “bad actor” in Covid; stupidity and misconduct in other countries was more flagrant and more consequential.

* I don’t know the details of the bureaucratic mangling of the monkeypox vaccine, but everything Staley reports sounds sadly accurate. However, it seems to me that the core problem early in the AIDS pandemic, and in the past two months with monkeypox, was the unwillingness of many in the gay community to modify their behavior consistent with obvious public health concerns. I was struck that neither you nor Staley mention this, beyond your effort to provide some rational current health advice, which is however strongly tilted toward vaccination over behavior modification.

We did urge gay men to “cool it” for a while. Maybe we should have been more adamant. It’s also becoming clearer how this version of monkeypox is spread: primarily through sexual contact. If mere skin-touching were spreading it, then it seems to me the epidemic would be much, much larger, given the crowds during Pride. That means, of course, that we have the ability to help stop it, by not having sex until vaccinated. That’s not sex-phobic or homophobic. It’s just sensible health advice.

Another dissenter expands on the reader’s second point:

Your discussion of monkeypox really bugged me, for a reason I hope you take to heart. The vast majority of it was focused on the failures of the FDA and CDC, which I don’t take issue with. But the assumptions of the world you live in, particularly when in Provincetown, were alarmingly similar to the assumptions you make (rightfully) about the progressive left — that it takes for granted people not having agency in their own lives.

The US government has (probably) failed with monkeypox, as it has with other diseases. Given that, what should people do? You and Staley both took it for granted that you seemed to have a right — almost an obligation — to party hard in P-Town, which the government’s failure was interfering with. It wasn’t until more than halfway through this part of the conversation that Staley and then you mentioned offhand that “some” people were suggesting people “cool it” for a month or so.

But listen again to the rest of your conversation about monkeypox. Time and again, you blamed the government for its failures and never said anything about maybe the party boys could do something besides bemoan the inability to get vaccinated — maybe party less or (trigger warning) not go to Provincetown one summer. Self-restraint in the face of a still small but looming epidemic was only on the margins of your assumptions.

At this early stage, restraint now among the mostly gay-male monkeypox spreaders would have exponential benefits going forward. Isn’t that a message about social good that is worth the telling?

I’m older and was never much of a partier, so I guess it’s easier for me to say this. But the pretty confined groups of A-Gays ought to take some agency in their own lives at this critical time, and maybe give something up temporarily for the benefit of both themselves and a very real group of future A-Gays and B-Gays and whatever letter the rest of us get. Not to mention heterosexuals.

As you can see, I take your point. Another listener moves to a different part of the discussion:

Your interview with Peter Staley was fairly interesting regarding his participation during the critical years of AIDS. But the conversation became electric when the subject turned to critical queer theory, the indoctrination of children, and the discussion of sex identity in preschool. You kept asking Staley if he thought it was ok to teach children this curriculum and he kept nervously laughing and avoiding to answer and said that you’re confused and banging your little drum.

I agree with you: critical theory has hijacked the gay community, gay rights, etc. and there very well could be an anti-gay backlash. Please continue to voice your side and fight for common sense. Your observations of critical theory’s dangerous impact are not anecdotal — they’re unfortunately everywhere.

To decide for yourself, here’s a clip of that heated exchange:

From a listener in San Francisco:

I had never heard of Peter Staley before (I’m a 49-year-old gay man in SF). ACT-UP and Queer Nation had already fallen apart when I landed there in 1993 as a young punk rock guy. So I was interested in hearing his retelling of that period in the late ‘80s. But then the convo moved to gay activism today — and wow. I thought, “Well this is it. This is the denial that so many gay men have about the gender ideology cult.” They are f*****g terrified of speaking out against this. And of course it’s because they know it would mean expulsion from polite Democrat society.

I was recently discussing the mass delusion period we’re living through around Gender ID extremism. Someone said we should get ready for a massive gaslighting from people who will tell us that they never believed in this cult.

For what it’s worth, I keep hearing from gay men in Provincetown how alienated they are from this ideology, but also how scared they are to voice their concerns — especially about what this indoctrination is doing to gay children. Peter is emblematic of the majority, however, who prefer dismissing these concerns as overblown, and sticking to their own political tribe, which they have now internalized as “LGBTQIA+”. It’s maddening, but a function of real homophobes latching onto the “groomer” discourse, and tribal gays closing ranks in opposition.

The real trouble is that the non-profit institutions allegedly representing us are packed with critical theory zealots who experience no pushback, and if they do, purge the dissenters. My view is that gay men should stop funding groups that are dedicated to the abolition of homosexuality.

From a parent:

It was so hard for me to listen to Peter Staley downplay the gender stuff for kids. My five-year-old stayed up an hour past her bedtime last night because she was worried she could suddenly become male, or that my breasts might disappear. She is extremely confused. At a time in her life when she is only beginning to understand what it will mean for her to grow up and become a physical woman, she thinks her “pronouns” might suddenly change and she might become genderless. Teenaged camp counselors with clear and obvious feminine features are telling her that they are neither male nor female.

The worst part of that, is that my daughter is beginning to believe that her sex is determined by her interests and behavior. For example, she thinks that if I swear too much, I may become male. The result is her belief that womanhood is some sort of cartoonish stereotype of old-fashioned gender roles.

It’s all so regressive. As a lifelong liberal, I am repulsed by the mainstream push to reinforce gender stereotypes and essentialism. What might be an even bigger crime for a writer like myself is that my daughter — who hasn’t even started kindergarten yet — thinks pronouns are a personal trait, not a part of speech. As horrified as I am at the regressive and sexist gender roles being pushed on my child, I am equally grimacing at the grammatical confusion this creating. Can’t the school teach my kid what a pronoun even is before scrambling her brain? 

Happy to air your personal experience. It’s horrifying. Another worried parent:

I just had the most intriguing conversation with my 17-year-old daughter. She said that if she ever had a child who was trans, she would totally support that. Curious, I asked why. She said, “Because it’s all about who you love, and it’s ok to love different people.”

I said, “Hold up, you’re talking about being gay. Trans doesn’t have anything do with who you love.”

She insisted that it did. 

I said again, “No, you’re talking about being gay.” 

She said, “They're the same thing. Whenever a guy wants to be a girl, it’s because he wants to be able to date other guys. And when a girl wants to be a guy, it’s so that she can date other girls.”

I said, “Now you're just confirming it — you are literally talking about being gay. There is no connection. Sometimes a guy transitions to being a woman, but still wants to date women — and will say that he has become a lesbian.”

She just didn’t believe me! She shook her head and said something like, “It’s all over TikTok, and 99 percent of the time, when someone wants to be trans, it’s because they’re just trying to be gay.”

We changed the subject, but even though this is just one data point (my daughter), I do wonder how prevalent her point of view is among other teenagers who watch TikTok.

God only knows. But the attempt to conflate very different gay, lesbian and trans experiences is part of an ideological project, rooted in postmodernism. It is designed to destroy anyone’s coherent understanding of stable human nature.

This next listener is on Staley’s side, not wanting to scapegoat queer theorists:

I have to agree with Peter Staley that mass indoctrination of critical trans/queer/gender theory in school children is not the cause of any rise in gender confusion and trans identity. Something else is going on. My theory: the biological organism of homo sapiens is undergoing evolutionary reproductive change due to mounting environmental stresses.

Let’s start with the simple observation that schools are only one small part of the cultural, political, environmental, familial and technological waters children swim in. One lesson from the story book How To Raise A Trans Inclusive Child is not going to make much of a sexual identity dent in the ocean of information, stress and confusion children are growing up in these days.

There are so many other stresses that are going to have far greater biological impacts. Overpopulation is of course the big one that cannot be discussed. There are too many rats in the cage. Humans now live on a planet in which they are constantly bathed in low doses of industrial and agricultural chemicals of every kind. It is in our food, air and water. Developing embryos are all bathed in these chemicals to some degree.

Throw in all the current economic and political chaos. Add in the bugaboo of social media and the cultural worship of money and fame. Body modification with tattoos, piercing and plastic surgery is a norm. You can create yourself to be anything.

A big change, of course, is the rising equality of women. Economically, that is going to give women a better hand to play in reproductive choice. House husbands are becoming more and more common. Stereotypical gender expectations are pretty much kaput. Let’s not forget the #MeToo movement — that certainly threw a wrench into heterosexual relations.

So what are these kids supposed to think about sex and gender?

These are just some of the dots that Staley suggested may need a bit more connecting. So it’s a bit of a stretch to pin any rising gender confusion and dysphoria on indoctrination with critical gender/queer/trans theory in school children. That would be about as effective as conversion therapy for gay men. It’s not that simple to convert.

But it’s very easy to confuse a third-grader. One more reader keeps another debate going:

I wanted to respond to your response to the theory that another reader “wanted to float by you” about the nature/nurture debate over trans identity and sexual orientation. First, I think you dismiss this person’s idea a bit too readily. The possibility that sexual orientation isn’t inborn (even though I agree with you that it’s involuntary) is actually relevant to this discussion.

Much of the modern trans movement incorrectly attempts to hitch its claims to the claims made by the gay rights movement, and “born this way” is no exception to this trend. If people are born trans, as this movement claims, then it’s theoretically possible to identify trans children with perfect accuracy and medicalize them before they go through puberty. But if instead, maturing into a trans adult is a stochastic process, then it’s impossible to predict perfectly which kids will persist in their trans identity after puberty. And in such a case, convincing the public to support youth medical transition is a much harder sell.

Additionally, I disagree with you on whether trans people choose to be trans. Dysphoric individuals like Lauren Black, who choose to deal with their gender dysphoria without transitioning, complicate the claim that transitioning is the only possible outcome for someone with gender dysphoria. I think there are some people with dysphoria severe enough that medical transition is the best choice for them. But the decision of whether to transition or handle dysphoria in other ways is still ultimately a choice.

As always, send your dissents, as well as other comments and personal stories, to dish@andrewsullivan.com.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Jul 22, 2022
Peter Staley On AIDS And Monkeypox
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Peter is a political activist, most famously as a pioneering member of ACT UP — the grassroots AIDS group that challenged and changed the federal government. He founded both the Treatment Action Group (TAG) and the educational website AIDSmeds.com. An old friend and sparring partner, he also stars in the Oscar-nominated documentary “How to Survive a Plague.” Check out his memoir, Never Silent: ACT UP and My Life in Activism.

You can listen to the episode — which gets fiery at times — in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). For two short clips of my convo with Peter — on how he and other AIDS survivors turned to meth, and Peter pushing back on my views of critical queer theory in schools — pop over to our YouTube page. There’s also a long segment on just the monkeypox stuff.

If that episode isn’t gay enough for you, we just posted a transcript of the episode last year with Katie Herzog and Jamie Kirchick. Both of these Alphabet apostates were on Real Time last month — here’s Jamie:

Katie appeared alongside this clapped-out old bear:

Come to think of it, two more Dishcast alums were on the same episode of Real Time last month — Michael Shellenberger and Douglas Murray:

Oh wait, two more in June — Cornel West and Josh Barro:

We now have 20 episodes of the Dishcast transcribed (check out the whole podcast archive here):

* Bob Woodward & Robert Costa on the ongoing peril of Trump

* Buck Angel & Helena Kerschner on living as trans and detrans

* Katie Herzog & Jamie Kirchick on Pride and the alphabet people

* Dominic Cummings on Boris, Brexit and immigration

* Caitlin Flanagan on cancer, abortion and other Christmas cheer

* Glenn Greenwald on Bolsonaro, woke journalists and animal torture

* Jonathan Haidt on social media’s havoc

* Yossi Klein Halevi on the origins of Zionism

* Fiona Hill on Russia, Trump and the American Dream

* Jamie Kirchick on the Lavender Scare

* John McWhorter on woke racism

* John Mearsheimer on handling Russia and China

* Roosevelt Montás on saving the humanities

* Michael Moynihan on Afghanistan and free speech

* Charles Murray on human diversity

* Jonathan Rauch on dangers to liberalism

* Christopher Rufo on critical race theory in schools

* Michael Shellenberger on homeless, addiction and crime

* Cornel West on God and the great thinkers

* Wesley Yang on the Successor Ideology

A Dishcast listener looks to last week’s episode and strongly dissents:

I enjoyed your interview with Matthew Continetti. Unfortunately, an exchange at the end reminded me of why I had to reluctantly tune you out for years: your hero worship of Obama.

I respect and admire the way you call out the failures and excesses of both sides, including those of mine (the right), which I acknowledge were glaring even before Trump. During the Obama years, however, it was hard not to cringe when I watched you tear up on Chris Matthews’s show and compare him to a father figure. I also recall you yelling at SE Cupp and aggressively pointing a finger at her on Bill Maher’s show for daring to compare the foreign policies of Obama and W Bush:

It’s hard to imagine anyone with that kind of emotional response being objective, and sadly, you never were during his presidency.

You argued with Continetti that Obama was a middle-of-the-road pragmatist, when nothing could be further from the truth. He came into office with the economy reeling in a banking and housing crisis, and he took the Rahm Emmanuel approach of never letting a crisis go to waste. Even before his inauguration, he begin planning to rush through major legislation on healthcare, climate, and education. These may be worthy goals, but they are not the actions of a pragmatist who wants to govern by addressing the problems of the moment.

He then outsourced the stimulus bill to Pelosi, which was a pork-filled bonanza with almost nothing even remotely stimulative. He refused to incorporate any Republican ideas into the healthcare legislation and arrogantly said to McCain that “the election’s over” when McCain voiced some opposition. Obama then lied in selling the bill to the American people by saying you would be able to keep your plan and your doctor in all cases.

When Obama lost his congressional majority, he resorted to gross lawlessness, taking executive actions that exceeded his constitutional authority on everything from carbon emissions to insurance company appropriations to immigration, including on measures that were recently voted down by Congress or (as Continetti noted) he previously acknowledged he lacked the constitutional authority to do. He even flouted his ability to do this — knowing the media would cover for him — by saying he had “a pen and a phone.”

Obama was one of the more divisive presidents in history. Every speech followed the same obnoxious shtick of chiding Republicans for playing politics and claiming that he alone was acting in the national interest. We saw this again, even post-presidency, during the funeral of John Lewis. For once, both sides came together, and even Republicans celebrated the achievements of a genuine American hero.  But during Obama’s speech, he turned the event into a partisan tirade about voting rights, calling the filibuster a Jim Crow relic (never mind that he used as a Senator).

Finally, you argued that Republicans never gave Obama a chance. Not true. When he was inaugurated, his approval ratings were among the highest on record and were even above 40 percent among Republicans. They plummeted among Republican voters because he refused to ever take their concerns seriously or acknowledge that they had any legitimate points. When he finally did something they had even slight agreement with, the Trans Pacific Partnership, most Republicans supported him, while much of his own party opposed him.

I respect your objectivity and believe that you are largely back to it. But I’m hoping the next time someone you love comes along, you will remain able to see the forest from the trees. (And sorry about the War and Peace-length email. There isn’t another intellectual I’m aware of who would actually welcome a dissent like that, which is why I wish I became a subscriber sooner.)

That’s a lot of political history to litigate, but if you think I was blindly supporting Obama, read “The Fierce Urgency of Whenever,” “Obama’s Marriage Cowardice,” “Obama’s New War: Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb,” “Obama’s Two New Illegal Wars,” “Is Obama A Phony On Torture?”, “Obama Is Now Covering Up Alleged Torture,” “Obama’s Gitmo Disgrace,” “Obama To The Next Generation: Screw You, Suckers,” my reaction to his townhall comments on cannabis, “Behind the Obama Implosion,” and my excoriation of his first debate against Romney, if you remember.

Obama’s healthcare proposal originally came from the Heritage Foundation; it was the most conservative measure to move us to universal healthcare access available; he passed it; and it remains the law because Republicans realized it was too popular to repeal. If that’s what you call extremism, you have a different definition of the word than I do.

His stimulus was — yes — insufficient to the moment. But that’s because it veered toward a fiscal prudence long abandoned by the GOP. And he put it before any other priority. The GOP still refused to give this new president in an economic crisis any support at all, and acted as if the Bush debacle had never happened.

Another listener defends the former president’s record — to a point:

Obama had one chance to pass health care reform — something presidents had been trying and failing to do for several decades. In reality he had a razor-thin margin, especially in the Senate. He spent months letting moderates like Max Baucus take the lead in Congress. He gave moderate Republicans like Olympia Snowe endless time to pretend to be willing to vote for a centrist bill. Remember: this was largely RomneyCare, an already moderate Republican policy idea and one which had originally come out of a conservative think tank.

In the end, no matter how much Big Pharma and other healthcare lobbies had to be bribed and how much Obama compromised — no public option; no federal negotiation via Medicare to lower drug prices — the moderate Republicans had strung him along. He had to give Ben Nelson goodies to get his vote.

And, overall, as much as the bill was a corporate sellout, it still — and 12 years on it’s so easy to forget this — still made massively important reforms the public was desperate for: it expanded family access for kids up to 26; it ended the rampant abuse of preexisting conditions to deny coverage; it ended retroactive rescissions in which insurance employees were tasked to comb through patient records and fine print to find pretexts for dumping patients when they needed care the most; it ended lifetime caps on coverage for things like major early childhood diseases and illnesses and catastrophic illnesses in adults; and of course it expanded access to Medicaid (most people don’t realize how stunningly low one’s income has to be to qualify).

ObamaCare, flaws and all, was necessary — and a major step forward. There was no Republican compromise to be had in 2010 or ever. Remember what Mitch McConnell said his #1 priority was? Ensuring Obama was a one-term president with no major successes to campaign on. They simply wanted the legislation to crash and burn, similar to how it did in 1994.

DACA and DAPA and the rest? Very very different story. And I agree with Continetti: Obama did not have that authority and he knew he didn’t. And after the Gang of Eight fell apart, his second term was all about caving to radical, often openly ethnically chauvinistic, identitarian, open borders advocates. And that’s where the Democratic Party has been stuck ever since.

Executive decisions like DACA were a big part of why I soured on the Obama administration. ObamaCare, flawed as it was, was a big reason I volunteered so heavily for Obama in 2012. We’re still not close to the kind of publicly guaranteed, universal health care virtually all peer countries and allies enjoy. But we’re closer due to ObamaCare. And that’s a clear example of what Democrats can accomplish when they’re focused on passing the best bill they can pass (by the barest of margins) for the common good.

For the record (see the Daily Dish links above), I also opposed the Libya war, the Iraq surge, and the DACA executive overreach. This next reader is more sympathetic to Obama on DACA:

Deporting kids who have never known another country has a 19 percent approval rating. Obama begged Congress for years to do something to correct this. So is the Continetti position that Obama needed to do something that more than 80 percent of Americans don’t want because far-right extremists are holding Boehner hostage? If that is your position, then it’s fundamentally undemocratic.

Another clip from last week:

Yet another take on the Continetti convo:

I’m a moderately liberal person, and I listen to conservative voices to hear good arguments that make me consider more deeply my innate biases. But the conservatism described by Continetti is just uninteresting. Describing the 1964 Civil Rights Act as too large an overreach? Talking about constitutionalism in the same way that Alito does — as frozen, depending upon the section, in either 1789 or 1868? Dissing Obamacare?

Obamacare is a big improvement on pre-ACA insurance, and I’m glad Obama persevered after Ted Kennedy's death. Healthcare has a lot of moving parts, but finally we have an individual insurance market with plans as good as those in the employer group market. My kids have used it at various times switching between jobs and school, or even instead of a law school's highly mediocre plan. 

One of my biggest problems with Biden is that he hasn’t even managed to get the subsidy income limit, which was lifted by the pandemic relief bill, made permanent. My biggest problem with Biden is that I expected that he’d be able to negotiate with someone like Manchin, who’s dim but probably willing to support something. Cranking up the ACA subsidies and funding some solar panel research and LWTR reactor prototypes, with the work being done in part in West Virginia?  It can’t be that hard to cut some deal. Instead, we seem to have nothing.

So, until the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, I figured the Dems would get wiped out in '22 and '24. I figured the combination of trans-positive teaching in lower schools and race essentialism everywhere would lead to races like the Virginia governor election, where someone with a sane approach to schools would dominate. Dobbs may change all that. 

From a small sample of Republican suburban voters I know, a lot of people are furious at the Court’s decision. They rightly view it as an ignorant decision that makes even pregnancy for wealthy women in red states far more dangerous than it was, since a partial miscarriage with lots of bleeding — not a rare event by any means — will now require sign-off from a hospital’s legal staff before a lifesaving D&C can be performed, by which time a pregnant woman may well be dead. And while Republicans typically don’t mind making life miserable for poor people (fun fact: a family of four has to have an income below $4,700 per year to get Medicaid in Mississippi), f*****g over the upper middle class will not go over nearly as well.

Keeping with the abortion theme, another reader:

This caught my eye in your most recent podcast email: “[T]he question of when human life becomes a human person is a highly debatable one.”

First, thank you for stating the issue correctly! The issue is NOT when HUMAN LIFE begins. Science has answered that question definitively: at conception. It’s not a “theory,” religious or philosophical doctrine or anyone’s “opinion,” and it’s not debatable. We may not know everything that happens during conception, but no embryologist denies that it’s the beginning of human life. 

The term “person” is not scientific, and that’s why I avoid using it when debating abortion with non-believers. As I’ve noted before, the term “person” arose out of debates about the relations among the Three Persons of the Trinity in the run-up to the council of Nicea. Before that, the Latin term “persona” just referred to public citizenship. Slaves were not legally persons. The Christian philosophers made it into a much richer and more resonant concept, in order to explain that God could be one God but three “persons” — a way of saying that if God is Love, love is not a monism but a mode of relationality. 

Anyway, for purposes of modern discussion of abortion, the term “person” now means something close to what the pagan Roman meaning of “person” was: a human being legally granted rights by the state, including the right to life. In other words, some human beings are not “persons.”

This distinction is morally troubling and creates issues for defenders of abortion. If it’s really up to the state to say who is or is not a “person,” why stop at the unborn? In the Roman Empire, and in later periods (including our own history, of course), slaves were not legally considered full “persons.”

Is “personhood” a sliding scale, or an absolute state of being? Can you have “more” or “less” personhood? Are comatose (but stable) human beings persons, or do they lose their legal rights to life, as many seem to think? What about the conscious but mentally challenged? Do high-IQ people have more “personhood” than low-IQ people?

You see where this is going, I’m sure. I’ve had many discussions about this, and there is NO criterion that denies full personhood to the unborn that cannot also be used to deny it to the already-born. 

I think once you hive off human rights from the status of being human, and attach them to some scientifically indefinable status like “personhood,” you go down a tricky path. Because you’re right, of course. “Personhood” is endlessly debatable, because it’s a philosophical and (ultimately) theological concept. It’s like arguing “Who has a soul, and who doesn’t?”

But in our tribally inclined species, the question quickly becomes, who is “human” (i.e, like “us”) and who is “other” (i.e., not really “human”) — with the “other” not possessing the same rights. Most names of tribes for themselves translate to “the Human Beings” or “the People” — with anyone outside the tribe being less than human. (Did you ever see Little Big Man?)

Of course, as a Christian I believe ALL human beings are also persons, no matter their mental state, helplessness, poverty or low social status. I also agree that all human beings are images of God. 

For purposes of argument with non-believers, rather than get side-tracked into personhood, I prefer to say that human rights are anchored in (inherent in) humanness, not “personhood.” This requires abortion advocates (if they have the slightest thoughtfulness or openness to engage in actual discussion) to explain how some human beings aren’t “persons” and who gets to make that determination. But any honest abortion defender who doesn’t want to deny non-contestable science must make that distinction.

Here’s the difference between personhood in abortion and every other area. One person is literally inside another person’s body. In a society based on property rights, the body itself — “habeas corpus” — is central to freedom and autonomy.

Another reader turns to sexuality:

I was struck by one of the dissents you ran last week: “No mention of the 63 million babies who were murdered in the last 49 years, but oh how well you stand up for women and their right to have as many one-night stands as they want without consequences, guilt, or their morality even being questioned.”

The second half of that sentence is so interesting. The dissenter is not only offended by potential babies not being born, but also by women having sexual fun without life-altering consequences. To the dissenter, one-night stands are an evil (at least, on the part of the woman), and going through a public pregnancy (look at her! shame!) and having babies (no career for her!) is the least punishment the female participants should deserve. The lost babies are bad, but even worse, look at what all those loose women are getting away with!

I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that some part of the opposition to abortion in this country is actually driven by people who want to bring back 1950s prudery. They see abortion as an evil precisely because it allows more sexual pleasure — and even more galling, more sexual pleasure on the part of women (because this 1950s prudery so often seems to carry 1950s misogyny along with it). Of course we know many abortion opponents are deeply moved by love for potential babies that aren’t born, but this dissenter shows there’s at least one person out there celebrating Dobbs for the renewed opportunities abortion bans will provide to scare women out of sex or, failing that, shame them and derail their careers as punishment.

Another reader turns the focus to me:

For some context, I am a Christian who has spent most of my life in the evangelical subculture, but I am more moved in worship by liturgical forms. I am politically anti-Trump and I am abhorred by the current state of the Republican Party, though I am a lifelong Republican. Call me David French-like.

I am responding to your dissent from the conservative writer and your comment that consent between adults is the sole limiting factor in sexual behavior. You have likely been asked and answered this question many times, so just send me a link if that’s easier for you: Since you are a Christian, what role does the Bible and/or church teaching have in your understanding of human sexuality? One could argue that in addition to consent, the Bible speaks of fidelity, monogamy, love, nurture, self giving, mutual submission, and adoration in sexual relationships. How do you treat the foregoing characteristics (or others) in your sexual ethic? Does your Christian faith have any role to play in your sexual ethics?

I enjoy your writing and the Dishcast, keep it up. Guest suggestions: Kevin Williamson. (He had deep dissents on gay marriage, but culturally that train has left the station, and as you know, he has the added benefit of having been fired by The Atlantic three days after hiring — an early example of cancel culture by the insulated Left). Also Jonah Goldberg.

I responded to some of these points on this week’s main page. But I’ve written much more widely on this question — and I recommend Out On A Limb for the rest. The essay “Alone Again, Naturally,” comes closest to answering. But I do not share orthodox Christianity’s Augustinian terror of the body and its pleasures.

Your guest suggestions are always appreciated: dish@andrewsullivan.com. Here’s one more from a “20-year Dishhead writing for the first time”:

I think Iain McGilchrist would be a great guest for the pod — and for TWO episodes, since the ideas in his recent work are so vast, complex, and far-reaching. (I encountered his earlier book on the Daily Dish.) It seems like IMcG is really working to get out his incredibly important, expansive, but very difficult project out and a couple of good conversations with you would be a great way of doing that, not to mention fascinating for us Dishcast listeners.

Thanks for everything that you and Chris are doing with The Weekly Dish — trying to help us all think clearly and openly. My wife and I both appreciate having your voice in our lives each week. She especially likes the dissents!

Subscribe to read them all — along with everything else on the Dish, including the View From Your Window contest. There are also gift subscriptions if you’d like to spread the Dishness to a loved one or friend — or a frenemy to debate the dissents with.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Jul 15, 2022
Matthew Continetti On Conservatism
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Matthew is a journalist who worked at The Weekly Standard and co-founded The Washington Free Beacon, where he served as editor-in-chief. Currently he’s a contributing editor at National Review, a columnist at Commentary, and a senior fellow and the Patrick and Charlene Neal Chair in American Prosperity at the American Enterprise Institute. We discuss his wonderful book, The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). For two clips of my convo with Matthew — on whether the GOP is destroying the Constitution, and debating how conservative was Obama was — pop over to our YouTube page.

A listener looks back to last week’s episode:

I enjoyed your discussion of friendship with Jennifer Senior, particularly your observation that a friend is someone we don’t want to change.  It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by Friedrich Nietzsche: “Love is blind, friendship closes its eyes.”

And here’s some insight from Jesus on the subject:

Another listener grumbles:

Another woman talking about friendship? How novel. How about finding some guys to talk about it? Because it sure is tough for straight men to find new friendships. The old ones fall apart for much the same reason that women's do, but the straight male psyche seems particularly resistant  to making new ones.  

The Dishcast, in fact, recently aired an episode with Nicholas Christakis that covered quite a bit about the nature of friendship between straight men. Much of it centers on taking the piss out of each other:

Another listener remarks on the part of my convo with Jennifer about the evolving nature of newsrooms — basically that they’re boring now, ensconced in Slack:

I agree about the dead quiet in newsrooms these days. I started out in broadcasting in the early ‘80s, with a stint at NPR in the late ‘80s early ‘90s. People would shout and yell and ask questions on spelling, grammar and facts about previous stories, all while rushing to meet the deadlines.

Then a few years ago, I worked in a major public radio newsroom and it was dead quiet. The editor sitting behind me would type a question to me via top-line message and I’d just turn around and answer him. It was a major sin! So boring!

Thankfully now I work for a small nonprofit newsroom and I’m the head of our tiny audio division. Sadly COVID made our newsroom virtual, but oh how I miss those early, pre-internet newsrooms with people arguing and talking and joking with each other.

Here’s what Jennifer and I have to say:

Another listener wants more:

I just finished last week’s Dishcast with Jennifer Senior. I just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed your conversation. It made me wish I were friends with you both! But at the outset of the show, you said you wanted to talk about her recent essay on Steve Bannon. Unfortunately, the end of the episode came and you’d not broached the topic. I read the piece and it was fascinated, so I wanted to hear more. Please have her back!

We do have repeat offenders on the pod, like David Wallace-Wells and Jamie Kirchick, so stay tuned. After the Continetti convo this week, here are a few requests for more conservative guests:

Sometimes I feel like you’re a friend of mine, since I’ve been reading you for so long — God, since the ‘80s. The thing is your intellectual honesty, and changing your mind when facts change. So please, please, get Rod Dreher on to talk with you! We love it when you talk to someone who’s in the same area but looking in another direction. What Dreher is going through is just beyond the pale — embracing a strongman authoritarian regime and calling it conservatism. It’s the same as the left embracing CRT and calling it liberal. 

Yep. I just need to summon up the emotional energy for him. Another asks:

Have you ever considered getting Ben Shapiro on? I think he might be a more fun guest than Ann Coulter (even though I enjoyed listening to your interaction with her), and he’s honestly more capable of learning (i.e. I’m hoping it’d be a educational interaction for him).

Always open to your guest recommendations — and your commentary on the episodes: dish@andrewsullivan.com.

More dissents. First up, from one of the readers who most frequently criticizes the Dish’s coverage of crime:

Last week you highlighted Scott Alexander’s column on the 2020 murder spike, calling it “devastating.” In fact, it’s wildly off-base. I’m sure Scott is a smart guy, but he’s wading into an incredibly complex subject with very little respect for or understanding of the work of others.

His argument rests on timing. Murders began spiking around the launch of Black Lives Matter protests —  the “structural break” mentioned in the Council on Criminal Justice’s report he cites — so, he says, it follows that one caused the other. This is a version of the “Ferguson Effect” theory, and it’s fared very poorly in the academic literature — though you wouldn’t know it from Scott’s selective citations. 

That doesn’t mean protests are irrelevant to crime, but the best research on the subject points out something that Scott, in his rush to judgment, misses: people don’t protest for no reason. Instead, protests tend to be caused by external factors, like police brutality. That’s why Rick Rosenfeld, who serves on the Council on Criminal Justice and did much of the descriptive work that Scott cites, argues that crises in police legitimacy, not protests, are what drive increases in violent crime and murders.

The distinction is subtle but important, for methodological reasons that needn’t detain us and theoretical ones that should. Specifically, blaming protesters for rising violence is essentially an elaborate way of “blaming the victim.” If protests cause murders to rise, what else are people to do when police terrorize or kill their neighbors — as happened to George Floyd and so many others? Looking further upstream places the blame for degraded police legitimacy where it belongs: on the police force itself. 

What really irks me about Scott’s column, though, is its certainty in the face of an unbelievably complex social crisis. There’s a reason criminologists (not the most liberal bunch, trust me) haven’t settled on protests as the sole reason for a 30% nationwide murder spike, felt in rural communities as well as cities. Sometimes things really are complicated, and that’s ok.

Scott followed up his post by replying to the best dissents from his readers, including Matt Yglesias, who began his reply, “I agree with almost everything in this post except for the media criticism parts.” You rarely see this kind of debate in the MSM. Check it out.

Next up, abortion. First, a dissent from the right:

Your wrong characterization of the rejection of Roe v. Wade is another example of your conversion to the Left. No mention of the 63 million babies who were murdered in the last 49 years, but oh how well you stand up for women and their right to have as many one-night stands as they want without consequences, guilt, or their morality even being questioned.

Instead you should be praising the Supreme Court for finally beginning to bring our democracy back to the original standard — that only the legislature makes laws — not the president and not the courts. You should be rejoicing over the fact that abortion rights are forced back into the hands of the state legislatures, and ultimately (to some extent) into the hands of the voters. It should have been this way for the last 50 years, but a radical leftist cabal took over our Supreme Court and made decisions with very little legal support or logic.

If it really is a fundamental right of women to control their bodies and ignore the consequences of killing the babies they produce, 50 years of debate and voting would have proved it to be so, and abortion would be largely legal throughout the US today. But instead, the Supreme Court dictated the law from out of nowhere, dictatorially legislated the law of the land, and the cost has been the unjust murder of some portion of 63 million babies. You should be sickened by it.

So today I leave your blog. You’ve transformed from my favorite writer, defender of liberty and “explainer” of the evils of CRT and the transgender movement, to just another gay leftist parroting the lies of immoral people who have no concept of what makes our country different from all the rest. Your conversion is sad and twisted because you have the ability to reach out to the citizens who have no idea how important liberty is or what is required to safeguard it.

I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about. The entire piece was a defense of abortion as a subject for democratic deliberation and not judicial fiat. That’s been my view for years. In this fraught and complex topic, I think a compromise on the European lines is the least worst option. I also believe — and have said so on multiple times — that I share your view that abortion is a moral evil, and the taking of human life. I could never be a party to one.

But many disagree with me and you. And we live in a pluralistic society. And the question of when human life becomes a human person is a highly debatable one. Banning all abortion would be a disaster. Limiting and regulating it is a far better option.

As for sexual freedom, you’ve got me there. As long as it’s between adults, and consensual, I have no problem with it, and lots of experience with it. I truly don’t think it is intrinsically wrong. Human beings’ sexuality is far more expansive and diverse than most other species’, and if children and marriage are not involved, I see no reason to curtail it, and many reasons to celebrate it.

Next, a dissent from the left:

You seem to argue from the perspective that Roe was not a compromise. It was. It was a politically failed attempt to pick a middle ground. Culturally, Roe succeeded. If you check Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans favor unrestricted abortion early in pregnancy, allowing a woman to terminate a pregnancy for any reason. Americans favor restrictions later, allowing for life of the mother and viability of the fetus concerns. This is the compromise between no abortions even for pregnancies of non-consensual sex and abortion on demand for any reason.

In vitro fertilization remains a corner case. Generally, fertility clinics have legally binding contracts saying what should be done with unused embryos if a couple separates. However, if state laws regard all embryos as human beings, this raises important questions. Can a couple discard viable embryos when their family has reached the size they desire? If there is a dispute, does the party who wishes to bring an embryo to term have a right to do that over the objection of the party who does not? If a couple is conceiving through IVF to avoid a serious genetic anomaly, will it be legal to discard a viable but non-normal embryo, such as one with trisomy 21?

What to do about pregnancies conceived through non-consensual sex continues to be the biggest challenge for the right-to-life movement. If the State can compel a woman to carry a pregnancy to term, even if the sex act was non-consensual, what other things can the State compel regarding our bodies? Surely states could compel mandatory vaccination, which is much less invasive and less likely to result in negative outcomes.

Following that, what about states that forbid abortion but do not engage in good-faith efforts to catch and convict rapists? The map at End The Backlog does not correlate well with states based on their abortion laws. The map shows Alabama as “unknown.” A quick Internet search of “rape kit backlog Alabama” pulls up articles about backlogs of over 1,000 kits. One article talks about a community that can’t gather evidence anymore because they don’t have any specially-trained nurses. Texas is listed as having over 6,000 backlogged kits. Oklahoma has 4,600. (To be fair, California’s backlog is almost 14,000 and New York’s is unknown.) Ancestry DNA websites have made even very cold cases possible to solve. Yet, our society continues to let rapists repeat.

You wrote: “I also believe that the Court could approximate your vision, in defending minority rights. But women are hardly a minority, and many women — at about the same rate as men — want abortion to be illegal.” You also wrote: “Those rights are related to minorities who cannot prevail democratically — not half the human population.”

Rights are defensible when they belong to the minority — but if the right belongs to the majority, it doesn’t need to be defended? I know you are a fan of George Orwell, but this is sounding a lot like, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” I thought rights were rights regardless of how many or which people have them. Isn’t that the point?

I'd love to see you engage with what should be the conservative argument for widespread access to contraception and abortion in the first trimester. If the conservative goal is a society where everyone contributes and rises or falls on merit, then access to reproductive health care should be a conservative priority. We know from developing nations one of the best ways to improve standards of living is to improve family planning. Most women will size their families to match the resources at hand. If conservatives want to reduce the welfare state, affordable and accessible family planning would go a long way toward doing that. Instead, the poorest states and most conservative states in our country are the ones who make it difficult.

Conservatives are the ones arguing for limited government. Getting in the middle of one of the most difficult decisions anyone will ever make does not look like limited government.

As always, thank you for an engaging read, even when I disagree.

I truly don’t think Roe is in line with public opinion, or a compromise. Here’s where Americans stand on the question from a recent Marist/PBS poll:

Nearly seven in ten (68%) support some type of restrictions on abortion. This includes 13% who think abortion should be allowed within the first six months of pregnancy, 22% who believe abortion should be allowed during the first three months of pregnancy, 23% who say abortion should be allowed in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the pregnant person, and 10% who say abortion should be allowed only to save the life of the pregnant person.

Even 52% of Democrats think limits should be put on abortion.

Roe mandated the most expansive abortion regime in the West. A democratic adjustment to the Western norm does not seem to me to be an outrage — as the polls suggest.

Yes, I do think that rapists should be brought to justice; that a complement to abortion restrictions should be much more accessible healthcare for pregnant mothers before and after birth; more distribution of contraception; greater availability of adoption options; and medical exceptions for late-term abortions where the mother desperately wants the child but deformity or genetic disease makes delivery traumatizing, and the child’s life almost certainly short. Which is to say: in that situation, it should be up to mothers and doctors.



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Jul 08, 2022
Jennifer Senior On Friendship
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Jennifer Senior was a long-time staff writer at New York magazine and a daily book critic for the NYT. Her own book is the bestseller, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. She’s now a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she won a 2022 Pulitzer for “What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind,” a story about 9/11. But in this episode we primarily focus on her essay, “It’s Your Friends Who Break Your Heart.”

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). For two clips of our convo — on why friends with different politics are increasingly rare, on how Jesus died for his friends — pop over to our YouTube page.

A new transcript is up in honor of what we are still learning about Trump’s attempted violent coup: Bob Woodward and Robert Costa on the perpetual peril of Trump. Below is a segment of that convo — probably the most significant one we’ve had on the Dishcast yet:

Turning to the debate over abortion in the ashes of Roe, a reader dissents:

I’m having a hard time understanding why you’re so misleading about abortion rights in the US compared to other nations, and naive about protection of the other rights under the 14th Amendment. Germany allows abortions up to 12 weeks for any reason, but what’s remarkable about Germany is not the 12-week mark, but that Germany offers pre-natal care, child care, employment guarantees, etc. that make it much easier for a woman if she chooses to go through with her pregnancy. The US doesn’t have anything like this.

And even with the new right in America pretending to hop on board the social insurance train, passing any laws in a conservative-majority Congress that would provide more social services to pregnant women would deliberately NOT address or protect the right of a woman to control her own fertility — that is, to decide to have a child or not. In other words, the interests of a woman’s bodily autonomy and reproductive control would be denied. That makes women, on the whole, unable to live freely in society.

But we don’t have to hop over to Europe to run a comparison. Canada protects abortion rights for any reason, with most clinics providing the procedure up to 23 weeks. This aligns with the (previous) fetal viability cutoff that Roe protected. And recently Mexico decriminalized abortion entirely, which paves the way for full, legal abortion rights.

The US is now the regressive anomaly, not the progressive outlier you insist we are. And your idea that abortion can just be decided via democracy is cute — maybe that would’ve been true in the past — but SCOTUS could care less about the legislative process. You only have to look at their recent gun decision to realize that. You should make these things clear when you discuss abortion, instead of conveniently obfuscating the context and facts.

As far as your confidence that the other rights under the 14th Amendment — gay marriage, access to contraception, etc. — will stand firm, I’m not sure why. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Coney-Barrett evoked stare decisis in their confirmation hearings, and this turned out to be a shameless lie from all of them. With the conservative majority in place, they could then take up the Dobbs case and use it to overturn Roe entirely — stare decisis be damned.

Alito left the door open to address Obergefell, etc. in his draft opinion, so why would you think Thomas taking it a step further is just him “trolling”? The majority of Americans wanted Roe left in place; its provisions were the compromise that balanced the interests of the woman with that of the fetus that you incorrectly thought was lacking. (Listen to Ezra Klein’s podcast with court expert Dahlia Lithwick to understand why that is).

Yet despite its popularity, Roe was struck down. The majority of Americans support gay marriage. But the conservative court has publicly stated now that they don't care about what Americans want or think. Alito and Thomas have clearly said what they're willing to go after next. Kavanaugh playing footsie with the idea that those other rights are safe is just another lie that you are too willing to fall for, as I was too willing to think they wouldn't, in the end, touch Roe.

As far as healthcare access in Germany, Katie Herzog made that point during our “Real Time” appearance last Friday:

From a “Real Time” watcher:

I disagree with you on quite a few issues, but appreciated your level-headed commentary on Bill Maher’s show. You’re one of the only people I saw today who forcefully made the point that the SCOTUS decision still allows for action by Congress — it’s a crucial point that has been totally lost in this discussion.

From another fan of Bill’s show:

I appreciated your take pointing out that the US is the only country that has made abortion rights a constitutional right, and I do understand your argument that this is something that needs to be decided through the democratic process. But I’m wondering if perhaps, on a deeper level, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Your attitude has been for a long time that America is unique, exceptional, in its supposed commitment to individual freedom, as reflected in its constitution. Doesn’t that imply that enshrining personal rights in its constitution is in fact a perfect evocation to our country’s exceptionalism, what sets it apart from the cynical bickering and proceduralism of European parliamentary systems?

I believe in democracy, tempered by constitutional restraints. So the kind of judicial supremacy you seem to be advocating seems outside that. I repeat that I would not have repealed Roe, for stare decisis and social stability reasons. But for the same reason, I wouldn’t have voted for it in 1973. I also believe that the Court could approximate your vision, in defending minority rights. But women are hardly a minority, and many women — at about the same rate as men — want abortion to be illegal.

Many more dissents, and other reader comments on abortion, here. That roundup addressed the concern over stare decisis that readers keep bringing up. As I wrote then:

Yes, I worry about stare decisis — but it is not an absolute bar to changing precedents. Akhil Amar, the renowned constitutional scholar at Yale, rebuts the same argument. Amar also just appeared on Bari’s podcast, in an episode titled, “The Yale Law Professor Who Is Anti-Roe But Pro-Choice” — a great listen.

Bari addressed the Dobbs decision in her new piece, “The Post-Roe Era Begins.” Another reader looks at the legislative route:

I think President Biden and the Democrats as a whole would be in a far better position with voters today if over the past 18 months they had taken that same “small bites” approach on a variety of other issues: border security, election reform and just about any other challenge where they now have nothing to show the American voters because they approached those issues if they had significant majorities in each house. They could even take this “small bites” approach right now on the abortion issue, given (as you’ve documented) that the vast majority of Americans favor access to abortions with reasonable restrictions. Instead, Chuck Schumer runs a bill that’s even more permissive than Roe.

I know it’s naïve to think we can take politics out of policymaking, but maybe, given the election hand they were dealt, it would have been good politics to pursue progress over progressivism. Right now they’d be running on a far different record (one of being the adults in the room) and could present a much stronger claim for leading our nation. Instead, they wasted a lot of time and opportunity pretending they had the clout to adopt the entire far-left progressive agenda.

Another reader delves into the Court precedents that Democrats are wringing their hands over:

You wrote about Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell: “Thomas also concedes that there could be other constitutional defenses for these previous decisions beyond ‘substantive due process.’”

There is one defense, at least. The 14th Amendment has a due process clause and an equal protection clause. When Casey upheld Roe, the right to abortion was based upon due process, not equal protection. Dobbs found that due process did not guarantee the right to abortion. Equal protection of the laws is different.

If a state allows an opposite-sex couple to marry or have sex, but bans a similarly situated same-sex couple from doing so, then equal protection of the laws is denied based upon sex, in violation of the 14th Amendment. If there were a state where females were banned from obtaining abortions but males were specifically permitted to have abortions, then that would be a denial of equal protection, based upon sex. But there is, of course, no world in which that would happen, and if there were, the state could simply ban males from having abortions as well and cure the equal-protection problem. 

Obergefell was based upon both due process and equal protection, so if due process is removed we still have equal protection. Lawrence was decided on due process alone, but it easily could be upheld based upon equal protection. (Justice O’Connor, in concurring in the ruling, said she would have relied upon equal protection instead of due process.) So Lawrence and Obergefell seem safe.

Griswold does not seem safe under equal protection, but it may be safe under other provisions, although no state is currently seriously trying to ban the sale of contraceptives. 

Although Bostock was a decision based upon the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and not on the Constitution, Gorsuch ruled that the law that banned sex discrimination in employment applied to gays and transgender people. His reasoning was that if you fire a female employee for being married to a women but don’t fire a male employee for being married to a woman, then you are discriminating based upon the employee’s sex. There is a very strong argument that the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause works similarly. 

I broadly agree with this. Speaking of the transgender debate, a parent writes:

While I generally agree with your balanced approach, I think you are still missing what is fueling the alarm on the right. As a parent of a 14 year old, I’m very aware of the extraordinary confusion that some teens now face because of the mainstream promotion of gender identities. For many kids, all this is harmless and ridiculous, and they tune it out. For a very tiny number of kids, this information may be extremely necessary, and perhaps even lifesaving, so they don’t feel so alone. 

But unfortunately, I believe there is a quite significant number of kids that have come to believe that all their teen problems will be solved if they simply lop off a few body parts. 

A few days ago I caught up with a friend who is a wreck because her 14-year-old daughter asked if she could cut off her breasts. This girl has some issues with body anxiety and acceptance, like the majority of teen girls, and has now decided she can avoid all the bad aspects of maturing into a woman by simply becoming a man, which in her mind is closer to remaining a girl, which is what she really wants. The mother is trying to help every way she can, and is about as caring and progressive as a parent can possibly be. But you have to understand how parents today are simply helpless to combat the flood of bizarre, foolish, and/or utterly toxic information that their kids find on the internet, or in social media with their classmates. 

We entirely ban our 14-year-old from all social media, and from all internet sites except for those needed for school, because we have seen time and time again how kids’ lives are getting wrecked from all that sludge. Most parents are simply not equipped to handle it. Many aren’t able to police their child as thoroughly as we do, and for those on the right with kids, I believe this very real damage has caused some to turn to any platform such as QAnon or other fringe groups that can make sense of this real trauma and harm to their kids. 

If you don’t have kids, it’s very easy to dismiss this as hysteria. But if you are aware of what's happening to kids nowadays, it’s truly terrifying.

Lisa Selin Davis would agree; her new piece on Substack is titled, “It’s a Terrifying Time to Have a Gender-Questioning Kid.” And I completely understand where the reader is coming from. I find the relentless promotion of concepts derived from critical gender and critical queer theory to be destabilizing to kids’ identities, lives and happiness. These woke fanatics are taking the real experience of less than a half percent of the population and imposing it as if it is some kind of choice for everyone else. This is called “inclusion.” It is actually “indoctrination.”

Telling an impressionable gay boy he might be a girl throws a wrench into his psychological development, adding confusion, possible generating bodily mutilation. Making all of this as cool as possible — as so many teachers and schools now do — is downright disturbing. The whole idea that all children can choose their pronouns because the tiniest proportion have gender dysphoria is a form of insanity. But it’s an insanity based on critical theory whose goal is the dismantling of all norms, and deconstruction of objective reality by calling it a function of “white supremacy.”

This next reader has “a theory I’ve wanted to float by you”:

I’m increasingly becoming of the opinion that the modern trans/gender movement is the twisted offspring of something in the gay rights movement that we thought was a good thing but actually wasn’t: the notion that someone is “born that way.”

Today, we increasingly feel the need to diagnose children who were “born a certain way” and then provide medical interventions for something that is aggressively conflating the physical and the mental. (I’m using the historical Abrahamic distinction between the two here, sure there’s a philosophical debate about whether or not this distinction exists.) And that makes perfect sense if you think that the foundation of acceptability for these immutable identities is determined at birth — we have medicine in service of zeitgeist.

I think the original sin here is going with “what we could get done” in the gay rights movement and stopping before we finished the job — of letting everyone know that these are preferences, and you need to respect and love people regardless of the choices they make and not just because they “can’t help it” because they were “born that way.” If we were to do away with this biological imperative driving identity, we’d end up with what we should really be striving for: radical acceptance of personal choices, and deconstruction of gender roles and stereotypes without engaging in pseudoscience.

The trouble with this argument, I think, is that it doesn’t reflect the experience of most gay people. We do not “choose” our orientation. That is the key point — whether that lack of choice is due to biology or early childhood or something else is irrelevant. And genuinely trans people do not choose to be trans either. It’s a profound disjunction between the sex they feel they are and the sex they actually are. It also may be caused by any number of things. But it is involuntary.

The queer left rejects this view entirely — because, in their view, there is no underlying reality to human beings, biological or psychological. It’s all about “narratives” driven by “systems of power,” and being gay or trans is infinitely malleable. That’s why they continuously use a slur word for gays — “queer” — to deconstruct homosexuality itself, and turn it merely into one of many ways in which to dismantle liberal society. I regard the “queer left” as dangerous as the far right in its belief that involuntary homosexual orientation doesn’t exist.

Lastly, a listener “would like to make a couple of suggestions for Dishcast guests”:

1) Razib Khan — he has been blogging for 20 years on genetics, particularly ancient population movements (e.g. Denisovans and Yamnaya). His Unsupervised Learning is currently the second-highest-paid science substack after Scott Alexander. To give you a flavour, his post on the genetic history of Ashkenazi Jews was very popular.

Khan also does culture war stuff, mostly because he is a scientist and believes in truth and science. He has subsequently been the subject of controversy, as you can see from his Wikipedia page — which isn’t really fair, but gives you a flavor. His post “Applying IQ to IQ: Selecting for smarts is important” is the kind of thing that gets him in trouble. He is my favourite public intellectual, in large part because he combines actual hardcore science information with anti-woke skepticism. And he is just generally a very smart and interesting guy. Though I’m a fan of his substack, I’d like to hear him on your podcast because I’d like to find out more about Razib as a person, how he feels about the controversies, etc.

2) Claire Fox — Baroness Fox of Buckley — is a former communist turned libertarian and Brexiteer, once a member of European Parliament and now a life peer in the House of Lords. Her Twitter feed gives a pretty good idea of her interests and views. Here are some clips on cancel culture in higher education; single-sex spaces for women; and a libertarian view on smoking. She broadly belongs to the British “TERF island” of gender-critical feminists. I know you’ve had Kathleen Stock on your podcast already, but Fox’s background, libertarian views and current membership in the House of Lords make her particularly interesting.

I know Razib and deeply admire him and his intellectual courage. And it’s true that, in real life, he’s a hoot, a lively conversationalist, with an amazing life story. Because of his views about the science of genetics and human populations, he is, of course, anathema to the woke left. One good reason to invite him on.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Jul 01, 2022
Jill Abramson On Journalism And Beltway Scandals
5746

Jill is a journalist, academic, and the author of five books. She’s best known as the first woman to become executive editor at the New York Times, from 2011 to 2014. She’s currently a professor in the English department at Harvard. We’ve been friends forever.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). For two clips of our convo — on whether women are better observational reporters, and looking back at the Supreme Court saga of “Long Dong Silver” — head over to our YouTube page.

We have a new transcript posted for posterity: Jamie Kirchick on his new history of gay Washington, recorded in front of a live audience at Twenty Summers in Ptown. If you missed it, here’s a teaser:

With Pride still marching along this month, a reader writes:

You frequently cover the takeover of the gay rights movement by transgender ideology, and how that can be at odds with the sex-based rights our generation fought for. I want to share a glimpse that I got at another under-discussed appropriation of the movement that’s significantly less threatening, but still leaves me feeling a bit out in the cold as a gay man: Pride going mainstream.

I live in a small Midwestern exurb that recently began hosting its own Pride parade. This is not a small event — the banners go up well before June and stick around much of the summer, and it draws a crowd on par with our largest town festivals. I’ve generally avoided it, assuming it would be chock full of pink-and-blue flags and wanting to spare myself the political frustration. I also figured that a Pride parade in a town like mine indicated how unnecessary Pride parades have become.

But this year I found out my (straight) brother was bringing his family, including my very young nieces and nephews. I wanted to see the kids, and I hoped my presence might provide some contrast to whatever left-wing antics they saw there. I was also curious how a Pride parade could possibly be family friendly enough for elementary school kids.

Long story short, the whole thing was incredibly anodyne. I saw a couple drag queens and exactly one trans flag, but otherwise you would think it was a parade to celebrate rainbows. There were a few other older gay men wandering around, looking as awkward as I was. I had been worried about how to explain things to the kids, but I don’t think they even realized there was any connection to myself or my husband — they were in it mainly to catch candy. I don’t even recall seeing the words “rights” or “equality” mentioned. The messages were along the lines of “Be Yourself” and “Love Wins!”

Afterwards, I learned that this event had been founded not by a homosexual, nor by a trans person, but rather by someone’s mother. Her daughter came out to her (I’m not even sure as what) and the mother decided she needed to show her daughter she was loved no matter what. And it all suddenly made sense. This was what a well-meaning mom wants to see when she sees gay pride. Be yourself! Love wins!

I don’t want to say this kind of thing should stop. It was a nice enough time, and I don’t disagree with the message. But, I do wish more people understood exactly how unrooted “Pride” has become from the gay culture that started it and the reasons it was necessary. As I explained to my own mother afterwards, I don’t know of any man who had ever been imprisoned or assaulted just for loving another man. It was always about sex, and it’s still about sex. We just can’t mention that at Pride anymore, I guess.

I suspect a great deal of this is a function of getting what we asked for — and the consequences of that taking root. Pride now is for straights as much as for gays — just as all the old super-gay events — like the High Heel Drag Race for Halloween in DC - went from being broken up by the cops (in my adult lifetime) to being packed with countless young straight women trying to be cool — and parents and all the letters of the alphabet. I’m made uncomfortable by some of this mass cultural appropriation — but that’s just my nostalgia for an era which I’m glad is now gone. We need to take yes for an answer, and as I wrote nearly 20 years ago, a very distinctive gay culture will end because of it.

If you missed last week’s pod with David Goodhart, here’s a primer:

This listener enjoyed the episode:

On the conversation with David Goodhart, I want to chime in about your argument that one of the great contributions of Christianity, historically, has been reminding smart people that they aren’t any better than anyone else — and might indeed be worse, because of the arrogance and ambition that often accompanies that trait. It reminded me of a seminal moment in my childhood.

I was 10, and I had just lost the regional spelling bee in a hard-fought match in which the last kid and I went several rounds before I made an error that he capitalized on. I turned to shake his hand. My dad told me later that night, “When you shook that boy’s hand, I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of you. You showed graciousness in a bitter moment, and it’s one of the hardest things to learn to do. I’m never going to be proud that you’re smart. That was a genetic luck of the draw and you had no more to do with it than you did with having brown hair or being a little scrawny. But how you responded is your character, and I DO care about that, and I am immensely proud of you.”

I think the fact that that was a consistent message at home when I was getting a lot of accolades at school probably made me marginally less unbearable than I would have been otherwise. I should say that my family is Southern Baptist; our faith was part of the warp and woof of daily life and the lens through which my parents interpreted life and what was worthy and valuable. Being smart was nice, but not nearly as important as being kind and generous and forgiving. I’m very grateful to have been raised like that.

Me too. Another listener also took the convo personally:

I’m so grateful for your episode with David Goodhart, which covered a topic that is both intensely personal and professionally important to me. My father is one of seven children of an Italian immigrant who was a short-haul truck driver. He almost flunked out of high school and only finished because his father threatened to kick his ass if he didn’t. 

Talking to my dad, any highly educated person would instantly dismiss his opinions and observations. But he wouldn’t care. After high school he started his own business — a car repair and towing company. After 40 years he retired with one million dollars, having bought our family home outright and having sent both my sister and myself to college, and me to law school. 

Yes, he did this through hard work and persistence, but he also did it through extremely competent business management and strategic savvy. He survived the shutdown of a local mine (70% of his business at the time), the recessions and gas shortages of the 1970's, cyclical recessions and more.  You don’t do that unless you know how to identify risks and opportunities and exploit them to your own advantage. If that isn’t intelligence, I don’t know what is.  

I myself work at a talent firm. My job entails creating a business model to help move junior enlisted veterans without college degrees into good-paying jobs with our skilled-manufacturing clients. It’s been fascinating to talk to companies who are still resistant to paying living wages at entry-level positions in the face of literally one million-plus competing job openings. I agree with Goodhart that reality is going to force a lot of rethinking about the value of labor of all kinds. It may take a while, but we are already seeing a few companies that are all-in on paying enough to attract this talent. They are far less nervous about the future.

Thank you for this episode, and please find more guests who want to discuss this topic: How to recognize and reward everyone’s strengths, and how to measure success in new ways.  

Another listener recommends a guest:

I’d love to see you interview Greg Clark, economic historian at UC Davis. His work on the heritability of social status is fascinating. Using surname data from England, he’s found that social status is strongly heritable but that it drifts back to the mean over many generations. So everyone’s ancestors will be elite or downtrodden eventually, but it might take 400 years. 

The key factor is assortative marriage and mating. Even before women had careers and got educations, you could predict the type of person a woman would marry by looking at the social status of her brother. Clark has shown how the same phenomenon exists in Scandinavia, China, etc. Most interestingly the data show that although income inequality is less in Scandinavian countries because of redistribution, educational and other achievements like admission to scientific societies, it’s just as unequal as other countries. They also show that even communist revolutions in China and Hungary didn’t prevent people with high social status names from reasserting dominance within a generation or two.

Twin studies and data where unexpected parental deaths happen show that the differences can’t be environmental. It’s just amazing and totally under reported for obvious reasons, but I do think this data will blow the lid off our current debate. It’s also great that Clark’s data is about white English people and doesn’t involve race at its core. (Here’s a link to one of his key research papers.)

I’ve been impressed with Clark since his book, A Farewell To Alms. It’s a great reader suggestion.



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Jun 24, 2022
David Goodhart On Overvaluing Smarts
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David Goodhart is a British journalist. In 1995 he founded Prospect, the center-left political magazine, where he served as editor for 15 years, and then became the director of Demos, the cross-party think tank. His book The Road to Somewhere coined the terms “Anywheres” and “Somewheres” to help us understand populism in the contemporary West. We also discuss his latest book, Head Hand Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). For two clips of our convo — on why elites favor open borders, and why smart people are overvalued — head over to our YouTube page.

Early in the episode, David discusses how his adolescent schooling in Marxism was “a bit like how people sometimes talk about the classics as a sort of intellectual gymnasium — learning how to argue.” Which brings to mind the following note from a listener:

I feel compelled to tell you how much I enjoyed listening to your episode with Roosevelt Montás. I’m a retired lawyer in my 60s, and although I had a decent education growing up, my experience did not involve a full immersion in the classics. Hearing you two talk was like sitting in a dorm room in college — except the people talking are older, wiser, actually know what they were talking about. What a treat. I’m a pretty regular listener of the Dishcast, and this was the best yet in my opinion.

Much of this week’s episode with David centers on how our capitalist society ascribes too much social and moral value to cognitive ability. That theme was also central to our episode last year with Charles Murray, who emphasizes in the following clip the “unearned gift” of high IQ:

The following listener was a big fan of the episode (which we transcribed last week):

I must tell you that your conversation with Charles Murray was the single best podcast I’ve ever heard. So deep, broad, and thought provoking. Thank you both for your willingness to explore “unacceptable” ideas so thoughtfully and carefully.

I have read two of Charles’ books — Human Diversity and Facing Reality — and, among other things, I am stunned by how ordinary a person he seems to be. That sounds odd. What I mean to say is that, while few people could analyze and assemble so much data and present it so compellingly, his conclusions are what the average person “already knows.” I suspect that most people couldn’t plow through Human Diversity, but given a brief synopsis, they would say “duh.”

When you mentioned your deep respect for black culture in America, you touched on something I wish had been more developed in Charles’ books: the option we have of celebrating human diversity rather than resigning ourselves to it or denying it. I would like to develop that idea a bit further:

Conservation biologists understand (celebrate) the value of genetic diversity in nonhuman species, because each population potentially brings to the species genes that will allow it to flourish under some future environmental challenge, whether that be disease outbreak, climate change, competition from invasive species, etc. Humans too, as living organisms, have faced and will undoubtedly continue to face many unforeseen challenges, whether environmental, cultural, economic, etc. Hopefully, we will continue to rise to these challenges, but we have no way of knowing which genes from which populations will carry the critical traits that will allow us to do so.

So, all the better that races DO differ and ARE diverse — in the aggregate, on average. Population differences are GOOD for a species because they confer resilience!

Oh, and for the record, I tend to be center-left, with most of my friends leaning further to the left, so the ideas you presented are forbidden fruits. I cannot discuss them with anyone other than my husband, who can hardly bear to listen because they are so taboo in our circle.

Here’s another clip with Charles, bringing Christianity into the mix:

This next listener strongly dissents:

Charles Murray, and you as well, seem to believe that you can magically separate out the effects of culture and poverty, and determine the effect of “race” on intelligence, which you define as IQ. The problem is, everything you’ve discussed here is nonsense.

First, you assume that the term “race” describes a shorthand for people who share a common genetic background, and I suspect this is garbage. Most American Blacks have multi-ethnic backgrounds, with skin melanin being the main shared genetic feature. So, there’s little reason to believe that there’s a correlation between melanin content and other genetic features.

Second, you assume that IQ describes general intelligence, that G factor Murray talks about. But intelligence is clearly multi-dimensional. My wife and youngest daughter have a facility with Scrabble, and general word enumeration games, that is way beyond me, and they’re better writers than I am. On the other hand, I have a general facility with mathematics that they can’t match (though my oldest daughter might be able to). 

And that’s just two dimensions; I’d bet there are many more, encompassing things like artistic talent, architectural design and talents in other arenas. You yourself are an excellent writer and interviewer, but I’ve read your writings for years, and I’d bet your understanding of statistics is elementary at best.

Finally, you have no answer to the remarkable changes in IQ in Ashkenazi Jews over the past century. Supposedly IQ is supposed to represent an innate and unchangeable measurement of intelligence. And if you believe that average IQ of an ethnic group is a meaningful measurement, then you have to explain the changes in average IQ among American Jews over the past century. Goddard in the early 20th century claimed that 83% of tested Jews were feebleminded, while today, the great grandchildren of those feebleminded Jews now have IQs 1/2 to a full standard deviation above their co-nationalists. 

There’s an obvious answer here: IQ tests simply don’t test anything fundamental, but instead test how integrated into American culture the tested subjects were at the time.

These are serious challenges to the idea that specific ethnic groups have unchangeable intellectual talents: some of your ethnic groups are non-homogeneous genetically, your definition of intelligence is simplistic, and there’s clear evidence that social integration greatly overwhelms any inter-group average differences. It is obvious that some people are more talented in one area than another, and that a significant amount of these differences are determined genetically. But when you move from the case of individuals to trying to correlate American racial groups with intelligence, I truly believe you’re just making a big mistake. 

Many Blacks in this country have grown up with the expectations that they simply can’t succeed on their own. I find it impossible to believe that we can filter out the effect of being raised with the expectation of failure. I work in tech, and it seems that a seriously disproportionate number of Blacks at my Gang of Five company come from the Caribbean — where, of course, Blacks are a majority and don’t face the same expectations of failure. We had a panel discussion on race and all the panelists came from the Caribbean, and all had stories of parental expectations that you’d expect from a stereotypical Asian-American family today.

That said, right now, the Woke are acting more patronizing (and in my view, racist) than anything since the ‘60s. At this point, the Woke (I refuse to apply this label to the whole Left) treat Blacks as incredibly fragile beings who can’t handle any discussions of problems that aren’t laid at the feet of white people’s racism. It’s pretty disgusting.

Instead of going point for point with my reader, here’s a comprehensive list of Dish coverage on the subject from the blog days. Another listener recommends a related guest for the Dishcast:

After ruminating on some of your recent podcasts, I’d like to suggest a future guest: Paige Harden, author of The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality and professor of behavioral psychology at the University of Texas-Austin. I imagine you’ve read her profile in The New Yorker. Since your conversation with Briahna Joy Gray, the tension between matters of structure and personal agency have been echoing in my head.

When I listen to other guests of yours, other podcast hosts, other conservatives, I see everywhere the tension between structure and personal agency. And having read Harden’s book this fall, I’ve been thinking of her work more and more as a bridge between these seemingly divergent world views. She swims in the same research waters as Charles Murray and Robert Plomin — but she (a) is explicitly clear that this research has, as of yet, no value in studying ethnic groups and (b) treats environmental factors differently than they do.

On the latter, Harden makes some compelling arguments about the interplay between environment and expression of individuals’ genes (and thus abilities). It’s easy to see the corollaries in personal ability and responsibility (both with strong roots in genetics) versus the leftist tendency to dismiss people’s actions vis a vis blaming structural inequalities.

Harden sometimes trades in some language verging on woke, for lack of a better term, but her more nuanced philosophical references are to John Rawls, not neo-Marxists. She’s really quite convincing. Also, I’ve always appreciated that you ask your guests to reflect on their upbringing and how they got where they are. Having read that New Yorker piece and her book, I think hers is an interesting story in and of itself.

It is indeed. Harden is a great idea for a guest. I’ll confess that I felt I needed to read her book thoroughly to engage her, and didn’t have the time so put it off. Thanks for the reminder.

A reader responds to a quote we posted last week praising Mike Pence for standing up to Trump after the assault on the Capitol:

Pence had innumerable chances over years to expose Trump for exactly what he was. Besides one forceful speech since, there hasn’t been much else from the MAGA-excommunicated, nearly-executed veep. How about a live appearance before the Jan 6 Commission, Mr Vice President? Probably not.

While I agree that Mike Pence may have saved the republic on Jan 6, he only did so with a gun to his head — with an actual gallows erected for him, while the Capitol was being stormed and people were dying. Better late than never, but he really cut it close, no?

Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney are the profiles in courage here, along with all those Capitol police. Pence doesn’t deserve this lionization … at least not yet.

Points taken. But to be honest, any mainstream Republican who opposed the attempted coup is a hero in my book. Another reader quotes me and dissents:

The early Biden assurance that inflation was only a blip has become ridiculous, as Janet Yellen herself has conceded. No, Biden isn’t responsible for most of it. But some of it? Yep. A massive boost to demand when supply is crippled is dumb policy making. And imagine how worse it would be if Biden had gotten his entire package. Larry Summers was right — again.

European countries did not have stimulus like we did, yet they are experiencing similar levels of inflation. This would indicate that inflation is a world-wide phenomenon and not tied to our particular stimulus packages. Also, Larry Summers has been pretty much wrong on everything — here’s a synopsis from 2013 (or just google “larry summers wrong on everything” and see the articles that pop up). Money quote:

And Summers has made a lot of errors in the past 20 years, despite the eminence of his research. As a government official, he helped author a series of ultimately disastrous or wrongheaded policies, from his big deregulatory moves as a Clinton administration apparatchik to his too-tepid response to the Great Recession as Obama's chief economic adviser. Summers pushed a stimulus that was too meek, and, along with his chief ally, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, he helped to ensure that millions of desperate mortgage-holders would stay underwater by failing to support a "cramdown" that would have allowed federal bankruptcy judges to have banks reduce mortgage balances, cut interest rates, and lengthen the terms of loans. At the same time, he supported every bailout of financial firms.

All of this has left the economy still in the doldrums, five years after Lehman Brothers' 2008 collapse, and hurt the middle class. Yet in no instance has Summers ever been known to publicly acknowledge a mistake.

Sorry, but the EU provided a Covid stimulus of $2.2 trillion. And Summers was clearly right in this case, and Janet Yellen wrong. Another reader also pushes back on the passage I wrote above:

I have a bone to pick with you when you discuss the Biden economic policy. Your contention is that the American Rescue Plan was “dumb policy making” because it exacerbated inflation. Fair enough — but if we are going to discuss the economy, then we need to have a full exploration of the policy choices and their implications.

Yes, we have had six months of multi-decade high inflation, but we also have had about a year of near-record lows in unemployment and record-high job creation. Before you dismiss that as simply due to the reopening of the economy post-COVID, it’s worth noting that the American economic recovery has vastly outperformed all prognostications, as well as other Western economies. So in sum, the result of Biden’s policy is high inflation, high growth, high job creation, low unemployment.

Let’s be clear then: when you criticize the ARP as too big and thus causing inflation, you are advocating for stable prices at the cost of a low growth, high unemployment environment. It’s a fair argument, I suppose. But after having lived through the weak economic recovery engineered by Larry Summers during the Obama administration, one that choked the early careers of many millennials, I’m not sure Biden’s choice was particularly egregious. 

But what we may well be about to get is stagflation — as interest rates go up even as inflation continues. It’s possible we fucked up both times: in 2009 with too little stimulus and in 2020 too much. I understand why those decisions were taken and the reasons were sane. But they were still wrong.

Tim Noah has been doing great work lately on these questions of inflation and recession, including an interview with Summers. This next reader defends Biden’s record on the economy and beyond:

The pragmatic counter-argument to your criticism of Biden is this: his economic program, while inflationary, produced unprecedented job growth after a recession, reductions by 50% in child poverty, more than five new business startups, and increases in business investment and personal bank balances of more than 20%. It’s among the reasons the American economy is outperforming China’s for the first time in two generations.

Biden’s signature foreign policy achievements in Central Europe have led to the enlargement of NATO and awakened Europe to its responsibilities to its own security, all of which will contain Russia over the long term. This precedent, coupled with the Aussie-Brit nuclear deal, opens real possibilities for containing China’s potential regional expansion in Asia.

At home, Biden’s Justice Department, like Gerald Ford’s, is fumigating the fetid stench of politics it inherited. The Biden White House has re-opened the doors to governors and mayors who need help from Washington in a disaster, regardless of partisan affiliation or views of Dear Leader; and it is laying the groundwork for a much-needed affordable-housing boom in our cities.

Your hopes for a politics of dynamic centrism, which I share, does not take into account that as many as 10 million of our fellow citizens are prone to political violence due to the real-world influence of Great Replacement Theory, according to Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago. There is no comparable threat from the illiberalism on the left — which is a problem, nonetheless. In the wake of Trump’s loss in 2020, leading Republicans, including the governors of Florida and Texas, are competing for those constituents. That’s a movement my fellow classical liberals and I — stretching from the center-left to the center-right — can and should live without. Bill Buckley wouldn’t have sucked up to them.

In the real world, the GOP wooing of the violent right poses an existential threat to our quality of life. It’s why I am voting straight Democratic in 2022. And it is why I would gladly vote for Biden, again in 2024, if he sought re-election.

Happy to air your perspective. This next reader is bracing himself for Trump 2024:

I know it gives you a warm feeling all over to write a column about the revolt against the woke, but it won’t be wokism that propels Republicans into office in 2022 and returns Trump to power in 2024 — something I agree will be a disaster for the republic. Trump’s return to power feels inevitable to me today. The January 6th hearings will make no difference to Trump supporters.

Don’t get me wrong; I think wokism is annoying and stupid, but it is not the threat to the nation that you believe it is, and it never was. Wokism has destroyed the left and that is the real tragedy. Instead of a populist left railing against the rich, we have a bourgeois left railing against heterosexual white men, leaving the working class in the thrall of an American Orban. The working class now feels that the left and Democrats have failed them; and they are right, they have.

Americans will vote for Republican for one reason: inflation. It should be no surprise that inflation is out of control, but both Biden and Trump spent billions helping people who were unable to work during Covid (the right policy) without raising taxes (the wrong policy). Now, to fight inflation we need to raise taxes and that is impossible; there aren’t the votes in the Senate.

American tax policy is insane. You can have low taxes, or you can solve social problems like helping people who can’t work because of a pandemic, an inadequate public health system still unprepared for the next pandemic, homelessness and addiction, and crime. But you can’t have both. It really isn’t that complicated.

Grateful as always for the counterpoints, and you can always send your own to dish@andrewsullivan.com. Another dissenter gets historical:

I agree wholeheartedly with your clarion condemnation of the odious Trump. But you are wide of the historical mark when you state that Trump is “the first real tyrannical spirit to inhabit the office since Andrew Jackson.” Jackson was authoritarian in character. He was a product of the trauma of the Revolution and he brought his military identity to the White House. But he was not a tyrant or dictator. (There is more historical evidence for Lincoln as dictatorial than Jackson.) More appropriate — if non-American — comparisons for Trump would be Henry VIII, Wilhelm II, Mussolini and Nixon.

Mind you, an interesting Dishcast guest would be Jon Meacham to discuss US presidents with authoritarian tendencies: Adams Sr., Polk, Andrew Johnson, Teddy R and Wilson. All expressed some form of authoritarianism, but sometimes the presidency and the nation derived benefit

Another digs deeper into the Jackson comparison:

I suggest you interview W.H. Brands, who wrote a biography of Andrew Jackson. There are many ways to judge a history book, but to me an important criterion is, did I learn anything I did not already know?  Reading this book I did.

I am only going to mention one of a good number events in Jackson’s life that Brands brings to the forefront. After the Battle of New Orleans, Gen. Jackson had ordered that a curfew remain in effect and that the city was to remain under martial law. For good reason: while the British offensive on one flank was a disaster, they had relative success on the other flank, and their remaining commander could have ended the truce and ordered another attack. 

But the British never did a follow-up attack. One New Orleans business man then took Andrew Jackson to court, claiming he endured an unnecessary economic loss on account of the military curfew. 

The court ruled in the businessman’s favor. AND, incredibly, Andrew Jackson paid the fine! Now stop and think, what must have been on Old Hickory’s mind. Here he risks life and limb to save the city from British domination, and he’s fined. Andrew could think, why should I pay?  I’ve got the Army in my control, I’m not just a commander whom soldiers fear, but also one that has the adulation and respect of my soldiers and the populace at large.   

To me, that episode reveals that Jackson was hardly the tyrant he is portrayed to be by most modernists steeped in presentism. He should never be placed in the same sentence as Trump unless the word “contrast” or “opposite” is used. Let's keep Old Hickory away from any such comparisons and let his image remain on that $20 bill!

Well I learned something from that email — so many thanks. Meacham is a good idea too.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Jun 17, 2022
Jamie Kirchick On Gay Washington

We took the podcast on the road this week — to Provincetown for a live chat with Jamie Kirchick, whose new book, Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington, I reviewed last week. We were able to discuss much more than could be covered in pixels — with questions from the audience as well. Many thanks to Twenty Summers for hosting the event.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here. For two clips of my convo with Jamie — on the similarities between anti-Semitism and homophobia, and on whether J. Edgar Hoover was gay — head over to our YouTube page.

Also: new week, new transcript — this time with Charles Murray. It was one of the most popular episodes last year, and if you never listened to it, now’s your chance to read it as well.

Looking back to our episode with Kathleen Stock (who has since moved to Substack!), we still have many unaired emails from listeners. The first writes:

I just wanted to email to say thank you for the work you’re doing on the (potential) threat of trans ideology to cis gays. I’m a 33-year-old cis gay in Australia, and I was a bit confused by trans stuff at first, because I felt I was supposed to implicitly understand trans issues, existing in that “LGBT” bloc. Back around 2013, any trans-related conversation amounted to laughing about the silliness of the “xe/xir” stuff, while still acknowledging that it’s simple human decency to use whatever pronouns someone asks me to use.

As Kathleen Stock said on your podcast, respecting trans people through their struggle always seemed “costless.” Clearly, that is no longer true. Something has changed for the worse; the most visible, loud and most obnoxious segment of the LGBT community are the “queer fascists.” I’m called a bigot for simply acknowledging that there exist people who detransition (without even mentioning whether transgenderism might be a form of gay conversion therapy, in some cases). I could go on and on, obviously, but again: thank you.

P.S. I adored your point on Brendan O’Neill’s show about how the queer community used to be the resistance, but has transitioned into being the censorious puritans.

Here’s a clip from the Stock pod:

From another listener who “LOVED the conversation with Kathleen Stock”:

I’m an intersex person and can say with authority that human bodies are weird. Mine doesn’t produce enough sex hormone. I tried testosterone and developed anxiety, depression, and depersonalization, so I’m now going in the other direction and I’m much happier.

My pronouns are “whatever you want,” and I’m fully aware that I’m atypical. I don’t care for the “trans” label because of how ridiculous it has become. That makes my heart hurt for those who have battled very hard to be recognized only to watch their identity subverted into something meaningless by a vicious and thoughtless mob. 

I hate what was done to Kathleen or anyone else who says, “Hey, wait a minute, we should talk about this.” I don’t know when talking about our differences became so damn dangerous. It’s intellectually dishonest. Weren’t universities supposed to be the places to halt this kind of thing, where ideas could be debated and reasoned through? But if the universities are all businesses now, and their incentives are about how to get more paying students, then where else can the debate be had? Where are the incentives more closely aligned with the public good rather than the almighty dollar? I don’t know. I worry that place doesn’t exist here in the US.

One thing that was truly horrifying was when you mentioned that gay kids are being told they’re trans because they’re gay. That’s evil. I don’t know what else to call it.

Human brains aren’t done forming until what, our 20s? There’s a reason peer pressure is so pernicious for teenagers, and it seems strange that many adults seem to have forgotten it and blithely go along with kids (rare exceptions aside) who want to block their own puberty or have a double mastectomy before they can legally vote.

Anyways, I enjoyed every minute of your conversation with Kathleen, even the part where you went on about how “I don’t even know what non-binary IS,” because that’s how I feel as a non-binary person! I’m not comfortable with either of given options, nor am I comfortable in any same-sex space (but I manage in airports). Again, I’m atypical on the chromosomal level, so while I can’t speak to everyone’s experience, I can say mine is a bit more existential than the random 16 year old who’s decided, along with their entire social circle, that they’re suddenly non-binary and have all dyed their hair blue. Sometimes it feels like I’m riding around in a clown car, to be honest.

From another fan of the episode, a medical doctor:

I admire both you and Kathleen Stock. The more I learn about what is being done to children who don’t conform to stereotypes, the more horrified I’ve become.  During my lifetime, much has been done to accept people, including children as they are. We’ve come to recognize that there’s a great deal of variance of normal around the mean. 

But when it comes to subjecting children to dangerous medical interventions, we no longer need to worry about causing real harm? To me it appears that some physicians have no qualms about experimenting on healthy children. Malicious intent is all that’s missing for this to be criminal misuse of medical science.

I have no platform to use to try to stop this. I appreciate that you and Dr. Stock are making an effort to put the brakes on this madness. 

Another medical doctor who sounded off on the trans debate was the great Dana Beyer:

Listen to the whole episode here. Another listener reflects on the trans debate more broadly:

Though I find the entire trans/gender battle beyond exhausting, the recent events surrounding the swimmer at Penn brought it front and center for me. Partly because I was a competitive swimmer in HS, but mostly because my girlfriend’s daughter is a championship-level swimmer with a scholarship to a top-tier program after HS. (By the way, the daughter is not okay with the Penn swimmer.)

I have a degree in English, and I’m fortunate to have a lifelong best friend whose father is a linguist. And there were two linguistic tools recently designed to serve one group’s agenda while doing a terrible disservice to the one that should matter.

The first was to change the term transsexual to “transgender,” shifting from a term defining the biology of gender dysphoria to one that is intentionally far more vague. The second was to create the shorthand term “trans,” which acts a vehicle for the first by turning something that affects .03% of the population into something broader and far more inclusive.

It’s these subtle yet effective shifts in language that facilitate the gender vs biological sex movements, and accepting that someone who still has a penis can be defined as a woman. Now, “trans” is a definition designed to cover any permutation of gender non-conformity instead of actual gender dysphoria, as defined in the DSM-5. And it has opened the door to well-meaning (I assume) adults making terrible decisions regarding child development.

Growing up as a boy, all my closest relatives — sister, cousins, an aunt three years older than me — were girls. I ended up playing with them often, regardless of the game or what items were involved (dolls, etc). I followed their lead and even thought I was supposed to pee sitting down. None of this was driven by a desire to be a girl, but rather just to be included. And like many boys, my first forays into my own genitalia involved other boys, as we learned about our bodies.

But by the time I neared puberty, it was clear that I was both male and heterosexual. Yet, I fear that children growing up today in similar circumstances will find themselves in a world of confusion, brought on by adults, not their playmates.

Speaking of confused kids, another listener:

I’ve heard you express frustration and/or disbelief at the rate of depression among gay youth today, despite how much easier things are for them compared to the ‘70s and ‘80s. I just wanted to point out that many young people seem to believe that gay means same-gender attraction, not same-sex. This seems to be part of the Queer umbrella where heterosexual people can identify as another gender and so claim a gay identity. This makes no sense to me (I also find it homophobic), and I wonder if the whole mess contributes to the rates of depression among Millennials and Gen Z.

One of those confused kids was Helena Kerschner, a young woman who transitioned and then detransitioned:

Listen to her whole story, along with the inimitable Buck Angel’s, here. Another good point comes from this listener:

I see the current kerfuffle about trans identities as reflecting the inability to experience complexity without anxiety and a desire to simplify things. That a person can have what are seen as conflicting senses of themselves — as a man, as a man/woman, woman/man, or somewhere in-between — is too complex for some people. Some I expect do find the idea anxiety-provoking — leading to questions about themselves, in a Freudian way — and they are trying to solve their problems by forcing others into boxes.

Circling back to the Stock episode, another listener:

I do want to push back on, and encourage you to revisit in depth, your point of disagreement with Kathleen over the use of puberty blockers and hormone treatments in transgender youth. While the issues are surely different in the case of adults who have reached the age of consent (though even here there is a strong reason for limiting what can be done in the name of medicine in the strict sense, with consequences for what insurance policies should have to cover), the idea that a child could be given permanently life-altering treatments on the basis of a diagnosis for which, as Kathleen observed, there are simply no rigorous criteria, and to treat a psychological condition that could very well turn out not to be lasting, seems utterly abhorrent.

What serious arguments are there in defense of this? What are the responses to the obvious objections? Finally, what should liberal people, who are opposed to these treatments but nevertheless prize individual autonomy and fear governmental overreach, think about the various legislative strategies that are on offer to forbid or restrict access to them? I hope that this is a conversation you’ll be able to keep on having.

Some kids are definitely trans, know it, and panic at the thought of puberty. In extreme cases, in which the child seems truly desperate, I don’t want to get in the way of an individual doctor, child and parents making this decision. But as routine care? It scares me. For more debate on this ongoing issue, check out the Dishcast episode with Mara Keisling, the founding executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. A clip of our constructive disagreement:

Lastly, a listener looks ahead:

I’m writing to suggest a guest (though I am not sure she accepts podcast invitations). There’s a point of view on trans issues I haven’t really heard adequately represented on your podcasts or in your blog posts. I think the person who best articulates it is Natalie Wynn, aka Contrapoints. I recently watched her YouTube episode on J.K. Rowling (and TERFs in general). It was brilliant, and opened my mind to many of the tropes and biases we hear all the time that I wasn’t fully hearing. Natalie is extremely smart, articulate, funny, and not afraid to say things that piss off her tribe. 

Thanks so much for the suggestion. Keep them coming — along with your dissents, assents and personal stories: dish@andrewsullivan.com. And you can browse the entire Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Jun 10, 2022
Robert Wright On The Ukraine Crisis

Bob is a journalist, public intellectual, and the author of many books, including The Moral Animal, Nonzero, The Evolution of God, and Why Buddhism Is True. He’s written for countless magazines, including The New Republic, where he co-wrote the TRB column with Mickey Kaus. He and Mickey also co-founded Bloggingheads TV, and the two regularly converse on The Wright Show and The Parrot Room. He also has his own Substack, the Nonzero Newsletter.

Bob is quite simply brilliant, and his books have been very influential in the development of my own thinking. Empirical but spiritual, he’s one of a kind.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). For two clips of my convo with Bob — on what could possibly stop Putin now, and on the danger of humiliating a country — head over to our YouTube page.

New transcript just dropped: my convo with Jonathan Haidt over the damage wrought by social media over the past decade. A primer:

A listener gives “thanks for producing an interesting, thought-provoking podcast” — then dissents:

There was much interesting material in your interview last week with Francis Fukuyama, but there was one major source of disappointment and irritation: your misrepresentation of the ideas of Michel Foucault. 

Blame Foucault for what you want, but at least try to represent his work truthfully. Contrary to what you asserted, there is no theory of conspiracy in Foucault. On the contrary, he sought to explain that power is exercised in society much less by domination by a few than by influence through diffuse means. He documented how mechanisms of power emerge over time to establish social order in the face of changing economic, social and cultural conditions.  

In fact, Foucault sought to answer the question you asked at the end of your interview: if we’re all autonomous, how do we create community? What is it, Foucault asked, that brings order to society at different times, that makes us behave and think in tune with each other, that makes us behave in socially compatible ways, that makes us see ourselves as part of society, and how do we deal with those who seem to deviate from prescribed ways of being and acting?

There’s no conspiracy there. There is the steady construction, by numerous people looking to make life more manageable, more productive, etc., of intellectual, institutional and practical means of bringing some order to things and of getting individuals to internalize that order.

Here’s a clip from the Fukuyama episode that’s getting a lot of views:

Next, a long dissent over last week’s column, “Can A Cult Become A Movement?”:

You wrote: “A figure who could mimic Trump’s broader f**k-it-all style, and focus on substantive policy more than Trump does, and have a record of actually getting s**t done, could conceivably co-opt the Trump populism without the Trump baggage.”

You must be joking. How do you propose for Trump’s successor to “mimic Trump’s broader f**k-it-all style” — the “it” apparently including democratic norms, the U.S. Constitution, and America’s 200-plus-year tradition of peaceful transitions of power? Trump doesn’t have “baggage.” Not telling your fiancée that you’ve fathered a child during a drunken one-night stand is “baggage.” What Trump has is a proven willingness to burn everything to the ground rather than do the right thing when said right thing involves any damage to his ego.

And here’s the kicker: Trump would not have been able to do what he did had it not been for the approval of the GOP.

You seem to believe that Trump is the problem, and as soon as he goes away, we can all get back to normal and pretend the Trump presidency never happened. Sorry to shout in all caps, but this is really freaking important: TRUMP IS NOT THE PROBLEM. TRUMP IS A SYMPTOM.

Trump is a symptom of a political party that (with very, very few honorable exceptions) wants to grab onto power and hold onto it, ethics be damned. They stood by while Trump spread vicious lies, tried to pressure a secretary of state into altering vote counts, incited a riot (complete with chants of “Hang Mike Pence”), and continues to act like a victim who has been wrongfully deprived of his throne. Had some combination of his cabinet members and GOP congresspeople told him, “Shut up, you clown, what you’re doing is wrong,” January 6 would not have happened.

As Bill Maher said on his show, “It’s time to admit that the Republicans don’t just hate the Democrats; they hate democracy. They hate the player and the game!”

And you want them back in the White House? Because Biden is old and decrepit and something about trans children and CRT and inflation? I’m sorry to say it, but you sound like Trump apologists back in 2016: “Yes, Trump did some bad things, but Hillary’s emails! And Benghazi!11!!!11”

As for the Democrats, I highly recommend this piece by your fellow Substacker Freddie de Boer. To summarize: Democrats suffer from a “worst of both worlds” scenario. On Twitter and in the media, they are the woke fanatics who want to cancel you for using the wrong pronoun and to teach your children that all cis-het white Americans are the Antichrist. In Congress, they are a coalition of woke activists, centrists, and everyone in between, forced to plead with Romney, Collins, and Manchinema to get anything done. The former is more conspicuous than the latter, and so the average voter gets a mental image of Democrats as crazy extremists, while actual progressives are tearing their hair out in frustration with not being able to save the climate and implement universal childcare.

Also, I am well and truly flabbergasted by your juxtaposition of “How awful that innocent children have been murdered with a gun! We must do something about the easy availability of guns in our country!” with “Wouldn’t it be swell if Governor DeSantis [who received an A rating from the NRA] became our President in 2024!”

Face, meet palm; head, meet desk.

Mr. Sullivan, I know you’re a conservative, and I don’t expect you to be happy about the Democrats’ positions on taxes and abortion and whatnot. But please, for the love of all that is holy, do not let that blind you to the danger that the GOP represents. To answer the question in your headline — Can A Cult Become A Movement? — no. No, it cannot. Not if you want America to remain a democracy. 

As any longtime reader will know, I have no brief for the GOP. I’ve been harshly criticizing it for decades. I would vote for any Democrat rather than Trump, who remains a profound threat to what’s left of liberal democracy. And even if you think Trump represents the real GOP, I don’t think you can argue that his personal vileness, demagogic genius, and insatiable narcissism didn’t also make a difference.

And the fact is: we have two parties, the Democrats have completely bungled their opportunity to recapture a vacated center, and I profoundly oppose their ever-leftward social authoritarianism.

As for my reader’s defense of the Biden Dems, it’s no defense. The president knew how slim his Congressional majority was, and instead of working from the center out, as he promised, proposed the biggest spending package in decades, has echoed every extreme left position, from abortion to race to immigration to sex changes for children, misjudged the economy by funneling more borrowed money into an overheated economy with supply restraints, and committed the US to a long war of attrition in Europe which Russia believes it cannot lose.

There is no one I can see who can replace him who isn’t even further to his left. I voted for Biden, a moderate. I got a woke extremist who cannot command the country’s attention and clearly hasn’t a clue what’s going on in the country. Do you think he understands why and how he may be pushing more Latinos into the GOP camp? I don’t.

Pragmatically speaking, in other words, I’m pretty sure the Dems have handed the country over to the GOP for the foreseeable future, and so I’m trying to see how that can somehow save us from a second Trump term. At this point, that’s my main hope. I’m not happy — but DeSantis could be the least awful option in that context. Do you want Biden to run for a second term? It would be “Weekend at Bernie’s,” but not funny.

Another reader recommends a book:

I was reading your “Rumblings of Rome” piece and couldn’t stop thinking about How Democracies Die by Levitsky and Ziblatt. According to them, democracies are based on a series of unwritten norms of political restraint followed by all the players. They call this “institutional forbearance” and consider it one of the two pillars of a healthy democracy. (The other is “mutual tolerance.”) Money quote:

Forbearance means “patient self-control; restraint and tolerance,” or “the action of restraining from exercising a legal right.” For our purposes, institutional forbearance can be thought of as avoiding actions that, while respecting the letter of the law, obviously violate its spirit. Where norms of forbearance are strong, politicians do not use their institutional prerogatives to the hilt, even if it is technically legal to do so, for such action could imperil the existing system.

According to the authors, institutional forbearance legitimizes democracy and keeps it going, but once the players start violating the norms, things fall apart. It’s an awesome book and I recommend it to everyone.

It is also happening right here right now. It’s a textbook case of the extinction of liberal democracy. Trump was and is incapable of functioning in such a system, and he made everything far far worse. But the Democrats’ response — to shift drastically to the left and to assault our entire system as illegitimate because it doesn’t reflect majority rule in every respect — has made things worse. The response of the Dems to the GOP view that the system is rigged is to argue that the system is rigged in another way — by white supremacy. Both parties are now run by their extremes which do not believe in the rules more than they believe in their agenda. And Biden’s decision to move far to the left of Obama — when he was elected to do the opposite — has told voters like me that voting Democrat means enabling the far left’s seizure of government as well as every other major institution and corporation.

Another reader has a truce proposal for the culture wars:

I have always voted for Dems because I’m pro-choice. Right now, I’d vote for someone sane who says, “How about we ban assault weapons in exchange for no abortions after 16 weeks?” I’d be in favor of that — with a heavy heart, since it entails giving up a huge chunk of liberty for women. But it might mean less death all around. Everyone loses something and gains something. 

But who am I kidding? Not going to happen in our lifetimes. 

Nope. That kind of horse-trading — like building a border wall in return for amnesty — is only accomplished by a liberal democracy. And that’s now extinct in this country.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Jun 03, 2022
Francis Fukuyama On Liberalism's Crisis

Fukuyama is simply the most sophisticated and nuanced political scientist in the field today. He’s currently at Stanford, but he’s also taught at Johns Hopkins and George Mason. The author of almost a dozen books, his most famous is The End of History and the Last Man, published shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. His new book is Liberalism and Its Discontents.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above, or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed. For two clips of my convo with Fukuyama — explaining why we need to pay attention to “the men without chests,” and remembering when the political right championed open borders — head over to our YouTube page.

Did you ever catch the episode last year with Glenn Greenwald criticizing Bolsonaro, woke journalism, and animal torture? We now have a full transcript available, if you’d rather read the conversation.

Back to Fukuyama, the following meme captures much of the sentiment addressed in the episode:

A fan of the Dishcast has been anticipating the episode:

You announced a few weeks ago that you’d be interviewing Francis Fukuyama, so I decided to re-read The End of History. While I’m sure you’ve no need of assistance of any kind, I wanted to remind you of why some folks are struck by its prescience. Towards the end, he highlights the potential danger for liberal societies that have solved so many problems — there is no end to the amount of “problems” that a society can then invent:

To find common purpose in the quiet days of peace is hard…. [When] there is no tyranny or oppression against which to struggle, experience suggests that if men cannot struggle on behalf of a just cause, because that struggle was victorious in an earlier generation, then they will struggle against the just cause. They will struggle for the sake of struggle. They will struggle, in other words, out of a certain kind of boredom. They cannot imagine living in a world without struggle. If the world they live in is a world characterized by peace and prosperity, then they will struggle against that peace and prosperity … and against democracy.

He then refers to some French college-student protests in 1968 against Charles de Gaulle:

… [they] had no rational reason to rebel. They were, for the most part, pampered offspring of one of the freest and most prosperous societies on earth. But it was precisely the absence of struggle and sacrifice in their middle-class lives that led them to take to the streets and confront the police … they had no particularly coherent vision of a better society.

Like the old Cervantes metaphor — then and now, we see people inventing enemies and problems while they obliviously find themselves “tilting at windmills.”

There is no greater example of this, to my mind, than the current LGBTQIA++ movement. Fukuyama and I discuss these people, also known as “the men without chests”:

Related to that conversation is a reader email over my recent item, “The Rumblings of Rome”:

I enjoyed your take on the faltering mos maiorum of our American republic, and I think you’re onto something important. These values and practices are what keep the system together in times of crisis, and their abandonment is a canary in the democratic coal mine. I know you’ve used the Weimar analogy before, and it is apt: Hitler may have issued the coup de grace to German democracy, but its demise was hastened by powerful elites who in the years beforehand eroded republican norms and removed safeguards to authoritarianism. Certainly the Roman example is also apt, as you convincingly argue here.

But what troubles me is a point you make in the linked article in New York Magazine: “But a political system designed for a relatively small city had to make some serious adjustments as its territory and prosperity and population exploded.”  The system was ill-equipped for how Rome evolved over centuries from a city-state to a sprawling empire, and the lack of meaningful reform amplified popular frustrations and opened the door for opportunists like the Gracchus brothers to demagogue, generals like Marius and Sulla to assert political authority, and Senators — desperate to preserve the system — to embrace political violence and thus inadvertently hasten its demise. 

The system did not evolve enough to meet the challenges posed by expansion, and so people began to reject the system, sometimes for cynical and self-serving reasons, sometimes due to righteous anger born from real suffering, and sometimes in a misguided attempt to save the system from itself.

Our America, of course, is vastly different from the Founders’ in any number of areas, and I have often wondered how well our system, even with the amendment process, can respond to the challenges of the 21st century. Especially given our partisan intransigence, our social media echo chambers, and our Super-PAC funded campaigns — things no one imagined in the 18th century — do we really have any chance of meaningful reform on healthcare, welfare, immigration, election integrity, etc.?  To put this another way, democracies work best, I think, when they combine change and continuity — keeping a foot in virtuous traditions while also adapting to new circumstances. If we can’t do the latter, what chance is there to also do the former? I mean, are we fucked?

Thanks for your historical thinking on this issue — I try to tell my students that a working knowledge of history is essential to making sense of the modern world. 

The Sinister Symmetry Of CRT And GRT, Ctd

Readers continue the debate from this week’s main page over my comparisons of CRT to GRT. This next reader shares a brilliant video on the parallels between right-wing racists and woke racists:

Your excellent piece reminded me of this very funny sketch:

I recently read James Lindsay’s new book, Race Marxism. His analysis isn’t always watertight, and people have picked holes in the past, but his explanation on page 239 is that this conflict results from the Hegelian dialectical process at the heart of CRT (thesis/antithesis/synthesis):

In a very real sense, all of this “alchemy” is meant to reinvigorate the master-slave dialectic in a contemporary cultural and legal context. Indeed, this feature of Critical Race Theory is why so many people rightly perceive that it is, for all its “anti racism” built on an undeniable engine of white supremacy that regards whites as superior, blacks as inferior, and this state being in immediate need of being abolished through critique and multiculturalism. In fact Critical Race Theory defines itself as the antithesis (and method for seeking synthesis) to the systemic “white supremacy” it believes fundamentally organises society …

CRT’s version of anti-racism therefore isn’t about a liberal process of using democratic institutions to reduce racism gradually through passing laws and changing public opinion through education. It’s a deliberately confrontational process by which you challenge an idea (racism/white supremacy) with its opposite (antiracism/anti whiteness). We end up in constant racial conflict, as the Hegelians forever continue to restart the dialectic process after every failure they suffer.  

This next reader, though, senses a false equivalence:

You quoted a reader voicing one of the right’s standard new grievances, about alleged differences in media treatment between the Buffalo shooter and the recent NYC subway shooter. Instead of just nodding along, you should pause for a second and examine this critically, because it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. 

The Buffalo shooter wrote a manifesto in which he apparently explained that he intended to target black people and why. And then he did so.

The NYC subway shooter, in contrast, made some rambling videos expressing a mishmash of racist views, and then, in addition, he shot up a subway. Have you ever been on the subway? Did it strike you as a bastion of whiteness or white privilege? Is it where you would go to try to kill white people (or shoot them in the legs, as he apparently did, for whatever mentally disturbed reason)? Is there any evidence that he selected white people out of the crowd? His attack was just some kind of weirdly disordered thinking, or perhaps intended in a foggy sense as an attack on New York City, whose (black) mayor he had also criticized.

I think that’s a fair distinction, especially the choice of target. Another reader claims a false equivalence of a very different sort:

I found your latest column unpersuasive. While I like the aesthetic symmetry of “CRT and GRT” as a title, I am not at all convinced there exists an actual intellectual symmetry of the two things as distinct ideas. Yes, both depend on and promote a race-essentialist worldview, and both undermine our nation’s ideals and identity. But that is where their symmetry ends.

On a political level, CRT not only claims far more power throughout all our elite institutions, but it also holds responsibility for far more violence and destruction. Which major institution has propagated anything close to GRT? One could make a case for Fox News through Tucker Carlson. I would disagree — as would your podcast guest Briahna Joy Gray, who is on the left. But even so, that is one institution that claims any kind of power in our society, compared to all the others captured by CRT.

In terms of violence and destruction, see no further than the summer 2020 riots and the various other attacks motivated by anti-whiteness. Of course, none of this is to dismiss the vile atrocities committed by white supremacists. But I don’t understand why you find the need to draw a false equivalence between the two when one of these evils is clearly a fringe element of our society, with no real threat of spreading further beyond its current limits, while the other already has near-complete elite capture.

Also, a minor but important point: you wrote that “Hispanics are originally from Europe.” This is false. The reason Hispanics/Latinos are considered an ethnicity and not a race in the U.S. context is that we are a complete mix of many races. There are Asian Peruvians, Black Cubans, Indigenous Mexicans, White Argentines, and a complete mix of all of the above and more, including mestizos, mulattos, et al.

Of course, Hispanics/Latinos (which are not the same circles, by the way; most of Latin America is considered both, but Brazilians are Latinos and not Hispanics, and Spaniards are Hispanics but not Latinos) are united by a common Iberian history, which has resulted in common institutions, heritage, culture, religion, and pair of languages (Spanish and Portuguese). But given the deep, centuries-old mix of indigenous peoples and African slaves and Asian immigrants beyond just Europeans throughout Latin America, it’s just false to claim that “Hispanics are originally from Europe.”

Along those lines, another adds:

In 2019, Mexican-Americans comprised 61.5% of all Latino Americans, so by and large, when we discuss Hispanics, we are generally discussing Mexican immigrants. Weren’t there a lot of indigenous people in Mexico and Central America at the time of the Conquest? Didn’t most of them have children, so that those children are reflected in current demographic analyses of Mexico?

The 1921 census shows Mestizos and indigenous groups as the majority — usually the vast majority — in literally every Mexican state. Numbers of self-reported “white” Mexicans have increased substantially since then (though no explanation is posited for the decline in Mestizo or indigenous populations), but self-identified “whites” still are a minority at 47% of the Mexican population, with 51.5% as either indigenous or “most likely Mestizos.” Frankly, it is likely not the white groups that are congregating at the border. Your explanation seems to assume that Mexico was unpopulated at the time of the Conquest, which is a gross misrepresentation.

Thanks for these complications of too breezy a statement. Another reader gets philosophical:

I enjoyed your piece this week on CRT/GRT. Also, on Friday I read David Brooks’ piece on conservatism/progressivism, and it made me think of John Keats’ bitter — and ultimately incorrect — epitaph for himself: “Here lies one whose name is writ in water.” That would fit most of those who have ever walked the earth, including most “public intellectuals,” to use your phrase. Humans come and go, and we know damned well that we are likely soon to be forgotten, unless we become a curiosity for ancestry researchers.

It strikes me that this is a defense for conservative “philosophy.” We don’t live a life entirely within ourselves. We pay attention to what has gone before. Progressives see a long history of oppression, identify with it, and project it into the future. Conservatives are mindful of the past, in family, ethnicity and faith; even if some of it is wrapped in a flag of “patriotism.” Tradition is important to both sides, for better or for worse. We can’t escape it, so why not find ways to discuss it civilly? Which brings me back to Keats. His eying expression of humility was mistaken. Present-day feelings of certitude, on left or right, are badly in need of humility — and that, I believe, is a conservative thought.

Me too.

David French On Religious Liberty, CRT, Grace, Ctd

From a “gay, Christian, moderate conservative”:

I thoroughly enjoyed your episode with David French, especially since I got to hear the two of you discuss Church of Christ theology at the beginning. I grew up in the Church of Christ denomination and went to a sister school (Abilene Christian University) of the one French attended (Lipscomb). The faith journey you both described is one very familiar to me. My boyfriend also grew up in the Church of Christ tradition and we still feel a certain affinity to it, although it’s obviously not a tradition that affirms same-sex relationships.

I loved that the two of you were able to have such a gracious conversation about faith and politics. I enjoy reminders that one’s stance on gay marriage is hardly the litmus test for both conservatism and Christianity that it once was. There’s so much more common ground to explore, and Christianity and conservatism are big enough for differing views — even in the midst of this bizarre cultural climate we’re in.

Here’s a snippet of my convo with David:

Another listener makes a recommendation:

In follow-up to your conversation with David French, could you possibly interview Tim Alberta? His new article in The Atlantic, “How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church,” is worth your attention.

Indeed. Thanks for the tip. Lastly, a sermon for Sunday:

I am an Episcopal priest in Atlanta (though hopefully one not quite as woke as Douglas Murray accuses us of being). If it’s not too bold, I wanted to send you the manuscript of my sermon from last Sunday. The sermon is from a small passage for Easter 6, Revelation 22.3-4: “Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

I started working on it, and then on Friday I heard the first part of your interview with David French. I think that interview found its way into my sermon, and I know that your ongoing conversations have affected my preaching in a positive way.

The manuscript is pasted below, but I’ll close by saying again how grateful I am for your podcast, and I hope that you might consider occasionally having theologians onto your show.  I’ve loved hearing you talk about faith with Cornell West and David French, and I think it might be fascinating to have a systematic theological think through issues like CRT and gender.

The sermon in full:

“They’re out to get you.”  That’s what the world will tell you, over and over.  “They” — whoever they are — “really are out to get you.”

Now, sometimes it’s true.  The world can be a dangerous place, after all.  But usually the message isn’t that they are after you, Jennifer, or you, Meredith, or Kevon, or Rafael, or whatever your name might be.

And they’re not after you because of your character or your choices.  The message is that they are after you because of your team, because of your skin color, or where you were born, or your gender.  They’re after you because of what you represent.

And again, sometimes it’s true.  Last weekend the threats were real on both sides of our country.

Last weekend a young man consumed by evil drove 200 miles to Buffalo to open fire on innocent people.  But not just any innocent people.  

He targeted a black neighborhood because he wanted to send a message of hate, a message of terror.  He wanted black people all across the country to believe that they had a target on their backs. 

And with our history of violence and terror, our black sisters and brothers heard his message.

On the other side of the country another man used a gun to send the same message of hate to a different group of people.  

In California the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church was enjoying a church picnic when a Chinese-born American citizen walked up and started shooting.

The sheriff said the man was motivated by his hatred of Taiwan, and he sent his message of hate and terror to those innocent people.

+++

The messages don’t always come with bullets, and they aren’t always about race, and they also aren’t limited to one side of our national divide.

When you listen with a careful ear to the issues that divide us, what gives them their power is the underlying threat that something of YOUR identity, something of YOUR autonomy, is about to be taken away.

“They” are going to take something away from you because of who you are.

+++

I remember 20 years ago after the Twin Towers fell, the rhetoric on both sides of our political culture was that “they” hated our freedom, hated capitalism, hated democracy.  That “they” were coming for us.

Two years later, our church was almost split apart by the debate over same-sex relationships.  

For the progressive, the message was that “they” were coming for your right to love who you choose.  For the conservative the message was that “they” were coming to destroy the social values you had been taught were right and good.

We hear those threats still today.  The uproar over cancel culture and over excesses in cultural trends doesn’t feel to some conservatives like an interesting social trend; it feels like a threat.  It feels like “they” are telling conservatives,  “We’re coming for you.”

On the other side, progressives and especially progressive women heard an old threat earlier this month: “They’re coming to take away control of your bodies.”  

When that Supreme Court draft was leaked, the message went forth - “They’re coming for you, they’re coming to take control of your bodies away from you.”

In fact, they’re not just coming for your right to an abortion, they’re also coming to take away Obergefell and then Loving and then Brown v. Board of Education.

+++

So…I’ve been taking some big swings up here this morning, on things that are frankly outside of my area of expertise, and I haven’t said a word yet about God or Jesus or had any kind of gospel message.

That’s about to change, but the reason I’m trying to bring up all the touchy stuff is because the call to follow isn’t just for other people and it isn’t just for when somebody cuts you off in traffic. 

Now let me repeat my disclaimer.  I’m not saying the threats are all imagined, or that they’re all equal.  Sometimes the threat is real.  

BUT, in the face of those threats, in the face of the world’s desire to put you on notice that you NEED to be afraid, the question for us this morning is, “Should my being a follower of Jesus affect how I respond?”

+++

When I was first ordained Bishop Alexander told me to always keep my vows in the correct order. 

He meant that FIRST I was a baptized child of God, THEN I was Emily’s husband, and THEN I was a priest, and if I remembered the hierarchy of those vows my life would be properly ordered.

I haven’t always gotten it right but when I’ve gotten a little unbalanced his advice has helped me get back where I need to be.

And Bishop Neil’s advice helped me to see something even deeper:  we all move through the world with multiple identities and we have to keep them in their proper order.

In my case I can think of myself as a man, even as a white man, as a Georgian, an American a Christian, a father, a husband, priest, neighbor, brother, and of course a really, really good singer/dancer.

Almost all of those identities are important but for me to be who I aspire to be there needs to be a hierarchy to them.  I need to make sure all those identities are properly ordered.

+++

There’s a distinction in Christianity between being a Creature of God and a Child of God.

All of us are Creatures of God.  All of us, every person who ever lived, are creatures of God.  

Our first and most important identity is that we are created by a God who loves every single one of us and that, as Fr. Rhett said last Sunday, there’s not a thing you can do about it.

And for those of us baptized into the body of Christ, those of us who believe in Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord we have a second and eternal identity - beloved Child of God.

+++

A properly ordered life embraces those two identities - beloved Creature of God and beloved Child of God - as more important than all the others we have.  And then downstream of those two come all the rest:  gender, sex, family, values, race, creed, and on and on.

So am I white?  Am I black?  Am I Taiwanese or Woman or Man or Husband or parent or Democrat or Republican or even American? 

Yes, I am all of those things and more, but my first identity, the very core of who I am, is always beloved Creature of God, and my eternal hope is not in escaping the threats or defeating my enemies but in holding on to my identity as a Child of God, as a member of the Body of Christ.

+++

The world will try to disorder your identities.  The world will whisper and then shout fear & danger & division, will try to make your threatened identity the center of who you are.

When evil drives to Buffalo, fear will tell you that your first identity is the color of your skin, and that it always will be.

When evil drives to a church picnic, fear tells you that your primary identity, your fundamental self is as a pawn in a great ethnic & political strife.

When cultural values change, when marriage is redefined, or social programs try to right historic wrongs, or when human laws try to legislate that which cannot be legislated but must be legislated, when they try to balance the rights of the mother and the rights of the unborn, fear will tell you that your core identity is not beloved Creature of God or beloved Child of God, but is your demographic or political or racial or gender identity, and that your response has to come from that threatened self.

But Jesus tells us something different.  Jesus tells us to love our enemies.

Jesus tells us we are all beloved creatures of God, the just and unjust alike, AND that those baptized into his death and resurrection have an ETERNAL identity greater than anything else about us, an ETERNAL hope that will live  beyond any other understanding of self.

+++

Our response to Jesus’ message is to understand who we really are and order our identities so that we do not respond to threats as the world does.

Our call is to respond as beloved, as BELOVED children of God who share a common humanity and a common creator, and as people whose hope is not in temporary victories but in eternal life.

+++

It’s not easy.

Hate invites you to respond with hate.  Fear invites you to respond with fear.

Change makes you want to dig in your heels and hunker down and defend YOUR turf, YOUR way of life, with all that you’ve got.

No wonder Jesus said we must give up our lives to follow him.

+++

In the Revelation to John, Jesus showed John a vision of the heavenly city.  In that city the Children of God had the name of Jesus written on each of their foreheads.

Using our language of baptism, they were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.

WE are those Children of God.  Our true identity is not in any of our human distinctions but in the name of Jesus written across our faces.

Our task is to understand that truth and to live it, to treat one another with that common heritage as Creatures of God even when we feel threatened by one another, and to teach our children that no matter what the world whispers to them about who they are, their truest, deepest, most fundamental self will always be … Beloved of God.



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May 27, 2022
David French On Religious Liberty, CRT, Grace
5336

David is a political writer and former attorney who took on high-profile cases for religious liberty. He was also a major in the Army Reserve who served in Iraq, and before that he served as president of FIRE, the campus free-speech group. David now writes for The Dispatch and The Atlantic, and his latest book is Divided We Fall: America's Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation. Last summer he wrote this wonderful review of my essay collection, Out On A Limb, but this is the first time we’ve spoken.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above. For two clips of my convo with David — on how many political Christians completely miss the point of Jesus, and on the “God gap” within the Democratic coalition — head over to our YouTube page.

That convo is a good complement to our January episode with Christopher Rufo (the two have tussled before), so we just transcribed Rufo’s episode in full. Here’s a reminder of his stance on CRT in the schools:

Starting around the 30-minute mark in the new episode, David and I discuss the tricky defense of liberalism in the face of both CRT curriculum and anti-CRT bills. We also grapple with the corrosive effects of Twitter and, in particular, the commentary surrounding the racist massacre in Buffalo this week. On that note, a reader writes:

I am a member of a mainline Christian denomination and parent of young children. My personal and professional experience of social media is centered on connections with clergy colleagues and active church members attached to a wide variety of Christian denominations. When news of the racially motivated shooting in Buffalo broke, my social media relationships immediately shifted to a flurry of outrage, comments about the pox of racism built into the American way, and pithy memes noting that the root problem of all that ails us is white supremacy.

For example, one friend wrote in response to the Buffalo shooting, “The root cause of gun violence is white supremacy. We will not be safe from gun violence until we end white supremacy. White fam, we are the ones who can end white supremacy. It is on us.” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church released a statement decrying the racism behind the shooting. Members of my left-leaning church have asked and encouraged me to preach from the pulpit about the evils of white supremacy and white fragility, especially now in light of the Buffalo shooting. 

However, I did not hear a thing from these same people or religious bodies following the racially motivated shooting by Frank James on the NYC subway last month. Mr. James has been indicted on federal terror charges after shooting ten people. Were there no official prayers for victims and to end racial violence from religious bodies because no one ultimately died in the subway shooting? Why were there no tweets, memes, or impassioned calls to “do better” after such a horrific, calculated attack? The silence after that racially motivated shooting compared to the outcry after this month’s racially motivated shooting is noteworthy. 

And essential to the CRT worldview. Racism is unique to white people. Another sign of our racialized culture war comes from this listener:

In your episode with Douglas Murray, you mentioned that you had to explain to someone how white people did not invent racism. I serve at the school board in Manhattan and we had the same discussion at our last meeting. The district is pushing a book called “Our Skin” to teach elementary kids how white people invented racism. Money quote:

“A long time ago, way before you were born, a group of white people made up an idea called race. They sorted people by skin color and said that white people were better, smarter, prettier, and that they deserve more than everybody else,” the book declares.

Here’s how Murray addresses the canard that white people invented racism:

On a lighter note, here’s a fan of last week’s episode with Tina Brown:

In your conversation about the Queen’s inscrutable nature and unceasing impartiality, you forget one spectacular lapse into utter bias: the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty!

Pierre Brassard, a Quebec disc jockey, called Buckingham Palace impersonating the (then) Canadian PM Jean Chretien begging her to support the NO side and, astonishingly, got through to Queen Elizabeth! In the conversation, broadcast live in Montreal, she actually said, “It sounds as though the referendum may go the wrong (!) way...”. She said many other things that were blatantly against Quebec separating and was willing to make a public statement.

Here’s the audio (and pardon Elizabeth R’s surprisingly bad French!):

While I voted Non and thought the hoax was screamingly hilarious, this referendum was about the self-determination of a nation and she was hardly a glowing example of non-interference and impartiality. Quebec separatists were apoplectic. She wouldn’t even make a clear declaration in favour of the “No” side in the Scottish referendum! Ah, well ... even Captain Kirk broke the prime directive 33 times. Self-determination must be overrated. 

Here’s Tina on why the best British monarchs tend to be women:

Another fan of the episode writes:

So I’m a stereotypical NPR-listening, NYT-reading, Anglophilic liberal, happy to watch whatever B-grade pablum PBS airs on Sunday nights, as long as it has a British accent. So of course I fell in love with Downton Abbey. Part of my stereotypical outlook is holding a certain condescension toward the lower-class examples of American culture — you’d never catch me watching a soap opera, for example.

But somewhere in the last season of Downton Abbey, it hit me full-on that the show is just a soap opera for snobs. That realization was a nice, bright, uncomfortable look in the mirror. What a hypocrite I am!

That said, I can’t wait for the new Downton Abbey movie that opens this week:

On the subject of Americans and their relationship with the British monarchy that you and Tina Brown discussed, to me it isn’t very complicated. It’s the embodiment of our cultural heritage, so it represents roots and stability in our land that values change and progress. And the monarchy is sacramental — another quality our society lacks, and which we’ve projected onto the office of the president as compensation. 

Toggling from listeners to readers, one of the latter writes:

I have been thinking a lot about your May 6 column on the SCOTUS leak (“How Dare They!”) and the following week’s large number of reader responses to it. First, I want to say that, although I’m fiercely pro-choice, your column was strongly persuasive and helped me to think about Roe v Wade in a very different way. I love this about the Dish — the way you introduce complexity and nuance to issues that are polarizing and thus typically presented in stark black-and-white terms.

But there is one potential detail of your argument that I continue to struggle with. While I accept that, in a liberal society, such issues as abortion should be a matter of debate and resolution via the popular voice, in practice they rarely are — because of the reality of our political system. Because of our two-party system and the primary elections that determine candidacy, most moderate, centrist voters simply do not have a choice to exercise their opinion on a wide variety of issues. They cannot vote individually on issues of substance, in an a la carte fashion. They are forced to accept a homogenous party platform that, in toto, represents the least worst of two extremes.

For example, if I am a pro-choice moderate conservative who supports free markets, minimal government regulation, and low taxation, and is concerned about wokeness and CRT, my only choice to cast a vote in support of access to abortion is to vote for a candidate who is antagonistic to these other issues of import to me.

You cite statistics in your column indicating broad support among Republicans for a moderate stance on abortion. Yet, I would argue that relatively few of these voters are going to voice that support by voting for a Democratic candidate — especially a far-left candidate — even if this means voting for the far-right opponent. This, then, is interpreted by the GOP as proof that their constituency supports the extreme view held by the majority of the GOP candidates. If we had a center party, I may be more optimistic in sharing your view of things. But as it stands, I feel like our choice is no choice at all.

I feel you. But this is unavoidable in a democracy with political parties and winner-takes-all systems. Another reader has a few more laments:

I believe anti-abortion-rights activists have not fully considered the consequences of how eliminating legal abortion will impact families. It is almost certain that the rate of child poverty in America will increase if a ban on abortion takes place.  Most of the states which want to ban abortion also have small child-welfare programs. That will result in more children being born into poor economic circumstances.

Another thing that will probably happen is an increase in crime. The crime rate in the US has been falling since the early ‘90s, when kids born after Roe first started reaching adulthood. There is a clear link between kids being neglected and unwanted and then turning to crime. This was documented in the book Freakonomics.

I believe the pro-choice side will win this debate. But perhaps it will only win when the full, horrifying consequences of banning all abortions — such as in the Oklahoma bill just passed — comes into focus.

This next reader goes meta:

In your otherwise excellent compilation of reader thoughts about Roe, you had one response I want to quibble with. After quoting one reader, you wrote: “Oh please. This next reader gets specific:” — and then went on with the next quote.

I don’t recall what the first reader said, and it doesn’t matter because your response was inappropriate no matter what was said. If you think the reader’s argument has no merit, omit the comment. If you have a rebuttal to the reader’s argument, offer it. Even if you disagree with the reader but lack the time or energy to formulate a proper response, that’s fine too: Just print the comment with no response.

What’s not OK, ever, is to reply with just a snarky dismissal and no further comment. That’s rude to the reader, and it makes you look like a dick.

That whole big collection of reader dissents was compiled and edited by my colleague, Chris, who does that every week to hold my feet to the fire. I don’t censor the reader criticism he offers — so forgive me the occasional harrumph.

Another reader switches topics:

I read these two excerpts in your weekly money quotes:

“There were also homosexual women at the Pines, but they were, or seemed to be, far fewer in number. Nor, except for a marked tendency to hang out in the company of large and usually ferocious dogs, were they instantly recognizable as the men were,” - Midge Decter, who died the week, on Fire Island in the summer of 1980.

“Well, if I were a dyke and a pair of Podhoretzes came waddling toward me on the beach, copies of Leviticus and Freud in hand, I’d get in touch with the nearest Alsatian dealer pronto,” - Gore Vidal, responding to Midge.

I had known about Decter’s “The Boys on the Beach” essay for decades, maybe since the late ‘80s, but I had never read it — until a few months ago. I am 66 years old, was practically always out, loved to read all the gay literature, and I have to say, that essay got the pulse of ‘70s gay life and society better than Edmund White (his “States of Desire” was published in 1980 and I still have my copy) or any other commentator I know of, with the exception of Randy Shilts’s “And the Band Played On.”

Decter had gay acquaintances, friends, and frenemies, and she saw aspects of gay life with a beady-eyed sharpness and skepticism I wish more of us had had back then. I remember when I officially came out in 1974 at 18, met a couple of good-looking guys in their late 20s/early 30s who, like the vast majority of gay men, talked about sex all the time, with a greater intensity than straight guys I knew. So I asked them how many guys they had been to bed with and they said maybe 500 or 600. Asked them if they were afraid of getting diseases, and they said “no” because they just went to the public health clinic to get a shot. 

And right there, I sensed that at some point, there would be a gay healthcare catastrophe. I was not the only who had that sense, but it was very censored in the community.

I tend to agree about Decter’s accuracy and perception, however laced it was with disgust. It’s a riveting piece — proof that sometimes being alien to a subculture makes you a better observer of it. She and Larry Kramer were essentially on the same page when it came to gay male culture in the 1970s. And yes, the omens were there. And now there’s monkeypox, which seems as if it might have found the same transmission route as HIV. Gulp.

Lastly, because we ran out of room this week in the main Dish for the new VFYW contest photo (otherwise the email version would get cut short), here ya go:

Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
May 20, 2022
Tina Brown On The Royal Family
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She needs no introduction — but in magazine history, Tina Brown is rightly deemed a legend, reviving Tatler, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, before turning to the web and The Daily Beast (where I worked for her). Her new book is The Palace Papers. We talked journalism, life and royals.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above, or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app. For two clips of my convo with Tina — on Meghan Markle’s epic narcissism, and why women make the best monarchs — head over to our YouTube page.

Having Tina on the pod was the perfect excuse to transcribe our popular episode with Michael Moynihan, who used to work for her at The Daily Beast — which also hosted the Dish for a few years. So we’re all old friends. From the Moynihan chat:

Andrew: I was talking to Tina Brown about this not that long ago, with the great days of the big magazines in the '80s and '90s. Really, when you look back on that time, it was an incredible festival of decadence and clearly over the top before the fall.

Michael: I love Tina. I did a thing — you can look this up — an interview with her, when her Vanity Fair Diaries came out, for The Fifth Column. Just Tina and I sat down and talked for an hour and a half, and it was one of the best things I think we’ve recorded, and got one of the best responses. Because people miss those stories.

Perhaps Bill Kristol should check out the clip with Moynihan on how to change your mind on stuff you get wrong:

A listener looks back to last week’s episode:

Wonderful interview with Douglas Murray, with the two of you riffing off each other with brilliant dialogue. Very warm and affirming as well. I particularly enjoyed your discussion of the religious dimension as one aspect of our present dilemma. I know you would want to provide variety for the Dishcast, but please consider having him on again.

Another fan:

This was the most memorable episode in a long time (although they are all great). Of course, your dialogue was choir-preaching, and so I need to be careful in avoiding confirmation bias. That said, I found Murray’s elegant way of encapsulating the obvious — which I fail to express myself — truly invigorating. I rewound and listened to many parts several times over. I ordered his book today.

Another listener dissents:

I find the armchair psychoanalysis regarding ressentiment — as the organizing principle of what is happening in our culture today — to be one of the least compelling arguments made in the episode.

Why not go ahead and attribute our perpetual unwillingness in the West to recognize what is great about it to Christianity’s concept of original sin? Or maybe read psychoanalytic literature on why an individual or group of people who are objectively improving might hold onto beliefs of the self or society as rotten? These seem just as likely as Nietzsche’s argument.

Ultimately, what a person speculates to be the primary motivator of another person or group reveals a lot. Your speculation that it’s mostly ressentiment suggests you want or need to demonize the CRT crowd. This is tragic given that this is precisely what you and Douglas accuse the CRT crowd of doing. 

Another listener differs:

I don’t agree with everything you and Douglas Murray write, but thank you for talking about the resentment and bitterness that’s driving politics and culture today. It’s gone completely insane. 

I used to work for a small talent agency, and during the pandemic I coached some actors over Zoom. During the George Floyd protests, one of my clients was up watching the news all night, not getting any sleep. I told her, look, you want to be informed and want to help. But you have to take care of yourself first or you’re no help to anyone. Go to bed and catch up on the news tomorrow. People criticized me for this kind of advice, saying I was privileged, that I just wanted to look away and not examine myself for my own inherent racism, etc. I couldn’t understand why people were being so unreasonable.

I’m also a Mormon. After George Floyd was murdered, our ward started to discuss racism. Mormonism has a checkered past when it comes to things like Black men and the priesthood. Or even language in some of the scriptures. These are important conversations that our church needs to have. There were good things that happened, like Black people in the ward shared more about their experiences during meetings. But almost immediately it became weird. The women’s group did a lesson on Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility,” for example. 

We didn’t actually ever talk about the things I was hoping we’d talk about — how Brigham Young stopped Black men receiving the priesthood, for example. We were just told we all needed to acknowledge our white privilege and feel guilty about it. There was a part about redlining. There was no acknowledgment that some of the white people in this ward lived in low-income housing, basically had nothing, and had been stressed even further by the pandemic. It just felt unnecessarily divisive. I have no idea what the Asian members made of this talk, because it basically excluded them. There were so many holes in these theories, but I wasn’t brave enough to point them out.

So it was a real relief to hear you and Murray talk about the way these ideas have infiltrated churches. The Mormon thing is typically like, “God wants you to be happy. Live this structured life, show compassion, work hard, love your family, and be happy.” But the DiAngelo ideas felt like, “you can’t even be saved, at least not if you’re white. Some people don’t deserve to be happy; they should only feel guilt.”

It was easier to bring in a fad book and talk about property values than to talk about the awful passage in the Book of Mormon where it says dark-skinned people are cursed, but other people are “white and delightsome.” I felt like the second the door opened to have a serious conversation about the church and race, they immediately jumped the shark instead.

From a fan of opera and ballet:

Douglas Murray mentioned Jessye Norman and how her obituary was racialized. Well, in January of 1961, Leontyne Price made her Metropolitan Opera debut, and she and Franco Correlli received an ovation that was around 50 minutes long ... possibly the longest in Met history, or among two or three longest. There have been so many great black singers at the Met, such as Shirley Verrett, Kathleen Battle (who was loved by James Levine but whose voice I never liked), Eric Owens, Grace Bumbry, and many others. Here’s a snip of Price’s Met debut:

Balanchine choreographed Agon (music by Stravinsky), arguably his greatest dance, for Diana Adams (white) and Arthur Mitchell (black) in 1957. They danced the pas de deux, which is an erotic tangle of bodies. Balanchine wanted the black/white tension. Here is a bit of it:

And to my beloved Jessye Norman, whom I saw only once, here she is at her best:

Another listener rolls out some poetry:

I greatly enjoyed your conversation with Douglas Murray. He is fierce! Your mention of Clive James’s “The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered” reminded me of a similarly minded poem from Nina Puro. (I suspect one of them inspired the other.) 

I LONG TO HOLD THE POETRY EDITOR’S PENIS IN MY HAND

and tell him personally,I’m sorry, but I’m goingto have to pass on this.Though your pieceheld my attention throughthe first few screenings,I don’t feel it is a good fitfor me at this time. Please know it receivedmy careful consideration.I thank you for allowingme to have a look,and I wish youthe very best of luckplacing it elsewhere.

Shifting away from the Murray episode, here’s a followup from a intrepid Dishhead:

I was excited to see my letter published on the violent toll homelessness takes on communities recently. I’ll be listening to the podcast with Maia Szalavitz soon, and I’ve got Johann’s book on harm reduction to read as well. (I loved the episode with Johann, bought his new book, loved it, and stopped being so online for about a week before backsliding ...)

Shortly after I wrote that last letter to you, I realized that I wasn’t satisfied with just writing indignant letters about the bloody cost of complacency on homelessness. It’s really the story of Ahn Taylor — a sweet 94-year-old lady stabbed by a homeless man as she was walking in her neighborhood — that made me understand that complaining is not enough.

So I’ve started a non-profit, Unsafe Streets, to take on this challenge. It’s sort of a “Take Back the Night”-style public safety crusade. It’s early days still, but we have a website, including pages for NYC and San Francisco, a Twitter feed, and a crowdfunding campaign. Next on my agenda is to create a page for Los Angeles, a detailed policy platform, and then to recruit a board and apply for 501c3 status.

I’ve been keeping up with the Dish when I can (LOVING the conversation with Jonathan Haidt, and I HIGHLY recommend this complementary Rogan episode.) I’ve been busy with the kids and trying to get Unsafe Streets going in my free minutes.

She follows up:

I just listened to Maia’s episode, and I am pretty unsatisfied with her proposed solutions.

Non-coercive acceptance and decriminalization is fine for people who are using drugs they bought with their own money in the privacy of their home. But public drug use, public intoxication, and the associated “quality of life” crimes (public defecation, indecency, etc.) make public spaces unsafe and uncomfortable for everyone else. Laws against these crimes should be enforced, which means arresting people and taking them to jail or some kind of treatment. Injecting fentanyl and passing out on the sidewalk is a very antisocial and harmful behavior, and should not be “decriminalized.”

I agree with Maia that this is a complicated mix of addiction and severe mental illness. But I don’t think the cost of housing argument holds up. (A brief scan of the news will show you that there in fact ARE homeless encampments in West Virginia.) I think she was unfair in her characterization of Michael Shellenberger’s proposal, which includes tons of resources to expand access to and quality of treatment. Overall, Maia’s perspective is very focused on the benefit to the addict, but discounts the costs to the surrounding community. Thanks for keeping a focus on this subject!

Another listener looks to a potential future guest:

Hello! You invite your readers to submit guest ideas here. I submit Kevin D. Williamson — another nuanced “conservative,” Roman Catholic, Never Trumper, and admirer of Oakeshott. Oh, and he was fired after five minutes at The Atlantic for a previous statement about abortion.

Thanks for the suggestion.

Lastly, because we ran out of room this week in the main Dish for the new VFYW contest photo (otherwise the email version would get cut short), here ya go:

Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
May 13, 2022
Douglas Murray On Defending The West
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Douglas Murray is a British writer and commentator, primarily for The Spectator, and his latest book is The War on the West. It’s a powerful narrative of the past couple of decades, in which a small minority waged ideological war on the underpinnings of Western civilization: reason, toleration, free speech, color-blind racial politics.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of our conversation — on the seductive power of ressentiment and the case for gratitude, and on many Americans’ ignorance of history outside the US — head over to our YouTube page.

My convo with Murray complements the one I had with Roosevelt Montás, the great defender of the humanities at Columbia University and beyond — his episode is now available as a full transcript.

As far as last week’s episode with Bari Weiss, an addendum: she used our conversation for her own podcast, “Honestly,” and her version includes at least a half hour of conversation you won’t find in the Dishcast version — namely on the early marriage movement and my role in it. Here’s a snippet from that section:

This listener liked the episode:

You and Bari addressed the (increasingly popular) argument that if the illiberal left has taken the gloves off, then its opponents should do the same. I thought your response was commendable, and it reminded me of something Hitch said during a debate on free speech many years ago. He referred to the scene from A Man for All Seasons in which Sir Thomas More argues with Roper over whether a man should be arrested for breaking God’s law. It’s a marvellous exchange that I have often reflected upon in recent years:

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down — and you're just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety's sake.

Someone at Reason — Peter Suderman, I think observed last year that politics is becoming outcomes-based rather than process-based, which expresses much the same point, I think. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I’m glad you and Bari are willing to stand up for liberalism when so many of your peers have come to view it with disdain.

I love that section from A Man For All Seasons. It’s why I chose Thomas More as my confirmation saint. But it’s difficult to know the best way to stand up for liberalism when it comes to gender ideology in schools, as Bari and I discuss in this clip:

Another fan of the Bari episode gets more personal:

I am the mother of a trans-identifying child — now 23 years old. (I can’t give my name for fear of alienating her.) You captured the rollercoaster of emotions many parents going through this feel — the fear that she has adopted this ideology as a coping mechanism to deal with underlying mental health issues and that she will do irreparable harm to her body. And that we are politically homeless. I can’t vote for anyone who would support Trump. But Biden and his team have it wrong when they quote the lie of “better a trans son than dead daughter.”

I agree with DeSantis on many aspects of the so-called “don’t say gay” bill. I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss sexual orientation and gender ideology with young children. I also don’t think it’s appropriate to review the periodic table with them. That doesn’t mean I'm anti-chemistry. 

What I wish for my daughter is that she not be beholden to gender stereotypes, that she be comfortable in her own body and that she avoid a lifetime of medical intervention with life-long negative consequences (including infertility) which cannot ultimately transform her into a man. If she were anorexic, we’d have support and options to return her to health. Because her coping mechanism is trans ideology, we get no support from medical or psychiatric professionals, from schools or from most liberals.

You captured all that in the podcast. Thanks for getting the word out.

Another listener points to another trans story:

I saw this interview with an ex-transgender woman and thought you might find it interesting:

I found particularly interesting the parts where he indicates that he found a group of “activists” that encouraged him to transition when what he really needed was therapy and sobriety. It’s also interesting that young men/woman fleeing the labels and baggage of “gay” or “lesbian“ may pursue gender reassignment, rather than unwrapping their trauma and accepting themselves for who they are.

I just wish all the nuances of this were better aired. Another fan of the Dish anticipated our coverage this week with a “pre-emptive email”:

I wonder whether the Supreme Court leak has caused you to reconsider your stance on the culture wars and whether it was the woke who are really the big enemy here. After all, while certain elements on the far left do much damage to themselves and to their own cause, their biggest achievements seem to be about gender-neutral toilets and pronouns, while it is the reactionary right that actively tries to curtail hard-won rights such as the right to vote, or the right to legal and safe abortion. Is it only a culture war when the left does it? Even when you have admitted that both sides are guilty, there seems to be a grudging reluctance to accept that one side is significantly more dangerous than the other, or to pretend as if it was the left’s fault all along and the right was merely reacting to it. 

Following on from January 6th and the wave of right-wingers across the globe currently dominating our news agenda (Putin, Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban, Le Pen, et al), it seems evident that there is a radical asymmetry in the scale of the threat that each side poses. Yes, there is much on the left that deserves to be called out, but it is nothing like as dangerous or as damaging as the very real risk that our liberal democratic norms are overturned by reactionaries in the name of a kind of Theocratic Nationalism. An approach that says “A plague on both your houses” seems to me the height of fatuity. Who is the bigger threat here, Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders?

There seems to be a skewed kind of moral equivalency going on. It reminds me of those US conservatives who used to say “Yes the Tea Party is terrible and there is real racism, but Obama is just as guilty for stirring them up.” This simply will not do. From the Tories and Brexit, to Putin and Ukraine, Republicans and abortion, is it not clear that everywhere you look at the moment, it is the right — the conservative, reactionary, radical right — that poses a greater and more urgent threat to our democratic way of life? 

There’s a balance to be struck here — and I’m not saying it’s easy. But the way in which the far left empowers the far right and vice-versa is an important part of the toxic dynamic. I’ll just note that, when push came to shove, I voted for Biden. There is no conceivable scenario in which I would vote for a deranged wannabe-tyrant like Trump.

Next up, “a looong-time reader who discovered you in the early aughts”:

After a discussion this evening with my housemate I was inspired to look for your It's So Personal threads.  I don't seem to see them in the Substack, and it looks like your dish.andrewsullivan.com site is no longer active. Can you make this thread available to revisit? 

The whole thread is compiled here. How I framed it at the time:

Perhaps the best posts of 2009 were penned by readers, and the most illuminating, gripping and emotional posts were related to late-term abortion, in the wake of the assassination of the abortion doctor George Tiller. I’ve never seen the power of this blog medium so clearly and up-close: one personal account caused a stream of others. How could old-school reporting have found all these women? How could any third-person account compete with the rawness and honesty and pain of these testimonials? It was a revelation to me about what this medium could do.

Another listener looks ahead:

David French just wrote the op-ed, “A conservative Christian quietly battles against right-wing hysteria,” and he would be an excellent podcast guest.”

David is actually scheduled to record a Dishcast later this month, so stay tuned. Another suggestion:

Hope you are weathering Covid ok and are feeling better. Suggestion: check out the staggeringly brilliant new essay by N.S. Lyons, “The World Order Reset: China’s Ukraine Catastrophe, the Rise of Trans-Atlantis, and a New Age of Power.” You’ve linked to one of his essays previously, saying it depressed you for a week. You should try to interview this mystery person. Everybody is wondering who Lyons really is. It would be a real coup for your podcast/Substack.

Thanks for the suggestion. We’ve actually been in touch. You can send your own guest idea here: dish@andrewsullivan.com. Browse the entire archive for the Dishcast here.

Lastly, because we ran out of room this week in the main Dish for the new VFYW contest photo (otherwise the email version would get cut short), here ya go:

Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
May 06, 2022
Bari Weiss On Saving Liberalism From Right And Left

Bari was an opinion editor at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times before leaving to create her own op-ed page on Substack, “Common Sense.” She’s also the author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism, and for some reason one of the most reviled figures on Left Twitter, despite being one of the most gifted editors of her generation. We talk groomers and culture war desperation and the amnesia of recent triumphs.

This was a joint podcast, and you’ll be able to hear a somewhat longer version of the discussion next week on Bari’s pod, “Honestly.” You can listen to our version right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips — on wokeness enabling the far right, and on the agonizing choice when it comes to gender theory in schools — head over to our YouTube page.

New transcript just dropped: my conversation with John McWhorter, which is still our most downloaded episode on the Dishcast. We get into his latest book, Woke Racism, and how the successor ideology hurts black kids:

First up in Dishcast feedback this week, a “brief note of appreciation from a longtime reader and subscriber”:

I’ve been following the Dish since the inception of the blogosphere, and your Substack is a welcome addition to my intellectual life, especially the podcasts, which seem to get better and better. The last two — with Nicholas Christakis and Jonathan Haidt — have been especially wonderful. (I’ve also benefited considerably from Johann Hari’s excellent new book, which has largely taken me off social media). There are episodes that have annoyed me (e.g. the one with Anne Applebaum), but I listen because I don’t want to be part of an echo chamber.

Speaking of the Haidt pod, a listener dug up a gem from my favorite philosopher:

I appreciated the episode and Haidt’s recent piece in the Atlantic that invokes the Tower of Babel. The essay you mentioned by Oakeshott on Babel was not, as you worried, easily found, but it’s nonetheless attached:

The Haidt episode “sparked many new thoughts” from this listener:

The word “proportion” was mentioned in passing, but I think that word is crucial to understanding the real dysfunction wrought by social media. We have lost all sense of proportion in this post-Babel world. Whether it’s the trans debate — a conversation that really only affects one percent of the population — or CRT in schools, it’s difficult to talk about these heated culture-war topics while holding them in proportion to the real problems facing our society.

The power (or fear) of going viral on Twitter makes proportion impossible, which is one of the reasons why journalism is in such a bad place. Because nuance and context are hard, journalists and media figures — particularly cable news anchors — appear to be simply unequipped to deliver information in a way that holds these things in balance.

Consider the Hunter laptop story. Why was this story “buried” by the media? Was it a conspiracy in which corporate elite journalists just didn’t want Hunter Biden to look bad? Or, more likely, do they intuitively understand that in the post-Babel world, they don’t have the skills and tools to talk about this story, which may not have been the biggest of deals but also didn’t look great in the lead up to a pivotal election? They didn’t want “But her emails” 2.0 — another viral story that had no sense of proportion. Most people couldn’t even tell you what, exactly, was corrupt about Clinton’s emails; they just knew they existed because that’s all anyone talked about, and since it was all anyone was talking about, it must be bad, bad, bad!

The media simply doesn’t know how to function from a place of nuance; it can’t communicate information in a way that holds that information in proportion to its relevance, context, and importance. Is this the fault of social media and viral dynamics? Is it just really bad journalism? Or do journalists have such a low opinion of the polity that they believe most people won’t be bothered to try to understand complicated stories?

Thank god for podcasts!

This next listener also tackles Twitter:

I think it is worth pointing out, as you have, that Twitter is at best 80 million US users (per Newsweek / Statista in 2021) whereas Twitter reported 38 million monetize-able daily active usage in the US in 2021. This number is probably closer to actual usage to account for dormant / duplicate accounts. Normal Americans, outside of radicals (which aren’t normal), don’t engage in the elite masturbatory thing that is Twitter. I am in a demo that should use it but have never had an account, because I view it as a complete and utter waste of time. 

The US Census has the 2021 population at 330 million with 22% under 18 (call it 73 million). I assume some portion of those are on Twitter, but they can’t vote. At the low end, that leaves 180 million voting Americans not on Twitter.

So I think it’s worth reiterating that Twitter is not real life (or a majority of voters). If you were to break it down by ideological lines, I am sure it is further skewed in one direction, you needn't guess which. Today’s “journalists” investigative efforts often seem to largely rely on copy pasting tweets as the “public reaction” — it is no wonder why they are out of touch. 

Furthermore, as Jesse reminded us during this week’s freakout over Elon Musk buying Twitter, “Twitter Is Not America”:

In the United States, Twitter users are statistically younger, wealthier, and more politically liberal than the general population. They are also substantially better educated, according to Pew: 42 percent of sampled users had a college degree, versus 31 percent for U.S. adults broadly. Forty-one percent reported an income of more than $75,000, too, another large difference from the country as a whole. They were far more likely (60 percent) to be Democrats or lean Democratic than to be Republicans or lean Republican (35 percent).

This next listener dissents over the Haidt convo:

I try not to be a scold, but sometimes the temptation is too great. Early in your talk you talked about how you didn’t understand young kids these days — why they are killing themselves at a high rate, since everything for them is so much better than it was in the old days. It sounds just like all of us old guys not getting youngsters. Haidt did talk about how he learned to approach unfamiliar cultures like an anthropologist — a good place to start for us old folks.

While I agree with you about the proliferation of gender types, it was not so long ago that homosexuality raised the same kinds of questions that you ask, and it was looked at the same way. Some people questioned the reality of such a thing, or saw it as a simple choice that perverse people made, or as a psychiatric illness that required treatment, and of course as a crime. I don’t think you intend to imply any of those things, but you do seem to veer in that direction. How people’s identity is created is still an open question — and someday we may know more. 

That said, I agree with you that medical interventions for children is very very premature and should not be happening. Let people grow up first. 

You seem to imply that biology supports a simple dichotomy, but sexual expression is more complex than that. As for cultural/religious acceptance, Joseph Campbell, in The Hero Of A Thousand Faces, discusses some civilizations that saw gender as fluid and containing both male and female elements.

One more thought: although Plato then, and others now, did raise questions about democracy, I fear that the Republican answer is to emulate the worst counter-examples, such as their current infatuation with Orbán’s near dictatorship. Prof. Haidt mentioned Karen Stenner’s work, The Authoritarian Dynamic, in which she reports that 20% of the population has an authoritarian personality type. She also talks about the conditions that stimulate it to express itself — fear and anxiety, the kind that is stirred up by demagogues and unscrupulous politicians, namely Trump. Stenner’s book also has suggestions on how to tamp down the fear. Maybe a conversation with her is in order.

Thanks for the tip. My best response to my reader’s first point is probably at the beginning of my chat with Bari, where I try to make distinctions between the gay and trans movements, and why the conflicts are inevitable and intrinsic. As for fluid gender, I agree! I don’t believe in a gender binary, just a sex binary. In fact, one reason gender expression exists at all — and is comprehensible at all — is precisely its tension with a fixed, binary biological reality.

But I also think this over-states the relevance of “gender identity” for the vast majority of humans. Most of us don’t get up every day thinking of how we are a man or a woman and where we fit on a spectrum — because we don’t really have many conflicts. This looms much larger for trans people for whom it is a daily challenge, and to a lesser extent for gay people whose affect contrasts with the stereotypes of their sex. But for most of us, our gender expression is simply our personality packaged in a binary form of biology. And this isn’t just on a scale of Barbie to G.I. Joe. And seeing it that way — as gender ideology does — strikes me as a regression, not a way forward.

This next listener “loved the Haidt interview, except for one jarring bit”:

You pronounced the Chinese as stupid for suddenly pursuing Zero Covid. Here’s a scary possibility: They know something you don’t know. Suppose the Chinese detected a Covid variant with a 20% death rate, rather than 1.5%. Gotta save face, gotta stamp it out. What we’re seeing is a reasonable consequence. Or it could be a variant immune to SinoVac. I’m not laughing at them, and, with difficulty, not yet condemning them. I’m worrying.

Chill, baby, chill. The chances of a virus crossing from animals to animals to humans in the next decades of rapid climate change is very high. The chances of it wiping out humanity is not negligible. F**k with the planet the way we have, and the planet is at some point going to f**k you. I know this sounds fatalistic — but in my adult lifetime, I’ve contracted two new viruses, both of which have killed millions.

This next listener worries about the political center in America regaining control:

There was much to agree with in your Dishcast with Haidt about the effects of social media, particularly with regards to how it amplifies polarization. But this analysis feels a bit like blaming kerosene for a fire instead of the arsonist.

The biggest share of responsibility for where we are today lies at the feet of the center-right, center-left, and the institutions that supported them. Free trade, the war on terrorism, the Iraq war, the financial crisis, and the extremely tepid recovery thereafter were all the brainchildren of the center and various elite institutions. They have been complete and utter disasters for most Americans. What is more, the outright refusal of many to take accountability for these disasters — indeed the doubling down and moralizing tone in Haidt’s defense of the center — only leads to greater resentment and polarization. If these are the people who are expected to lead us into brighter days, we are doomed.

Point taken. Lastly, a listener looks ahead to our next episode:

First I wish you a speedy recovery from Covid and your hip surgery. Please do rest sufficiently; I know a lot of people who neglected to do that and are now paying the price.

I am a recent subscriber. After listening to a gazillion of your podcasts on Spotify, I realized it was the decent thing to do! Although I do not always agree with you (especially on the EU, which you seem to misunderstand), I want to thank you for your work and for broadening my horizons, i.e. about gay culture, which I ignorantly thought was synonymous with gay pride parades. And please continue to invite people you disagree with — it’s such an important message, even though, frankly, those episodes are not always the most interesting ones.

Since you are talking to one of my intellectual heroes in your next episode, Francis Fukuyama, I was wondering if I could suggest one or two questions. His End of History and the Last Man is still widely misrepresented by people who either never read it or willingly distort it. Fukuyama is actually one of the very few people who foresaw the possibility of what we are going through now — in that very book. Yet his responses to these deeply ignorant and unfair criticisms are, in every interview of him I have ever read or heard, unfailingly courteous, measured and constructive. I am just wondering how he does it. I would have blown my top. Where does he get the energy?

Although of course he’ll talk about his latest book, if I can make an additional suggestion, please get him to talk about Political Order, his magnum opus in two volumes, and how he responds to the very different views developed in Graeber and Wengrow’s Dawn of Everything.

I look forward to hearing you again, when you feel better!

Yes, he’s a model of reason and restraint. And thanks for the tips. We won’t have time to debate his many works, but I’ll do my best.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Apr 29, 2022
Jonathan Haidt On Social Media’s Havoc
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Haidt is a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at the NYU Stern School of Business, and he co-founded Heterodox Academy. His latest book is The Coddling of the American Mind, but our discussion centered on his new piece for The Atlantic, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” a history of social media.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here.  For two clips of our convo — on why the Internet nosedived in 2014, and what we could do to fix Twitter — head over to our YouTube page.

For more on the precarious state of the liberal order, check out the full transcript of our episode with Jonathan Rauch we just posted. Jon being the optimistic liberal and me the pessimistic conservative, we debated Trump, the MSM, and Russiagate.

Meanwhile, a listener remarks on last week’s episode:

If Dr. Christakis’s appearance was part of a book tour, it worked on me. I’m going to buy his latest book. I’m reminded again of all the significant voices I’ve heard since I subscribed to the Dish. If I fail to resubscribe in the future, it will be only because I didn’t know that payment was due. I’ve definitely got my money’s worth from this subscription.

Here’s a clip of Christakis and me talking about why friends — especially male friends — rip on each other:

Here’s another listener on the “wonderful interview with Professor Christakis (a personal hero of mine)”:

Your comment about the uniqueness of Christianity, with respect to love, rather surprised me. Are there not very revolutionary (and non-obvious) similar attributes in Buddhism? Or even certain aspects of Judaism (or any number of other philosophical/religious traditions that predate Christianity)? That somehow the faith that you happened to be raised in is the system that uniquely changed the world seems, frankly, a bit parochial to me.

And if it did change the world, why was it that it took another 1700 years for its promises to be at all realized? (Full disclosure: I’m partial to Pinker’s argument that the Enlightenment was the singular inflection point in history.)  

So my first request would be for you to interview an academic with broad knowledge of other faiths/philosophical systems to have a conversation (not a debate!) about the uniqueness of Christianity (and as you mentioned in the interview, the Catholic church). If that treads on your personal belief, then I would certainly understand your reluctance to have such a conversation.

My second request is that you would have an interview with an academic about theodicy. While I’ve read a number of layman’s discussions of this topic, I’d love to hear an honest, intellectual discussion on this subject.

I didn’t mean to suggest that the Buddha wasn’t also deeply instrumental in shifting human consciousness. Judaism and Islam also have deep traditions of mutual respect and love. But the radicalism of agape, a universal love to be expressed in action every minute, across tribe and race and region, is one of Christianity’s core legacies. Theodicy was well-covered on the Dish blog, but a pod convo is a great suggestion.

This next listener finally got around to our December episode with David Wallace-Wells on Covid — a topic that Christakis and I covered last week:

I'm a bit late in feeding back on this interview, but I just caught up with it on my daily dog walk this morning. David is obviously very well-informed on Covid and seems (as you note) to be an “honest broker” of information, which is relatively rare nowadays given the extent to which everything is politicized.

That said, I was taken aback that he was unaware of where Covid ranked in terms of causes of death in America today. Heart and stroke and cancer both kill far more people than Covid (approximately 850K and 600K per year, respectively). Interestingly, we seem to have learned to live with these levels of systemic death, much of which could be prevented through lifestyle changes.

You covered a lot of Covid ground and I was pleased to see that David avoided the standard condemnation of alternate public health approaches in some red states (Florida et al) and countries such as Sweden, acknowledging that Covid presents complex issues and the solutions are not always clear. One size does not fit all.

By now it should be obvious that the widespread condemnation of the Trump administration’s Covid actions was misplaced and utterly political. In fact, America, under two administrations, has pursued most of the same policies as the rest of the world with middling success. And the results have not been markedly better (or worse) in 2021 than in 2020.

I thought you shortchanged the whole discussion of therapeutics and failed to even mention the appalling fact that we are now two years into the Covid epidemic and there is still no standard, effective protocol established for early, outpatient treatment. There are countless studies showing that many lives could have been saved by simply promoting safe, readily available, over-the-counter therapeutics like vitamin D to strengthen immune systems and regular nasal wash to kill viral particles at the point of entry (the nasal passages) before they have a chance to circulate and replicate.  

Nor was there even a mention of the successful therapeutic efforts of doctors like Tyson and Fareed in California. There are many other examples around the country of doctors using cheap, repurposed drugs (anti-inflammatories, anti-virals, etc.) with excellent safety profiles to successfully treat Covid patients. Rather than sharing these stories, we hear endlessly about the next dose of experimental vaccine and expensive new pharmaceuticals with significant side effects and no long-term safety records.

In summary, the Wallace-Wells interview provided listeners with a fairly thorough summary of the current, approved Covid narrative, but failed to even acknowledge the contrarian views of tens of thousands of medical scientists and practitioners around the world who have signed the Great Barrington Declaration, rejecting the damaging public health approach taken throughout most of the developed world (lockdowns, quarantine, mass vaccination during a pandemic, etc.) — an approach that ran counter to virtually all established public health policy for handling epidemics.

Speaking of going against the conventional wisdom on Covid, Jerusalem Demsas has a great piece on “the four pandemic predictions about the economy that never materialized”: the eviction tsunami, the “she-cession,” the housing-market crash, and the state- and local-government deficit explosion.

Listeners are still gushing over the Fiona Hill episode:

I absolutely adored your interview with Ms. Hill. Your camaraderie was delightful, and I loved hearing about how she and you both took your tests and were admitted to gifted school programs. I loved her take on Putin as well. And Trump:

But the biggest highlight of your discussion, in my opinion, was at the end where you both suggested ideas for how to get America out of the quandary we now find ourselves. I read/hear far too often about how we got here and what the problems are and far too little about what we should do about it. I loved the idea of strengthening unions and investing in small communities. I could easily see either a Republican or Democratic candidate who ran on a platform that tries to seriously tackle wealth inequality and our failing local communities winning an election by a landslide. Andrew Yang perhaps? 

Whoever it is, this is the time for a new kind of New Deal. We need new ideas and new leadership. I’m almost to the point where I simply will refuse to vote for anyone over 60. In any case, thanks for actually making a case for potential solutions instead of just wallowing in what ills us as so many others have done.

This next listener, though, thinks I’m not focusing enough on tangible stuff:

You should talk about material issues. Most of the young people in France support Le Pen (per Eurointelligence). Young people around the world are turning to left- and right-wing populism (Boric in Chile, Orbán in Hungary, etc.), since centrist politics have failed them. Why is this? Financialization of the economy, cutthroat competition in the labor market with mass immigration, elite overproduction, deindustrialization, decline of labor unions, austerity, and the rise of China. You will not have any “liberal democracy” to preserve if you do not address material issues.

If you are my age, you have lived through one elite failure after another, with politics dominated by the boomers. What do you have to lose by voting for the political “hand grenade”? Completely rational.

As always, keep the dissents and other commentary — including guest recommendations — coming: dish@andrewsullivan.com.

Because we just ran out of space on the main page for the new contest photo (Substack has a space limit for emailed versions of posts), here’s the new challenge this week:

Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a three-month sub if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!

The results for last week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Apr 15, 2022
Nicholas Christakis On Covid And Friendship
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Nicholas is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale, where he directs the Human Nature Lab and co-directs the Yale Institute for Network Science. His latest book is Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live, and also check out Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society. We talk Covid, plagues, and friendship as a virtue.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of my convo with Nicholas — on how the two plagues of AIDS and Covid are different, and on the mutual abuse that strengthens a friendship — head to our YouTube page.

Also, heads up: a new transcript is here — for the popular episode with Dominic Cummings. The architect of the Leave campaign had a rare podcast discussion with me, and now you can read it in full.

Here’s a clip of Cummings describing his split with Boris:

Speaking of brilliant Brits from County Durham, last week’s episode with Fiona Hill was also a big hit with listeners. Here’s one:

Just an utterly lively, entertaining, informative interview — and not only regarding Eastern Europe. I loved getting to hear about your respective experiences growing up in different parts of England. Bravo!

Here’s a clip of Fiona and me talking about our mixed feelings over leaving home:

Another listener:

I thoroughly enjoyed this interview with Fiona — and you did too, I could tell. I can’t always grab the nettle of the Newcastle accent, but I could listen to that woman for hours! The Ireland-Ukraine analogy gave me a lot to consider. That insight alone was worth the listen.

Let me suggest one more interesting (if more obscure) analogy: James Madison’s ill-considered and ultimately failed invasion of Canada in 1812-13. I imagine David Frum, a good Canadian lad, will be able to comment on the similarities between Putin’s misbegotten “strategy” and Madison’s “war-hawk” fantasy about liberating the United Empire Loyalists from the Crown. (Oh-boy, did he get that one wrong!)

Another reader jumps on my response to a dissent last week:

“Yep, it was Obama who turned Aleppo into a graveyard...” This is glib and beneath you. The reader was referencing the fact that Russia was given a base in Syria and its combat aircraft now operate there on account of the deal Obama struck with Putin after his “redline” was crossed and he needed a way out. No, Obama wasn’t solely responsible for the debacle in Syria, but he was responsible for Russia now being there (necessitating Israel coordination with Russian military).

This next reader goes another round over Churchill:

You wrote, “But Churchill? One of the greatest statesmen in history equated with the worst president in history? Nah...” Winston Churchill was a magnificent, stalwart wartime leader. Yes, from mid-1940 through late-1941, he may have been the single most important person frustrating the war aims of the Third Reich. And from 1942 to 1945, he managed to keep Britain sitting at the same table as the US and the USSR.

But Churchill was a failure as a war strategist — from the Dardanelles fiasco in the First World War to the “soft-underbelly” Italy slog of the Second. And it was hardly statesmanlike of him to insist on overriding military professionals and screwing things up in the process. But your “one of the greatest statesman in history” claim is most inapt when we look at post-war Churchill and his opposition to decolonization and the dissolution of the empire. He was way too slow, way too begrudging.

I still agree with 84.3% of everything else you say.

Haha. Any decent assessment of Churchill should contain some of his giant flaws. But still …

A fan of the Dishcast asks, “Why don’t you have more academic philosophers on your podcast?”

Your episode with Jim Holt was great (though he is not an academic philosopher, he seems to know his way around many issues), as was the Kathleen Stock episode. But I think it would be really nice to mine this field of philosophy for great discussion. People like Brian Leiter, Alex Byrne, Robert Paul Wolff, and Becky Truvel would make great guests. There is so much going on in academic philosophy that can be interesting and deep, and I think your listeners could really benefit. I mean, if you could get a Alasdair Macintyre or Charles Taylor, that would be incredible. But I’d settle for just about anything — even another visit with Holt.

We have had on academic philosophers, such as Cornel West, as well as academics talking philosophy, such as Roosevelt Montás and Steven Pinker, but thanks for the recommendations. Back to the Jim Holt episode, this next reader, responding to the loving criticism that Jim and I leveled at Hitch, crafts a lengthy defense:

Thank you for inviting us to listen in on that conversation, particularly the reminiscences about Christopher Hitchens. I often visit his old lectures, interviews, and debates via YouTube — either to learn something or just for a laugh. Hearing from those in his private life always adds an extra dimension to even some of those public events, and it’s much appreciated. Some skepticism of his work recently re-emerged, ten years after his death. In particular, via the Dish, I read the Douthat piece on Hitchens being a “victim of decadence,” and now Holt has raised some similar points: Was Hitchens too often wrong? Was he merely a contrarian? Or was it that, as Douthat puts it, “his great talents were expended on causes that have not exactly stood the test of time”?

Douthat and Holt each reference the war in Iraq, of course, because that’s a piece of low-hanging, ripe, juicy mainstream opinion fruit. But even if society has concluded the war was in error, were Hitchens sentiments wasted here? I’m not so sure. While I was always deeply skeptical of the war, I did find myself pausing to think over his empathetic stance on freeing Iraqis from a psychopath, often articulated from the vantage point of the Kurds — a perspective far too humane to have ever eked through Dick Cheney’s pursed lips. Such thinking, rooted in freeing an oppressed people, is hard for me to view too harshly and impossible for me to consider totally aligned with the hawks, who were probably designing the Mission Accomplished banner before a single boot touched the ground.

Hitchens’ legacy perhaps ought not be defined by any particular issue or essay, but by that theme of liberation, argued over a lifetime. His work was often based on what he called socialism — but was, whatever the name, a keen eye cast toward the disenfranchised, overlooked, and oppressed. While he possessed an elite mind who graduated from elite institutions and wrote for elite publications while hosting parties for elites, he nonetheless managed, in his writing, to stand apart with those who felt apart.

We’re privileged that the Dishcast gives us access to the minds of such elites — the Frums and Applebaums — to comment on the world around us. But they are also part of the elite machinery that erected that world, and it shows in their commentary. Hitchens’ ability to convey a more humanistic worldview remains a necessary rarity. Without most of the naïveté of today’s left, he forcefully challenged conventional assumptions and narratives popular among the elite, even as he ostensibly made plans to get drunk with them.

Perhaps to the mind of his detractors, Hitchens’ brand of commentary missed the mark or felt cheap in some way. Indeed, Andrew, you seemed dismissive of his opinions on impeaching Clinton.

But as seemingly half of Substack bemoans the crumbling of liberal institutions, it’s worth remembering that Hitchens was one of the best at pointing the finger at the moldy hypocrites rotting those institutions from the inside. When Hitchens commented to you that “all” the US presidents should have been impeached, I heard at least a kernel of truth that presidents have barely, if ever, been held accountable for a very long list of scandals, abuses of power, wars, wastes of public money, et cetera.

It’s fair to say that Hitchens did more than take down liars, dictators, and hypocrites; he also exposed us to the plights of people around the world with an empathy and urgency that could only come from someone who visited North Korea, walked among the Kurds, voluntarily waterboarded himself, or worked alongside Cuban coffee farmers. Was some of this contrarianism (or even performance art), as you two speculated? There’s certainly reason to wonder.

However, it’s hard to see mere performance when watching him on old episodes of Firing Line.

It’s hard to see mere performance when reading his exploration of the effects of Agent Orange. Or chastising his own on the left, too eager to overlook 9/11 as America’s fault. Or seeing him continue to reflect and share so much as he was dying.

Even I, an obvious admirer of his, bristled on occasion at his smugness, as I did when you recalled to Holt his seeming delight in your drifting from the Catholic Church. And I take Holt’s point about cherry-picking easy targets in the American Bible Belt as he crusaded against religion. Though to be fair to Hitchens’ late life tirades against religion, he also took on every religion and many better armed foes than American evangelicals — my favorite of which has to be this endlessly entertaining Munk debate with (slaughter of?) Tony Blair:

For whatever flaws one can find, I still cherish his humanistic approach, and while I must concede that I didn’t hear you or Holt specifically criticize that, I also didn’t hear much discussion of it at all. To my ear, the critical tone examining some of his work did feel both nitpicked and cherry-picked. I suppose that’s understandable in the confines of what felt more like a chat with and about old friends than a typical podcast.

I’m most grateful for this homage to Hitch. And I agree with it — especially the humanistic and democratic impulse that suffused his work. This was a man who would engage anyone, who could be found still chatting with students hours after he’d given a talk, whose dinner table was a constant symposium. Holt and I were being a little mischievous — if only because some have idolized a man who hated idols.

One more listener this week:

When your conversation with Jim Holt turned to being gay and how today’s gay youth come of age in an accepting environment, I had the impression that you were trying to get Jim to admit that through almost universal societal acceptance, the gay community lost something. Are you in some way nostalgic for a time when being gay was a form of otherness? 

I’m not nostalgic in any moral way. I don’t want to go back. But there was something lost — inevitably. Our reader may want to check out my 2005 essay, “The End of Gay Culture.” It’s included in Out On A Limb, my collection of 30 years of writing.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Apr 08, 2022
Fiona Hill On Russia, Trump, The American Dream

Fiona Hill was an intel analyst under Bush and Obama and then served under Trump as senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council. Currently a senior fellow at Brookings, her new book is There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century. She also co-authored a book called Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin. It was a really pleasant chat — especially talking about our parallel paths from Britain to America.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here. For two clips of my convo with Fiona — on why a self-reliant country would pick a tyrannical ruler in Trump, and on the pathos of leaving your hometown for more opportunity — head to our YouTube page.

Also, heads up: a new Dish transcript just dropped, this time with Cornel West — who believes, unlike Jon Stewart and his panelists, that “we’ve got to fight the notion that whiteness is reducible to white supremacy.” The Christian socialist is a powerful foe of tribalism:

Below are many readers over my latest column, “The Strange Rebirth Of Imperial Russia.” First up, the dissenters:

You wrote, “But Putin is not without allies. China, Brazil, India, Israel — they’re all hedging their bets, alongside much of the global South.” That was an excessively glib statement on your part. Israel? I think you need to back-up and examine this. In terms of the politics of Middle East conflict, Israel has been successfully Finlandized by Russia, severely circumscribing its freedom of movement in matters military and diplomatic.

The tenor of discussion within the Jewish State on this very topic is brisk and contentious. Israel is the ultimate democracy — the acme of public democratic input, sometimes to a fault. I know you are no friend of what I would call the Jewish National Project, and I don’t expect you to be. I’ve taken your measure on this subject long ago. But I do expect you to be better informed and for your critiques to demonstrate greater political acuity.

Yes, Israel has been seriously compromised diplomatically re: Ukraine by the godfather role Russia plays in Levantine politics, but it has nothing to do with “ally” status. The Russian hand is inside Israel’s pants and clutching its balls.  There is no alliance.

I am absolutely a friend of the Jewish National Project. My issue is with the way Israel treats the United States, and the completely lop-sided nature of that relationship. I think it’s deeply unhealthy for both parties. Another dissenter asks:

Why do you keep accusing Israel of supporting the Russians? It was Obama who placed Russia on Israel’s border (the war in Syria) and Israel has to coordinate with Russia to prevent Iranian missiles. Stop your simplistic view.

Yep, it was Obama who turned Aleppo into a graveyard and Biden who invaded Ukraine. Please.

A much longer dissent on Israel:

I believe your characterization of Israel grossly misrepresents the extremely difficult position it has been in since Russia invaded Ukraine. First, 43 countries did not vote in favor of calling on Russia to end the war in Ukraine, but Israel voted for the UNGA resolution demanding an end to the unconscionable violence. Query why you thought to include Israel on your list of Russian “allies” and not Armenia, Cuba, South Africa, Iran, North Korea or Vietnam — to name only a handful of the 43. 

Second, Israel has provided a significant amount of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including setting up an Israeli-staffed field hospital in the Lviv region, sending over 100 tons of medical supplies, hospital generators, water purification systems, winter coats, sleeping bags and other items, assisting fleeing Israelis and Ukrainian Jews seeking to move to Israel, and taking in non-Jewish Ukrainian refugees who are not eligible or looking to immigrate to Israel. 

Thousands of Russian- and Ukrainian-Israelis have also come together in Tel Aviv and other major Israeli cities to protest the war. For a small country of approximately nine million citizens, Israel is punching far above its weight in aid and support provided to Ukraine. This level of humanitarian commitment is obviously not being provided by the other countries you listed as Russian “allies.”

Israel is walking a thin tightrope between the two countries. Prime Minister Bennett is at the forefront of global efforts to end the fighting and serve as a mediator, while also in the unenviable position of having to protect large Jewish communities in each country and the interests of his own nation (keep in mind the need to avoid provoking Syrian-based Russian troops on Israel's northern border).

I recognize that this is a lengthy response to just one sentence in your column, but I think it’s important. It’s a false moral equivalence to say that Israel is “hedging its bets” with Russia; rather, the more accurate framing is that Israel is doing its best to uphold its Jewish and democratic values as a “light unto the nations” while also taking into account its own interests — which it cannot be faulted for, given that we know what happens to Jews when they don’t have a country committed to protecting the Jewish people.

Speaking of threats to the Jewish people, Sam Ramani last week addressed the presence of neo-Nazis in Ukraine:

This next dissenter shifts gears:

You are spot on with your latest column — except in this one regard: Russian imperial/nationalistic mysticism. With roots going back hundreds of years, Russian mysticism does NOT always rely on historical Mongolian roots for its exceptionalism. Rather the opposite: it locates exceptionalism where it can find it. You should look up the doctrine of the Third Rome — which dates, as I remember it, to something like the 14th or 15th Century.  

Sure. I was talking specifically about Gumilev’s and Dugin’s weird alternative. Another reader looks to Christianism:

Your take that the church in Russia is a “Christianist” tool is shared by many Western church leaders. This op-ed explains what’s happening in the non-Russian world of Orthodoxy in reaction to Kirill’s support of Putin and his ideology.

Another continues a previous dissent thread:

In response your reader comparing Trump to Churchill, you wrote:

The second is that comparing Trump to Churchill is obscene. Maybe if Churchill had joined Hitler in the early 1930s to endorse occupying the Sudetenland, we’d have a parallel, or if he’d praised Nazi intelligence over MI5. 

But I think you ran right past one of the dissenter’s main points. The dissenter listed a number of policies and actions Trump took or advocated that were indisputably hostile to Russian interests: increased US energy production, attempts to export LNG to Europe, pushing for more NATO spending from other members, etc. It’s hard to think of an actual policy Trump enacted or advocated that served Russian interests. Many, including you, point to his statements in Helsinki, but we know years later that he was basically right that US intelligence got the entire Russia story dead-wrong (and that active and former intelligence officials got the Hunter Biden laptop story dead-wrong).

Joe Biden, on the other hand, has made North American energy production more difficult, approved pipeline construction into Germany, said that the US would essentially tolerate a “minor incursion” into Ukraine, and taken other actions that the Russians surely could not believe their lucky stars would be taken by an American president. Yes, he’s gotten onboard with heavy sanctions, but recall that his approach was minimalist at first (recall, we needed to wait “around 30 days” to see if the initial sanctions were enough). And Biden only agreed to heavier sanctions after Western Europe began imposing them.

So, it’s difficult to reconcile the actual public record with your retort to last week’s dissenter that Churchill could only be compared to Trump if Churchill had “joined Hitler . . . to endorse the Sudetenland.” The record seems, if anything, to point precisely in the opposite direction.

My reader’s points about Russian policy under Trump are dead-on. It’s one reason I find the whole collusion narrative unpersuasive. But Churchill? One of the greatest statesmen in history equated with the worst president in history? Nah.

And lastly, more on biolabs!

The explanation for this is easy. I am somewhat familiar with the program, since a close friend was the scientific director of a similar US program in another relevant country. The idea really was to employ biologists and people with the relevant lab experience in the former Soviet Union — while also tracking pandemic threats to livestock. 

As this friend — an experienced veterinarian (and not a US national, indicating that this was not a secret program) — explained, “a single person with third-semester laboratory skills could do massive amounts of damage to US and Western agriculture.” For that reason, the labs were put into place from Ukraine across the Caucasus to Central Asia as an employment opportunity. And yes, there was a degree of hush-hush about it, because the idea was not to loudly advertise the threat one was worried about.

But you don’t have to take my word for it — a respected media outfit with experienced people on the ground has broken down the story, here. I do think it is important to get the story about all of this out there, against the somewhat deranged claims. 

Happy to help get the word out.

As we mentioned on the main Dish, because the main column was so long this week, packed with so many links, we ran out of space on that page — otherwise the emailed version of the Dish would be cut short in readers’ in-trays. So our weekly recommended reading “In the Stacks” and the next window contest is seen below.

In The ‘Stacks

* Is Putin, in fact, winning? Biden’s mouth has become a minefield.

* For Dems in the New York Assembly, it’s pay equity for thee and not for me, and it’s probably a broader trend.

* When it comes to “the race game,” Michael DC Bowen wants out. He calls for “personal deracination” — a kind of Benedict Option.

* Major props to Filipovic for going to Notre Dame to “debate issues I don’t believe should be up for debate” — abortion — and for “doing the slow work of change.”

* What’s worse than banning books? Snuffing them out before they hit the page.

* Ever heard of Mercy Otis Warren? A Founding Mother of sorts.

* After getting squeezed out of the NYT and going through the censorship of Russia Today in the East and YouTube in the West, Chris Hedges finds a safe haven in Substack. Welcome!

The View From Your Window Contest

Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a three-month sub if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!

The results for last week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Apr 01, 2022
Samuel Ramani On Deciphering Russia

Ramani is a tutor in the Department of Political Science at Oxford and a member of the Royal United Services Institute in London. He’s been to Russia and Ukraine many times in the course of getting his DPhil — the Oxford equivalent of a PhD — in International Relations. He has studied Russia’s wars in Chechnya and Syria, and has two books in the works — one on Russia in Africa and another on the current war in Ukraine.

At just 28, Ramani is a bit of a phenom. I wanted a deep dive on the subject of Putin’s Russia, and was not disappointed. I learned a huge amount, and I think you will too.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of my convo with Sam — on how sanctions against Putin could actually help him, and on how serious the neo-Nazi presence is in Ukraine — head to our YouTube page.

We also just transcribed another popular episode of the Dishcast — with Yossi Klein Halevi, who debated the history and nature of Zionism with me. Judea Pearl described it as “the best discussion of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that has ever been aired anywhere.”

Here’s a bit of our convo:

Meanwhile, a “long-time subscriber, first-time commenter” is really worried:

I just read your piece on Putin and the populist Right. I’m an old chippy lefty, so there is no excuse for worshipping Putin, but those people don’t scare me. Right now what scares me the most is the drumbeat for War coming from all sides in the US — Tim Kaine, Tom Cotton, and many others saying we must win this war. The propaganda and War fever coming out of the US truly frightens me. It reminds me of the US after 9/11. It was a wave you could not withstand, Andrew, and it swept many good and reasonable people along with it — to utter catastrophe.

What interests does the US have in intervening in a civil war between two corrupt oligarchs in Putin and Zelensky? Ukraine isn’t a democracy, and it’s one of the most corrupt countries on Earth. Zelensky is a trained actor — of course he gives a great speech. 

Why risk nuclear war? Why entertain fantasies that if we don’t stop the Russians here, they'll soon by marching on the Rhine? I beseech you, please don’t fall for the War Party propaganda like in Iraq. This is still early days, this will not end well for us.    

I have to say that the memory of 2003 is very much on my mind these days. And I’m a little unnerved that many others who fell, as I did, under the spell of passion and moral certainty at the time, seem to have no memory of that at all right now. They retain a constant ahistorical Munich mindset.

Another reader provides a long comprehensive dissent over my piece:

In your essay “Putin’s Challenge to the American Right,” I was a little mystified by your discussion of strength, weakness, and genius. If you’ll permit a brief digression to WW2, Hitler played his hand well during his rise to power in Germany. This is, of course, not an endorsement of the man: the world would have been far better off had Hitler died on a WW1 battlefield. But how many other people could have, at low political cost, achieved the rearmament of the German military, the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the annexation of Austria, and the seizure of the Sudetenland?

Now, let’s imagine that it is early 1938, and Churchill goes in for an interview and says:

You know, this Hitler guy is playing us like a violin. The other day I was listening to a radio and heard him say that parts of Czechoslovakia are filled with Germans and should belong to Germany, but after that, he won’t desire any further territorial expansion. Oh, they’ll stop there all right! How brilliant is that? He’s going to gain a foothold in the country and bypass their border defenses, and we aren’t going to do a single thing about it. How wonderful. No, it’s very sad. Very sad. Let me tell you, he wouldn’t be able to get away with this if I was in charge.

This is, of course, a paraphrasing of the Trump quote you began your article with (the lines “it’s very sad, very sad” and “He wouldn’t be able to get away with this if I was in charge” came a little later in the interview on the same subject). But it is also a quote that I could easily imagine Churchill giving at the time (with a richer vocabulary, of course), and Churchill would have been correct in his analysis.

So, if Churchill would have been correct in giving this statement, why does it become problematic when Trump gives it? Your main criticism appear to be the lines about Russia “keeping peace” and about the situation being “wonderful.” But taken in context and with the audio, there doesn’t seem to be any way to interpret those lines other than as a criticism towards the Western leaders for letting Russia get away with this. After all, if Trump literally thought that this invasion was a “wonderful” development, why does he then drop this line: “[Putin] wouldn’t be able to do this if I was still in charge”?

And keep in mind, Trump said this when it looked like Putin would only be invading the two breakaway regions, and from where I was sitting, it did look like there would be few sanctions against Russia for that. It wasn’t until two days later, when Russia invaded the rest of the Ukraine and made a bee-line for Kiev, that the West started imposing their hard sanctions. All-in-all, this seems like a very uncharitable interpretation of Trump’s statement on your part.

Moving away from Trump specifically, you then attempted to make hay from the finding that 62% of Republicans think that Putin is a stronger leader than Biden. But does believing that Biden is a weak leader make someone any less patriotic than a Brit who thought that Chamberlin was being made a fool by Hitler in Munich? And keep in mind that the same poll found that 42% of independents thought Putin was the stronger leader, with only 15% thinking that Biden was the stronger leader (question 18). Even into March, most independents still thought Biden was a weak leader (question 70). Are those plurality/majority of independents who thought Putin was the stronger leader also in the sway of the far right?

You then go on to imply that the 62% figure means that those Republicans must approve of or admire Putin. But that same February poll found that 80% of Republicans (and 80% of independents) disapprove of this invasion by Putin, with only 6% agreeing with the invasion (4% of Democrats agreed with the invasion) (question 15) and 73% of Republicans had a unfavorable view of Putin (question 13). So, according to the polling data, thinking that Putin is a strong leader is not a synonym for admiring Putin.

Now, the quotes you bring up from Bannon, Cawthorn, and Zemmour are more troubling. Had you just used their quotes to make your point, I probably wouldn’t be writing this dissent. But when surrounded by all the other more problematic analysis, I find it difficult to take your concern seriously.

And this raises the question: Is Putin a smart and strong leader compared to our leaders? Matthew Schmidt appears to have thought so back in 2017 when he wrote that article you linked. Half of its focus was on Russia’s clever use of maskirovka — military deception — in Ukraine and its accomplishments in Syria, and how Western leaders had yet to figure out the correct response to those strategies. Had Schmidt’s vocabulary been greatly simplified, he would have sounded downright Trumpian.

Now, you could respond to these points by saying, “But look at the current mess in Ukraine. Putin is facing an unwinnable war, crippling sanctions, and a united West. Clearly he wasn’t that smart after all.” And this appears to be the main point of the second half of your article.

This brings us back to the WW2 analogy. By 1941, the Germans had won the war. The British had been expelled from the continent, the French had been vassalized, and the Balkans had been subjugated. And with the communist threat rising to the East, the Germans would have had a good chance of convincing the British to end the hostilities to help fight the Soviets had they just waited long enough.

But instead, the Germans decided to immediately invade Russia, and then later decided to also declare war on the United States. These two moves sealed Germany’s fate and eventually led to the liberation of the western half of Europe.

So, what happened? The Germans had fought brilliantly up to 1941, and then they made some of the most idiotic decisions of the 20th century. Did they suddenly become complete morons in the space of six months? Or did these two decisions prove that Hitler and his generals had been idiots all along? Neither answer is really satisfactory. The best guess is that their early victories were indeed clever. But they let their success go to their heads, and in their arrogance, they lost their judgement. Had they kept their head about them and not started making rash decisions, who knows what the world would look like today. (Then again, if they were capable of not making rash decisions, maybe they wouldn’t have been Nazis in the first place.)

The same dynamic plays out today with Putin’s Russia. Putin has been playing smart for a long time. There is the maskirovka in Ukraine that Schmidt discussed: Russia was able to gain influence in the Middle East through Syria on the cheap, sold missile defense to Turkey, seized parts of Georgia for no real cost, seized the Crimea for only a small cost, built a decent relationship with President Xi, allowed the hacking of US pipeline infrastructure, have influenced elections throughout the West, donated heavily to Western environmental movements to keep oil prices high and prevent the growth of nuclear power, and had used cheap natural gas to buy silence from the Germans.

Had Putin only annexed the disputed portions of Ukraine, the pushback would have likely been similarly minimal. And the fact that Putin got overconfident and (very) dumb with his last push in Ukraine doesn’t mean that we should ignore all his cleverness up until now. Likewise, the fact that the West has finally grown a backbone in the face of a total invasion of another European nation doesn’t negate the fact that their response up until this point had been fairly anemic.

You quote David Frum as saying: “Everything the [far right] wanted to perceive as decadent and weak has proven strong and brave; everything they wanted to represent as fearsome and powerful has revealed itself as brutal and stupid.” But the point was never that Russia was stronger than the West, for liberal democracies are always stronger than kleptocracies in the long run. The point was that Western leaders were choosing to not use our strength to confront Russia’s weakness, thereby making us appear weak and inviting further aggression.

Sure, dictators will always eventually push too far and invite a fierce blowback (Germany after the Lusitania, Japan after Pearl Harbor, Hitler after Barbarossa, Afghanistan after the Twin Towers), but that is hardly an argument for letting our enemies grow big enough to deserve the blowback. Imagine how many lives could have been saved had we maintained a more active military presence in the Pacific before Japan had managed to capture half of the ocean. Just because totalitarian regimes always stumble in the end doesn’t mean that we should meekly hide in the corner until they do so. Waiting always lets them grow stronger, making their downfall all the more bloody for both sides. And besides, what happens if they forget to stumble?

Wow, that was a long response. Hopefully these dissents aren’t word capped. Like I said, I usually enjoy your writing, so keep up the good work.

P.S. I didn’t know where to fit this in the main body, but I have absolutely no idea where ground truth is about the “bioweapons” propaganda. However, given Under Secretary of State Nuland’s bizarre testimony/admission and how many times Americans have been lied to over the past two decades by neocons like Nuland and your neocon friend Frum, Americans deserves a better explanation than the one that the Biden administration has provided thus far.

P.P.S. OK, one more thing about political strength and weakness. You made some claims that A) Trump brings up “strength” as a dodge, and that B) Biden has proven himself to be strong against Russia. And while I agree that Biden has done decent for himself during this crisis (though we can’t give him too much credit — the Europeans have mostly taken the lead on this one), doesn’t Trump come out on top when we compare his Russia policy to Biden’s? After all, Trump withdrew from the INF treaty, built up good relations with Saudi Arabia, incentivized US energy production, sought to increase LNG exports to Europe, approved sanctions on the Nordstream pipeline, pushed for more military spending in NATO countries, gave lethal weapons to Ukraine, and authorized the killing of Russian combatants in Syria.

Compare that to the actions that Biden has taken, such as blocking the sale of oil and gas leases on federal land, ending sanctions for Nordstream, killing the Israeli/Greek oil pipeline to Europe, alienating the Saudis so that they now refuse to help us lower oil prices, letting the Russians run the nuclear negotiations with Iran, cozying up with Putin’s ally Venezuela, and running a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan that humiliated the US on the world stage.

Trump’s actions made Russia weaker and the US stronger, while Biden’s made Russia stronger and the US weaker. And waving that all away as “just bluster” from Trump and “well Biden is at least doing well now” does a grave disservice to this conversation. Even if Russia ends up imploding on their own.

I address many of these points in my post today. I’ll offer two observations here. The first is that if every international crisis is always 1936, then we’re always going to be going to war, or provoking one. This is brain-dead. The second is that comparing Trump to Churchill is obscene. Maybe if Churchill had joined Hitler in the early 1930s to endorse occupying the Sudetenland, we’d have a parallel, or if he’d praised Nazi intelligence over MI5. And maybe if Putin’s military were able to occupy Kyiv, and he didn’t have nukes, he could be compared with the the war machine that swept through Europe in a few months in 1939 - 1940.

Another reader looks back at my earlier piece, “Ukraine Now. Taiwan Next?

Long time, first time (though Chris knows me from VFYW). I very much admire your writing, and you’ve made me rethink many of my positions over the years, but — you knew it was coming — I think you’ve gotten it somewhat wrong on Ukraine. Your latest posts and interviews have all pointed to a common theme: NATO should have known not to poke the Russian bear by expanding into Eastern Europe. You even quote Churchill to prove your point, citing his famous “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” statement about Russia — who could disagree with that?

But let’s examine the context of his speech. It was given on October 1, 1939, a month into World War II and a fortnight after the Soviet Union had launched an unprovoked invasion of Poland. As Churchill notes earlier in that same speech: “First Poland has been again overrun by two of the great Powers which held it in bondage for the last 150 years, but were unable to conquer the spirit of the Polish nation.” Over the next year, the Soviets would invade the Baltic states and Finland, all of which (like Poland) had been independent since the end of World War I.  

This context shows an inconvenient truth: Russia may have a history of foreign invasions, but it also has a history of launching its own invasions. Russia isn’t simply some long-aggrieved actor finally lashing out when pushed too far. The history of its empire is one of conquest, often ruthless, against smaller peoples on their borders, groups who often posed no “security threat” to their government or people. 

Shouldn’t we take that into account, too, in any assessment of Russian “national identity”? Is Putin really concerned about his security now, or is that just a convenient pretext to allow him to join a long list of Russian conquerors? It could certainly be a bit of both, but that underscores the need for nuance over simplicity in assigning blame in the current crisis.

I further find it problematic to dismiss the will of the Ukrainian people in all of this — or the will of the peoples of the Baltic republics, for that matter. We act as if NATO forced these countries to join, when in fact strong majorities in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia supported both NATO and EU membership in the early 2000s when they joined. Can one blame them given the history of Russian aggression towards them? 

Moreover, a major cause of both the Orange Revolution and Euromaidan protests was the popular anger at Ukrainian politicians' subservience to Russia. And recent opinion polling in Ukraine has shown strong majorities in favor of NATO membership, majorities that emerged only after Putin annexed Crimea and began backing the insurgency in the Donbas region. 

I mean, I get it.  Just because these countries wanted to join NATO didn’t mean NATO was obliged to take them. And the Ukrainian government perhaps could have played up its commitment to neutrality more convincingly. But even if we acknowledge (as we should) the West’s partial culpability, it seems that this war is, on balance, Putin's doing.

To me, it comes down to this: the idea that these smaller states are mere playthings in the hands of the Great Powers without any say of their own is deeply troubling.  Maybe 'twas ever thus, but the idea that we are consigned to that in perpetuity seems to remove the basic element of human agency and undermines the hope of popular sovereignty.  Hell, if even the Swiss can get on board against Putin now, maybe it shows NATO was right about the threat he posed all along.

Maybe it’s worth repeating that faulting the West for mistakes in the past in no way justifies Putin’s war, which is 100 percent his responsibility. And, as I insisted, it is important that he lose, and be seen to lose. I pray he does.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Mar 25, 2022
Maia Szalavitz On Drugs And Harm Reduction
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Maia is the author of Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, and her latest book, Undoing Drugs, which we cover in this episode. Much of her reporting and research on harm reduction is informed by her own history of drug addiction, including heroin, which we discuss in detail. She makes a strong case.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of our convo — on how much to blame Big Pharma for opioid addiction, and to what extent harm reduction enables addicts — pop over to our YouTube page.

The episode with Maia Szalavitz is a good complement to our popular episode with Michael Shellenberger, which we just transcribed — read the whole conversation here. From one reader who enjoyed it:

Thank you for your continued attention to the issues of drug addiction and homelessness. These problems receive far too little reality-based coverage. The podcast with Shellenberger was excellent and I hope his message gains traction.

You asked why homeless men so often attack elderly Asian women, and Shellenberger said it was because they carry a lot of cash. That may be the motive of burglars, but does not explain the behavior of homeless men who attack passersby without stealing anything. Instead, I think there is a simpler explanation: These men target those who are unlikely to be able to fight back. And that means most victims are women and/or the elderly.

In many cities, homeless men have been allowed to dominate public spaces: sidewalks, parks, public transportation, and libraries. This makes these places unwelcoming and unsafe for the elderly, women, and children. If progressives want cities to be family friendly, they need to address this problem.

I think you and Shellenberger were too circumspect in describing the violent behavior of these men. He stated explicitly that he left out details because they were too horrible. I don’t think these details are distracting. I think they are clarifying. It is better to be matter of fact about exactly what is happening. Euphemistic discussion obscures the severity of these men’s sickness and the full toll their actions take on the community.

So let’s not pussyfoot around. For example, we can look at your hometown of DC. In December, a woman walking home from the gym with her 5-year-old daughter was attacked by a schizophrenic man. Her teeth were knocked out. A few weeks later, a homeless man in Capitol Hill threw a brick at an 11-month-old girl in a stroller, fracturing her eye socket and requiring 19 stitches. In 2019, a man with a history of homelessness and mental illness stabbed a 27-year-old woman to death while she was walking her dog. The previous year, a homeless man stabbed a 35-year-old woman to death while she was out for an evening jog.

Similar violent attacks are taking place in cities across the country. Below is just another small sampling. (I am making a particular effort not to use any sensationalist or dehumanizing language — that’s the most productive approach, in my opinion.) In New York City:

* A panhandler on the subway repeatedly punched in the face a 2-year-old child sleeping in his mother’s arms. The boy is likely to suffer seizures as a result.

* A homeless man used a belt to beat a 21-year-old woman taking a morning break outside the bagel shop where she works.

* A 56-year-old woman walking to the store was punched in the face and then stabbed in the back with a broken bottle by a homeless man. The victim required stitches.

In San Francisco:

* A homeless man repeatedly stabbed a 94-year-old woman out for a morning walk. The victim required surgery and was no longer able to live independently following the attack. The attacker was wearing an ankle monitor as a consequence of recent burglary charges.

* A 94-year-old man walking his dog was attacked by a homeless man with a stick. The victim fell and died from head injuries.

In Chicago:

* A homeless man punched a 66-year-old woman at a train station, causing her to fall into the tracks. The victim suffered a broken eye socket, a concussion, and a dislocated wrist. This attack took place just one day after the same man was released for punching a 60-year-old woman in the face. The victim in that incident fell, hit her head, and was knocked unconscious.

* A 31-year-old woman was stabbed to death by a homeless man while walking in the Loop neighborhood. The same man had recently attacked a 50-year-old woman and a 25-year-old woman. The first victim had a broken nose and required stitches on her head, and the second victim’s head injuries were so severe that first responders thought she had been shot.

You were right to point out that homeless men and their family and friends are the grievous victims of addiction and untreated mental illness. However, we should also prioritize the victims of these attacks and their families, some of whom face lifelong consequences from their wounds. Other residents who no longer feel safe in their neighborhoods are also important victims.

Thank you again for shining a light on this. You’ve now covered the topic from a variety of angles, and I think the only thing missing is hearing from a clinician or researcher who can speak to the potential for treatment and recovery.

Try our latest pod with Maia! If anyone else has a recommendation along those lines, please let us know: dish@andrewsullivan.com. Another reader provides a “quick update from Seattle regarding a shift in the voting public’s priorities”:

Our new mayor, Bruce Harrell, is a pro-police, anti-crime Democrat who defeated his leftist rival by historic margins. Even more surprising to me is the city attorney race, where a Republican, Ann Davison, defeated the pro-police abolition candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. It should send a pretty clear message about the growing backlash when any Republican can win a political race in Seattle.

Another reader turns to Austin:

I enjoyed listening to your conversation with Shellenberger — both for the discussion of his new book and his views on nuclear energy. You could have added Austin to the conversation, as we were heading in the same direction as San Francisco and Seattle … but the people of Austin spoke last spring and approved a referendum reinstating a ban on public camping which had previously been eliminated by our city council. While enforcement of the ban has been half-hearted at best, it’s nonetheless progress.

The argument by our progressives and the homeless industrial complex has been the same as on the West Coast: the problem is lack of housing. And the solution is to build free housing on the most expensive ground in Texas … or California … or Washington. And, of course, you cannot expect homeless people who have suffered trauma to live in a communal shelter (even though large numbers live unsheltered in sweltering or freezing weather in what are effectively communal encampments).

In the meantime, one Austin leader, Allan Graham, is quietly demonstrating a solution. Community First Village, a planned community on the outskirts of the city, currently houses 200 formerly homeless people in tiny homes and RVs. It’s about to double in size. His book Welcome Homeless is an interesting read, and I’m sure you’d find a conversation with him fascinating.

Here’s Shellenberger on why San Francisco hasn’t built more shelters in the face of soaring homelessness:

Lastly, a reader zooms out to national politics:

Thank you for a great interview with Shellenberger. The segments on policing and homelessness, in particular, served to illustrate in stark terms the emerging problem with the Democratic Party (full disclosure: I am to the right of Attila the Hun and generally vote Republican): the Dems are increasingly becoming a party that caters only to the wealthy, educated, coastal elite.

That cohort is almost completely shielded from the consequences of the policies it advocates for. It is easy to call for the abolition of the police when you live in a gated community; for lockdowns when you can work remotely and lose no income; and for a massive influx of low-skilled immigrants when they won’t attend your children’s private schools or threaten the wages of your executive job. The harmful consequences are always borne by others, most often among the Party’s most loyal demographic groups.

If the Party continued to care primarily about its traditional hard-hat-and-lunchpail base, many people like me could vote for its candidate in national elections when the Republican opponent is a grossly unfit madman (as in the last two elections) or an ideologically blinded warmongering buffoon (as in 2000 and 2004). Far more importantly than the relatively small number who feel as I do, though, the Party seems to be going out of its way to drive away Latinos — who have always been more at home with the Democrats — by ignoring their legitimate concerns on issues related to education and immigration (as we recently saw in Virginia).

I expect this to continue until Democrats remember who they always used to fight for.

The latest polling on the Latino vote and the Republicans is pretty remarkable, I have to say:

By 9 percentage points, Hispanic voters in the new poll said they would back a Republican candidate for Congress over a Democrat. The two parties had been tied among Hispanic voters in the Journal’s survey in November.

Uh-oh.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Mar 11, 2022
Jim Holt On Philosophy, Humor, Hitchens
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Jim is the author of Why Does the World Exist?, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes, and his latest, When Einstein Walked with Gödel. Andrew tees up the episode:

I’ve known Jim forever, and he’s rather hard to introduce, but he’s one of the liveliest and rudest conversationalists I’ve ever known, so I thought he’d be a great podcast guest. It’s a bit of a break from the deadly seriousness of the past few weeks. Jim goes at me over “The Bell Curve,” performs a rant desanctifying Hitchens, and discusses quantum mechanics and its current travails. A bit philosophical at first, the whole chat was a trip.

You can listen to it right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of Andrew and Jim’s convo — reflecting on their early days of being gay in the big city, and how their mutual friend Hitch got some big things wrong — pop over to our YouTube page.

A decade ago on the Dish blog, Jim joined our Ask Anything series — and since then, the following clip has racked up nearly 50,000 views:

Keeping things in the philosophical realm, a reader just got around to listening to our episode with Steven Pinker on rationality:

I’m a 40-year-old German living in the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro, and I have been a great admirer of Andrew for the last five years. I do not always agree with him, but by and large I find that he’s able to put into words what I can only feel abstractly. I especially enjoyed his conversation with Steven Pinker and his defense of rationality. Pinker is a wonderful thinker and responds to most of Andrew’s questions with not one, but three or four well-argued points. Quite amazing.

However, I found that Andrew could have pushed Pinker harder on some points that I think he would not entirely agree with, especially the two moments when Pinker talked about the tension between “truth” (in a dry, empirical sense) and “tact,” which I found rather unconvincing. This is exactly where a purely “rational” worldview hits a wall. I’m reminded of a 2004 debate between philosopher Jürgen Habermas and future pope Joseph Ratzinger, in which they pretty much agreed that the liberal-democratic order is built upon a fundament of values that antedate it: the traditional Judeo-Christian values of love, compassion, solidarity, and the fundamental dignity of every person. These values, in my opinion, cannot be truly acquired by just being “rational.”

Here’s Pinker on what he thinks is the most damaging delusion among Americans today — “the Myside Bias”:

Another reader delves into natural law — and sodomy:

I am Catholic-raised university student, currently struggling to understand the physiological, psychological, social, and religious aspects of outercourse (oral and anal sex). Some studies in the past two decades have found a correlation between oral sex and fewer complications during pregnancy and fewer miscarriages.

The authors suggest immunological factors at play. The probability of an embryo implanting in the uterus is largely determined by immune-compatibility. Thus, by oral ingestion of paternal antigens in seminal fluid, gradual tolerance might be achieved in the mother. Similarly, since rectal absorption is also possible, anal sex might be relevant too in this regard.

If this were indeed true, this might undermine the Church’s stance on sodomy — that it can’t be derived from the natural law and has no teleology. This would mean that these acts serve to prepare a woman’s body to successfully carry the child of their long-term partner. Now given the high rate of miscarriages (estimated to be 50% of pregnancies), this would reduce the large number of spontaneous abortions that arise naturally in traditional, procreative marriages.

This fact would theologically not necessarily reconcile homosexuality and Catholic doctrine. However, it would shed new light on the issue of sexuality and the Church. It might open up discourse about the theology of homosexuality as well. It would be an existential blow to the Magisterium, because this correlation between oral sex and miscarriages could not have been discovered before the 20th century, where pregnancy tests were available. So it would largely be a fruit of science.

If you missed our announcement on the main Dish this week, here’s the first full transcript of the Dishcast — Andrew’s long conversation with John Mearsheimer. We will be doing a lot more of those soon. Below is a new clip from the popular episode (our third-most downloaded thus far) on how Russia and the West have been playing by two different playbooks over the past few decades, leading to the current crisis:

On the Dish’s continued coverage of the war in Ukraine, a reader writes:

I read Thomas Friedman’s recent piece on NATO expansion after the fall of the USSR, and I now read Andrew’s piece that references Friedman’s work. It was more educational to read Andrew’s broader view, but I came away from both with one big thought — namely, I don’t believe that any of the Eastern European countries that joined NATO were forced to do so. Could it be that decades of domination by the Soviets gave them experiential reason to seek the protection of NATO, as opposed to there being some kind of naked expansion by NATO, as Friedman suggests? And isn’t it equally plausible that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is proof of their reason for fear, as opposed to a reaction by Russia to NATO expansion?

Another reader responds to a tweet from Andrew linking to Mearsheimer’s new interview with Isaac Chotiner:

My former teacher, Mearsheimer, is wrong. The evidence is overwhelming that Putin’s foreign policy got hyper-aggressive after the Arab Spring in 2011, not after the NATO conference in 2008. As you might recall, Putin responded to Obama’s “abandonment” of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 by doubling down his support of the minority Alawite regime in Syria — and the rest in history: the flattening of Allepo; the Garisimov doctrine that codified electoral interference in Italy, France, the UK, and the US; interference in Ukraine’s 2014 Maiden revolution; and overturning an election loss of an ally in Belarus in 2020.

Very few of these acts of political warfare had anything to do with what NATO did in 2008. They had everything to do with a Bonapartist whose military, political, and business elites helped execute a blueprint of expanded warfare that enabled a second-rate economic power to punch well above its weight in the pursuit of its imperial and superpower nostalgia. Professor Mearsheimer’s reductionist theories of Great Power politics do not fit the facts of Vladimir Putin’s Napoleonic ambition that were not properly deterred.

While the war is going relatively well for Ukraine so far, this next reader is paradoxically worried that the early success will breed disaster:

The sanctions appear to be just, but the mood right now is one of moral euphoria, which scares me. The idea of a no-fly zone — which is basically war with Russia — has become more mainstream at an alarming pace. I see intelligent friends who have never had an iota of interest in international relations or Eastern Europe posting extremely strong opinions based on their seven days of reading news reports about Ukraine.

It feels like the mood after George Floyd’s shooting or during Covid — the sense that people are so desperate for meaning that they will latch on to any large, socially deep (or seemingly socially deep) morally charged cause. (You have made the Weimar comparison before, and it continues to seem apt.) That this particular cause is mostly righteous makes the fervor more alarming, not less. It is genuinely a mob mentality, with people seemingly savoring the impoverishment of Russia’s people or the killing of its troops with the moral frisson of a witch-burning.

The most alarming possibility, to me, is that the war will escalate in brutality, and thus Americans — and Westerners more generally — will not be able to sit by and let it happen. Large-scale Russian war crimes, Western outrage and horror, the euphemistic fallacy that an no-fly zone is something short of war …. that is how this situation would continue to escalate, and it has already done so remarkably quickly.

The last few populist, moralist moments — BLM, Covid — were checked by the fact that half the country was against them. If we take a more aggressive turn in Russia, I doubt as many as half of Americans would oppose it, and by the time we realized a more aggressive policy was a disaster, catastrophic damage might have already occurred. 

Should the US offer assurances that Ukraine will not join NATO? Has that ship already sailed? Is there an off-ramp strategically? Or is Putin such a peculiar sort of menace, and his breach of the post-WW2 order sufficiently egregious, that we should celebrate the moral fervor, lean into the extremely punitive sanctions and “lethal aid,” but hope our elite will keep us out of a war? It seems we need a credible voice that can see the moral nuance in these issues, firmly insist that Putin is still in the wrong, yet temper the American mob. I don’t know who that voice would be.

But I agree with your observation on Twitter that Mearsheimer’s voice — most recently expressed to Isaac Chotiner — offers “clarity.” His insistence on describing what IS in great-power politics, rather than what OUGHT to be, is immensely refreshing. I also enjoyed reading the essay by Jack Matlock, former US Ambassador to the USSR, which continued to help me understand why Putin sees NATO expansion — and NATO militarism in general — as an existential threat.

At the same time, I genuinely believe Russia is breaking an extraordinary norm that we have maintained for 80 year, that countries do not conduct land grabs. For all the US’s mistakes, no NATO country has attempted to permanently annex the territory of an occupied country, as Russia did with Crimea. Ukraine and Iraq seem to more similar than the American hawks would admit, but more dissimilar than the biggest detractors of the hawks (Glenn Greenwald being the most persuasive) would admit. 

This next reader, a native-born Ukrainian, believes the war could have been prevented if the West had been serious about protecting and arming Ukraine:

Thank you for covering this topic over the last few weeks. You and your guests — Mearsheimer, Applebaum, Luttwak — have approached this terrible crisis from various angles, which was very interesting to hear. This topic is close to my heart. I was born in Donetsk, Ukraine but haven’t been there since the coup in 2014. My friends from back home fight on both sides of the barricade — which is truly heartbreaking. I appreciate that I may sound like an armchair general here, and I cannot claim to know more about this conflict than some of your speakers. But I want to expand on an observation that you briefly touched on in your latest column.

Specifically, it really frustrates me that across most of Western media, the narrative is all about Putin’s war crimes and no real coverage or debate of the fact that the “Western alliance” hugely overpromised and massively underdelivered for the Ukrainian people. It was in 2008 that the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO was first discussed and made public. We are in 2022 now. 14 years! NATO had 14 years to integrate Ukraine into the alliance, if it was serious. It did not. It wasn’t for the lack of enthusiasm from Ukraine, I can tell you that.

I can only conclude that it wasn’t a serious commitment to begin with. This dishonest and — as we can now see — harmful act is truly unforgivable. A lie.

Just over the past few weeks, the US and Britain publicly doubled down on their commitment to protecting Ukraine and made as much clear in their response to Putin’s written demands. And? What did Ukraine get, other than being in Biden’s prayers when the invasion happened? A couple of anti-tank missiles? In contrast, the US left $80 billion worth of military equipment in Afghanistan.

American intelligence knew that this invasion was coming way ahead of time. Why not proactively protect Ukraine? Send a couple of warships to Odessa’s ports ahead of the invasion. Send a couple of NATO battalions to Lviv and Kiev. That could have been enough to deter Putin. Enough to change the calculus. It would have shown real intent.

Another reader worries not about Biden’s age, but Putin’s:

Putin is a Cold War revanchist. His life-force is bent on overturning the verdict of 1989. He’s patient, but he’s getting old, and it’s all moving too slowly — grabbing bits of Georgia, grabbing Crimea — and he hears time at his heels. A free and easy Ukraine is the biggest thorn in the bear’s paw.

Putin’s worldview is rooted in the Soviet Union’s collapse as the great calamity of modern times. He is from the class of Soviet military and espionage leaders who saw the world going their way (they owned us in espionage) and who believed the USSR would win a nuclear war — simply by surviving it when America didn’t.

And now here’s Putin, an old uncertain man, but Russia’s savior, suddenly staring down Afghanistan II, looking at 1989 over again, losing to the same America — the recurrence of his nightmare. At which point he becomes the dead-hand switch of the Soviets.

Cheery. This next reader is less apocalyptic, ending his note with “Know hope”:

It seems clear that Putin is delusional. Attempting to manage an immiserated Ukraine over the next several years and the blowback from the West in reaction to his invasion will not end well for him and Russia. Modern warfare has a really, really bad impact on modern societies — a fact we have been learning and relearning for more than a century.

You have wondered whether the invasion of Ukraine will affect China’s designs on Taiwan. Yet, I suspect this overreach is the beginning of the end for Putin. It may take a while, but the world is watching — much more closely than was ever before possible. China will not be encouraged by the devastation that Putin is bringing to Ukraine. Neither will the Russian people, who will also suffer.

Lastly, a reader reminds us of other suffering in the region:

While I feel for the people of Ukraine, last year Turkey and Azerbaijan launched an unprovoked war against Armenians living in their ancestral homeland in Nagorno-Karabakh, where war crimes and atrocities were committed. In many ways, it was a continuation of the Armenian Genocide. Time and again, we have failed to learn from history.

Strongmen like Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan all share a disrespect for the rule of law. Had the world done more for Armenians and not stayed silent last year (or for that matter during the Armenian Genocide in 1915), then maybe that would have sent a stronger message to autocrats like Putin who feel that they can get away with anything and prevent the situation the world finds itself in. What’s happening to Ukrainians is very similar to what’s happening to Armenians. These are not mutually exclusive events.

But for some reason, there’s more attention being paid to Ukraine than what was given to Armenians. Is a Ukrainian life more valuable than an Armenian one?  



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Mar 04, 2022
Edward Luttwak On Putin, China, Brexit
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I first came across Ed Luttwak when I edited him at The New Republic in its glory days. He is a military strategist, historian, and consultant in the “grand strategy” school of geopolitics who has advised many world leaders — and is basically sui generis. He’s the author of almost two dozen books, including Coup d'État: A Practical Handbook and, most recently, The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy.

He’s a trip — and his personality and brilliance come through in this chat. We discussed Russia’s reassertion after the Cold War, the rise of China as a superpower, and the impact of Brexit. You always learn something from Luttwak, and from this conversation, I learned a lot about Xi Jinping, a dictator unlike anyone in China since Mao, and internationally far stronger. Did you know Xi is obsessed with Goethe?

You can listen to the whole episode in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. Ed and I recorded the convo a few weeks ago, so the situation in Ukraine has changed dramatically since then, and he thought Putin was bluffing about invading Ukraine. The reason he gave is simply Putin’s lack of sufficient manpower to hold down a country as vast as Ukraine. We’ll see if that is borne out in due course.

The next Russia expert we have scheduled for the Dishcast is Fiona Hill, a former official at the National Security Council, so stay tuned. We’re doing our best to give you the broadest variety of perspectives to understand where we are. My job, as I see it, is not to win an argument, as if I were a fellow guest, but to push and goad and coax my guests to make the best case they can.

On that note, many listeners have responded to last week’s episode with Anne Applebaum — which included spirited exchanges like this one:

A listener writes:

Thanks for this edition of the Dishcast. I know that Applebaum is truly an expert in Russian and Eastern European history, so I was excited to listen to her develop her arguments in long-form. I expected you to “push back,” and it’s important that you do — but only after listening to your guests develop their position, rather than pick at something in every sentence they utter. I understand your passion — it’s what makes your podcast compelling — but a bit more discipline, please.

All I can say is that, from my perspective, Anne dominated the conversation, which was fine. But it’s all highly subjective! Another listener was also a bit critical of the back-and-forth:

Holy camoly, that conversation with Anne Applebaum was rough! It became so contentious that eventually I lost track of the broader points you two were disagreeing about. I’ve coined the phrase “micro-corrections” to describe what Anne was doing. It is hard to have a productive conversation with someone who’s that fussy and pedantic. It seems like you two are old friends, however, so that’s good.

See what I mean? This next listener praises Anne and chides me:

Anne Applebaum, David Frum, and Timothy Snyder are some of the only voices I listen to these days for a good dose of intelligence, experience, and sanity — and in Anne and Tim’s case, firsthand knowledge of eastern European and Russian history and politics.

It was fairly maddening that you didn’t seem to really grasp what Anne was trying to say about Putin’s motives. You couldn’t seem to separate national pride/patriotism — i.e., the story a country tells about itself — from the paranoid self-interest of a tyrannical leader, who on some level knows what would happen to him if the Russian people really did revolt and usher in a form of democracy. This seems as plain as the nose on your face and mine, but you kept referring to the Kremlin’s propaganda about NATO and indulging in some really counterproductive whataboutism that seems beneath you.

It’s clear that you need to spend more time grappling with Anne’s knowledge and perspective, since the romance of realpolitik that John Mearsheimer offers, and which you seem to admire, doesn’t take into account the practical motives of dictators today and how they are enabled and financed by each other (something Anne briefly touched on and wrote extensively about in her “Autocracy, Inc.” article).

Nevertheless, I appreciate that you had her on the podcast, so at least you’re trying. And speaking of Timothy Snyder, here’s one of his latest newsletters about thinking through the “simple solution” of giving Putin what he wants and why it’s not actually that simple. I found it immensely helpful.

One of the things I’ve learned over three decades of getting things right and wrong on foreign policy is that the neconservative/liberal internationalist rubric of autocracy vs democracy can profoundly blind you to reality in the minds and souls of the people you are dealing with. The writers you follow seem to me to remain, at heart, unreconstructed neocons and liberal internationalists. I’m in recovery from those delusions. That doesn’t mean they do not have a point. But it’s a point that in recent years led to disaster.

We will add Timothy Snyder to the list of Substacks we follow, thanks for the recommendation. Though to my mind, he’s not exactly a font of wisdom. This next listener is critical of Anne’s position:

I like her writing, but listening to her made me think of the hubris that can accompany expertise. She flippantly dismissed all of your hypotheticals that tried to inhabit a Russian point of view. I believe she said at one point “NATO isn’t the Nazis” — indeed not, but the point of the comparison was not “NATO = Nazis”; it was to imagine someone who could be viewed as an aggressor on your doorstep. She had no response to your comparisons to the US’s stated dominion in the Western hemisphere and how Russia might feel similarly.

Perhaps worst, she refused to concede that there can be such a thing as a national character or national mood (even if it’s not set in stone), but she was completely ready to ascribe all Russian actions entirely to Putin’s psychology. That seems a strange error, as if a national mood (including hostility to the West) can’t both shape Putin’s interests, and that getting some sort of buy-in from the Russian people is certainly going to help him. Not that he needs it, but if it’s there and he can exploit it, it matters.

Overall, Applebaum seemed to insist that any view of NATO that wasn’t precisely the West’s view of NATO was somehow illegitimate.

It seems relevant to me also that Anne’s view is Poland’s, which is where she lives and where her husband was once a government minister and is now a European MEP. I think her refusal to concede even a millimeter on the question of Russia’s influence in Europe must surely come from this perspective — understandably! — but the rigidity of her position, and its absolute moral certainty, is something I’m not going to repeat in my own life.

Continuing the theme of psychology, another listener points to “what appears to be an inconsistency in your expression of the realist position you’ve recently adopted”:

Realism in international relations (as Mearsheimer explained in your previous podcast, which was a great listen) argues that states act not according to abstract ideologies (democracy, communism, etc.) but according to hard, unemotional, calculations of national interest viewed in terms of power and security. But what struck me in your objections to Applebaum was how often, instead of talking about Russia’s national interest, you spoke of its “psychology,” “feelings of national humiliation,” and so forth.

Now feelings of national humiliation in post-Soviet Russia may or may not be influencing Putin’s policies, but if they are, then he is not acting as a Realist, because feelings and real self-interest are not the same thing, and there would be no reason to lend any more validity to Russia’s (or rather Putin’s) feelings about Ukraine than to Western liberal “feelings" about the integrity of sovereign states (let alone Ukrainian feelings about being invaded). You can be a Realist, or you can be sensitive to Russia’s putative feelings, but I really don’t see how you have be both at the same time.

Another listener makes that point more concisely:

Mearsheimer even said, “Realism doesn’t care about individuals when it tries to understand a situation.” It’s therefore impossible for realism to understand Putin’s mission and therewith Russia’s — as Applebaum explains it, compellingly. Instead you consistently refer to a “Russian psyche” — ghosts and spirits instead of flesh and blood individuals. How “realist” is that?

I see realism as one vital way to understand international relations, but other factors are also always involved. I’m not a pure realist because I think it’s too reductionist to explain everything, but insightful enough to explain a lot.

“I don’t think this is about the Russian psyche at all,” according to this listener:

If Russia were a well-functioning democracy, we wouldn’t be faced with the crisis in Ukraine. To think that the US and its allies can restructure European security by making concessions to a Russia led by Putin, or someone like Putin, assumes good faith on the part of those in the Kremlin. Why would we expect good faith in the future from a state whose past includes the use of radioactive materials and of nerve-agents on UK soil, the use of gangsters to assassinate opponents in Berlin, the murder of its opponents at home, and the invasion of — and theft of territory from — its neighbours?

Such a regime will simply bank any gains and then watch for the next moment of what it imagines — quite possibly correctly — to be weakness in its opponents. The more concessions we make, the worse our position will become with each succeeding crisis.

Then we better be clear what our red lines rally are. Here’s a reminder of what Anne thinks the US approach should be to Russia’s aggression toward — and now invasion of — Ukraine:

Next, a listener who “appreciates your podcast, especially when I disagree”:

George Kennan opposed NATO expansion, but back then, Eastern Europe was isolated from Western European economies. The European Community has since expanded its economy into the east: banks, high tech, pharma, agricultural companies, infrastructure — big investments in Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Baltic states, etc. This was not the case in Kennan’s time.

NATO is the defense umbrella for North America and Europe and Ukraine is not part of NATO. It is threatened with destruction and occupation, something unheard of in recent times. People should be able to determine their own future. Don’t you agree?

Sure. If you want a nuclear conflict with Russia, go ahead. Yet another listener writes:

First, thanks for getting the Applebaum interview out early. Apropos to the moment, it reflects one of the strengths of Web “publishing” — turning on a dime. It also reminded me of the days of the Daily Dish. And she is a lot of fun. I appreciated her more than Mearsheimer, who to my mal-tuned sense of communications seemed to be out to win academic points and advancing a particular horse, rather than engaging in disinterested evaluation of competing strategies. Or don’t FP academics do that sort of thing?

Back to Applebaum, something you said caught my attention, something along the lines of “we can pick which national adversary we prioritize first” — Applebaum objected, but the conversation veered off. Briefly, it seems to me that, disregarding consequential reasoning, sure, you can exercise free will — but there are always consequences. Pick the wrong opponent to put at the top of the adversary board and you’ll pay for it down the road. In the end, the priority order is selected for us by the ambitions and actions of those national entities, whether they are China, Russia, or Saudi Arabia, and I think your statement is terribly wrong.

And, for the record, I think Russia has a long history of territorial ambition and national pride that can be only satisfied through pursuit of traditional goals of nationalism. Give them Ukraine today and they’ll take Poland tomorrow. They’ve done it before. Thus, Russia has to be at the top of the priority list at the moment. I think it’d be great if China would suddenly start massing an army on the Sino-Russo border, but it seems unlikely — more likely they make a grab for Taiwan.

Speaking of Mearsheimer “advancing a particular horse,” he sure placed an accurate bet here:

You can listen to the entire 2015 lecture from Professor Mearsheimer here. (It’s not often you see a foreign policy lecture get nearly 8.5 million views on YouTube.)

Lastly, a listener notes that “the war in Ukraine is in some ways a climate issue”:

Russia’s economy is powered by our collective dependence on fossil fuels. Indeed, one of the things which has empowered Putin is the denuclearization of the European (and, in particular, the German) energy sector. If we really want to punish him, we should build hundreds of new nuclear plants, rendering his economy obsolete.

Leading such an effort could be good politics for Biden, as both red meat for the hawks and as something with which to engage the climate left. This could be a transformative moment in our engagement with the climate crisis if we were to embrace as a war aim what we have hitherto, and with not much success, framed as an issue of social justice. (The imperfect analogy would be Lincoln framing his initial push for emancipation as a measure to undercut the South’s capacity to fight, rather than as the moral issue it truly was). Hopefully, someone in the policy space will make this case, as we navigate this crisis.

I couldn’t agree more.

As always, please keep the dissents and other commentary coming — this war, sadly, is just beginning: dish@andrewsullivan.com.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Feb 25, 2022
Anne Applebaum On The Ukraine Crisis
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(Apologies if you receive this email twice — last night we accidentally published this pod page for paid subscribers only.)

We’ve released this page early this week … because we don’t know what’s going to happen next and don’t want to be caught short by events. And who better to comment on the Ukraine standoff as the days unfold than Anne Applebaum? She’s a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of many formidable books, including Red Famine, Gulag: A History (winner of the Pulitzer Prize), and her latest, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of my conversation with Anne — on whether the West provoked Russia into its possible invasion of Ukraine, and on what the US should do now — head over to our YouTube page.

Also up-coming on Ukraine: I’ve recorded a great and ranging conversation with Edward Luttwak — the legendary grand strategist — about the broader tensions with Russia, China, and Brexit, and we’ll be airing that episode soon.

But first, below is an assortment of reader dissents and assents over our recent episode with foreign-policy realist John Mearsheimer, whose position on this question is not Anne’s. Here’s a quick reminder of John’s approach to Ukraine:

Our first reader writes:

I often listen to lectures while exercising. Today was John Mearsheimer on the roots of liberal hegemony — a subject that interests (and troubles) me greatly. When I took a break to read email, I was amazed to see him on the newest Dishcast. He reminds me a great deal of an amazing international relations teacher from community college — and I can’t imagine a more sane commentator for the currently troubled international scene. So thanks for hosting.

Another also enjoyed it: “One of my favorite episodes so far — extraordinarily clarifying and stimulating!” But this reader is less of a fan:

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Mearsheimer is a renowned scholar and I am not. I’m just a regular listener who is passionate about history and happens to have some direct knowledge of Ukraine, its history, and its people. I very much respect Professor Mearsheimer.

However, I think he conveniently omitted some crucial elements. For example, I think it would have been worth pointing out that it was the former Warsaw Pact countries and the Baltics who asked for EU and NATO integration. They did so because they were concerned by an increasingly authoritarian and aggressive Russia, and it took a lot of work and effort on their side to convince NATO and especially the EU to even have that conversation.

I also think it was slightly unfair to recall that in 2008 at the Bucharest Summit, NATO did indeed reiterate openness to Ukraine and Georgia’s membership (which is NATO’s standard open-door policy) without mentioning that the statement was made after both countries had just been denied a NATO action plan. And finally, I think Mearsheimer is being naive if he really believes that Putin would be content with a neutral Ukraine.

These are all points I am sure you are familiar with. My real issue with the Dishcast conversation in itself was that, once again, the people with the most skin in the game — the Ukrainians — were almost erased from the picture. Too often we keep framing this as an imperialist US/Russia power game in which the people of central and eastern Europe are denied any agenda or agency, and to some extent even their own national identity. The very few words Mearsheimer actually spent on Ukraine and Ukrainians suggested a lack of knowledge of the country's history. 

In the same way you felt it was appropriate to invite Yossi Klein Halevi to discuss Zionism, it would be very interesting to hear your conversation with someone who knows and understands Ukraine and has produced some really influential work on the subject — such as Serhii Plokhy, Timothy Snyder, and Anne Applebaum. I think it could be very interesting for the audience to hear that side of the story as well.

You ask, we deliver. Another reader asks a simple question:

My main concern is, why do we still have NATO? After the Soviet Union fell, didn’t that end the need for NATO? If the Europeans want to still band together, wouldn’t a European Treaty Organization — one set up to make sure European nations don’t start fighting each other — have been the correct course?

I can’t believe I agree with anything that Putin says, but looking at it from the Russian viewpoint, NATO is an enemy, lined up against Russia. I can see their point.

Any conflict in Ukraine will not end well for the world. The Ukrainians will suffer greatly and Russia, which always seems to be teetering, will suffer even more as body bags of soldiers start arriving and piling up in Moscow. I have a hard time believing that the everyday Russian citizen really believes there is a threat (but I don’t know any of them, so I speak from ignorance).

I do think that NATO mission creep has been a problem since the end of the Cold War. If it’s a defense pact, against whom, exactly? And would the US really risk nuclear war over the Baltics? It’s a question I discuss with Anne.

Another reader stays optimistic about the state of the world:

I think the pessimistic view of the post-Cold War era really just depends on where you look. OK, great, we have a mess to deal with regarding China. But there is less poverty in China and worldwide than ever before. Less starvation and disease. There are fewer coups in Latin America in the neoliberal era than before it — and more democracy, even if it hasn’t always been smooth.

But most importantly, we don’t live within 30 minutes of the end of civilization all the time. Even if there was a nuclear war now, the stockpiles are so reduced that it would be of a different kind than degree of destruction.

Which leads to my main point: the neoliberal order constructed at Bretton-Woods and elsewhere after WWII has been the golden age of humanity. We have had no cataclysmic wars since. We have worldwide trade and communications. Fewer people are living in totalitarian regimes. It’s mostly good stuff if you look at the big picture.

So maybe there’s a reason we want more of this and want to spread it, rather than us just being naive. Maybe our national interest is in a relatively peaceful, relatively stable world-trade system where we contribute the plurality of security but reap the plurality of the benefits. Does “liberal internationalism” live up to its own hype? No, but it’s results aren’t bad. Better, I would say, that the results of pure realpolitik. 

Some kind of perspective like this matters. An expert weighs in:

I work in the national security field, so I always appreciate when you bring on guests to discuss international relations. The discussion with Mearsheimer was no exception, particularly since “realists” in the field can often provide a good baseline check on how structural power is affecting foreign affairs. However, there were a few points where I would like to push back on his criticism of American foreign policy post-Cold War.

First, Mearsheimer was too dismissive of the benefits that institutional structures like NATO bring to Europe. He was highly critical of NATO expansion, saying it antagonized Russia and fostered a security dilemma. However, he does not fully include on the ledger the benefits institutions like the EU and NATO bring in fostering democracy and internal stability within Europe.

It should be noted that Mearsheimer has always been skeptical of these institutions, wrongly predicting back in the 1990s that the end of the Cold War would witness German aggression. He underestimated the moderating influence that binding Germany and other countries to liberal institutions would have and how it would encourage cooperation. The benefits from these liberal institutions — free trade, democratic accountability, respect for territorial sovereignty — act as a pull to Eastern Europeans whose historical experience has been the Warsaw Pact, the only security pact which invaded their members rather than fighting an external enemy.

The US should lean into these liberal values of freedom and commerce to enhance their attraction and strengthen their alliances and partnerships, as opposed to adopting a strict realpolitik stance that would grant Russia a “sphere of influence” to undermine the rights of its neighbors.

Second, I think Mearsheimer is placing too much blame on Western policy for the Ukraine crisis by discounting the role of national identity. I appreciated that he acknowledged how nationalism factors into Russia’s expansionary policies. However, he does not seem to extend that line of reasoning to see how Russian nationalism has played a role in stoking tensions by justifying expanding into the Donbas region into eastern Ukraine to “protect” Russian speakers from supposed persecution and to check Russian imperial decline.

Additionally, this recognition of national motivation does not seem to register on how the desire to preserve national identity are motives for why Ukraine does not want to be under Russian control. Ukraine itself opposed the Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych because he rejected a EU free-trade agreement and fostered corruption with Russia, something that was not in line with the majority of the Ukrainian population’s more western-inclined sentiments. Until Ukraine’s own agency is acknowledged, observers will miss an important factor on why Ukraine has drifted from Russia and how to manage regional tensions.

Another reader looks to the diversity of Ukraine:

I was surprised to hear that neither you nor Mearsheimer discussed western Ukraine, home to nearly 20 percent of the country’s population. It was never part of Russia, like the rest of the country. Until Poland was partitioned in the 18th century, it was part of that kingdom. And then until 1918, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Four languages were widely spoken: German, Ukrainian, Polish, and Yiddish. After WWI, it was returned to Poland and through population swaps the German/Austrian presence pretty much vanished.

The Soviet Union took control of western Ukraine in 1939 when it partitioned Poland with Nazi Germany. Two years later, when Germany invaded the USSR, the Germans took control. After the war, it went back to the USSR, and much of the Polish population was transferred out and, for the first time, Russians became residents in significant numbers. However, the percentage of Russian speakers peaked in the 1960s, and in another decade or two, the overwhelming majority of residents were native Ukrainian speakers, many or most of whom speak no Russian.

So, understandably, it has been western Ukraine that is most opposed to Russian interference in the country.

Yet another critic of the convo with Mearsheimer:

I’ve loved listening to several episodes of your podcast, but I was disappointed by your ill-informed conversation about NATO and Russia. Far from being eternal “mortal foes,” it’s worth remembering that Putin offered support to NATO after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and attended a NATO summit in 2008. When NATO expanded in 2004 and eight Eastern European countries joined the EU, not only did Putin not amass a hundred thousand troops on his border, he actually expressed approval of the idea that Ukraine might join the Union in the future. In 2010, Putin’s ambassador to NATO published an op-ed in the New York Times encouraging NATO to keep up the fight in Afghanistan, where US troops were technically on what Putin now calls his “porch.”

These actions are hard to reconcile with your guest’s declaration that “basic realist logic” explains everything we need to know about Putin’s behavior. The fact that France and Germany, or California and Texas, are not launching nuclear missiles at each other is not a “liberal dream” or a “great delusion,” and realists need to account for these exceptions. Thousands of Ukrainians have died — as, it seems, will thousands more — for the modest dream of becoming a Latvia or a Kansas. Anybody who believes in the rule of law over imperial “realist logic” should be rallying behind Ukraine, not deriding their ambitions.

Next, a reader broadens the debate to include China, but first a quick reminder of John discussing how the US is largely responsible for China’s rise:

Here’s the reader:

Mearsheimer stated he wanted some form of a US-Russia détente so the US could focus more on China. I understand the need to prioritize threats, and I would agree that greater emphasis needs to be placed on confronting China and to let Europe take on a larger role in their own security. However, he never really grappled with what might the West have to concede to get Russia’s consent and if this arrangement is even feasible. Given Putin’s pugnaciousness, it is likely that NATO would have to tolerate Russia’s breach of sovereignty norms in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine and Georgia, and crushing political dissent, including the poisoning of dissidents abroad. It is important that Russia not be seen as getting a free pass on breaking these norms, since other authoritarians might believe they have the right to impose compromised sovereignty on their weaker neighbors as well. 

Regarding whether this arrangement is feasible, I would suggest the track record of Bush II, and Obama’s reset policy, is evidence that Russia is not a good faith actor. They will likely pocket the gains while still pursuing their globally disruptive policies. Russia would also need a strong push factor to align them towards the US and away from China, much like the Soviet-China border war pushed Mao towards Nixon. At the moment, Sino-Russian relations, although not warm, are based on a shared antagonism against the liberal international order that will continue to foster a measure of cooperation against the West.

Another reader folds in the domestic politics of the US:

“Do you think the American people are going to vote on whether we are going to defend Taiwan or not? (chuckle) That’s not how it works in the United States.” Thus spoke (and chuckled) foreign policy “realist” John Mearsheimer. Of course, that is the view of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment (the Blob) that Mearsheimer criticizes for its manifest failures over the past 30 years, but apparently it is also his view. That’s too bad. Because, as Mearsheimer himself stated, all those foreign policy failures contributed to the nomination and election of Donald Trump.

So the American people DID “vote on whether we are going to” continue our failed hegemonic foreign policy in 2016 — they voted no, and Trump changed the policy. In 2020, Trump nearly won again, and his narrow loss cannot be attributed to his abandonment of hegemony. If anything, that helped him.

If Biden takes us to war over the “defense” of Taiwan, can anyone doubt that he and the Democratic Party will be overwhelmingly repudiated by “the American people going to vote” in 2022 and 2024? Perhaps Mr. Mearsheimer is not as realistic as he imagines. 

Perhaps we could hear from you on this?

I think history shows the danger of extending commitments abroad in a way that will not ultimately be supported by the bulk of the population. And by that, I mean in the medium- and long-term.

Another reader says that the “excellent interview with Mearsheimer provoked an interesting conversation with my spouse about US-China competition in our field”:

For context, we’re both academics working in the humanities. I grew up in the US; my spouse is from the Greater Bay area of Guangzhou/Hong Kong. We pay close attention to the academic job market in Hong Kong. As that city has become thoroughly dominated by the CCP over the last few years, positions there have increasingly selected for Marxist / anti-liberal candidates in our field. You won’t be surprised to learn that US universities are producing plenty of appealing, successful candidates for these jobs.

American academia is correct to call attention to the injustices in our nation. Indeed, as my spouse reminded me, that is what separates our system from China’s. And yet it strikes me as unmistakably troubling that so many of the graduates of our top humanities programs are ripe candidates for employment in Hong Kong, a city whose universities have begun intentionally selecting for pro-Marxist, anti-liberal, and — whether functionally or explicitly — anti-American points of view.

As a scholar who cares about free speech, open intellectual inquiry, and patriotism, a salient question for me is: how can our humanities programs better serve the individual states and nation that support them? What would a trenchant, intellectually serious embrace of patriotism look like in disciplines like English, History, Ethnic Studies, Gender Studies, and Disability Studies?

I’d love to see President Biden convene a national conference addressing this question. And yes, I realize that so many letters to the Dish are all about what Biden should or could do, but “convening” is something the US presidency is well equipped to accomplish. If the call came from any other quarter, most scholars would no doubt refuse to attend. But if it were a presidential call, addressing an issue of vital national importance, perhaps eminent academics will accept. I’d love to see state-funded scholars like Colleen Lye, Jasbir Puar, Katherine Bond Stockton, and Sami Schalk thoughtfully and publicly engage with these questions.

One more reader:

Your discussion with Mearsheimer was the first episode of the Dishcast I’ve listened to end to end. It was frustrating, because there were so many interesting questions left unasked. The most glaring example is when he indicates, in effect, that regardless of the likelihood of failure of Chinese engagement policies, engagement should never have been pursued, because being more populous, even a liberal democratic China would be a rival and threat to the US. As a realist, is he espousing not only that great states do pursue power maximization but they should do so to the exclusion of everything else? That values should play absolutely no part in evaluating strategies or outcomes? 

I guess I’ll have to buy Mearsheimer’s book.



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Feb 17, 2022
Kathleen Stock On The Nature Of Sex And Gender
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Kathleen was a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex for nearly 20 years. Last fall, she resigned under duress following a vicious campaign to have her fired for questioning the policy goals of radical trans activists. Her latest book is Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism. We bonded, to be honest, I think because we’ve both experienced the sting of harassment and caustic criticism from our peers among gays, lesbians and trans people, in different ways and for different reasons. And we’re both from England.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above. For two clips of my conversation with Kathleen — on whether being transgender is “natural” and if that matters, and on the homophobia baked into radical trans ideology — head over to our YouTube page.

A reader comments on last week’s episode:

Thanks so much for your conversation with Johann Hari. It was refreshing and challenging — refreshing to hear about a topic we all need to be thinking about, regardless of our politics, and challenging as I think we all struggle in the area of attention discipline and focus.

Here’s a clip from that convo:

Another reader “thoroughly enjoyed your podcast with Johann”:

I was already planning on reading his book, but your conversation prompted me to order it today. He is funny — particularly at the beginning, while talking about the Dalai Lama, and his crazy family. 

I’m not sure if this is an observation worth sharing (and I can’t make it without seeming cranky), but our decreasing ability to focus is alarmingly apparent in young people. I’m a professor of recent American history, age 51, so I’ve been teaching long enough to observe this.

It is nearly impossible, nowadays, to get the average college student to read a book (particularly a long one). They won’t read an entertaining novel (such as Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities), or a masterpiece of literary nonfiction (Anthony Lukas’s Common Ground), a hilariously funny political book (Thomas Frank’s What's the Matter With Kansas?), or one of the 20th century’s most impactful memoirs (The Autobiography of Malcolm X). I mention these titles because they are books that I greatly enjoyed and learned from when I was younger, which is partly why I’ve assigned them in my courses. But they all flopped. They flopped despite addressing topics students profess to be interested in! (They will, however, watch loads of television. Tony Kushner’s six-hour miniseries Angels in America was a big hit last semester.)

Sometimes I wonder if the streaming miniseries model is our new novel. Meanwhile, many readers are continuing the debate over Whoopi Goldberg’s comments last week. This first reader runs through many good points:

The mistake that Whoopi made is that she was trying to express something we can all agree with (Nazis are bad), but she didn’t have a very good understanding of where Jews fit into the picture. I recommend you read Yair Rosenberg’s reaction to her, as it explains that Jews are, all at the same time: a race (the Nazis certainly thought so), a religion, an ethnicity, a culture, a nation, and therefore perhaps the best way to view Jews is as a very diverse family. Whoopi was viewing the Holocaust from a very narrow, US construct where the term “racism” refers to views between whites and blacks.

I think that’s what she meant to say, and that’s fine. As a Jew, I’m not offended by that. I’d take it as an invitation to explain the nuances of anti-semitism and Jews — how the Nazis were all about race (you know, Aryans), and viewed Jews as an inferior race. There are white Jews, but also black Jews (for example, Ethiopian Jews). Jews can lead entirely secular lives and still view themselves (and be viewed by others) as very Jewish. All these things. I don’t think that Whoopi meant to offend or insult, and I don’t for a minute think she’s anti-semitic. I just think she was out of her depth.

And you did touch on this a little: many American progressives try to impose their racial constructs on Jews, and then on Israel. For example, they view Israeli Jews as “white European colonial oppressors” and Palestinians as the “black oppressed.” They ignore that there are Ethiopian Israeli Jews, who are black, and Yemenite Israeli Jews, who are very dark-skinned, if not black. And more than half of Israel’s Jewish population has its origins in North Africa and the Middle East. These are the mizrahim — Jews from places like Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Iran — who were expelled en masse following the establishment of Israel.

US progressives would have a hard time distinguishing an Israeli Jew from a Palestinian based on skin color alone. But this complexity and nuance doesn’t fit their preconceptions that Israel must be European, white, and colonial, and that you can just graft the US black-white experience on a different population thousands of miles away.

A reader highlights a classic scene:

Your column on whiteness and Jews reminded of this clip from the ‘90s television show “Northern Exposure” — still relevant to discussions we’re having today:

Another snippet of pop culture from a reader:

Or as Woody Allen said in Annie Hall, “My grammy never gave gifts, you know. She was too busy getting raped by Cossacks.”

Some history from this reader:

You are absolutely correct that out-group prejudices and suspicion of “the other” is deeply ingrained in all of us through human evolution (hell, we spent 99% of our existence living in small bands on the African savannah and fighting off other bands who threatened us or our resources). In that sense “racism” as the term is colloquially used is ubiquitous and universal.  

However, it is also true that the concept of “race” developed in Europe (and European colonies) in the early modern period. The example I always give is that in a pre-racial world, the 16th century Venetians have no problem giving their most important command to General Othello, but it would be centuries before a black man achieved four-star rank in the US military, in a society constructed around race and white supremacy. As you observe, the concept evolved differently in the old and new worlds. Thus, by the mid-20th century, the Nazis believed Germans, Jews, Poles, Italians, and the English were different races, even though all would be considered “white” in North America.  

The book Race: The History of an Idea in the West provides a comprehensive and exhaustive history (though it’s not, unfortunately, well-written or an easy read). One interesting tidbit: the English word “race” is derived (through Italian) from the Arabic al-ras “the head” and originally referred to social hierarchy. This is why a road “race” with its hierarchy of first, second, and third place uses the same term. The first known use of the word “race” to refer to pigmentation is from the late 1600s. This is also around the time that the term “white” replaces “Christian” in the New World to refer to European immigrants/settlers.

So it is true that “racism” as prejudice against outsiders is universal, it is also true that “race” and “racism” is a specifically modern way of slicing and dicing the human family. This gives one hope — the concept is actually relatively recent and can be undone (though the tendency toward prejudice will require ever-constant vigilance).

Agreed. And I’m grateful for the distinction. But the shifts in our genetic understanding of human evolution offer another, less fraught, future possibility. We all have different genetic ancestries that show how genes cluster in populations in regions over aeons. That’s how we are able to spit in a cup and find out our roots from 23andMe and the like. That’s how we are quite good at seeing resemblances between people from the same regions. But this isn’t “race” and it sure isn’t “hierarchical.” It’s just difference — not in kind, but in complex and subtle degree that we do not yet fully understand.

This may well mean different outcomes in different areas for different genetic clusters. Some of this maps clumsily onto crude understandings of “race” and “ethnicity,” and can thereby generate old-school racism. And we should guard against this vigilantly. But the key, it seems to me, is to accept the empirical reality — because it is true — but not to essentialize or in any way moralize it. The only way to do this is through individualism, seeing people as unique, precisely because the varying blends of nature and nurture do indeed make each of us unique, and attempting to create more and more equality of opportunity for every individual. Color-blindness may be impossible, but it is surely an admirable goal, a pole-star to navigate by.

And it may be, in this rubric, that overall, we see some genetic cluster-groups do better in some areas of life than in others. While we should be concerned this is a function of racism, we can’t assume that all variation is entirely a function of discrimination, and constantly attempt to regulate society to achieve total equality of outcome across all groups. That’s a recipe for endless failure, a government powerful enough to intervene in every human relationship, and metastasizing social conflict. We have to find a way to acknowledge genetic differences — individual and population-wide — without succumbing to race essentialism or racism itself. Maybe this is beyond us. But for me, it’s the only intellectually honest and morally just approach.

Another bit of history from this reader:

Your excellent piece on anti-semitism and anti-whiteness left out a glaring example of non-white racism: Japan. Not only was Japan an imperialist nation, there was a strong racial element to that imperialism — that is, the Japanese race was superior to other Asian races. Even now, Japan looks down on non-Japanese, using the common pejorative “gaijin” to refer to foreigners, particularly white ones.

Obviously, none of this squares with woke theories of race.

Another reader takes extreme CRT thinking and turns it against itself:

You quoted a CRT catechism: “How did the Holocaust shift Jewish Americans’ position in American society?” The correct answer was: “gained conditional whiteness.’” When I read that, I wondered if someone could argue something similar about American Descendants of Slavery Who Are Black. They are arguably the most affluent and influential group of Black people in the world. (I believe it was Dr. Glenn Loury who made that economic observation.) Did slavery do something similar for these Black people in the US — “gain conditional whiteness”?

Another reader also focuses on that “conditional whiteness” quote:

First of all, I agree with your statement about the parochialism of viewing racism as white-on-black oppression. I’ve written to you several times in the past about how ludicrous it is that my $2T tech company asks us to take classes where we’re told of the dangers of white people oppressing black and brown people — in a company where an Indian American is a well-regarded CEO, and Asian Americans of all backgrounds are represented way above their fraction of the population. If this is white supremacy, we’re not very good at it.

Secondly, you wrote:

In California’s proposed mandatory class in critical race theory, for example, one original curriculum question was: “How did the Holocaust shift Jewish Americans’ position in American society?” The correct answer was: “gained conditional whiteness.” Yes, this is the upshot of the mass murder of millions of Jews, according to CRT: it gave them a leg-up in America!

I think you err in making fun of that statement. In a real sense, the extreme racism of the Nazis put a “quick” end to eugenics and eugenics-based laws in this country, and the Holocaust started Americans down a road of viewing people of all ethnic backgrounds as “conditionally white.” Within 20 years of WW2’s end, we have LBJ passing the Civil Rights Acts, the Immigration Act of 1965, and the end of segregation in the South. In 1968, restrictive covenants became illegal, and in that same year the Fair Housing Act made discrimination in housing illegal (though we’re still fighting that battle today). So, if you’re willing to buy a definition of “quick” as 20-25 years, this answer isn’t that far off the mark.

I take your point. The impact of the Holocaust on Americans’ understanding of race and racism is a rich topic. My mockery of the ethnic studies curriculum was less about its accuracy than its American parochialism, and its seeming indifference to the horror of the actual Shoah. More on the Nazis from this reader:

There is a Yiddish expression that “Jewish wealth is like snow in March.” Before Hitler came to power, the Nazis pointed to Jewish success in Germany as detracting from “Aryans.” Jews were parasites — even decorated German Jewish veterans — who fed off the German nation. Roosevelt himself “understood” German resentment towards Jewish “success,” as if people are successful as a group, not as individuals.

It is frightening to me that some of the extreme left has adopted this neo-Nazi system of categorizing people based on “race” and not as individuals. Pretty clearly, with the collapse of the USSR, the left has lost faith in the class war and has adopted a theory of racial minorities as the vanguard of the revolution. Today’s leftist race theorists classify Jews as white, some Arabs as people of color, Latinos as people of color and Asians as white — or at least white adjacent.

As a Jew, I’m pretty despondent about America and the future of Jews in America if this ideology isn’t thoroughly defeated in the near future. 

As always, send us your thoughts over the Dishcast or the main newsletter here: dish@andrewsullivan.com.



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Feb 11, 2022
Johann Hari On Our Attention Crisis
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Johann is a close friend, so let’s get that out of the way. His latest subject is the modern curse of screen-driven distraction, and how to combat it: “Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention — And How To Think Deeply Again.” I even appear in the background in his account of how he tried to escape Internet addiction one summer in Provincetown. So excuse some of the informality and jokiness at the beginning of this chin-wag.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of our conversation — on whether it’s a good idea to ban the Twitter business model, and on the value of reading fiction — head over to our YouTube page.

My chat with Johann touched on many of the themes in my 2016 essay on web addiction, “I Used To Be Human.” Here’s a bit:

As I had discovered in my blogging years, the family that is eating together while simultaneously on their phones is not actually together. They are, in Turkle’s formulation, “alone together.” You are where your attention is. If you’re watching a football game with your son while also texting a friend, you’re not fully with your child — and he knows it. Truly being with another person means being experientially with them, picking up countless tiny signals from the eyes and voice and body language and context, and reacting, often unconsciously, to every nuance. These are our deepest social skills, which have been honed through the aeons. They are what make us distinctively human.

A reader illustrates how social media not only destroys attention, but also friendships:

I want to begin by saying I’m so thankful for having access to your thoughts on a weekly basis. I feel a great deal of comfort and catharsis while listening to the Dishcast, and always admire your compassionate tenor. Your background as a Catholic has challenged some of my narrower preconceptions and helped invigorate a spiritual flame within me that needed nurturing. I was especially intrigued and moved by your conversation with Michael Brendan Dougherty, which I’ve since re-listened to twice.

That being said, what has prompted me to write you is, unfortunately, more in the spirit of a lamentation. I usually avoid posting political commentary on social media because the harsh reactions always outweigh whatever good I hope might come of sharing my thoughts. But I nevertheless posted on Instagram a short quote from your latest newsletter, where you plainly (and relatable) describe the escalating cycle of both political fringes pushing us further apart and into illiberalism.

As a result, a close friend of mine went off the rails, essentially denouncing any form of compromise and accusing me of being a “centrist.” By some kind of hyper-aggrieved, radical-activist logic, he suggested that I am unwittingly harming gay, trans and other marginalized communities and thereby not a true ally. This was somehow his attempt at giving me a chance to defend myself before being blocked, and we’ve never even spoken about this topic before.

I’ve been genuinely depressed since I got his message. Despite being so hurt and sad, I responded as kindly and honestly as I could. I told him I missed seeing him and his wife (my childhood friend). I informed him that, in fact, the writer of the excerpt I posted is himself gay. I said I felt like attacking my character over a benign, non-partisan observation felt unfair and undeserved.

I’ve gotten no reply, and when I tried calling a day later, I was sent to voicemail. I can’t help but feel like I’ve been shadow-banned from their lives, which is crushing. This is someone I have only tried to be a good friend to, and who I assumed would defend my character if challenged by a third party.

This isn’t even the first friend who has distanced themselves from me as a result of their own submission to the radical left. Yet, these very people never see the irony in claiming that the far-right is the threat we need to fight first and foremost.

I suppose all this to say: feeling stuck in the middle is a f*****g miserable place to be.

It can be. My hope is that the current polarization will unwind at some point so that friendship — defined as the radical acceptance of the other, flaws and virtues — can recover. I wrote a long essay on friendship, the modern decay of an essential human virtue, and how the loss of one of my dearest contemporaries from AIDS deepened my understanding of it. It’s the piece of writing I’m proudest of in my career: the last third of “Love Undetectable.”

Another reader feels he doesn’t have a choice but to surrender to the algorithms when it comes to dating:

In one of your recent columns, this caught my eye: “say no to Tinder and Grindr.” I’m a 35-year-old straight male who has been avoiding dating apps for a while because I didn’t want to believe that we’ve reached a point where the most basic of human interactions needs technological mediation.

But this year I’m giving in. The straight women I interact with all seem to consider dating apps the only acceptable place to meet people. Even bending over backwards to give off the most neutered and #metoo-appropriate vibe you can, if something isn’t purely social, it can be thrown back at you as “predatory.”

My gay friends don’t seem to have this problem. Running through my head with straight friends’ relationships that have started during the pandemic, the only one that started without an app was in Colombia, where dating mores are different. The following excerpt from Kate Julian’s Atlantic cover story sums it up perfectly:

I mentioned to several of the people I interviewed for this piece that I’d met my husband in an elevator, in 2001. (We worked on different floors of the same institution, and over the months that followed struck up many more conversations — in the elevator, in the break room, on the walk to the subway.) I was fascinated by the extent to which this prompted other women to sigh and say that they’d just love to meet someone that way. And yet quite a few of them suggested that if a random guy started talking to them in an elevator, they would be weirded out. “Creeper! Get away from me,” one woman imagined thinking.

On to a dissent, a reader pushes back on me invoking a graph showing how Covid in 2020 didn’t really affect the respiratory mortality for teens age 13-18 but their deaths from alcohol and drugs nearly doubled:

Your interpretation misses two key nuances:

1) Lockdowns prevented further spread of the virus, especially when it was most dangerous at its onset, in the pre-vaccine world of 2020. The number of youth dying from the virus would have probably been higher without them.

2) Drug and alcohol deaths among teens would have probably risen regardless of policy, as a result of a (let’s hope) once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Countries that had more lenient restrictions still suffered vast reductions in movement and economic activity. At least some of the uptick in youth suffering and deaths was sadly inevitable.

Almost two years later, and with much better treatments (including vaccines), it is easy to go full-on “Captain Hindsight” on lockdown policy in 2020. It is legitimate to talk about trade-offs, and less restrictive school policies are probably right. But choosing “let it rip” as a result of intellectually dishonest analysis of the past is neither sound nor prudent.

Boris Johnson has many major flaws, but at least he’s the only world leader to regularly make South Park references:

Speaking of Boris, a reader enjoyed our episode with Dominic Cummings:

While I do agree with the other Dishheads that you were a bit too gentle with him, my dissent centres on his misunderstanding of anti-establishment politics. In Cummings’ view, his grand political project — which to him has many policy virtues and wide public appeal — is sabotaged by Boris Johnson, the unserious, “useless” character leading the charge. To Cummings, it’s just rotten luck that the face of the revolution is such a dope incapable of wrestling with big problems. For someone so obviously intelligent and canny, I’m struck by Cummings’ failure to consider that for many of Boris’ supporters, his manifest unfitness for high office might be the feature, not the bug.

Personally, I approve of the economic-left/sociocultural-right agenda; I think it has many virtues and would be politically popular. (It’s also true but unsaid by Cummings that making a general election about Brexit was enormously geographically advantageous, far more so than Brexit’s actual popularity.)

But Boris ran against a number of Leaver candidates with similar positions for the Tory leadership. He came out ahead not because of his grasp of these crucial policies, but because he’s unlike any other politician — a theatrical buffoon who satisfies his voters’ anger at the system and tribal desire to spite educated London elites.

I think much of the same analysis applies to Trump — I’ve read plenty of commentary lamenting that if only he weren’t so lazy/ignorant/cruel/selfish, then his broader political agenda would be unbeatable. But I think there’s good reason to believe that for some — not all, but a sizable minority, without whom Trumpism would survive — his despicable personal characteristics are entirely the point of supporting him. These voters aren’t crying out for a serious, well-read, honest, responsible politician — they’re pissed off, in some ways understandably so, and an upstanding politician with the same policies just can’t scratch that itch.

Politically, I’m all for shaking things up a little — our institutions can certainly use some refreshing and reform. But an anti-establishment agenda based on “blowing up” a “rotten system” is so fundamentally utopian and impractical in a generally well-functioning society like Britain that it simply has to appeal to the alienated and the angry through pure emotion. This is why anti-establishment politics are inextricably linked to charlatans and demagogues, and charlatans and demagogues are generally not serious, thoughtful leaders offering alternative solutions to intractable social and economic problems.

Thanks for letting me rant. Long live the Dish.

You can always send your rants to dish@andrewsullivan.com. Here’s a reader on the perceived parallels between Johnson and Trump:

I found your August 2020 piece “Burning the GOP to the Ground?” interesting. Personally, I’m not sure whether it would be better for the GOP to fade into history or be reformed. The last two decades haven’t really made the case for its existence, if it had, you wouldn’t have needed to write about how it could be reformed. What bothered me though is your Boris blindness, as it has in your columns for NYMag.

You talk about people who have taken their party “from the wilderness to something saner.” You then list Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, Blair, Cameron and Boris as examples. One of these is not like the others and it’s Boris Johnson. All the others started leading their parties in opposition. Blair made the Labour party look less like radical socialists and more centre ground. Cameron cleaned up the Conservatives’ image, making them less like “the nasty party.” They moved their parties to the centre and pushed the radical elements to the fringes. That is what you are arguing a future GOP leader should do, but it is not what Johnson did.

Johnson took over from an unpopular incumbent, who faced an even less popular opposition leader in Corbyn. He campaigned on a single issue, Brexit, by promising to get it done. That message was popular, everyone in Britain was (and is) sick of Brexit. But, like Trump in 2016, his win was more down to the electoral system than a popular mandate. The Conservatives had 43.6% of the vote, an improvement of just 1.2% from May’s 2017 roasting. Meanwhile, Labour lost 7.8% of the share. The 80-seat gain isn’t reflective of the change in popular vote but an increasingly unwelcome quirk of FPTP.

Johnson’s record in government hasn’t been an exemplar of the values you are advocating. The UK, and England in particular, has not handled the Covid crisis well. The ONS has shown that we Brits had the highest excess death rate in Europe. Despite these exceptional circumstances, the government hasn’t asked for an extension on an already tight schedule for trade talks with the EU. It’s why new opposition leader, Keir Starmer, has gained in popularity at a time when people would be expected to (and for a time, did) rally around the government.

Johnson has seemed distant and uninterested in the detail of governing. To his critics, and certainly to me, Johnson has far more in common with Trump than with any of the people you listed.

Dismissing an 80-seat majority in the Commons, and bringing into the party legions of working class Labour voters, as merely a feature of an electoral system that is the same as it always has been, seems myopic to me. And my reader’s claims rest on the assumption of a static electorate. As Brexit showed, the political elite completely misread where most Brits were; by championing them, Boris stabilized the system, co-opting and neutralizing the far right, without completely surrendering to them. He then implemented Brexit — which his fellows in the elite tried to stymie. His party base loved him — but unlike Trump, as I explain today, not without conditions.

There are parallels, obviously. But this is not like Thatcher-Reagan or Blair-Clinton. That’s my point. I stand by it. The next few weeks may well demonstrate the deep distinction between Boris and the Tories and Trump and the Republicans.



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Feb 04, 2022
John Mearsheimer On Handling Russia And China

The question of how to deal with a resurgent Russia and a new super-power in China is now an urgent one to think through. At the Dishcast, we’re going to air various views over the coming months. But I couldn’t think of a better person to kick off this debate than John Mearsheimer, a titan in the field of international relations, and the most eloquent defender of realism in foreign policy I know. We talked yesterday about Putin, Xi, the errors of the post-Cold War triumphalists, and what the hell we should do now. I was riveted. John is never boring, and always clear.

For those new to him: Prof. Mearsheimer has taught political science at the University of Chicago since 1982, and before that he served five years in the Air Force as a West Point grad. His latest book is The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here. For two clips of our conversation — on what the US should do about Putin’s pressure in Ukraine, and how the US accidentally created its greatest rival, China — head over to our YouTube page.

That page contains clips from every episode of the Dishcast, including last week’s with Roosevelt Montás:

A reader loved the episode:

Thank you for the wonderful conversation with Professor Montás. It reawakened the same spirit I had 28 years ago when I walked on the campus of Columbia University as a freshman. I remember being bored by the Iliad, stymied by The Republic, infuriated by Hobbes, and feeling overmatched by Nietzsche and Freud. I often hated the workload and the two-year campaign that asked me to read, think, engage, and discuss with my professors and classmates. 

But I could never deny that it asked me to do something important and novel: wrestle with the ideas of others. I was not permitted to dismiss them out of hand or avoid the hard work by pointing to false controversy. I had to grapple with difficult ideas and develop the analytical skill and tools of language to explain why an idea did or did not make sense. And the value of that struggle has never left me. 

Since then, during the two tech-focused decades we have experienced, it’s been easy to forget about ancient wisdom. I have fallen victim to the ever-growing pressure to look to circuits and microchips for new solutions to the problems of life. That effort is futile. In my calmer moments, when I sit in a quiet room, I remember what I learned with those great books, and how to find peace in the effort of seeking truth with the words of those who fought the same battle many centuries and even millennia ago.

The episode made me feel like a 19-year-old student again, and that was glorious. In fact, I stopped at a bookstore to buy Augustine’s Confessions before the episode was even over.

Excellent. Another reader gently prods me:

I so enjoy the Dishcast, largely because of your openness and honesty to share your ideas and opinions that have been informed by rather rough-hewn life experiences and a robust library of worldly books. You are indeed a good friend to humanity. Would it be possible to give a wider breadth to your guests to finish their thoughts, uninterrupted? We get to know you well over the weeks and months of listening to the podcast but we only hear your guests once, usually.  

I know. I definitely try to keep out the way — but I also think of these podcasts as conversations rather than interviews, which, sadly, might mean more of me than you want at times. When you’re not in the same room, and there’s a slight gap between your words and your interlocutor’s, it can also be hard to judge when a person has said all they want to. And I also need to keep the chat moving.

Another reader looks to our recent episode with Chris Rufo:

I’m just now listening to your conversation, but I think there is an unarticulated and very important point yet to be made. Rufo doesn’t seem to realize the extent to which he is himself a poster child for precisely the kind of education that embraces conflicting perspectives. The whole reason why he is so well spoken on issues of CRT is because of the intellectual diversity of his past and the fact he dug so deeply into CRT and modern-day versions of it in K-12 curricula. How could he possibly have become this successful if he hadn’t become a de facto expert on current curriculum trends (with which he disagreed)?

Rufo asked in the episode, “What’s wrong with California teaching one thing and Texas teaching another?” The America he imagines is one where half of the country learns one thing, the other half of the country learns another — with little common understanding. Far from leading to productive pluralism, this will instead lead to ideological segregation and a total inability to articulate (and thus engage with) contrary or conflicting positions. This is already happening.

For the United States to function well, people need to learn to critically think, engage in productive debate, and not shut out surprising or confronting ideas as “dangerous.” Rufo’s analysis of our current state of affairs is cogent and well worth hearing, but his solution is dead wrong.

On my column last week centered on Biden and the Dems’ first year, a reader dissents:

You wrote:

And how many more columns in the MSM do I have to read by people who believe the next election will be our last if the Republicans win? I remember when Norm Ornstein and Ron Brownstein, for example, were solid pillars of centrist conventional wisdom. Now, they both appear to believe it’s 1933 in Weimar, and without a federal takeover of elections, our democracy is over. Our democracy isn’t over. It’s our liberal democracy that’s under threat, and this kind of morally pure Manicheanism is one reason why.

In May 2016, you wrote that the election of Donald Trump would represent an “extinction-level event” for liberal democracy. A few hours after he won office that year, with 47% of the vote (the same percentage Mitt Romney got four years earlier), you wrote that the American people had effectively “repealed” our republic.

I think your characterizations of 2016 were right — proven right by a four-year desecration of our institutions culminating in a violent attempt to preserve Trump’s power — but they were, you must admit, breathless characterizations at the time. It is rather churlish of you now to accuse other writers of hyperventilating about 2024, particularly since you must know that they are not worried about just any GOP victory but the prospect that Trump — not, say, Glenn Youngkin or Nikki Haley — will steal the office for real if he gets a second chance. You must know, like them, that this time Trump gave us a good idea of how catastrophic and criminal another Trump administration would be. Indeed you must know that Ornstein, Brownstein, et al., are, like you, writing about Trumpism’s threat to American liberal democracy. What other stripe of democracy could they be talking about?

I hate to see that you’ve fallen in line with the MSM’s predictable first-year retro-feeding on the inevitable failures of a new administration. They do this every time: a moist honeymoon in the spring, followed by the sobering shortfalls of daily governance in the fall, followed by dark and wintry wondering at how it all went so wrong in just a year. How many more of those boilerplate columns do we have to endure? This has become such a tired ritual that a new president might get worried if he isn’t showered with correctional clichés from Chuck Todd and Eugene Robinson on his paper anniversary.

We ought to remember what Joe Biden ran on and was elected to do: evict Donald Trump from the White House. Pussy Grabber is not president anymore. For now, that is plenty good enough for me. Every Trumpian thing Biden does not do — no more simpering alongside Vladimir Putin in a foreign capital or obstructing justice in plain sight or abusing his office to prop up his tacky insolvent hotels — amounts to a banal success compared to the relentless obscenities of the reality-presidency. We really ought to enjoy this while it lasts.

I have never regarded voting access as central to the future of liberal democracy for the simple reason I think it’s way overblown. On Trump, I completely agree, but most of my criticism of Biden has been designed to fend off a Trump revival.

Another Biden booster:

I’m a big fan of Joe Biden and have been cheering him on during his first difficult year as president. My news is also skewed toward MSNBC and the Washington Post. That’s exactly why I read the Dish, even though most of the time it makes steam come out of my ears. I trust you to give me the other side of the argument, even if it pisses me off, because I know I need to hear it.

Having said that, I have a couple of comments on your take on Biden’s press conference. You seem to dismiss a little too cavalierly what’s going on with voter suppression/nullification in this country. You’re correct in pointing out that the nullification part is a much more serious problem, but I disagree that simply reforming the Electoral Count Act will fix the problem. The Republicans have figured out that in order to stack the deck in their favor, they need to replace local non-partisan election officials with people who believe the Big Lie and are willing to give their state legislatures the power to overrule voters. I don’t see how this can be contained without a national statute that sets some kind of minimal standards for how votes are counted. I think that’s what Biden was referring to when he made reference to the legitimacy of future elections — though I agree that this was a mistake, in that it simply made him sound like Trump.

I may be wrong. But if anything has changed in elections recently, it’s the mass expansion of the vote and record turnouts that seem more pertinent than voter suppression. And the redistricting process has turned out to be a bit of a wash by most accounts.

Another reader suspects Biden is being more canny than conventional wisdom tells us:

Joe Biden is a longstanding legislator, with an intuitive understanding of political reality and winning votes. He must recognize that the majority of influential Dems and the majority of his congressional colleagues are considerably to his left. He obviously knows that he cannot pass legislation without either unanimity of Senate Dems or a bipartisan coalition — extraordinarily difficult to achieve in this era.

So I suggest that Biden has concluded he is only going to get that unanimity if he begins each legislative goal with an over-the-top package designed to appeal to the Sanders/Warren crowd. The consequent objective failure, each time, then provides him with a brief window during which he can get the left wing of his party to agree to the kind of “consolation prize” that he may have actually wanted in the first place. If I’m correct, his uber-progressive rhetoric is mainly designed to hide his true intent.

The benefit of this analysis is that we can test it in this coming year. Another reader expands on one of the main dissents in this week’s issue — that the Democrats’ hands are tied when it comes to smaller pieces of legislation:

Manchin is correct that enacting a few permanent programs is preferable to passing a large number that will expire at a time when in all probability the GOP will control at least one and probably both houses of Congress. At that point, they wouldn’t even have to act to kill the programs — just let them expire. In hindsight it’s clear that Biden should have called Manchin’s bluff and accepted his $1.8-trillion-dollar offer on Build Back Better. Then we would have seen if he was bargaining in good faith. It is interesting to note that Manchin has since almost entirely backtracked on this.

Two other points: the left did not try to ram through their wish list. They compromised much more than either Manchin or Sinema did.

But my main issue with your lambasting of Biden is your casual dismissal of the role of GOP obstructionism. Biden and the Dems entire approach is framed as a response to the playbook McConnell established in 2009. If you remember on healthcare reform, even with a filibuster-proof majority, Senator Baucus (D-Montana) worked for months with Grassley, Snowe, and Enzi only to have them pull the rug out from under him and completely renege.

This time, Democrats were not going to be fooled by this running-out-the-clock strategy. This left reconciliation as the only path open to them. The Democrats are very limited and cannot cut BBB into many little pieces if they expect any of it to pass, as this would need 10 Republican votes.

You say work with Romney on childcare assistance. I ask you: how many Republican politicians have come out in favor of his proposal? Imagine how many more would sign on if it had Biden’s support. Answer again: 0. Manchin, himself, offered his own version of a much narrower voting rights bill. Stacey Abrams supported this. How many Republicans did? One — Murkowski. By my count, that’s nine short. 

So, tell me again how Biden is supposed to reach out to these people when they have never shown any inclination to seriously engage on any of these issues. McConnell did allow 13 Republican senators, himself included, to vote for the infrastructure bill, but that seems to have been a ploy to decrease the moderate Democrats’ support for the second, bigger package — and to convince Manchin and the public that bipartisanship is possible. Clearly, McConnell has succeeded.

Since then, what has he or any other Republicans done on any individual portion of Build Back Better or voting rights to make you think there are 10 of them willing to join with Democrats for passage? Why are Biden and the Democrats chiefly to blame for this nihilism? Why should we accept that this is business as usual in the Senate when it clearly wasn’t prior to 2009?

Yglesias puts a lot of blame at the feet of a craven Chuck Schumer. Let’s hear from a few nonpartisan readers who are wavering on Biden:

I voted for Biden, but now I have regrets — not enough to vote for Trump, but maybe somebody else. I’m an independent voter, and the Democratic Party is completely off the rails. No reasonable party should be suggesting to stack the Supreme Court, remove the filibuster, suggest elections might be suspect, pursue McCarthy-style inquiries, attempt to control what people are allowed to say on social media, or let woke minorities alienate whole swaths of the electorate. I’m technically trans, and even I think they’re insane. (I like Dave Chappelle and JK Rowling, so maybe I’m an outlier.)

Another writes:

Interestingly, President Biden pops up in Reagan’s diaries, where the Gipper refers to him as “pure demagog[ue].” I was surprised when I first read this — lovable Uncle Joe as demagogue? But seeing how he has occasionally behaved as president, particularly in his voting rights speech, it seems Reagan may have been on to something. I’m sharing this more in sorrow than in anger, since I like Biden as a person and deeply want him to succeed as a moderate.

Another dissent directed at me:

The entire Republican Party continues to either openly support, or refuse to condemn, an attempted coup fomented by a sitting president and enabled by sitting members of Congress, and you’re worried about people saying “Latinx”? 

We just learned that Trump’s lawyer sent many slates of fake electors to election commissions to challenge the real electors’ legitimacy, and the Republican party isn’t even making pretend noises of outrage. 

Texas has deputized citizens to inform on their neighbors in the hope of receiving a bounty, and you’re concerned about “woke” language? 

School districts are making it a crime to teach verified historic facts if knowledge of such facts might make white people “uncomfortable.” Laws to censor the teaching of history that doesn’t comply with the party line (more than an echo of Stalinism) are being passed by Republican legislatures. 

And yes, the voting laws that are being passed in Republican states will absolutely allow governments to selectively make it harder to vote and selectively easier to reject votes from specific precincts that are likely to vote against the Republican candidate. And you can’t possibly believe they weren’t written to do exactly that! But you diminish the systemic damage these laws will do to the legitimacy of our fragile democracy.

I’ve often disagreed with you, but your arguments always felt to me like they came from a place of dispassionate reasoning and an absolute fealty to the classical notions of liberal democracy. But your current attacks on Biden and the Democrats as ideologically far left, coupled with your dismissiveness about the wildly anti-democratic, insurrectionist, obstructionist and just insane conspiracy-theory fueled GOP, doesn’t seem like the result of dispassionate observation and a love of classical notions of liberal democracy. The idea that Biden — a classic Roosevelt Democrat — is the one being pulled too far by an irrational base is just ludicrous.

I get my reader’s concerns. I’m agonized over getting the balance right — see my new column. But my reader is mischaracterizing some anti-CRT efforts, although, as I note today, this kind of populist revolt can so easily get out of hand.

Another reader notes, “An example of how the Biden administration has moderated its stance on racial issues was Education Secretary Cardona abandoning CRT and the 1619 Project in a new grants program last summer.” Another reader looks across the Pond:

It seems to me the simplest and most effective way to enshrine an anti-CRT law that allows full debate on all racial issues would be to craft state or local laws that mirror the directives of Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary in the UK. As laid out here, Zahawi warns UK teachers they should not teach “white privilege” as “established fact.” They can discuss it, but they have to remain neutral in their presentations on the subject.

Lastly, a reader looks to the future and how Biden might be able to lead us there:

As a center-left independent who voted for Biden and — like you — want him to succeed, it is dismaying to see his multiple failures of omission (capitulation to the far left on nearly all social and policy issues, absenteeism from the bully pulpit) and commission (blowing it on Covid testing, messy Afghanistan exit, hyperbolic voting rights speech in GA, not taking Manchin’s BBB deal). To be fair, his first year featured a number of successes (efficient vaccine rollout, infrastructure bill, actually leaving Afghanistan, fully assisting Congress in the Jan 6 inquiry, prolifically appointing lower court judges).

But let’s be honest: if Biden doesn’t massively course correct, not only will the Dems lose the House and possibly the Senate this November, but the country will flounder and fail. We elected Biden to do a job. He is seriously underperforming in this job.

Your prescriptions for the actions he should take are spot on. I agree with them all.  But let me offer another, one that overarches everything: Biden needs to formulate a plan to lead us out of the Covid crisis — and then actually lead us out of it. Biden and his team need to develop and clearly message the timetable and milestones to lead us to endemic normalcy. This is within our grasp.

Lockdowns, masks, social distancing, flattening the curve to help out the medical system, etc. were logical and essential in 2020. They no longer are. (I say this as a person who believes in science, who is vaxxed and boosted, and has high confidence in Dr. Fauci.) With vaccines, oral drugs, monoclonal antibodies and other treatments, we have the tools to resume normal life. We also have the obligation to demand a resumption of normal life. For those of us who believe in the vaccines — and the evidence proving their efficacy is overwhelming — avoiding public places and masking everywhere is both unnecessary and irrational.  

Biden needs to make “return to normalcy” his sole focus in 2022. Trumpers and anti-vaxxers aren’t going to change their minds, so stop whining about their resistance.  Public health experts have only one lens — public health — so don’t let them control all policy decisions. Biden needs to be out front — boldly leading and cheerleading us along the Covid off-ramp. If he doesn’t, Republican politicians will rightly criticize him and the Dems for keeping the country paralyzed in a state of perpetual fear. (This cautionary warning applies to blue-state governors also — looking at you Gavin Newsom, JB Pritzker, Kathy Hochul and Jay Inslee.)

Getting from pandemic to endemic is the single most important key to bringing down inflation, rationalizing supply chains, achieving equilibrium in the job market and boosting consumer confidence. We cannot hope to achieve normal on these metrics unless and until everyday life looks and feels normal.

Agreed on all counts. I was particularly heartened that after I urged Biden to go to New York City and talk crime with the new mayor, the White House announced just that. Coincidence in all likelihood. But good news nonetheless.



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Jan 28, 2022
Roosevelt Montás On Saving The Humanities

Montás, who led the humanities-rich Core Curriculum at Columbia for a decade and still teaches there, has a new book out, Rescuing Socrates. We talk of Augustine and Socrates and Freud and Gandhi and the timelessness of the great texts. His book is a kind of response to the notion that these ideas and texts are somehow blighted by “whiteness” — a topic the Dish tackled last year. I loved this conversation — and the relief it gave from contemporary political and cultural obsessions.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here.  For two clips my conversation with Roosevelt — on why the humanities are in crisis, and on whether the bodily desires of humans make them less free — head over to our YouTube page.

Meanwhile, a flood of emails came in over last week’s episode with Chris Rufo, and many of them are below. But first, here’s a suggestion on the difficult question of trans women in sports:

Thanks for saying what needs to be said on the trans movement. Yes to critical and compassionate review without demonization!

Regarding trans athletes, has anyone suggested setting up a kind weight-class system based on testosterone exposure, a kind of T-Weight? It would use a scientific score of sorts based on a formula developed by a consensus of medical professionals, factoring both current testosterone levels as well as lifetime exposure (or whatever factors are deemed most relevant to athletic performance).

Then sports organizations could create T-Weight classes and allow participation universally regardless of gender. Maybe only three classes would really be needed: Heavy, Middle and Light, where Heavy would be dominated by lifetime biological males, light by lifetime females, and medium by a mix. And athletes in lighter classes would also be free to compete in heavier classes.

The beauty of this approach is how it’s potentially both inclusive and fair. In fact, one can imagine all kinds of competitions that have been traditionally sorted by gender now including a cavalcade of new participants from across the gender spectrum, opening the door to achievement (and the accompanying rewards) to individuals who would have otherwise not had good opportunities to test and showcase their abilities.

Here’s Mara Keisling debating the question with me on the Dishcast last year:

This next reader believes we should “consider transgender competition categories”:

One of my three daughters transitioned three years ago as a young adult. To this day, her path remains only for the strong of heart and strong of will. That said, she is comfortable that her personhood is now in the proper alignment. I have read with interest your columns on transgender issues and I offer the following observations:

1) I am glad our daughter did not begin a discussion of transition until she was in her early 20s. She was fortunate to be in a community where medical, psychological, and social support were available. While my wife and I participated in her decision process, the ultimate decisions were hers and funded by her. Our transition from son to daughter was not easy, but I shudder to consider how much more difficult it would have been if we were shepherding the decision of a teen or pre-teen. These intense dramas should be supported, not inspected. They are not political, they are personal.

2) It is time society accepted transgender for itself. Numerous cultures have recognized a third gender or third sex. It has been with us since the dawn of time, just like homosexuality, and it is time we accommodate the genders. Recognizing the transitioning of female to male seems a more recent phenomenon, surely we can accommodate both. If sport is such an issue, consider transgender competition categories … and perhaps it is time we begin thinking about competitions that can be pan-gender.

3) You have no idea how incredibly difficult the transition journey is — even for those supported, and many are not. Getting to the other side is only the beginning. Learning to live is a daily challenge. Cis culture seeks to hive you off. Gay culture questions your inclusion. Your own culture is fraught with conflicting definitions.

Rather than creating another category of “others,” we need to blend this bright thread into the weave that is us.

This next reader, though, argues that exclusion is simply the nature of competitive sports:

On the playing field, there are only X number of spots. Someone is always going to be excluded. That might be for a traditional reason (such as not being good enough to be on that particular team) or a novel reason (such as not enjoying an unfair biological advantage). So yes, the “fairness side” is not inclusive in this respect, but for nearly all of us, that’s merely a consequence of applying common sense to the context of sports rather than a projection of bias.

Another parent writes, “To the people who think your criticism of wokeness in public school education is alarmist, I offer this example”:

I have a 14 year old who currently identifies as non-binary — along with about a third of her 8th grade classmates. I was helping them study for their biology test, going through a series of flashcards with definitions of genetic terms. Two of those flashcards included “AFAB” and “AMAB.” For those uninitiated into the language of trans correctness, these mean “assigned female at birth” and “assigned male at birth.”

I’ll leave aside the implications of these labels — that every human being is the victim of cis/patriarchal aggression within hours of being born by being arbitrarily “assigned” a sex. What boggles my mind is the matter-of-factness of these terms being taught in a science class. I could understand a debate about gender and whether it differs from sex. But this class required the students to memorize these terms and tested them on their definitions without discussion or debate or a single shred of scientific evidence to indicate that sex is anything other than a genetically determined trait. (So far as I know, there was no suggestion that having brown eyes or being able to roll your tongue is a social construct … but maybe that’s coming.)

Yes, I live in a New England liberal enclave, but I can’t imagine that this isn’t going on in many places and that it isn’t spreading. I also can’t imagine that the eventual backlash to it won’t set back trans acceptance for a long time.

Another reason why curriculum transparency matters. The educational elites regard critical race/queer/gender theory as simple reality. They are teaching its precepts as fact. The cost for a single teacher of resisting this kind of ideological indoctrination is severe. Which brings us to the teaching of race in schools and the Rufo episode. Here’s the first of many readers:

I was glad to hear you push back a bit against Christopher Rufo and some of his ideas and biases. But I hoped you would push harder, and I was disappointed to hear you say that he might have swayed you a bit.

I’m no fan of woke teachers. Back in 2019, I got into a discussion with a teacher in Brooklyn after my 10-year-old daughter had some strange takeaways from school. After a unit on activism (i.e. social justice), she came home thinking that the police had murdered Eric Garner deliberately, randomly, and in cold blood. As her parents, we had been trying to teach her that if she ever got separated from us in the city, she should ask a police officer for help. But if the police are murderers, that makes as much sense as asking a school shooter for a hall pass.

My daughter also learned in her class that the Constitution was racist and sexist. She hadn’t, however, learned the purpose of a constitution, nor the significance of the US one in particular. She didn’t know that our Constitution represented the first real attempt at establishing a democracy anywhere in the world in about two millennia. So she didn’t quite understand why the people of the 18th century felt they had to document their racism and sexism like that.

So sure, I’m aware that there’s a problem here. But the solution is not to ban specific ideas from being taught. (When has that ever worked?) Because the problem is not CRT. It’s activist teachers, teaching kids what to think, rather than how to think (to use your own words). And I don’t want kids indoctrinated with Rufo’s ideas any more than I want them blindly believing in Robin DiAngelo’s.

Rufo even gives you an example of a bad idea he wants kids to learn: that socialism has been proven not to work. I am not a socialist, but it is ridiculous not to allow for the possibility that socialism (not communism) has made a huge, positive contribution in liberal democracies around the world. Countries that out-perform the US on a long list of metrics — public health, education, social mobility, etc. — likely have socialists to thank for that. Places as different as Scandinavia, Israel, India, Brazil and South Africa would arguably have been far worse off without (democratic) socialism in the mix. 

You don’t have to agree, but don’t ban the idea — not least because most of the really major (and many of the minor) problems of the 20th century seem to arise when you start banning ideas, and when you no longer give people the opportunity to choose between different ideas and try them on. The solution is not to drive ideas underground, to make their proponents iconic, to make their books irresistible to curious rebellious teens. Instead, let’s use school to teach and model the kind of pluralistic, intellectual life we want. We need to make sure that school presents more perspectives and more facts and more opinions — always more opinions. And, importantly, more questions. Mandate that! 

The trouble is: we can’t mandate that. And Rufo is not suggesting we ban ideas as such. We’re taking about the curriculum in public schools — which is inevitably a question for democratic deliberation. If the education establishment has decided to use public schools for a program of mass indoctrination into neo-Marxian ideology, parents have every right to resist — and to ban that kind of teaching, as they would ban a teacher from instructing students that a particular religion is the sole repository go truth. Another reader argues:

CRT has gained a foothold through culture, and culture is going to be the best way to fight it. The idea that it should be fought through government, politics, and bills is misguided, shortsighted, and fundamentally radical and illiberal.  

I agree generally. But public schools are already political, their curriculum shaped by public officials subject to democratic accountability. When an illiberal, ideological faction captures the teachers’ unions, the educational establishment, and an entire political party, we have no option but to fight back.

Another reader who enjoyed the episode:

Rufo’s perspective is one I don’t I listen to often, and I found it interesting — until the discussion called for introspection on his part. The adjective “Marxist,” along with “socialist” and “communist,” has been neutered due to overuse by the American right for decades (the same goes for the label “racist” by the left). If everything proposed by Democrats — the Build Back Better plan, Obamacare, and even the State Children’s Health Insurance Program — is communism, then people can be forgiven for ignoring the word when it's employed correctly. It’s been overused by the American right for so long that it’s lost all impact.

Also, I appreciated you trying to get Rufo to see why, despite the overreaches of the American far left, you cannot support the current GOP due to its devotion to Donald Trump. It was disappointing to not hear him express any understanding of that viewpoint. 

Agreed. The Chris Rufo in the podcast does not seem to be the Chris Rufo of Twitter — but then, that’s arguably a function of Twitter, not Rufo. This next reader is disappointed in me:

I tried to give Rufo an objective listen — I really did. But there was nothing he said that wasn’t more of the same anecdotal, breathless hyperbole disguising his desire for a nationwide K-through-college curriculum that the reactionary right approves of and which soothes their feelings, instead of whatever exists in scope and variety now. The easy target of CRT is just the way in.

That’s why I very much appreciated this op-ed by a Brooklyn high school student for giving a clear-eyed and honest depiction of her brief engagement with actual CRT — to positive results, no less, and no apparent danger of brainwashing. She makes you and Rufo look like hysterical, ignorant, and enthralled purveyors at the Moral Panic Fair — something you had the presence of mind to wonder aloud at one point during the podcast.

In the end, the conversation left out so much and challenged Rufo on so little that it will do nothing but give comfort to those who are passing yet more laws banning whatever they conceive CRT to be — laws you seemed to be against previously, but by your own admission are now open to entertaining. It feels like a shame and a loss.

In principle, I don’t want politics to interfere with the classroom. But the other side of this debate has already put politics in the classroom. Another reader worries about a vicious cycle of outrage:

I appreciate that you asked Rufo about his (and your) potential role in over-hyping the backlash to CRT, but I wish you pressed him further, especially on moderate lefties: How does he expect to build consensus using polarized language? What do we need to do to make these people feel heard in a democracy that’s as much theirs as his — and then convince them they’re wrong? If he continues to catalogue every example of CRT in curricula, doesn’t he expect people to catalogue every example of Republican over-reach, book banning, speech stifling, et cetera? Where does that gamesmanship end?

Your instincts historically have veered toward citizenry rather than activism, to which I say bravo. To repurpose one of Sam Harris’ refrains about the scientific process, when confronted with a breakdown of liberal democracy, we don’t need to abandon it, we need more of it. Now is the time, more than ever, to double down on what your friend Jonathan Rauch’s Constitution of Knowledge. The answers lie in his pages, not in Rufo’s.

Jon Rauch and Pete Wehner have an excellent op-ed this week on the illiberal dangers on the left and the right, but they insist, “What’s Happening on the Left Is No Excuse for What’s Happening on the Right.” I agree with them. But they also recognize the scale of the attempt to indoctrinate a generation in new-Marxian ideas:

The progressive movement, then, is increasingly under the sway of a totalistic, unfalsifiable and revolutionary ideology that rejects fundamental liberal values like pluralism and free inquiry. And conservatives aren’t hallucinating about its influence.

Are liberals and conservatives supposed to just let this happen? From a soon-to-be parent in Tennessee:

I’m not particularly fond of figures like Robin DiAngelo and others, and I find their influence to be more than a little frustrating, and the historical distortions of the 1619 Project were troubling. At the same time, I found Rufo’s account of the way that “they” are pushing CRT to be little more than a conspiracy theory, and at times, he seemed to be lumping all diversity efforts in with some vague and nefarious cultural Marxist plot.

I live in Nashville, and my partner and I are about to have a baby. She’s black, and I’m white. In my state, there are groups that are actively using an anti-CRT law to stop students from learning about Ruby Bridges and the March on Washington. I’m beginning to come to the conclusion that if my daughter is going to learn about the history of civil rights, she may to have to learn it at home. It’s not the end of the world (and it may not go down that way), but it’s deeply troubling, and in light of this state’s history, a bit scary. Moreover, if the worst thing that happens is they don’t teach much of the history of civil rights in school, what will it say to students who see themselves represented in that history?

Rufo seems to want the equivalent of CRT coming from the right rather than genuine liberal education. His claims that the state is already involved in educational decisions are no doubt true, but when these decisions are wrested away from professionals, you end up with bills than mandate the teaching of the Abraham Lincoln-Frederick (that is, not Stephen) Douglas debates (as we saw in Virginia recently). It’s also bound up with a politics that situates whites as victims that’s also troubling.

Rufo may have a point now and again, but his claims should also be seen in the context of Steve Bannon’s declarations that the path back to power leads through the school boards. I can’t help but wonder if Rufo’s dubious ideas about a conspiracy to push CRT is playing into to far right’s will-to-power and is even more illiberal than his presentation would suggest.

I’d be lying if I weren’t concerned about this. Kmele is worried as well. Let’s hear from a more conservative reader:

Your conversation with Rufo left out the most important reason that upper-class liberal readers of the NYT passively choose to follow CRT. It’s because the NYT and other prestige publications have spent the past 20 years telling their readers that conservatives/Republicans are selfish moral monsters, and the only reasons anyone could be a conservative is because he is 1) selfish, 2) stupid, 3) crazy. Those readers have spent so long imbibing the notion that conservatives are monsters that they cannot countenance being on the same side of what they believe is a moral issue.

As such, those liberals are left with two choices: believe in the CRT rhetoric (primarily by not inquiring too closely on specifics), or complain quietly among themselves but outwardly express support for CRT and deride those opposed as bigots.

I’ll give you quick example from my family. My wife’s parents fall squarely into the NYT demographic. When the Brearley letter came out last year, we had a conversation with a family friend who had graduated from Brearley and was about to send her daughter there. She was hesitating over the CRT influence there. When I mentioned that if the classical liberals would ally with the conservatives at the school, they could add their numbers to the significant groups that conservatives had built on the issue and likely reverse the CRT trend.

My family’s reaction was shocking. Because racism is considered a moral issue, those at the table would rather not change anything than be seen on the same side as conservatives. The idea of common cause, even when there is agreement on the appropriate ends, is considered beyond the pale. Until the blanket moral superiority between the parties is broken, common sense and majority opinion can’t win out in policy.

Very well put. Polarization helps the extremes control the two sides. Liberalism disappears in the middle. What many on the left miss, in my opinion, is that democracy is not at stake in America. Liberal democracy is.

Another reader recommends a podcast episode with a great liberal figure:

I happened to listen to your conservation with Rufo right after this episode of Pod Save America, which comes from the very progressive Crooked Media and Jon Favreau, Obama’s former speechwriter. But the conversation is anything but what you’d expect. The story of the show’s guest, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is one that I hadn’t heard before. She was basically lambasted on social media by two of her former students as supporting murder of trans women for saying that “trans women are trans women.” She wrote an essay about the experience, and how awful it was for years afterwards.

Favreau went at the issue as gently as possible (as one would expect from a progressive point of view), but they hit all the points you’ve been making for a while about the coded language, the unforgiving nature of the righteous left, the inability to debate or think, etc. It gave me great hope to hear this type of discussion in that forum, given who the likely audience is, and given Adichie’s self proclaimed feminism and obvious commitment to thinking, writing, and storytelling, which is not possible when everything is doctrinaire.

Anyway, like many of your readers I often get sick of your continued harping on the CRT stuff from the left, but that’s partially because I’m dumb enough to follow you on Twitter. Given your history, you’re probably ahead of the curve on how truly dangerous all of this is for a liberal society. We need the Dems to not get co-opted by their illiberal crazies the way the Republicans did. Otherwise there’s really no hope for most of us who don’t fall into either extreme.

From a teacher in New Hampshire who sides with Rufo:

As someone who rejects the Kendi/DeAngelo/Crenshaw/NHJ etc. approach to race,  I have found the whole thing to be incredibly alarming and frustrating. We do need these laws in place, and I would like to explain why.

As you brilliantly wrote a few months ago, focusing on the term “critical race theory” is a mistake. It allows the purveyors of the race-focused ideology to deny what they are trying to do by accurately claiming that arcane law school theory is not being taught in middle school. What is more accurate is your analogy comparing what is happening to going to a Catholic school. As someone who spent the first 16 years of my education in Catholic schools, it is true that we did not debate transubstantiation in elementary school — but the nuns made damned sure that we understood a “right” way to live and a “wrong” way to live.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that we do not want to hinder in any way a true “liberal education.” But that is not what many of my public school colleagues are interested in. They want to teach these racial ideas as facts — not theories. That’s the crux of the issue. For many of them — products of elite educational institutions and/or teacher colleges — these things are not theories, they are obvious matters of fact. The United States is a fundamentally racist country founded on racism. White people all have unjust privileges of which they must be constantly aware and atone for. Everything (a la Kendi) is connected to race in some way. And on and on.

So the wailing and gnashing of teeth over these “CRT laws” here in New Hampshire by the usual suspects rings hollow to me. Frankly, they lie about it.  They claim that proponents of these laws want to block an “honest discussion” of history and race. That is 100% false. The reason they are upset is that they are being told to teach not preach.

One thing I would have asked Rufo about is the money angle as it relates to CRT/DEI. A massive (and very profitable) industry around selling “training” materials and consulting has blossomed, and these laws are cutting off the gravy train.

I’m with this reader, I have to say. The right did not create this crisis in education; they are reacting to it.

Lastly, a reader highlights a group trying to find a middle ground:

I agree with much of what you say, but in the conversation with Rufo I think you both make a fundamental mistake. He says states should be able to teach CRT or a patriotic emphasis, depending on the popular will of each state. You say teach both, to get students to think critically. I agree that critical thinking is important, but so is getting elementary/secondary students to attach to and willing to support democratic principles and practices. So every state should present the story and history and importance of these values.

To that end, a broad group of Californian educators has formed Californians for Civic Learning to advocate for the inclusion of more robust civic education while avoiding the extremes of left and right. Read about the group here and here. Educators who wish to teach civics and controversial issues in these turbulent times need support.

Worth a read. And a huge thanks to all the readers who wrote in. The pod page has become more of an op-ed page, curated and edited by Chris Bodenner. Send us your arguments, links and stories and we will do our best to feature them: dish@andrewsullivan.com.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Jan 21, 2022
Christopher Rufo On CRT In Schools
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Rufo is a key architect of the anti-CRT legislation being passed in state legislatures around the country. He is also a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and his Twitter account is tirelessly flagging examples of CRT in the public school system, corporate America, and elsewhere. I’ve no doubt that some of this convo is going to stir up a fuss — but the truth is I’ve become more conflicted about this legislation as time has gone by. I once thought it was a terrible idea. I’m now not so sure, given the scale of the attempt to indoctrinate children in neo-Marxist understandings of race throughout public education.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here. For two clips my conversation with Rufo — on whether anti-CRT state laws go too far, and on whether anti-CRT critics like us are overhyping the threat — head over to our YouTube page.

The Federalist’s Nathanael Blake, responding to my column on “Ever-Radicalizing Republicans,” echoes a core point made by Rufo but applies it to the more narrow focus of sexually-charged books in school libraries:

[T]here is an incoherence to liberalism’s semi-official relativism, for it relies on smuggling some moral views back into political life as supposedly neutral liberal norms. This is manifest in the tendency to try to forestall democratic debate and decisions by insisting that what the people want is illiberal. When Andrew Sullivan bemoans the “illiberalism” of removing sexually explicit materials from school libraries, he is not actually supporting liberal neutrality, but instead advocating for the inclusion of such material in government schools, even if parents in particular and the community in general object.

Declaring that parental and democratic involvement in schools, from curricula to libraries, is illegitimate doesn’t mean that decisions will be neutral, just that they will be made according to the biases of teachers, administrators, librarians and suchlike. And this pattern is repeated on issue after issue, with “conservative” liberals insisting that left-liberals must be allowed to win in the name of “liberal norms.”

I don’t believe parental involvement in schools is illegitimate. Au contraire. I think curriculum transparency is vital; and that indoctrination into the core concepts of CRT is not something that should be allowed in a public high school. But books available in a school library? That students would have to seek out? I don’t have an issue. Sure, one of the books I’ve seen has an illustration of a blow-job. Not exactly Mapplethorpe.

Below, the great liberal debate over CRT continues among Dish readers. First, a heads up that “Glenn Loury and John McWhorter favorably discussed a recent piece you wrote concerning the classification of people by race using colors, starting at the 43:40 mark”:

Another reader points to one of countless examples of the phenomenon that Glenn and John discuss:

Should you care to witness an uninhibited orgy of Blackandbrowning, see this job announcement from Pierce Community College — a public institution — in WA state. They are advertising for a new math professor. Besides the initial paragraphs, be sure to read the list of “Responsibilities of the successful candidate” and even the application process itself. The first two “Responsibilities,” for example, include the phrases “Creating race-conscious course assessments” and “in a manner that promotes Black and Brown excellence.”

The phrase “Black and Brown,” in fact, occurs nine times in this ad. “Equity” appears five times. “Antiracism” (or “antiracist”) appears three times. Words that never appear in this ad for a community college math professor: “algebra,” “calculus,” “statistics,” “trigonometry,” “geometry” ...

Amazing but unsurprising. A missive from the medical world:

You keep publishing dissents like this one:

My God, Andrew, will you give the “woke” thing a rest?! I’ve always read you because of the variety of issues you covered. Now it’s become a chore to constantly see my inbox full of “woke this and woke that.” You’ve simply lost all sense of proportion.

No, your sense of proportion is exactly right. I wish I could somehow give these dissenters a window into what it is like to work in biomedical science right now.  Whether it’s internal memos calling for “decolonising” the molecular biology curriculum or journal editorials declaring “whiteness” to be the great evil permeating all medical science, it’s become a chore to constantly see my inbox full of official wokeness. Maybe I should start keeping a running list, for the sake of all these dissenters who don’t believe in the reality of a woke takeover of elite institutions?

Please do. And send us the results. It would make a good column. And wokeness in medicine is especially consequential when it comes to Covid right now. For example: “In Utah, ‘Latinx ethnicity’ counts for more points than ‘congestive heart failure’ in a patient’s ‘COVID-19 risk score’ — the state’s framework for allocating monoclonal antibodies.” ”Equity” — i.e. anti-white, anti-Asian and anti-male discrimination — is the core word for the Biden administration.

Another reader flags a recent article from RealClearInvestigations titled “No Critical Race Theory in Schools? Here’s the Abundant Evidence Saying Otherwise.” Another reader points to some hope on the horizon:

Next month, San Francisco will vote on the recall of three school board members.   (The first of three crises of the recall effort is “The Equity Crisis: Our school board wasted time renaming schools instead of reopening them. As a result, we were the last big city to reopen.”) I think this local election will be a statement on the midterms and role of parents in the upcoming elections. Here’s one article looking at the recall from the perspective of Asian non-citizens, since non-citizen parents were recently given the right to vote in Board of Education elections. (The non-citizen population of SF is roughly 105,000 — out of about 875,000 residents.) These new voters are angry about the state of schools and are very motivated to vote to recall the board members.

Another reader adds more fodder to the scandal over the 1619 Project, which kicked off the curriculum wars:

ICYMI, here’s an in-depth essay from Jim Oakes (CUNY Grad Center) critiquing the 1619 Project. (He has throwaway lines critiquing Zionist scholars and condemning capitalism — a reminder that he’s hardly a crypto-right winger.) The essay does a particularly nice job of exposing the foundational lie of the 1619 Project — that until NHJ and her work, historians had basically ignored the centrality of slavery to the American colonial and post-independence experience. Oakes also explains why NHJ’s factual errors were an essential requirement for the ideological project.

This next reader neatly conveys the liberal concerns over CRT:

I just finished reading Rebecca Solnit’s opinion piece in the NYT, “Why Republicans Keep Falling for Trump’s Lies,” and much of it resonated with me. As a moderate here in San Francisco (which makes me a “far right” person in the eyes of the local DSA tribe), I have no love whatsoever for the damage Trump has wrought on both our country and the GOP. However, too often in the essay, Solnit (another San Franciscan) wades into cliche woke hysteria over issues that do not deserve to be maligned in such a way. 

The most notable example is when she writes that “the ruckus about critical race theory is wrong that it’s actually being taught in schools but right in that how we think and talk and teach about race has shifted from when whiteness was unquestionably supreme.” After reading your work over the past few years, it is clear to me that teaching our kids that whiteness is not supreme is NOT the issue. Rather, it’s teaching our children that their identity is the most important aspect of their lives.

Why can’t progressives figure out that this is our collective concern? We WANT to teach our kids that slavery is a stain on this country; that Jim Crow can never happen again; that we should treat our fellow humans with the respect and love that the deserve. We do NOT want to teach our kids that one group of kids is more worthy of hearing out than another; that one group of kids is perpetually victimized with no ability to mold their lives through their own individual choices. Colorblind is the goal — when did that become controversial?

Amen. In contrast:

I’ve always enjoyed your perspective, particularly since it’s often different than my own. I’ve thought a lot about your take on the woke culture and the harm it’s doing to Democrats. However, the notion that all can be solved by a return to your classical notion favoring personal liberty and opportunity for each person, no matter who they are, as opposed to fixating on systems of oppressions, seems problematic.

While I share some of your frustration with CRT, the theory is useful because it points out ways that inequities are baked into our systems, resulting in generational handicaps for some groups, particularly blacks. This isn’t even controversial, and it can be seen in redlining, the fact that minority communities are much more likely to live in areas next to toxic factories, the shockingly low levels of black wealth compared to white wealth, etc. Human nature being what it is, of course systems built primarily by white people are going to tend to benefit white people more than other groups. Over time, we can look at this handicap as acting as a kind of negative compounding interest for some communities, which explains a good deal of the yawning difference in net worth between white and black people in America.

If we could somehow wave a magic wand and create a system where each individual, no matter what they looked like, would have the same opportunities, I would cheer as much as anyone. However, in an equitable society, what do we owe those who have been harmed by past unequal systems? After all, the way economics works, if the world became magically fair overnight, those who came from families that were harmed by slavery, Reconstruction, and other imposed inequities, will never catch up. They are starting too far behind. So my wife’s black Yale students will have good lives if they work hard, but they will be less likely than their white peers to inherit anything, less likely to come from households that own their homes, more likely to have to take care of relatives and elderly parents financially and physically, less likely to have strong systems of family capital and connections outside of their school, etc.

So what I would ask you is: If it’s impermissible to set up the kind of rigid worldview of some CRT advocates to impose new unequal systems to favor oppressed groups to remedy past injustices, what, if anything, should be done to make up for centuries of unequal treatment? It’s a little hard to take when Justice Roberts and other powerful white guys voice discomfort with any kind of race-based remedies. Do we just forget that for centuries, powerful white men, including a lot of judges, had no problem approving and defending all sorts of laws that in effect hurt black people and benefited whites? I have no answer, but I feel that in a just society, something should be done.

I’d have to ask: what exactly is the statute of limitations on this? It’s remarkable how so many defenses of affirmative action, for example, always assumed it would be temporary, because African-Americans as a group would catch up. Now there is a kind of assumption that African-Americans can never catch up, making it vital to rig the system to discriminate in their favor. Zora Neale Hurston thought the statute of limitations had already been reached in 1928!

My view is that many African-Americans are actually doing well; and that others are crippled by terrible family structure, cultural anti-intellectualism, and the violence and crime of their neighbors. Tackle these things first. Instead the left wants to put all these aside and focus on the repercussions of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and rigging systems to favor one race over another.

To put it more bluntly: CRT is the answer to the relative failure of African-Americans to succeed. It’s an admission of defeat; and the permanent entrenchment of victimhood as core to the black experience. Getting rid of these Marxian ideas is the beginning of religion reform.

But yes, one area of needed reform, still, is policing. Here’s a reader on something I wrote last week:

You ask why “BLM” isn’t celebrating. Since I work in the criminal justice reform field, allow me to answer. It’s not because police weren’t defunded/abolished — that’s a goal for only one corner of our broad and truly bipartisan movement. It’s because of other rather basic goals, once viewed as easily attainable, that went shockingly unattained, despite all of the momentum coming out of 2020. Some missed goals include:

* Ending qualified immunity, which protects officers from liability for harms caused while violating the law;

* Ending the disparity between crack/powder cocaine punishment, which was never evidence-based in the first place;

* Reforming the federal clemency process to make it a real part of the federal justice system (a goal that dates to Alexander Hamilton).

* Fixing the First Step Act, a sentencing/prison reform bill signed by Trump that still isn’t working nearly as intended. [Update from the reader a few days later: “today the Justice Department finally changed part of the broken implementation of the First Step Act.”]

I could go on. The point is that these are all simple, bipartisan goals where Republicans either aren’t negotiating in good faith (#1) or don’t seem to care (#2), or where Biden is — and you’ll like this one — simply not paying attention (#3-4).

Qualified immunity was the main sticking point in the Senate that eventually sank the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Read David French in National Review for a good conservative takedown of qualified immunity. I’m on the side of the reformers here.

Another dissenter wants a more proactive approach from the Dish:

Your endless culture war tirades have become stale. The high from righteous anger about the latest woke outrage is wearing off ever quicker; and deep down I know this was an unhealthy addiction from the start — for both you and your readers.

The problem is not that defending liberalism is not important. The problem is that you offer nothing but outrage in response. Where is your solution? Where is your vision? Where is your project?

Maybe it is unfair to demand from a conservative sweeping visions for the future, and you might retort that your life’s major project — same-sex marriage — is already accomplished. But without some ideas for the future, what’s left of a conservative is a reactionary.

Defending the status quo ante is not enough when — as you are the first to admit — that state is fundamentally broken. The United States is a wreck of a democracy, one close election away from tyranny, and its economy keeps steaming ahead towards turning the planet into a hot house. Half the political country has in effect renounced the democratic process and is intent on grabbing power in 2024, whether they win the election or not. The current political institutions enable and incentivize their project. Clearly, fundamental reform — a rebalancing of the checks and balances — is necessary to save this great democracy, or it will eventually fall victim to some clever hack of its centuries-old, unpatchable code base.

So what have you offered recently? A vague idea about nuclear power as a way to sell climate politics to right-wingers; and some noncommittal flirtations with a “Trumpism without Trump” mixed with a good dash of Toryism (it seems in your wet dreams, Dominic Cummings advises Glenn Youngkin to victory in 2024).

Here’s the thing: I don’t think the constitution has suddenly broken, and that a liberal society is impossible. I think we have become broken by tribalism, which renders attempts at any reform (see my proposed compromises on trans issues last year and this week) far more difficult.

Lastly, a dissent over such dissents:

I’m dismayed by the number of people who write to complain about your frequent skewering of wokeness. Many of your critics argue that you shouldn’t discuss the woke peril because the threat from Trump and his cult is greater. That argument is unpersuasive to me because it cuts both ways. If Trump and his cult pose an existential threat to America (and I think they do), then shouldn’t Democrats focus on that threat instead of talking endlessly about police violence and racism? In other words, why should those who oppose wokeness be the only ones asked to avoid talking about problems that aren’t as big as the Trump problem?

There is one important point that I think your dissenters miss. Wokeness and Trumpism are not completely separate phenomena. There is some synergy. One of the things that fuels the Trump cult is an intensifying anger directed at wokeness.  People are being exposed to it in their employment HR policies (as I am) and their children are being exposed to it in schools. The only way to stop Trump is to persuade Democrats to separate themselves from wokeness so they can win the votes of moderate voters (i.e. most voters). 

I’ll share with you a data point from one county that illustrates just how bleak the landscape now is for Democrats. I live in a rural Texas county with a population of less than 40,000 where Trump got more than 70% of the votes in 2020 and fewer than 45% are vaccinated against Covid-19. More than a year after the election, I still drive past several large, defiant “Trump 2020” banners on my way to work each day. (There is also an early, very large “Trump 2024” sign that I see each day.) 

The filing deadline for the March 2022 primary passed recently. In this county, there are about 10 contested local offices (county judge, county clerk, justice of the peace, etc.) The number of Democrats that filed to run for local office in this county was ZERO. Therefore, all winners in the Republican primary in March will run unopposed for those local offices in November. Yes, ALL of them. This is why so many Republicans act like they care only about primaries. They are being cynical and unpatriotic, but very rational. The horrifying truth is that the Democratic Party has simply ceased to exist in rural areas like this. I’m beginning to see parallels with Afghanistan, where the “government” had essentially zero support outside the cities. It all collapsed very quickly.

I wish Democrats would spend less time worrying about gerrymandering and vote suppression and more time worrying about the fact that they don’t have a meaningful message that resonates with “normal” people. Some people worry that Trump will steal the 2024 election. In my view, they should worry instead that he will win without stealing.

THAT is why you and others must continue to warn the nation and Democrats about the perils of wokeness. To put it bluntly, silence in response to the Democratic Party’s foolish dalliance with wokeness will elect Trump in 2024.

I’m grateful my reader sees why I think this is important. If you want to defeat Trumpism, you need to defeat left-extremism. There is no other way. And President Biden has opted to back left-extremism. The Democrats are soon going to feel the impact of his fateful choice.



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Jan 14, 2022
Yossi Klein Halevi On Zionism
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Hey, why not start the new year with solving the Israel-Palestinian problem? Yossi is an American-born Israeli journalist and his latest book is Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor. Following our episode with Peter Beinart last summer, many readers recommended Yossi as a guest to balance out the discussion on Israel. I’m grateful for the suggestion and truly enjoyed our conversation — alternately honest and difficult. How can one admire Israel while also being candid about its flaws? How deeply utopian was Zionism in the first place?

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here. For two clips of my conversation with Yossi — on the “bizarre, tragic” history of Zionism, and on the intractable nature of the Israeli settlements — head to our YouTube page.

For a refresher on our episode with Peter that spurred Yossi’s appearance, here’s a chunk of that conversation on the state of Zionism:

Below are many unaired emails from readers responding to our Beinart episode. This first reader feels that I’m “deeply wrong about Israel/Zionism”:

I think most Westerners have a delusional view: that a two-state solution was ever acceptable to enough Arabs/Palestinians to have been possible. Many Westerners also have the equally delusional view that a binational state is viable (a view you don’t share, I was glad to hear). Unfortunately, for most Arabs/Palestinians, the dream isn’t about getting East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and a bit more, while leaving the rest to the Jews. They want Tel Aviv, Haifa and everything else, with no Jews.

Every war over Israel has been fought by the Arabs in service of a one-state Judenrein solution, beginning in 1948, when they were offered and rejected a contiguous state in nearly half of Mandatory Palestine, from Sinai to Jordan to Lebanon — the river to the sea. The option for a two-state solution was on the table for more than half a century afterward, if the Palestinians had been willing to take it. Half-hearted participation by the Palestinian Authority in peace talks (which they were dragged to), with Hamas and Hezbollah jeering from the sidelines, isn’t remotely good enough.

Whether or not you think the state of Israel should ever have been created (that discussion was the most disappointing part of your episode with Beinart), there are now nearly seven million Jews in their historic homeland (of thousands of years), out of a little over nine million inhabitants. Some three-quarters of those Jews were born there. Just under half of the Jews in Israel are Mizrahi/Sephardi, whose family members were largely expelled from Arab countries. They know exactly how the Arabs feel about the Jews, so they aren’t signing up for a binational state, now or ever.

Moreover, the Arabs (the notion of a distinct Palestinian identity wasn’t a significant part of mainstream discourse until the 1960s and ‘70s) don’t actually want a single binational state. Agreeing to a peace on the basis of two states would get their leaders assassinated, because Palestinians continue to hope, against all evidence, that one day they’ll get all of it.

Arabs living in Israel proper have far better lives and prospects than their brethren in neighboring states: they can vote, an Arab party is in the government, and Israel is the best place in the Middle East to be gay, among other things. Polls show that a majority of Israeli Arabs would prefer living in Israel to a Palestinian state. It would be ideal if the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza gave up their unrealistic expectation of driving the Jews into the sea and stopped promoting terrorism. Then, security restrictions could be relaxed and their lives could improve a lot.

But I fear things are too far gone. The Second Intifada, and then Hamas’ unwavering commitment to ending the state of Israel, don’t inspire confidence.

The best solution, to be honest, would be for Jordan — more than 20% of whose residents are Palestinians — to take over the Arab areas of the West Bank, and for Egypt to absorb the pestilential flyspeck half the size of Singapore that is Gaza.  But Jordan and Egypt wouldn’t touch those areas with a ten-foot pole because they’re ruled by warlords, gangsters and criminals. They’re Northern Ireland during the height of the Troubles, but a thousand times worse.

I do agree with you and Beinart that the status quo could persist for a long time. I think if the PA collapses, as Beinart suggests, it’s not going to turn the West Bank into Gaza, because there’s too much economic interdependence between the West Bank and Israel. If it did, though, all that would happen is that Israel would annex the areas with significant Jewish settlements, cut the Jews in the outposts loose and create a hard border, leaving the West Bank population to figure things out for themselves and get bombed if they fire rockets.

I get it that Bibi’s an a*****e and he behaved unacceptably toward Obama, your fave. But Bibi is finished and may go to jail. Time to move on — for you and the Palestinians. Maybe think more about Xinjiang (which I was glad to hear you discuss with Beinart), where a million Muslims actually are in camps, being sterilized and reeducated. They don’t have the option of giving up terrorism and eliminationist pipe dreams for peace.

“Pestilential flyspeck”? It’s that kind of rhetoric that turns me off, however sane the rest of the analysis. There’s no indication in my reader’s email that he understands why people thrown out of their own land and homes might harbor legitimate resentment, even rage. Another pro-Israel reader:

Your discussion glossed over important points that, if discussed, would demonstrate the conflict is more two-sided than you and Beinart made it appear to be. For example, you stated that it’s apparent Israel has never supported a two-state solution, and it was all a lie. But you seem to have forgotten the Oslo Accords, where it was the PLO, not Israel, who ultimately walked away. In addition, Israel made the decision to evacuate its own citizens from Gaza in 2005, handing the Palestinians their own territory.

What has happened since then? While Beinart mentions the UN says that Gaza is uninhabitable, he or you fail to mention that a terrorist group is running the place. In fact, in your discussion about Israel, terrorism is not mentioned once. How can Israel agree to a two-state solution when one of the parties declares death to Israelis in its constitution? 

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the regime in the Palestinian territories is not held accountable. No doubt about it: the occupation creates considerable hardship on the Palestinian people. I just don’t know how the regime, particularly in Gaza, can be negotiated with.

By the way, here is a picture of my grandfather, with my mom, aunt and uncle, on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv in 1962:

My grandparents fled Iraq in 1941 after a horrible pogrom called the Farhud. It bothers me to no end when people call Jews “white colonizers.” My grandfather was far from white! Iraqi Jews trace their history to their exile from the Kingdom of Judea in 6th Century BCE. My grandmother would say she was a “Babylonian,” to signify her direct ancestral tie to the land of Judea.

My grandparents and the generations of persecuted Jews before/around them is why Zionism exists and why it endures. I will be a passionate Zionist until my last breath. It’s the only place I know for sure where Jews will be tolerated. Peter Beinart will only realize this when it’s too late. A world that that is indifferent to the fall of the Jewish state is not a safe world for Jews anywhere.

Yossi talks a lot about the Jews who immigrated from elsewhere in the Middle East, and it’s an overlooked point at times. From a reader critical of Israel:

Thank you for having on Peter Beinart. I have followed you for years and assumed you were either a Zionist supporter or just didn’t want to touch the Issue. So I am pleasantly surprised.

During the past eight years, I have been to the West Bank four times working on behalf of a Christian ministry in Bethlehem. The birthplace of Jesus Christ, Bethlehem is now surrounded by prison walls and guard towers on three sides. This cultural capital of Palestine, with its rich history, art, music and food, is being surrounded by settlements, so it cannot grow.  

The situation is horrific. The Israelis have killed three young children just this week [in July], 77 children in 2021 so far. And every day the US sends at least $10.4 million of our tax dollars in military aid.

Another critic of Israel:

Zionism, as an ideology, has stopped progressing. It’s like Communism in the Eighties — all energy has seeped out. It has been replaced by very nasty ethno-nationalism and an optimistic economism (Israel the Start-up Nation). The underpinning ideology has boiled down to a large collection of cliched slogans, like the ones your Israeli readers wrote down. I can already fill in the Zionist trope bingo card. Nothing new has been added in the last 15 to 20 years, except an inflated sense of victimhood.

This next reader, though, points to a Palestinian sense of the same forever-victim mentality:

I believe this is a point that will resonate with you: the settlement project feeds into the “settler colonialism” mantra that is a key component of intersectional doctrine sweeping through much of America. As they say, “From Ferguson to Palestine!”

In this context, my admittedly counter-intuitive argument that Palestinians will not let the Israelis leave the West Bank, just as they have successfully blocked Israel from divorcing itself from Gaza, cannot be processed by the progressive cerebral operating system (“does not compute,” as the robot would say). For this reason, the settlements and occupation are an even greater conundrum for Israel than ever before, requiring the most sober, de-politicized and mature decision-making by the new Israeli leaders. But so long as the international community indulges the Palestinian penchant for utilizing their own self-generated suffering as their most powerful weapon, I see no good solution for Israel. There’s no Iron Dome for what, from our perspective, is this profound dysfunction.

Back to a pro-Israel position — one that is optimistic about a two-state solution:

Thanks for your continued efforts to elevate the discourse. I am a fairly new subscriber to the Dish and very much enjoyed reading the responses to your Beinart conversation. In one of your replies, you posit:

But again, I can’t explain or defend the settlements. It’s really that simple. And it’s striking that neither of my two correspondents mentions them. This is precisely what frustrates me about liberal Zionists: in the end, they always avoid that inexcusable reality.

Consider the Israeli government’s actions in turning over the Sinai in 1982, and the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. In 1982, 1,200 settlers had barricaded themselves in Yamit (Yamit is considered to be part of biblical Israel by Orthodox Jews), and they were forcibly removed by the Israeli army. In the summer of 2005 (I was actually in Israel when the right-wing Sharon government pulled out of Gaza), it was common to see thousands of Israeli protesters in the lead up to the withdrawal. But, when it came time for the withdrawal, the army again removed the settlers from the 21 settlements in Gaza.

My expectation is that when there is an opportunity for a two-state solution, the  course of conduct established in the two episodes above will again rule the day: the Israelis will remove the settlements that are necessary for a viable Palestinian state to exist. I wouldn’t for a moment posit that communities like Efrat will be removed, but assuredly bunches of other outposts in Judea and Samaria would disappear. 

This reality of Israeli history is fundamentally pragmatic. The Israeli right will continue to generate support by offering offer rhetorical support to the settler movement, and the Israeli left will continue to draw adherents by perseverating on the existence of the settlements. The dirty little secret is that when push comes to shove and the moment for a serious Palestinian State arises, it will be the settlers who are again relocated in the face of the national consensus.

Here’s hoping. But I can’t say I agree. One more reader on the settlements:

First of all, I’m DELIGHTED that you’re planning to invite on Yossi Klein Halevi — I was going to suggest you have him before seeing like four other dissenters beat me to it. (In addition to sharing his views on Israel, Zionism, and the Palestinians almost entirely, I also happen to know him personally and he is an absolutely wonderful guy — one of those people whose very presence calms you.)

Anyhow, you said in your response to a reader that “the settlement policy is now and always has been the core obstacle to any deal” (emphasis mine). As a liberal Zionist, I have two problems.

The first is the one you’d probably guess: While I grant that the settlements have certainly been an obstacle, I disagree that they’ve been the obstacle. They have serious competition — for instance, the dream that lives among an all-too-large contingent of Palestinians to displace Israel utterly. Call it “Greater Palestine,” if you will — and of course “displace” is a euphemism. I’d love to hear why you believe the settlements are somehow more “core” than that, a dream that is explicitly stated in Hamas’s charter.

Second (and this is a major reason I’m so glad you're planning to invite Yossi on), is what the settlements symbolize for the Jewish people — that is, what the lands of the West Bank (the heartland of Biblical Judea and Israel, as I’m sure you know) mean for the Jewish soul. And here I’m cognizant of speaking more to your religious side. To renounce our claim to those lands is painful — necessary and right, no doubt, but painful too. And that is never acknowledged even rhetorically, let along with true compassion.

No question that Yossi’s humanity and learning and empathy are impossible to ignore. Just listen to the podcast. And I understand the depth of the religious commitment to place. For the next Israel/Palestine chat, I’d like to invite a Palestinian. Who do you think would be the best? We’re open to any suggestions: dish@andrewsullivan.com.



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Jan 07, 2022
Michael Shellenberger On Homelessness, Addiction, Crime

I belatedly came to Shellenberger in my research on nuclear power’s potential to help cut carbon emissions. But his new book — on the terrible progressive governance in many American cities in recent years — is what gave me the idea to interview him. On homelessness, crime, addiction, and the fast-deterioration of our public spaces, San Fran-sicko, despite its trolly title, is empirical, tough-minded and, in my view, humane. But make up your own mind, in what was one of the more timely conversations I’ve had this year.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here.  For two clips of our conversation — on the reasons why San Francisco progressives won’t build safe homeless shelters, and on the growing backlash against Democrats on crime and urban disorder — head over to our YouTube page. (And be sure to check out Shellenberger’s substack — he’s on a major roll this week.)

A reader writes:

I just listened to the Dishcast with Sam Quinones and am so grateful you are covering addiction and homelessness. I especially appreciated the perspective that homeless addicts — who I am afraid of and repelled by — are suffering the most, and in genuine need of help. It’s easy to forget when I’m frustrated and everyone seems to be diagnosing the real problem as my own bigotry! (A personal anecdote: my brother’s truck was recently stolen and destroyed by addicts in Bakersfield, where he works as a firefighter and puts out fires every day that are set by the homeless. This is a problem!)

The diversity of guests on the Dishcast has been mind-expanding. In this episode I was reminded of John McWhorter’s claims about woke as the new religion. It seems as though homeless men, especially if they are racial minorities, have become sacred cows for progressives.

I think there are some more achievable policy solutions than strengthening communities and social relationships, however. This article from the California Globe highlights some concrete things that could be done by redirecting the massive resources already going to homelessness.

Here’s a clip of my conversation with Sam about the meth crisis:

Another reader remarks:

I loved your interview with Quinones. For one thing, I love his speaking style — many false starts and revisions, as he looks at the subject from many perspectives, going several directions before going ahead. (It’s my style as well.) I think it’s characteristic of many thoughtful people, but they don’t always get a chance to speak. The episode makes me want to read his book.

Another reader:

Thank you for introducing Sam Quinones to those of us who haven’t read his books. You and he shed so much light on the relationship between the large and ever-expanding encampments and meth and fentanyl use. He was able to explain the rapid expansion, which had been the most mysterious aspect of the issue for me.

We have always had homelessness, but not like what we see today. It’s a different thing altogether. I used to think that taking the profit motive out of drugs and decriminalizing them would reduce the problem, but I think I heard the opposite from Quinones. I also was unaware of the meth issue among gay men. The gay men I socialize with don’t talk about it, but maybe they are not having the problem (we are boomers).

Here’s a snippet of the convo on gays and meth:

A recommendation from a reader:

For those who are interested, there is a documentary on gay men and meth on Amazon Prime that is quite devastating to watch. (I’m not affiliated with Amazon, just passing along some info.)

Yes — but it’s from 2014! We could use an updated one. From a reader with first-hand experience with the meth crisis:

Overall, your perspective on crystal meth addiction in the gay male community is spot on. I was able to hide it for years, until one day I was unable to do so, and it caught up with me. Exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, I found myself unable to stop, as meth allowed me to cope with the isolation and other traumas. 

What I don’t think was discussed by you or Sam in his book are some positive steps towards recovery that many have found. First, the community of Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA) moved itself online at the start of the pandemic and now continues to offer hundreds of meetings each week, in addition to in-person meetings across the world. I regularly find addicts are unaware of CMA and have trouble relating to those they find in AA or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. 

Second, some of us have found support against meth cravings through the use of the anti-depressant mirtazapine. There has been a small clinical trial. While not a panacea for meth addiction, I have met others who have found recovery through its use, along with a combination of regular attendance of recovery meetings.

A reader who practices medicine in California touches on some themes that Shellenberger and I discussed:

I wonder if you’re aware of the pressure put on physicians in the past to prescribe opiates. More than a decade ago, complaints of pain were termed “the fifth vital sign.” About that time the California medical board issued “guidelines” about dealing with complaints of pain. These were interpreted as meaning you could get in trouble with your licensing board if someone complained that you were unwilling to give them dope.

Drug-seeking behavior has been a problem for clinicians forever. If the patient gets the desired controlled substance, there’s the added advantage that you get your drugs free, or for minimal copays. It’s found in all practices and is always unpleasant unless you give in to what the patient wants. It certainly is the easiest thing to do. They get their prescription and leave.

(There are any number of legitimate uses for opioids, of course. I’m not discounting the pain of someone with terminal cancer. I’m talking about patients with chronic complaints of pain with no objective findings to explain the complaints.)

Responsible medical practice requires that you not prescribe in bad faith. If I don’t believe what I’m told, I am not to prescribe controlled substances. There are many tells an experienced physician can see. Sometimes you’re told things that require you to suppress a laugh — for example, a man with multiple skin abscess from skin popping was “attacked by a swarm of bees.”

This isn’t about being judgmental. It’s about not doing harm.

In my area, officials are working on getting addicts permanent housing — “the problem is housing” — complete with “wrap around” services. Addicts are free to continue using once we get them housed. It didn’t work when they were living with mom and dad, so why should it work in the hotel rooms we’re buying? None of those responsible for making policy seem to have considered that their approach may very well make it easier to continue the addiction. With the best of intentions, I think it likely that the current approach will lead to more harm. 

Incidentally, housing addicts in California has become a very big business.  Somebody is benefitting, even if it isn’t the addicted.

Several readers below share their personal perspective after reading my latest column, “Woke: On the Wrong Side of History.” The first:

Thanks for the fantastic essay. It really hit home for me as a Puerto Rican advancing through middle age, since so much has changed regarding race perspectives in my lifetime. Not only is the left (of which I count myself a member, sadly) on the wrong side of history, its most influential leaders are gobsmackingly ignorant of it. Hispanic support for Trump would not be such a shocking phenomenon for the left if it spent more time learning Hispanic history and less time trying to pretend Hispanics are all oppressed POCs wallowing in misery, desperately waiting for all-knowing lefty superheroes to liberate us from the shackles of white supremacy.

Regarding your comments on Hispanics being “white adjacent” and your observation that “even within the CRT category of ‘brown,’ there are those who identify as white,” those are the key insights pointing towards a history that the left has either forgotten or refuses to recall: Nearly all Hispanic immigrants to the US hail from former colonies that had been ruled by Spain, a European (i.e., WHITE) country. As such, the history of these immigrants has nothing to do with the 1619 Project and very little to do with Anglo white supremacy; rather, these immigrant cultures were informed by a white perspective of the Latin variety.

The Spanish imperial project (can you believe there ever existed a mean, horribly oppressive empire that spoke Spanish) was similar to that of the British, though it differed significantly because the Spanish did not aggressively police interracial mixing among whites, blacks, and natives. It was discouraged enough such that whites remained at the top of the hierarchy (which remains the case to this day), but a mixed-raced person could advance in Spanish society further than a “pure” black or indigenous person, especially if that person celebrated Spanish heritage, culture and so forth.

Over time there have developed large cohorts of Latin American Hispanics who identify as white (irrespective of how they may present to Anglos) because Hispanic culture historically rewarded celebrations of European ancestry and identity without regard to a “one drop” rule. These people simply do NOT identify as “oppressed” POCs and, if anything, identify as the descendants of great white conquering “oppressors.” None of this changes when they immigrate to the US. Putting the moral questions regarding these developments aside, these identities are real and widespread and the Democratic left needs to understand them, rather than wish them away because they complicate the “Black and brown” narrative.

There are data to back up my little history review. In the 2020 US Census, the government offered Hispanics more racial categories, such as “multi-racial” and “other,” in an attempt to steer them away from selecting white as a default option. Out of a total of 60 million Hispanics in the US, 20 percent still opted to choose white as the only selection for their race! That millions of Hispanics still identify as white ought to tell the left something about what they are getting wrong with this “brown” approach, namely that attempting to shoehorn an entire group made up of multiple races and backgrounds into one “oppressed” POC category is a fool’s errand.  

Another reader points to a form of privilege not appreciated enough:

I came from Cuba in mid-1960s at the age of 9 with no knowledge of English. My parents never learned English. By age 12 or 13, I had learned enough English so that friends of my parents would bring me their job applications and other forms to fill out. I was often impatient in doing that, something I deeply now regret. To me, the major privilege now isn’t color of skin, but knowing English and having American citizenship.

People from Central America, South America, and Caribbean don’t think of themselves in terms of being part of an identity tectonic plate. They think of themselves in terms of the country from which they come. They begin to classify themselves as Hispanic, or Latina/o, or the revolting “Latinx,” as an Anglo heuristic.  (“Latinx,” in my opinion, is left-wing linguistic neo-colonialism.)

By the way, when I went through diversity training at a very, very large, prestigious bank, among the microaggressions listed was, “Telling someone they speak English well.”

Another reader sizes up the two parties philosophically:

A friend recently insisted that the GOP has a form of nationalism that he described as “Country Music Nationalism,” which consists of “long neck beers, freedom, pickup trucks, flags, guns, farms, open roads.” A few of us pushed back, saying it’s not a positive narrative from the GOP, but a negative one (fear of foreigners, of snobs, of moral decay etc), and that patriotism is the confabulated positive version of it. Fear — in its Trumpian “they’re sending their rapists and murderers” form — is the narrative core.

We then realized the Dems are also obsessed with the past, but not in a good way: its sins. The past is not a golden age to return to, but the source of all our current ills and our doomed future. The 1619 Project isn’t a track record of the massive progress we’ve made as a civilization, nor even how much we have left to do, but about how we are permanently tarnished and broken. We ultimately boiled it down to two messages:

GOP: “The present is bad, our past was good. Return.”Dems: “Our past sins have doomed our future. Recant.”

The GOP narrative has a direction, even if it’s the wrong one, and will ultimately continue to win until the Dems have a vision of the future that’s not just righteous indignation and self-abasement. The true tragedy is that we’re all moving into the future. To have two parties who are terrified of it, instead of excited and inspired by it, does not bode well for us no matter who “wins.”



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Dec 17, 2021
David Wallace-Wells On Omicron And COP26
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The Covid news keeps coming, and I wanted to understand it better, especially as Omicron makes its way across the Atlantic, and as vaccine effectiveness declines. Who better to talk to than David Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine’s Covid specialist and environmental correspondent? He was on the Dishcast early this year, before the vaccines arrived, and he’s about as honest a broker on the pandemic as anyone. I also asked him to debrief Dishheads on the upshot of COP26, the recent Climate Change conference in Glasgow. I learned a lot — about the waste of solar panels and the potential of nuclear power to help us get past carbon more quickly.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips my conversation with David — on his sobering assessment of the vaccines against Delta, and on Biden’s bumbling on Covid pills and testing — head over to our YouTube page.

A reader looks back to last week’s episode:

I just listened to your podcast with Christina Sommers and Danielle Crittenden, and was pretty struck by your conversation with David Frum regarding President Biden. I’m a strong Biden supporter and am quite sanguine on his chances in 2024 (yes, I believe he will run if his health permits), so you can imagine I was more partial to Frum’s argument. But I’m wondering about your diagnosis of the prospects of his presidency. Do you think his situation is irreversible?

You can point to any number of two-term presidents in recent memory and find a moment in time where, if the election were held on a given day, the president would badly lose re-election. I wasn’t around for Reagan’s presidency, but didn’t things look pretty terrible for him in early 1983? A Harris poll taken in early January of ‘83 had Mondale trouncing Reagan. FiveThirtyEight has Reagan hitting the mid-30s around that time, quite a bit lower than where Biden is now. Before that, by mid-1982, he was where Biden is now, polling-wise.

You could say the same of Bill Clinton’s first two years. It strikes me that few mention his inglorious dip into the mid-30s only a few months into his term, again per 538. Then there were Clinton’s low-40s averages heading into the 1994 elections, the collapse of one of his signature legislative pushes, and his infamous drubbing at the hands of Newt Gingrich. Was it considered likely at the time that he would skate to re-election just two years later?

I feel like citing H.W. Bush’s soaring public approvals in his first three years and his incredible collapse in 1992 is a cliché at this point. And of course Obama had his highs and lows, and spent much of 2011 treading water roughly where Biden is now in terms of his poll numbers — to say nothing of his total collapse after his first debate with Romney and rapid climb back to the lead just in time to clinch re-election (yes, I was around for your reaction to that!).

I guess my question is, knowing that ultimately successful presidents can recover from political lows and have, why do I get the sense that you think Biden’s condition is terminal?

Because of his age and declining abilities. This is no reflection on him: he’s pretty remarkable for a 79 year old. But his speeches lack fire and focus; he’s background noise in our politics; he keeps making gaffes, including a rather dangerous one on declaring support for Ukraine; he has allowed himself to be defined, fairly or not, by the far left. Cognitive ability declines sharply around 60. In 2028, which would be Biden’s final year in office if re-elected, he’d be 86, my mother’s age. Yes, Trump would be 82. But Trump has the energy and passion of the mentally ill — and I just can’t see Biden matching that even now, let alone in nearly a decade’s time.

Another reader sounds the alarm for Biden and his party when it comes to America’s schools:

The NYT posted this today (“Schools Are Closing Classrooms on Fridays. Parents Are Furious.), and I suspect it’s going to be the main theme in the midterm elections: parents and schools. We saw this play out in Virginia and NJ last month and it seems to be intensifying.

Here in Portland, there is a serious battle going on with the Teachers Association and the school district. The teachers have proposed making Fridays a self-learning day for the remainder of the year. The school district is pushing back, particularly based on parent backlash. And the Oregonian newspaper has come out against the proposal as well.

I think everyone sympathizes that teachers are undergoing an extremely difficult time, particularly with all the behavioral issues kids are having. But I can tell you that every parent I know is gobsmacked at the thought of returning back to online learning. There have to be other solutions. We can’t go back to having kids at home. 

I don’t think this has fully resonated with Democratic politicians, even after the backlash last month. While there’s been a lot of focus on CRT, just the fact of what parents have been dealing with the past 18 months of schools closings has been such a nightmare. I think this NYMag article was spot on about how blind the Democrats were to this issue, especially in New Jersey. This February article in The Nation about the situation on the West Coast was haunting and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

I don’t want to compare myself to other people, but as a parent, the past 18 months have been the hardest of my life. Every day is just holding things together and the impacts to kids are going to be felt for many years. What I’m just stunned about is how absent the Democratic leaders are on this issue. There’s a rage amongst parents right now that we feel unheard and are desperate. I feel like we’re headed towards a blowout midterm election that’s going to exceed what happened to the Democrats in 1994. And you can’t say they weren’t warned.

Tyler Cowen predicts that even a mild wave of Omicron will cause chaos in the schools. I remain unimpressed by the cheering-up we’ve been exposed to recently about Biden’s future. Inflation is at a 40-year high; the Southern border is chaotic; we are still losing around 400,000 Americans a year to Covid and 100,000 to fentanyl and other opioids. Murder rates are through the roof — and are exacerbated by Democratic DAs refusing to prosecute violent criminals and keep them off the streets. Trump, meanwhile, has cemented his hold on an increasingly deranged GOP. Yes, there’s a long way to go. Yes, things can turn around. Yes, some strong aspects of the economy will become clearer over time, if we’re lucky.

But if you think this administration isn’t in serious trouble, you’re dreaming.

Next up, a collection of reader comments on last week’s column, “Why Roe Will Fall And Obergefell Won’t,” continued from our main page this week. First a dissent:

I hope you’re right that Obergefell won’t fall, but I have my doubts. Three of the Justices who voted against Obergefell — a narrow 5-4 decision, compared to Roe’s 7-2 — are still on the Court: Roberts, Alito and Thomas (and Roberts wrote a pretty scathing dissent). Do you really think that there aren’t two of the new Justices (good Catholics all) who wouldn’t join the three still there to overturn the Obergefell decision? And you really believe that public opinion will change their long-held beliefs that not only is gay marriage wrong but probably that gay relationships are too?

I have no reason to think that John Roberts believes that gay marriage and gay relationships are wrong. I scoured Google but didn’t come up with anything. Alito seems quite hostile on religious grounds, but it seems important to me to distinguish constitutional arguments with moral ones. Another dissent:

As you know, the modern consensus on substantive due process posits that people have unenumerated fundamental rights in the Constitution that courts are obligated to protect. It’s the principle that undergirds everything from Griswold v. Connecticut to Roe to Lawrence v. Texas to Obergefell.

Right now there are six legal originalists on the Court who simply believe this consensus to be based on a flawed premise. If the Constitution is silent on the issue, be it abortion or same-sex marriage, they believe it’s a political question that must be handled by legislatures. To them, it doesn’t matter if the political issue at hand is popular (like gay marriage). If a majority on the Court feels the whole root of Roe is rotten, why wouldn’t they want to cut down the whole tree? Alito and Thomas have already indicated they want to revisit Obergefell, after all.

That’s why I find your position so naive. The conservative movement has been candid that once Roe goes, and the legal concept of substantive due process with it, they intend to do away with the rest of those domestic political issues we consider settled. A few months ago, for example, the Texas solicitor general submitted an amicus brief suggesting that the Court leave Lawrence and Obergefellhanging by a thread,” adding that those two rulings, “while far less hazardous to human life, are as lawless as Roe.

Furthermore, the pro-life movement openly espouses that certain forms of popular contraception (namely the birth control pill and IUDs) constitute abortifacients and should be banned. When the Court overturns Roe, red-state legislatures will redefine fetal personhood to begin at conception, which could functionally ban those forms of contraception.

So the issue is not just abortion, which may or may not be morally unique. It is the entire platform of “social ills” that the religious right believes are morally indistinguishable from abortion.

A big question with marriage equality, unlike abortion, is that hundreds of thousands of couples are now legally married. That’s a lot of facts on the ground that cannot be abolished overnight. Undoing those civil marriages would be a nightmare; and simply drawing a line under them, and banning all future marriages seems downright bizarre. It’s not impossible. And maybe I’m too complacent. But I think it’s a log shot.

This next reader gets more personal:

I agree with you that abortion is an incredibly complex ethical issue, and the tendency of some on the far left to treat it as no different from a trip to the dentist is facile and off-putting.

However. I’m a woman who has willingly had three children, and it’s hard to put into words the visceral horror inspired by the thought of being forced to go through pregnancy and birth against your will. Opponents of abortion tend to gloss over that bit with the “just adopt” argument. Pregnancy — and particularly the birth itself — can damage your body in ways that last the rest of your life. Incontinence, prolapse, and serious perineal tears are all routine.

In fact, for most healthy women, pregnancy and birth will be the most risky medical event in their lives. Some women do still die in childbirth in America — especially poor and black women, who will be overwhelmingly the most affected if Roe is overturned. We all know that if abortion rights become state by state, rich women will have no trouble traveling to procure an abortion; it will be poor women who pay the price.

Forcing a woman to bring a pregnancy to term is inhumane and unacceptable — even if it is the will of the majority of people in conservative states.

Another reader points to “one missed nuance in your good Roe/Obergefell piece”:

When you write, “when it does not concern an easily-outvoted minority,” and when you explain why abortion isn’t strictly a “women’s issue,” you elide something that needs confronting. Abortion does in fact concern an easily-outvoted minority: women currently of childbearing age at any given time. And an even smaller minority: women actually pregnant and affected by the question in a way no one else is.

I do believe that abortion is a taking of human life, and it’s a moral question that concerns us all. (I would say the same of warfare.) However, I’m reluctant for majorities to have unfettered say over a contested moral choice that affects the one person making it (or barred from making it) in such a fundamentally different way from the others who may vote on it without consequence to themselves.

I don’t assert that the Constitution confers the right of the pregnant woman to be the complete arbiter of her own choice, or the complete arbiter of her unborn child’s right to life. But I do feel her ethical claim on that position is the strongest one. I would limit the voice of the community to defining limits — for instance, the tradition-supported idea of “quickening,” or the Roe-imposed idea of “viability,” or the right-supported idea of waiting periods for enforced reflection on the choice. 

I think the Roe court used some particularly unfortunate and contrived reasoning, and I agree that it contributed to a grievous period of political polarization over an institution that historically helped us avoid that very ill. But the court’s conclusion was correct.

That’s pretty close to my own position. Another reader worries about the Court going much further than overturning Roe:

I’m pro-choice. If all the Supreme Court does is overturn Roe, I’d call it an extremely good day for the pro-choice movement.

What’s the point of being anti-abortion and learning that the Court overturned Roe, only to find that some states decide to make it cheap and easy to have abortions —either because it’s truly the will of the people, or because they cynically found a way to get huge revenues out of a “come-one, come-all” policy? Do you think anyone on the anti-choice side would be happy if “states rights” and the “will of the people” prevailed and the number of overall abortions remained steady?

So I don’t think that Roe will be overturned, or even very limited, if the Court cannot find a way to ban all abortions everywhere.

The bad news is I think there is a way. The conservative justices could use the logic of the so-called Human Life Amendments, one of which failed an initiative vote in Mississippi. The justices could find a 14th Amendment personhood right in the fetus and issue a total ban on abortions. If the fetus is a person, and especially if a viable fetus is a person, then well, you can’t kill people. And if you can’t figure out when viability begins, then you have to say that viability begins at procreation.  Goodbye Roe. Goodbye Griswold. Hello using the entire police power to prevent abortions.

Another reader backs my argument that Roe is very vulnerable when compared to Obergefell:

The parallels between laws regulating abortion and sexuality restrictions were drawn by Yale Law Professor John Hart Ely rather shortly after Roe was decided (emphasis mine):

[O]rdinarily the Court claims no mandate to second-guess legislative balances, at least not when the Constitution has designated neither of the values in conflict as entitled to special protection. But even assuming it would be a good idea for the Court to assume this function, Roe seems a curious place to have begun. Laws prohibiting the use of “soft” drugs or, even more obviously, homosexual acts between consenting adults can stunt “the preferred life styles” of those against whom enforcement is threatened in very serious ways. It is clear such acts harm no one besides the participants, and indeed the case that the participants are harmed is a rather shaky one.

Yet such laws survive, on the theory that there exists a societal consensus that the behavior involved is revolting or at any rate immoral. Of course the consensus is not universal but it is sufficient, and this is what is counted crucial, to get the laws passed and keep them on the books. Whether anti-abortion legislation cramps the life style of an unwilling mother more significantly than anti-homosexuality legislation cramps the life style of a homosexual is a close question. But even granting that it does, the other side of the balance looks very different. For there is more than simple societal revulsion to support legislation restricting abortion: Abortion ends (or if it makes a difference, prevents) the life of a human being other than the one making the choice.

I recommend the entire piece.

Another recommendation:

I wonder if you’ve come across Ronald Dworkin’s piece “Slow and Steady,” where he compares and contrasts the issue of abortion to that of gay marriage. Dworkin suggests that because opinions on gay marriage were allowed to evolve largely through the political process (a state-by-state basis), it allowed social change to be achieved in a manner where a new consensus was established and the broader institution of marriage for gays was secured, by and large, through POLITICAL consensus and legislation, as opposed to judicial fiat. He contrasts this with abortion, arguing that with Roe,

a universal right to abortion was speculated into existence and applied to the whole country. A theory imagined out of thin air, or at least from a novel interpretation of the Constitution, replaced the slow but steady process of acclimatization that goes hand in hand with accepted social change. For many conservatives the move seemed tyrannical; more important, it infuriated millions of religious Protestants, who adopted the new “family values” motto. The country has been fighting over abortion ever since.

He goes on to suggest that the issue has become so polarising precisely because opinions were not able to evolve through the legislative process but was short-circuited by SCOTUS, thereby radicalising the Christian Right.

I think you’re right: Roe is probably gone in all but name (and possibly completely overturned), which won’t bring us back to the days of the backstreet abortionists or abortions via coat-hangers, but will evolve on a state-by-state basis. Yes, that means it will disproportionately impact poor people and people of colour. At the same time, it’s worth noting that the American abortion laws today are more liberal than almost every other country in Europe. As Gerry Baker notes in the Times of London:

The Mississippi act before the court would do no more, in fact, than bring that state’s law into line with the prevailing legal conditions for abortion in 39 of 42 European countries, including such notorious abusers of women as Germany and Denmark. So the idea that the present legal framework in the US is the only way to protect a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion … is palpable nonsense, and demonstrated to be so by the practice of at least 191 other countries that don’t resemble the Republic of Gilead.

So, yes, it will be a messy process and it may well be the case that the Supreme Court takes a huge hit. But even Ruth Bader Ginsburg recognised that the legal reasoning behind Roe was highly flawed, so perhaps this will be a case of reculer pour mieux sauter.

This next reader is confident that abortion will remain legal because of the huge cultural shift toward premarital sex:

I think that both Roe and Obergefell reflect changes in attitudes about sexual morality. As of 1960, premarital sex was still widely viewed as wrong. For a young unmarried woman to get pregnant was getting “caught” doing this wrong thing, and abortion was a cover-up. Laws against abortion were consistent with reinforcing the norm against premarital sex. 

Very rapidly during the 1960s, premarital sex became widely accepted. To the extent that laws outlawing abortion are punishment for premarital sex, they punish something that is no longer considered a crime. I think that tolerance for premarital sex is what made Roe possible, and I don’t see that changing.  

Today, I would speculate that the minority who are adamantly anti-abortion are comparable in numbers to the minority who are adamantly against gay sex. The anti-abortion forces are better organized and more relentless, and of course they understand that they cannot base their case on hostility to premarital sex. But they are very much outside of the mainstream. If Roe falls, I predict that the political fallout will be bad for anti-abortion politicians. They are better off seen as unsuccessfully flailing against the courts than seen as taking us back to the infanticide of  “Ode to Billie Joe.

Another reader challenges the “choice” rhetoric of those supporting abortion:

One aspect of the “pro-life” vs “pro-choice” debate I never really see considered is what “choice” exactly are we talking about as being relevant to the discussion. The vast majority of abortions occur following a “choice” to have consensual sex, whereby getting pregnant is a real outcome no matter what sort of contraception you use. This study indicates something in the order of 1% of abortions are due to nonconsensual sex/rape. I’m not trying to belittle all the other reasons for having an abortion, but the fact is the vast majority are due to consensual sex.

Inherent in the choice two people make to have consensual sex is the real possibility that pregnancy may be a result. Surely this is (or should be) understood and receive a greater emphasis in public dialogue, regardless of how inconvenient the consequence is. I guess I would argue that if you aren’t willing to accept the outcomes of “rolling the dice,” perhaps you shouldn’t be rolling the dice in the first place. To me, this is part of a wider issue in society where people could benefit from taking more responsibility for their actions rather than trying to offload consequences or look for quick fixes.

Well, yes. Point well taken. I do think that the serious pro-life position would be super enthusiastic about making birth control far more accessible to avoid unplanned pregnancies. And yet, my own church takes the polar opposite approach. Another socially conservative view:

Another reason why the abortion debate is messy is that it strikes at the heart of familial responsibility. To many people, asking a mother to endure nine months of pregnancy isn’t that different from forcing a father to endure say 18 years of blood and sweat working in a factory so that he can pay child support. All child-support laws, essentially, make the parental body an indirect resource for the familial child. 

“Pro-choice” is tantamount to saying absent fathers should have the ability, during pregnancy, to opt-out of child support laws if they choose, all without the women’s say. If that sounds disgusting, you are now closer to the instinctive reaction many have to pro-choice abortion laws in general. Abortion fundamentally destroys family obligation.

Another reader on the role of men:

My reasons for agreeing that abortion is not strictly a women’s issue is that the decision to bring a baby into the world affects an entire family: the father of the child that may be born, of course, but also what would be the siblings (at least half of women having abortions are already mothers), and any relatives who may need to support the woman, which may be a male relative. It is for this reason I think it has been a huge mistake for pro-choice activists to tell men they can sit this one out.

While I could find no statistics about the number of men who are grateful that their unplanned pregnancies were able to be terminated, I’m confident that most men are very happy they were not forced into fatherhood (or into being grandfathers or uncles, for that matter). My husband definitely feels this way about the abortion his ex-girlfriend had. 

A final reader digs into some interesting history behind the word “person”:

Your column contained a throwaway statement that it’s “unknowable” when the fetus becomes a person. When I am talking about abortion with non-believers, I always use the term “human being” rather than “person” because words carry their origins and baggage around with them, and the word “person” was invented or recast by the Catholic Church to define relations among the Three Persons of the Trinity.  

You may know all this already, but under Roman law, a “person” was a Roman citizen. The word “person” derived from a word meaning “mask” or (by extension) “public role.” You were a person when the state recognized you as such. Because slaves were not legal persons, “personhood” was part of a caste system in which legal status became confused with humanity. Slaves were not legal citizens, and so it was easy to think of them as also less than human.

In the controversy over Christ’s nature that occasioned the Council of Nicaea, the Roman term “persona” was recast to mean something more like what we call “personhood.” This was to help explain that God was Three Persons but One God. It was much richer philosophically and theologically than the Roman term. 

Thus the Christian concept of “person” entered Western culture and Western law. Christianity teaches that every human “person” is an image of God — and furthermore, that all human beings are, in fact, human persons. This second statement is not automatically derived from the first according to human reasons alone, since pagan cultures did in fact consider some human beings “sub-human” and/or not legally “persons.”

So that’s why I don’t use the term when talking about abortion to non-believers. I prefer to anchor the right to life in the rights of all “human beings,” which is more of a Greek philosophical term without as much theological baggage. I believe human rights accrue to all human beings from the moment of conception, period. So whether or not we know “when” a human being “becomes a person,” we DO know (because science has told us without equivocation) when an individual human life begins. You’re probably familiar with some of the quotes by embryologists at this link, regarding when human life begins.

Those who get hung up on “personhood” often confuse it with sentience or consciousness, which opens some ugly doors regarding whether people in a coma, with brain damage, or genetic conditions such as Down syndrome are “persons.” Just look at what Justice Sotomayor said recently comparing fetuses to brain-dead people.

In short, for persuasion purposes I would rather locate the universal right to life in being human rather than in “personhood,” even though I agree that human persons are images of God and thus sacred. I would rather make others argue why some human beings are less than human or don’t deserve human rights, than make them argue that they are human but aren’t legal “persons.”

I take the point. I use the word “person” in the modern Catholic sense: an inviolable, unique soul in a unique body. That’s also why I was so struck when the Catholic hierarchy applied the term to homosexuals.



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Dec 10, 2021
Femsplainers (+ Frum) On Culture Wars, Covid, Russiagate

I’ve been meaning to invite Christina Sommers and Danielle Crittenden on the pod since they first had me on theirs, Femsplainers, a few years ago. This week we talked about men and women, trans and cis, gay and straight, and they drank rosé and I smoked half a joint, as we did on their pod.

For two clips of our conversation — on whether more women staying home during Covid was a good thing, and on how gender nonconformity is often a source of strength — head over to our YouTube page. You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed.

At the last minute, we re-invited to the pod Danielle’s husband, David Frum, because we both wanted to hash out our differences over the Trump-Russia media coverage. (We first debated the issue ten months ago, and my column last week was in response to his latest in the Atlantic.) I think we may have made some progress in finessing where we differ, and why. But you be the judge. Things got a bit heated here:

Meanwhile, readers continue to hash out the intricacies of Russiagate in a series of dissents that continue from our main page. First up:

David Frum has a really good summary of the evidentiary record, excluding the Steele Dossier, showing that cooperation with Russia did occur. In your response, you basically agree that he’s right about everything and just try to define the media narrative as something greater than that and say it hasn’t been proven. It would take another thousand words to explain all the ways in which this doesn’t work. (It can’t be collusion because he already liked Russia?? Really?!! Sanctions imposed under duress and then deliberately undermined prove he’s not guilty? Huh?!!)

From my point of view, you’re engaged in a hair-splitting exercise in denial. I guarantee that Rachel Maddow and others in the liberal media are not backing down from the idea that Trump and Russia may have colluded, cooperated, or coordinated (all three are bad), because they continue to see evidence that it’s true, regardless of the dossier — which has really been more of a distraction.

Another reader begins by quoting me:

“But this was not what the MSM tried to sell us from the get-go. What they and the Democrats argued — with endless, breathless, high-drama reporting — was that there was some kind of plot between Trump and Russia to rig the election and it had succeeded. Investigating this was hugely important because it could expose near-treason and instantly remove Trump from power via impeachment. This was the dream to cope with the nightmare.”

Andrew, read this NYT article: it seems that Don Jr. actually *did* meet with a Russian attorney, who promised documents that would embarrass Clinton, and the Russian government *did* hack into the Clinton campaign’s emails and did release those emails, and Trump himself asked the Russians (on national TV) to release more emails. And of course, Trump actually won the election, and the Russian intelligence service’s email dump may well have pushed Trump over the finish line, so it’s hard to argue that the Russian campaign wasn’t a success. So I’m trying to figure out exactly what the MSM got wrong here.

The only thing I can think of is that you think that the MSM actually accused the Trump campaign of initiating the hack of the Clinton campaign emails. But I can’t find any evidence that they did say that. In the article above, for example, the Times specifically says: “The precise nature of the promised damaging information about Mrs. Clinton is unclear, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was related to Russian-government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails.”

In reality, of course, the Trump campaign contributed nothing to the Russian hacking beyond making it clear that should Trump win the election, there would be no retribution for influencing our election — which could be the campaign’s biggest contribution to the Russian hacking.

So, if you’re going to accuse the MSM of actually going further, please define what further actually means, and then, please, come up with a link to at least *one* article from CNN, NYT or the Washington Post to such an article. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable ask.

Another reader raises more question:

David Frum’s piece begins by setting a low bar, by his own admission, listing only those matters acknowledged by everyone. It leaves out other matters that are equally interesting, and it makes it fair to turn your question back around to you. If Trump really wasn’t guilty of outright treason or near-treason in his dealings with Russia, then:

* Why was he desperate to fire Mueller?

* Why did he meet privately with Putin on one occasion, barring his own translator, and on another, entertain the Russian ambassador and foreign minister in the Oval Office, with few or no witnesses?

* Why did he make a craven public spectacle of himself standing next to the president of a hostile foreign power, raising the issue of election interference, and saying he believed him?

* Why did he briefly consider turning the former US ambassador to Russia over to the Russians for questioning?

Do you not find these matters worth considering, even though they weren’t cited by Frum? No less a Trump minion than Steve Bannon called the Trump tower meeting “treasonous” and commented further that “There’s no way [Don Jr. and his associates] didn’t take [the Russian visitor] up to the 26th floor to meet Dad.”

In the end, you seem to take refuge in the overused dodge, “But you see, Trump is too dumb to be a conspirator, so it’s really OK, and there’s nothing to see here.”

1. He wanted to fire Mueller because he cannot bear any rival authority, especially one with the power to subpoena. Show me an investigation Trump has not tried to obstruct. 2. No idea but this is again asking Trump to prove a negative. 3. Because he genuinely admires Putin more than the CIA. 4. Don’t know. But I’m not sure considering something and then not doing it is some kind of gotcha.

Another reader looks to Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chair:

In your response to Frum, I’m mostly in agreement with you, but one line gave me a pause: “Manafort’s delivery of polling data to Moscow was deeply shifty.”

I highly recommend you check out Aaron Maté’s deep dive on this particular point over at Real Clear Investigations. Mueller did not conclude that Kilimnik was a Russian agent, nor did he charge Manafort with sharing polling data. The Senate Intelligence Committee and Biden’s Treasury Department have claimed that — but without any public evidence to show for it. They didn’t even interview Kilimnik, who is a Ukrainian-American, a longtime associate of Manafort, and a former U.S. State Department asset. According to him and Rick Gates, the polling data was old, top-line, and mostly available to the public. This is a far cry from the collusion we were promised at the outset of the Mueller investigation, and it’s the only remaining “smoking gun” that the press still clings to.

I understand why Frum would never mention these facts, but they’re the most important part of this whole affair, in my humble opinion. The Steele Dossier was used by the FBI to illegally spy on the Trump campaign and later administration, while some of the biggest names in U.S. intelligence and law enforcement were pushing the “Trump is a Russian agent” conspiracy theory: Brennan, Clapper, and to a lesser extent Comey and Hayden. It was the systematic delegitimization of the 2016 election by everyone who hated Trump for personal and policy reasons.

Frum aims directly at so-called anti-anti-Trump journalists, because these folks happen to be the most civil libertarian-minded people I know on the Left. And they were right about this whole investigation, just by being skeptical from the beginning.

Another reader argues that perception is reality — a reality that Trump himself created:

While some of us did indeed wait for, and hope for, a “smoking gun” that would prove a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Putin’s government, I think you’re assuming a connection that the MSM (to use an impossibly vague generalization) didn’t explicitly make. We know Trump openly welcomed Russian interference in the 2016 election on his behalf. Mueller confirmed more than a hundred unexplained meetings between the Trump campaign and Russian actors, some of them known spies. And as he infamously demonstrated in Helsinki in 2018, Trump participated in covering up his connections to Russia during the campaign and well after the election.

But was that enough to determine the outcome of the election? No one can determinatively say, and I seriously doubt it, but that’s really beside the point. Putin didn’t make Trump an illegitimate president. Trump did that himself by publicly behaving like we’d expect a Russian asset to behave, and intentionally creating the appearance that he was up to something behind the scenes — like his seizing of his interpreter’s notes after his first private meeting with Putin.

Was his obsequious flattery of Putin and lying about his ties to Russia motivated by “kompromat”? Irrelevant. His behavior was his behavior. Why did he side with Putin over the findings of American intelligence? Because he had secret business dealings with Russia? (He did.) Or because he wanted to provoke and outrage “the libs”?

It really doesn’t matter. We aren’t talking (at this point) about criminal “reasonable doubt” standards in a court of law. We’re looking at politics in the court of public opinion. And in politics, the appearance of impropriety is what matters. Trump openly displayed his contempt for the American system of self-government and the rule of law, and with that lawless disregard for our constitutional checks and balances alone he forfeited legitimacy in the eyes of millions, regardless of how they voted in 2016. He built his political career on the tabloid scandal of “birtherism,” then complained when political opponents painted him with the same brush.

As for the Steele Dossier, you’ll recall that it wasn’t made known to the public until after Buzzfeed leaked the whole thing in January 2017 — well after the election. Not only was nothing in it ever used by the Clinton campaign as “oppo research” (a practice Trump himself defended in regard to the Trump Tower “dirt on Hillary” meeting), but it was never used in any of the charges brought against Trump campaign officials.

I think you’re right about the embarrassment and defensive motivations of many in the press after Trump won. That was clearly on display. But it doesn’t explain Trump’s behavior — like his lifting of sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in 2019. Trump himself rarely offered any reasons for his actions — they always came down to “I did it because I can,” even when he couldn’t. He left it up to the rest of us to fill in the gaps he stubbornly refused to account for himself.

It’s worth reiterating here that Trump’s behavior in all this, as in everything, was objectively appalling. My point is simply that that just doesn’t mean he’s guilty the way so many made him out to be.

Another reader frowns at Mueller:

Your condemnation of MSM is inconsistent with your accurate view of Trump. As a former federal prosecutor, it is hardly anomalous, let alone improper, to believe that Trump’s conflicts, pathological lying, motive, and shady past operated to render him particularly susceptible to Russian kompromat. It is not improper to believe that his repeated efforts to obstruct justice, including efforts to have witnesses lie, confirmed the notion that he had colluded with Russian assistance in the election. 

The failure to find a smoking gun confirming a federal conspiracy beyond any doubt does not mean it (or collusion, for which there is political consequence but no statutory prohibition) did not happen, or that those who claimed it had were craven opponents blinded by their own prejudice. 

Alone among suspects, Trump was treated with unique deference by Robert Mueller. Mueller did not force him to testify (where, Trump’s lawyers realized, he would have either lied or taken the fifth); he applied a very narrow view of conspiracy law that ignored or at the very least downplayed the enormous circumstantial evidence you yourself cite; and he used the DOJ policy against prosecuting sitting presidents as the basis for refusing to conclude, as all the evidence proved, that Trump had obstructed justice. 

Those in the MSM who were, as you put it, “breathless” in expecting Trump’s imminent downfall no doubt failed to consider the possibility that Mueller’s narrow approach would provide Trump a political escape hatch. But they cannot be condemned for “overkill” given the wealth of evidence that did exist.

Lastly, on a different subject, a somber note from a reader:

I hope you and yours are enjoying a blessed Thanksgiving. In case you hadn’t already heard, Maj. Ian Fishback just had an untimely death. It was your coverage and praise of his moral courage back in the blog days that brought him to my attention, and the same is likely true for many others. I hadn’t heard news of him in years; didn’t know that he went on to pursue postgraduate studies; and certainly didn’t know of his mental health struggles. Our society, our country, and certainly the Veterans Administration owe heroes like Maj. Fishback MUCH better than he received. May we all do better, and may his memory be an inspiration.

That’s a gut-punch. We so easily forget the trauma and psychological impact of serving in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially for a man like Fishback who also had to witness his peers violate the Geneva Conventions. If you have a moment, it’s worth re-reading the letter he once wrote to John McCain. It’s the letter of an American hero, a good and decent and courageous man, who came to die in an adult foster-care facility, after his demons overcame him. May he rest in peace.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Dec 03, 2021
Michael O'Loughlin On AIDS And The Church
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Many of you will recall the horrendous way in which the Catholic Church hierarchy responded to the AIDS crisis. Many blamed homosexual sex and refused to endorse condoms for heterosexuals. It was extremely hard for me to hang in there in this period, and I had to take months away from Mass after various appalling statements. It was a time when I first experienced the love of God and the intimacy of Jesus in contrast to the church that claimed to represent Him on earth.

But it was not the only story. On the ground, many lay Catholics, priests and nuns defied the hierarchy and came to the aid of the young and sick and dying. Michael O’Loughlin, another gay Catholic, has written a history book, “Hidden Mercy,” about this other story. We talked faith, sex, disease, and redemption.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of our conversation — on the nuns and priests who fought AIDS in spite of the Catholic leadership, and on how gay Catholics have wrestled with their faith — head over to our YouTube page. Pope Francis recently replied to a letter from O’Loughlin, posted in a NYT op-ed, that “Gives Me Hope as a Gay Catholic.”

A reader looks back to last week’s episode with Dominic Cummings:

I listened to Cummings despite having little interest in Boris, Brexit, or the UK. Although I heard little I agreed with, I found it interesting how much more thoughtful and intelligent the overeducated elite from Oxford are compared to Ivy Leaguers such as Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Elise Stefanik, or Tom Cotton. It is hard to find intelligent commentary coming from US conservatives today, guaranteeing that they will once again fail to capitalize on the disarray of the Democratic Party. Republicans seem intent on meeting Democratic incompetence with outright insanity. Meanwhile, as Cummings pointed out, many people want and would respond positively to cogent policy from either party.

Another fan of the episode:

Kudos to you for getting an interview with Dominic Cummings, who is in my opinion the most interesting man in UK politics today, indeed perhaps anywhere. He’s a very refreshing transformational thinker. It’s a shame that Boris Johnson decided not to keep him on, although I think the latter’s temperamental weaknesses (especially his incessant need to be loved) made that all but inevitable. Thatcher, by contrast, really didn’t care what the media or Whitehall thought, and she ultimately ended up being far more consequential than Johnson is likely to be, even though, as Cummings observed, Covid gave him an enormous opportunity to be similarly transformational.

Many (especially those who don’t really follow the UK closely) liken Cummings to Steve Bannon, which is an exceptionally lazy narrative. Cummings doesn’t have an ounce of racism in him or demagoguery, but is interested in policy and really doesn’t care what people think (which is extremely courageous). His diagnosis of American politics is spot on as well. I occasionally wonder whether the rhythms of politics, the need for the occasional cajoling, especially the retail aspects, make him unsuited to being a long-term player in the political process. I also kept pondering during the interview whether there was an American equivalent to Dominic Cummings out there right now? If so, who is it? 

It was a great discussion and I’m glad you gave him a wide berth in expressing his views. He’s a fascinating thinker.

This next reader wasn’t impressed:

The Cummings interview was a collection of softball pitches allowing him to say whatever he wanted to say with no challenges at all. You gave him a platform to preen for an hour and some. You said at the end that you are a huge fan. That much was obvious all along. If I wanted to pay to hear a fawning groupie gush I would have got everything I wanted.

He is a smart man, yes, but that’s not the only requirement for good politics. There were reasonable questions to be asked, like whatever happened to the “£350 million per week to the NHS”? That was a cruel joke coming just before COVID hit. And if he is so concerned about average British people, why did he think himself above the law when it came to the lockdown? What about the no-bid COVID contracts to buddies who had no idea how to do what they contracted for? The amount of money wasted was incredible. I could go on, but it’s not worth my time. It was a terrible interview. You have serious blinders on and you need to think more about that. 

Maybe I went too easy on him. But many of the issues that Brits have with him — his complicated flouting of Covid rules, for example, or the pledge that Brexit would help fund the NHS — might have been too opaque and insidery to a largely American audience. So I didn’t do the equivalent of a BBC interview.

An old college friend in England was also pissed off:

As a great admirer of what you have been doing at the Dish, I just wanted to let off some steam about your interview — or should I call it on-air ego massage — of Dominic Cummings.

I acknowledge that you extracted some great cameos of Johnsonaro in full flight, but even so, this was a whitewash of epic proportions. Only in front of a US audience could you have hoped to get away with avoiding a single question about Barnard Castle. But leaving that revealing but intrinsically unimportant episode aside, the analysis of Brexit was, as they might say on Match of the Day, woeful.

Why is it that Cummings’ self-serving construct of ordinary people (his phrase for the 37% of the electorate who voted Leave rather than the 36% who voted Remain) was, in truth, a cohort heavily weighted towards the less educated and the elderly? What does that tell us about the quality of reasons for the vote to leave? And whatever potential post-Brexit strategies there might have been, none was actually in place, still less put before the people.

So we have had a seismic shock but no clear way forward. The obvious risk, now materialising in spades, is years if not decades of muddle, chaos, lost wealth, and attrition and damage to the economy and society all around. Wasn’t this fantastically reckless? Now we have the worst of both worlds, no plan, and no safety blanket of the single market. The shortages of personnel and services are becoming very visible on a daily basis and the absence of a workforce to make them good, or of markets to replace the losses in the EU, all too apparent.

It could have been interesting to hear Cummings defend himself against these charges but instead, we had 90 minutes of “tell me why you were so right and everyone else so wrong.”

I’m not going to rehash all the arguments for and against Brexit again here. But this is a view of many in Britain and I’m happy to air their views. I think it’s too soon to see Brexit in full perspective, and I don’t think workforce shortages, which are occurring across the West, are solely due to Brexit.

Another reader is itching for more:

Wonderful interview. Andrew. Now you have to extend a (pro forma) invitation to “your friend,” Boris Johnson, to refute Dominic Cummings’ interpretation of events. I’d be interested if there was a response.

I can’t imagine Boris would come on. But maybe I’ll ask. Can’t hurt, I suppose. But what’s in it for him? Maybe I should ask Keir instead? Or ask Dom back in a year, now we’ve been introduced to him, to ask more specific questions. I just didn’t want to rehash Brexit with him, and think his broader ideas were worth more airing.



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Nov 26, 2021
Dominic Cummings On Boris, Brexit, Immigration
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How to introduce Dominic Cummings? I’d say he has a decent claim to be one of the most influential figures in modern European history, whatever you think of him. He innovated Brexit, led the Leave campaign, then guided Boris Johnson into a stinking election victory in 2019. The two allies then fell out, Cummings quit — and he is now “having a think.” He almost never gives interviews — let alone chat for an hour and a half. So this is a bit of a Dish coup.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here. For two clips of my conversation with Dominic — on the reasons he resigned as top aide at Number 10, and on what US politicians can learn from Brexit on immigration — head over to our YouTube page.

And be sure to sign up for the Dominic Cummings Substack.

Halfway down this page are five reader dissents over my criticism of the MSM, continued from our main page, but first, some reader commentary on British politics. Here’s a disgruntled Dish subscriber responding to my passing reference to how I “like” Boris Johnson to some degree:

I find I’m more and more uncomfortable, as a paying subscriber, to underwrite, even in the smallest way, your acceptance of Mr. Johnson’s con of us, the British people. Granted, he’s not a grifter in the same league as Mr. Trump, but nevertheless the thought of supporting him in any way — albeit indirectly through your journalism — has become something I can no longer tolerate. 

Perhaps you weren’t around in the days when the BBC (unwittingly I think) gave him for all those years a platform on “Have I Got News for You,” when naive middle-of-the-roaders like myself were mildly charmed by this apparently harmless but funny, over entitled Tory buffoon.

Little did we realise he was lining himself up to kill off our warm and productive relationship with Europe and all its benefits for ordinary citizens. He did it partly by getting us to know him as “Boris” — like he’s our friend, which he isn’t. It’s a mechanism that draws in people who are even more naive, and it means he gets forgiven for his absolute incompetence. He isn’t fit to be prime minister, and there is so much evidence out there that confirms it that I can’t really understand how you buy it. Ok, so you “like” him, whatever that means. 

Another dissent comes from a UK reader over my recent column, “The Boldness of Biden and Boris”:

It seems I only ever email to complain about your coverage of Boris Johnson. You write that it’s “the image that mattered” in Boris’s dealings with the French over nuclear subs and on the vaccine. The problem with much of what Boris is doing is that it’s all image. EU countries have overtaken the UK in vaccination rates and we have soaring infection rates compared to our neighbours.

Boris’s latest “Global Britain” is announcing bringing back pounds and ounces. Imperial measurements are only used by two countries (the US and Myanmar), and anyone under 50 was taught metric at school. Armando Iannucci wouldn’t write this stuff; it would look too bonkers.

This steady stream of jingoistic nonsense is just the usual background noise under Prime Minister Johnson — but it’s not the main reason I’m writing. The rise in National Insurance isn’t the bold “Red Tory” move you hail it as. It isn’t an injection of desperately needed new money into social care.

For readers outside the UK, I’ll explain. At the moment, if someone goes into long-term care because they are unable to look after themselves, the cost of that is recouped from their assets (over a certain threshold) when they die. This often means selling their home. (We had to do that when my Nan died in 2010.) What Johnson is doing is capping that limit (which wouldn’t have mattered in my case) and trying to recoup it with a raise in National Insurance — a tax that almost all workers pay. This means that care staff, who earn minimum wage or thereabouts, will be losing money to pay for the care of the people they’re looking after. 

If Johnson really had “the balls” you give him props for, he would have introduced a tax on assets. Others have been quick to point out that those paying rent are losing money while their landlords have avoided any new tax. Anyone over retirement age is also exempt from National Insurance.

I consider myself a centrist, I don’t belong to a political party, as I prefer to advocate ideas from the political left or right if they have merit. We have the worst of all worlds in Johnson — someone willing to raise taxes from those who can least afford it to fritter away on meaningless gestures and dodgy contracts to his friends. If that’s Red Toryism, you can keep it.

Another reader who doesn’t like Boris:

I’ve been a Dish supporter for many years and have loved the recent content and podcasts. I’m generally pretty aligned with your views, but there is one area where we diverge sharply: Boris Johnson. Everyone knows he’s a liar and a cheat, but maybe what’s flying under the radar is how consistently the Tory government is undermining democracy in the UK. You rightly call out the Republicans for their assaults on democratic institutions, but you turn a blind eye when Boris does something comparable.

In the podcast with Cummings, I raise the issue of pro-roguing parliament in 2019, which worried a lot of constitutionalists. You can hear his response.

A pro-Brexit reader thinks I overplayed the impact of mass migration on the Brexit decision:

I have to disagree with you about this sentence: “Elsewhere in the West, mass migration has empowered the far right, and taken the UK out of the EU.” It seems to me that you should agree with the decision to leave the EU, if for no reason but that the nation-state seems the best way for people to balance freedom and community. Perhaps I don’t know enough, but my understanding was not that the far right prevailed, but rather normal people revolted against their elite’s attempts to tell them that lowered wages and swift, important cultural changes due to immigration were to their benefit, when clearly they were not.

Certainly, elites benefit from mass migration — why pay more for an English house cleaner when you can pay less for a Romanian? — but the non-elite English had had enough of being told that Englishness was a racist construct and they had to bow to their diminished circumstances while the people asserting their moral superiority grew richer and more powerful. London is a world city, but it was also a haven for sketchy Third World actors with apartments they never used and whose values did not coincide with that of the average Brit. 

I don’t know if “The Great British Bake Off” is anything but an imaginary England, but it seems to honor racial and cultural diversity while also exporting a uniquely British grit, common sense, and attention to reality — someone does get kicked off every week — in a way I love to watch.

For more Dishcast on UK politics, check out our episode with Tim Shipman, the best political reporter in Britain. Below is his take on how Boris the Etonian won over the working class:

Here’s another clip on the vindication of Brexit when it comes to the Covid vaccine, and here’s another on whether the monarchy could will the death of Her Majesty. As always, please send us your thoughts on the Dishcast and potential guests: dish@andrewsullivan.com.

Because we ran out of space to include these on the main page, here’s the first of many readers to criticize my criticism of the mainstream media:

So wait, let me get this straight: you’re railing on the MSM for appearing to have a narrative and an agenda, you — a guy who has a very clear narrative and agenda, who joined Substack so you could be free to present your narrative and agenda without the constraints of fact-checking and editorial oversight that the MSM provides, constraints which, by the way, allow them to adhere to some semblance of journalistic standards and ethics, which also includes correcting mistakes when they happen, as they do, although apparently not corrected to your liking, often because the reporting didn’t conform to your narrative and agenda in the first place.

Tell me: what is your method for immediately owning up to and correcting the mistakes you make? The misinterpretations you make? The times when your narrative is way off? The times when the “tsunami” of CRT evidence you refer to amounts to some hand-picked anecdotes on your Twitter feed that your audience is supposed to find and then be suitably in awe of? What kind of standards or ethics does Substack expect you to follow?

Then again, maybe you don’t think of yourself as part of the media, and therefore somehow above it all.

And by the way, your cheap line trying to indict the MSM on Trump’s terms is low, and I think you know this. You know exactly who Trump is and what he does (lie). You know what journalism stands for and what it tries to do, however imperfectly. And you already know the cycles of examination and re-examination the press does to itself as a dynamic field in a dynamic society, which it is constantly doing, and which makes your rant entirely unproductive.

Oh please. There is a distinction between opinion and news, and my objection is not that the NYT, say, has leftist opinion columnists, but that it skews reality, and now does so to conform not to factual objectivity, but to “moral clarity” defined by the far left. Here, we always publish factual corrections immediately (but they are extremely rare), and we constantly air dissent over the opinions. We fact-check ourselves and Bodenner is gimlet-eyed.

Another dissenter looks at something specific:

Your conflations regarding the MSM have a heavy dose of hyperventilation. One example: “But notice how the narrative — embedded in a deeper one that the Blake shooting was just as clear-cut as the Floyd murder, that thousands of black men were being gunned down by cops every year, and that ‘white supremacy’ was rampant in every cranny of America … ”

Give me one example in the mainstream media where anyone ever hinted, much less said, thousands were being gunned down every year? Please try. It’s a ridiculous exaggeration, not really worthy of argument. 

Also, let’s look at a comparison: Lynching was a huge tool in white people suppressing African Americans. If you look at websites that document lynching, there were about 3,500 documented lynchings of black people over maybe 60 years, an average of about 60 per year. The point I’m making is that an act, such as police shootings of unarmed black men, can be a statistically rare event in a country of 330,000,000 people but still have an outsized impact on people’s perception of fairness and of their safety in the hands of those who are supposed to protect us all.

The MSM rarely include context in their stories about police violence, but the impression they gave was that such killings were ubiquitous. A recent public survey asked Americans to guess how many unarmed black men were killed by cops in 2019. The stats say 27. A recent study suggests that’s an undercount, so let’s posit 50 max. Money quote:

Overall, nearly half of surveyed liberals (44 percent) estimated roughly between 1,000 and 10,000 unarmed black men were killed whereas 20 percent of conservatives estimated the same. Most notably, the majority of respondents in each political category believed that police killed unarmed black men at an exponentially higher rate than in reality.

This next reader has quite the opener:

Andrew, I love you more than I love my own dick, but your essay on the MSM and its misdeeds left me cold. It was all to do with your last line: “And someone has got to stop it.” How can you write an essay like that and end with no actual input about WHO is supposed to stop it? “Someone” has got to stop it! OK. How does the stopping happen? More fact-checkers at NYT? Fewer partisan hacks at Fox? 

I come from a family that owned and published a daily newspaper. Breakfast and dinner was a conversation about news, what is it, and what are its ethics. My dad and grandfather railed against something I’m now convinced was a saviour for this sort of BS: the Fairness Doctrine. After it was abolished, discourse and fact-gathering and news all went downhill.

First off, congratulations on your dick. Second, the Fairness Doctrine only applies to broadcasting, and was abused. But I definitely think we should have a debate about bringing it back. As for who stops this crap, the answer is editors, who should not pushed around by woke Leninists, and should want their papers to be treated as reliable sources of information, rather than as a way to “teach” readers how to absorb the lessons of critical race theory (which is literally how the NYT executive editor explained his support for the 1619 Project and every story in the paper).

This next reader is hoping for help:

I work at a major news broadcast network, so please do not use my name or share my affiliation. Do you have any advice for producers and reporters in house to speak up and push back when you see these narratives go awry — to ensure our reporting is accurate and doesn’t make these baseless claims? I fear losing credibility among my peers and superiors or worse: facing an office awokening/contrived cancellation. I could elaborate at length and provide examples, but I know you must be so inundated, so I’ll keep it brief and hope you have a few minutes to share any advice on how to improve things on the inside.

Here’s my advice: take a risk in defending objectivity. Someone has to. All the energy is with the woke bullies. Find allies; make respectful factual arguments; lobby editors; talk about the credibility of the enterprise; argue for actual diversity of opinion in the newsroom.

Another reader has a mixed dissent:

Andrew, I get it. The MSM does tilt left and, indeed, can be faulted in many instances for jumping on the bandwagon before the band even arrives. And I understand that this week’s Dish was primarily aimed at the MSM — with justification. But two points:

#1. All you have to say about Rittenhouse is “He had no business being there with an AR-15”? For me, this is the essential story. We’ve simply come to accept that anyone can sling an automatic weapon over their shoulder and the best you can say is that he had no business being there? Your outrage should be far more targeted at our crazed gun culture, and that a juvenile like this one openly carried this weapon, than about how the MSM got it wrong. 

Which, of course, is Point #2: I’m assuming your rant on the MSM doesn’t include Fox News, because you don’t mention it in your essay. But distorting facts and intentionally putting out blatant mistruths (as opposed to “tilting” right) is a more appropriate target for outrage about the media.

Well, the thing is, Rittenhouse was reacting to widespread rioting, arson, looting and mayhem that the authorities seems unwilling to handle and many in the national press actually cheered on. Ultimate responsibility lies with those who started the rioting and the authorities that didn’t stamp it out. But Rittenhouse was a fool for taking the law into his own hands.

Another reader, another dissent:

You state, incredibly, that the Steele Dossier “dominated the headlines” for three years, insinuating that it was the primary basis for the Trump/Russia scandal. This take is false. The Steele Dossier was always a fringy bit of wishful sensationalism that had nothing to do with the mountain of verifiable connective tissue between Trump, Wikileaks, Putin, and his intelligence services that led to dozens of indictments, convictions, and guilty pleas from top Trump officials. Saying it “dominated the headlines” is a carbon copy of the Trump government-in-exile’s weak propaganda effort in light of the dossier’s plunge into disrepute. You tend to be totalistic in your criticism, and your hatred of the New York Times (which I largely share) has led you to embrace a completely false and revisionist history about the former president’s collusive relationship with Russia.

I have never disputed and do not dispute that Trump’s dealings with Russia were as corrupt as his dealings with everyone else. I do not dispute that Russia tried to tilt the election to Trump, and that Trump had no problem with that. What I never bought was the tale of an elaborate conspiracy theory about Russia’s Kompromat on Trump, or that his love affair with Putin could only be explained that way. I was open to it — but Mueller showed how thin that case was, and Trump’s substantive policy decisions on Russia simply cannot be regarded as pro-Putin.

The obsession with the Steele Dossier, as a kind of talisman for the entire conspiracy theory, was not minor. Simply the term “Steele Dossier” has 134,000 hits on Google News. I think the MSM lost perspective on this, fueled by their intense shock that Trump won.

Like the previous reader, this one shares a hatred of the NYT:

Not sure if you heard about this heinous crime last week, but a young woman (jogger) was attacked and sexually assaulted in Central Park last week. At around 7:20 am, a perp put the woman in a chokehold and then raped her.

The NY Post and NY Daily News, along with other local stations, were on the story and released photos of the suspect to assist with the NYPD manhunt. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), the NY Times didn’t cover the story at all — not initially, and they still haven’t reported the rape. On their website, if you search the suspect’s name “Paulie Velez,” you’ll get zero results. In contrast, search “Amy Cooper” and you’ll get almost 30 different articles and opinions of what was apparently a more notable and newsworthy “aggression” in the park. How’s this even possible?

Fortunately the suspect was caught with the help of the tip line, but I just can’t fathom how the NY Times is actively ignoring one of the most heinous crimes I’ve heard about in NYC in the past decade. It’s a major stain on the integrity of the paper. 

One was a rape; the other a micro-aggression. We all know where the MSM emphasis now is. Another reader looks back at a much older story than made national headlines:

As for when all this slippage between the facts on the ground and the MSM narrative really began to get bad: I’ve thought a lot about this. I remember the Duke lacrosse “rape” case in 2007 as the first moment when I realized that I’d bought into a false narrative. I had been teaching on a university campus in the South for five years, had been married to my African-American wife for three years, knew and liked two of the Duke professors publicly raging against the “rapists,” and was primed in every way to hate those white lacrosse players for what they’d done to the as-yet unnamed black dancer, Crystal Mangum.

Then Lucy, as it were, pulled the football away. The facts came out; the white DA’s perfidy was revealed; Mangum’s own black female associate said she was lying about rape because she got pissed off at the callow frat boys … and I realized that I’d been played, badly. That stung.

That was the watershed moment for me. From then on, whenever racial melodrama reared its head, and especially with Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown in 2012 and 2014, respectively, I held off making any judgment in the heat of the moment. It killed me to do this, frankly. I WANTED to believe the continuing narrative about the machinations of Evil Whiteness. But the facts, when they came out, always embarrassed that narrative in one way or another, or in many ways.

Here, I’d like to offer a well-earned nod to one particular MSM commentator who actually manifested ethical bravery in the face of all this: Jonathan Capehart, whose 2015 column, “‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ was Based on a Lie,” dared to say out loud what none of his peers would acknowledge. It shows that occasionally the truth breaks through the narrative in a powerful way, even within the tainted purview of the MSM. The Michael Brown / Darren Wilson affair strikes me as the Left’s equivalent of January 6 denialism on the Right: thanks to the DOJ’s long and exhaustive investigation and report, we pretty much know what happened between those two men, but public memory on the Left insists on misremembering.

Capehart gets a retroactive Yglesias Award for that.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Nov 19, 2021
Sam Quinones On Addiction And Bouncing Back

Sam, the author of Dreamland, is out with another book about the explosion of hard and dangerous drugs, The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth. His reporting was an indispensable part of my big magazine piece on the opioid crisis, and we go into great detail on the pod.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of my conversation with Sam — on the rise of a new sinister meth, and on the media silence over gays and meth  — head over to our YouTube page.

Meanwhile, many readers keep the debate going on critical race theory in the wake of the Virginia elections. The first:

I agree with you on a lot on CRT, and I agree that the Arlington County materials one of your readers linked to is deeply problematic. We’ve got a little blond 12-year-old girl in school right now who was recently singled out by a really terrible teacher who basically demonized her as representative of the wrongs perpetrated by white people throughout history. We’re planning to talk to the teacher and maybe the school and will be having some out-of-school discussions with our kids.

So suffice it to say on this issue, I’m with Youngkin. However, I was surprised to see you say you’d vote for him if you were in Virginia. Do you consider yourself a one-issue voter? Youngkin certainly talked a more moderate talk, which I’d love to see become fashionable in the GOP, and I’d say he has the better of the education argument. 

But then there’s his waffling on Jan 6 and voter integrity — and commitment to a democratic society is pretty foundational. There’s Covid — I don’t want to get rid of mask mandates in schools. Do I even need to say this: Covid is NOT a fringe issue. Then there’s climate change, which is kind of a big deal too. Youngkin isn’t sure if humans play any role in global warming, and he warned that a transition to renewables will result in “blackouts and brownouts and an unreliable grid.” As for local issues, historically it’s been really hard to get Republican candidates to support desperately needed money for roads in northern Virginia.

The response to each of those can’t be “but CRT!” I don’t see how you weigh all that and come out for Youngkin.

Sometimes, you vote as a protest to make sure your voice is heard on a particular topic. I do see CRT as a foundational issue for a liberal democracy — and in a governor’s race, it would be my core issue. CRT’s premises and arguments are so designed to dismantle our entire constitution and way of life, it becomes a litmus test in my mind.

Another reader prods me further:

Unexplored in your column “The Woke Meet Their Match: Parents” is what role parents should actually play in public school education. Let’s look at it this way: public schools are going to continue to assign reading that troubles one constituency or another. Hardcore CRT is going to tick off many parents, and sexually explicit content (like in “Beloved”) will cause at least some parents to shield their children. On the other end of the spectrum, some parents believe history textbooks whitewash the most painful parts of our history.

My point is a mundane one: you can’t please everyone. What, then, is the solution?  Should parents be able to opt a 12th grader out of certain books? Should school boards simply water down curriculum so that no student reads any material that challenges their sensibilities? Should schools send parents mailers warning them of troubling content? Who decides what content is troubling?

In short: you implied that you think parents should have some sort of involvement. But what does that mean?

I think parents should be able to express their concerns, and teachers should reasonably accommodate them in egregious cases. If they don’t, parents need to elect better school boards, or recall members, as is happening in San Francisco of all places. But no, I don’t want to give parents a veto over anything their kid studies.

A sharp dissent from a public school administrator in NYC:

I agree with you about the far left’s overreach on matters of race, and that it dashed the Dems’ chance at winning the gubernatorial race, but, when it comes to what’s being taught in schools, with respect, you don’t know what you’re talking about (and even sound — dear Lord forgive me — a little like Tucker Carlson). You wrote that students are “being taught in a school system now thoroughly committed to the ideology and worldview of CRT, by teachers who have been marinated in it, and whose unions have championed it” — and then cherry pick examples to support these overgeneralized claims. 

First, unions have no say in what gets taught in schools. None. Whom they invite to their conferences (that no one goes to or cares about) has zero bearing on what students learn in their 2nd period Geometry class. Randi Weingarten and the AFT could invite Lucifer himself to give a keynote and it wouldn’t matter one jot. 

Two, there are 3.5 million public school teachers in the U.S. and 270,000 administrators. Where, and when, did all of us become indoctrinated into the “worldview of CRT”? Ed schools? Our famously ineffective “professional development” sessions? The staff lounge?? 

While there are, of course, exceptions, American public schools are not exactly known for their innovation, and teachers are notorious for their reluctance to adopt new ideas. That explains why so many elementary schools, after decades, still teach reading using methods wholly unsupported by the latest evidence-based science in reading instruction. It’s why every state mostly teaches a curriculum that has not changed since electricity was invented and which has not scaled or aged well to serve many students’ needs (or society’s). And it’s also why it only takes teachers about three years on the job before they start recycling units and lesson plans from the year before.

Schools and classrooms are such indescribably dynamic ecosystems with so many factors beyond our control that when we find a system that works for most students most of the time, we dig our heels in deep and use it (until a global pandemic shakes things up, and even then). Add to that the vested interests of the myriad stakeholders — teachers, unions, parents, politicians, education schools, policy makers, students — and the staggering amount of tax dollars we funnel into our districts, and you’ve got a slow, lumbering machine that makes an aircraft carrier look like a cigarette boat. 

And lastly, even if it were true that most teachers were CRT acolytes, as you fear, where, exactly, would this odious instruction be taking place? Gym? Band? AP Bio? Please. Schools — and school districts — are food courts, not Michelin-starred restaurants. They’re not nearly as coherent as you fear. So calm down, dude.

This next reader had a much difference experience:

A high school in San Francisco called me in to fill a one-year gig teaching geometry. I entered what I thought would be an interview like many I’d had in the past. Instead, it was a whole ambush. The three individuals sat facing me and slid a piece of paper over with about 12 questions on it. They circled four and took turns reading them aloud. No questions about me, my education, my previous experience. What they really wanted to know was how I would make sure that students of all races succeeded, how I would implement CRT into the curriculum, and how I could make the instruction of math anti-racist.

From another teacher:

I recently graduated with my Masters in Teaching, and I got two years of an exclusively CRT-based curriculum where learning great teaching strategies was prioritized far behind mastering the principles of anti-racism. Although some on the Left rightly claim that the idea of middle-school students reading Robin diAngelo is ridiculous, this is a motte-and-bailey fallacy. 

In my MAT program, we learned about how the racial education gap is due exclusively to white racism, and we did have to read DiAngelo, with no opposing perspectives. We learned about the evils of cutting government spending without addressing the mind-boggling amount of money that is absolutely wasted by administrative bloat and stupid, briefly-lived fad technologies.

I was on the left before starting graduate school, but my experience there pushed me way into the center because I could see how wasteful, baseless, and hypocritical so many of the left’s policies on education were and how entrenched CRT is in all things education. I saw a lot of bright, reasonable minds turn to anti-racist fanaticism because of the sheer social pressure against speaking up against the predominant perspective. 

As you say, there is simply no way that this kind of thing doesn’t trickle-down to students. We were told not to grade with red pens, to ignore certain grammar errors in favor of allowing room for cultural language expression, pressured to raise grades, and shamed for having too many failing students when the students themselves couldn’t even be bothered to show up to class, in part because they knew there would be no consequences. Kids may not be learning CRT explicitly, but they absolutely suffer the consequences of its pervasiveness in the school system. 

Looking back at last week’s episode with Ann Coulter, we predictably pissed off a lot of listeners. But not all:

I was surprised, pleasantly, to listen to Ann Coulter speaking out of her onscreen character. I was prepared to be forced to end the podcast early amidst anger and frustration listening to her, but instead I found it an entirely satisfying experience. 

From another listener who “enjoyed this interview”:

You challenged Ann Coulter in an engaging and — dare I say it — gentle way, which made for a real conversation and brought out some likable qualities in Ann. Not easy to do. 

Although it seems a bit quixotic, and isn’t enough to allow anyone to let their guard down, I think Ann’s prediction about Trump fading away, like Sarah Palin, has some merit. Reminds me that sometimes things aren’t resolved or transformed in sharp, definitive battles but in a slow crumbling, and turning of attention.

Another listener thinks I should have been less gentle:

Dude. Dude. DUDE! I’ve been with you since the early early days of the Dish. That interview with Ann Coulter was the most impotent one you’ve had since launching the podcast. There are too many examples of how you just let her spew unchecked nonsense: on parental leave, the transactions costs of diversity, the size of the federal work force, etc. Come on. Frustrating. I wanted more. She didn’t defend any of her positions. None. And you didn’t push her. At all. You didn’t even try.

Maybe I was too soft. But I was not trying to have a showdown, but a conversation. Another listener isn’t a fan of Coulter but liked the episode:

Thank you for a great interview with Ann Coulter. As someone who shares most of her views, I followed her work closely for years. However, she has two intolerable flaws that led me to largely tune her out.

The first is her increasingly tiresome shtick. Her tight dresses, coquettish laugh, hair toss, and outrageously offensive statements perfectly timed to coincide with the release of her books all served to increase her publicity and make her extremely wealthy. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone their wealth and fame, but one would think that at some point, she would start to prioritize the issues she is passionate about and try to make the progress on them that she is capable of, in light of her undeniable brilliance.

For example, I recall that in the run-up to the 2008 election, it seemed clear that the nominees would be McCain and Clinton. Ann announced to anyone who would listen that she would not only vote for Hillary, but even campaign for her. Among many other issues, there were certain to be several Supreme Court appointments in the coming years that could affect abortion jurisprudence. The late Mike Adams wrote at the time that Ann cared more about selling books than saving babies. Harsh, but it is hard to argue with that.

Ann’s second major flaw is that she has a long-standing habit of falling head-over-heels for political figures who (by her own subsequent admission) end up being frauds, charlatans, or plain morons. Among others, this includes W Bush, Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, and Trump. On the latter, she attempted to explain away the fact that he hoodwinked her by saying she never could have imagined he would fail to follow through on his immigration promises.

I supported Trump’s campaign positions even more than Ann did. Yet I can honestly say it never even occurred to me that a lifelong cosmopolitan liberal Democrat, who couldn’t speak intelligently for ten seconds about the issues he professed to care about, never went more than two sentences without telling a bald-faced lie, and began his political career with the Birther lie, had even the slightest intention of following through on those promises. The fact that Ann fell for it, and often falls for it, makes it impossible for those of us who are kindred spirits to look to her for guidance on whom to support and whom to vote for during the primaries.

All that said, your interview with Ann was the most substantive commentary I ever heard from her, which made it extra enjoyable.

This next listener digs into some of the substance:

I think your and Ms. Coulter’s characterization of the past assimilation of immigrants paints a too idealistic picture, and is not completely accurate. I grew up in New York City, where immigrant groups had their own neighborhoods. While my experience is from the 1950s and after, I know that the earlier clustering was even more prominent. 

My experience of Chinatown exemplifies the long period of assimilation, probably driven both by choice and also by prejudice. Walking through Chinatown in the ‘50s and ‘60s was like entering a different country. On the streets the language spoken was Chinese, signs on the stores were also in that language, many, if not most, restaurants only had menus in Chinese. On the fringes of Chinatown were establishments that catered to a wider audience, and English signs and menus were available.

Other enclaves — Little Italy, German Town, the Polish enclave near where I lived, and other clusters — existed for many years. Certainly the little shtetls of the Lower East Side were rife with lots of folks who spoke only Yiddish, people who were excluded from employment, from certain businesses and from education (your alma mater, Harvard, among them). The immigrants from Central and Southern Europe, and other Catholic countries, like Ireland, were treated with suspicion, and also discriminated against. Their assimilation did not follow the petal-covered path you and Ms. Coulter implied.

One more listener:

Coulter’s vision of everyone sticking to their own homogeneous countries is a recipe for stagnation. There is a reason that every significant technological breakthrough of the last 70 years came from America! I have yet to see a laboratory — mine included — that does not thrive on the heterogeneous thought, creativity and insight that effortlessly flows from the human diversity that arises when selecting for intelligence and curiosity.

You cited the bland homogeneity of 1970s England. I lived in Western Europe through the entirety of the 2010s and not much has changed. People like Coulter — and the Bernie Bros — should try living in one of the countries they hold up as examples for America before they open their mouths. American culture is appropriation and it is a unique and beautiful thing.

All good points. Thanks as ever for expanding these conversations with your own critiques and feedback. The in-tray is always open: dish@andrewsullivan.com.



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Nov 12, 2021
Ann Coulter On Trump And Immigration

She’s the author of 13 NYT bestselling books, including Adios, America. I know, I know. A lot of you are going to get mad at me for this one. If you’re a longtime Dishhead, you may even remember that we once had a Malkin Award every year, and this is how we described it:

The Malkin Award, named after blogger Michelle Malkin, is for shrill, hyperbolic, divisive and intemperate right-wing rhetoric. Ann Coulter is ineligible — to give others a chance.

I once described Coulter as a “drag queen posing as a fascist.” But, I’ll be honest, I’ve come to admire her the last couple of years for taking on Trump — for breaking his promises on immigration. Agree or disagree, that took a certain amount of courage, given her audience. I also met her, and found her much more intriguing than you’d expect from the public image. I’m not sure I grilled her hard enough in this podcast, but I did try to flush out some inconsistencies.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of my conversation with Ann — on our differing views on diversity, and how she underestimated Trump’s intelligence — head over to our YouTube page.

A reader writes:

I just finished your episode with Briahna Joy Gray on race and class in America, and I wanted to take a moment to thank you for bringing on guests you don't necessarily agree with. Too many podcasters use the platform to simply promote their ideas and bring on guests who don’t challenge them. Even though I could sense frustration and struggle on your side from time to time, I enjoyed the dialogue.

The dialogue continues this week on Briahna’s pod — teaser below. God I look tired.

Meanwhile, many readers continue to respond to our episode with Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. One writes, “Intended or not, you and the Bobs managed to scare the living s**t out of me just in time for Halloween”:

As a perennial supporter of outsiders — Howard Dean, local libertarians, Tulsi Gabbard, et al — I was embarrassed to vote for Joe Biden in 2020. And on January 6, I merely rolled my eyes at the wannabe cast of Idiocracy that stormed the Capitol, thinking I was witnessing a ridiculous but somewhat understandable temper tantrum within a heated historical moment.

But thanks to the book Peril, I realize I was gravely in error. We were instead, on January 6, watching people cheer on an aspiring demagogue who was planning a case through the rule of law that we could and should overturn a free and fair election — and we are about to watch him do it again. There is absolutely nothing more plausibly dangerous to our country in our near future.

During your closing minutes with the Bobs, you more or less label Trump as the one exceptional danger that ought to command our attention more than Wokeism. I agree — and surely far more dangerous than Biden. Even if we were to grant that the riots and crime sprees that took place alongside BLM protests were more dangerous than a mob attempting to capture or kill a vice president and/or members of our legislature, there’s little evidence Biden would further such riots beyond, perhaps, a misguided speech on race. Whereas we now know that President Trump would have done anything he could, including tactics bearing the weight of law, to further enable January 6.

We have to ask what likely coming transgressions to laws and norms are most likely to damage us irreparably: Biden and the Wokesters castigating us on Twitter for watching Dave Chappelle, or Trump’s lawyers aiming to discard popular votes? Indeed, the Woke may want to shame us, coerce us, and tell us what to think, but should what the Bobs report come to pass, the Right will have functionally stripped the right to vote. To me, that sounds as though the American experiment will have ended.

Another reader “watched this clip of your interview with the Bobs”:

I wondered why you changed from saying at the beginning that Trump was crazy but rational to saying he was crazy and irrational at the end. Could you parse this please?

I tried to explain above: you can be out of your mind, yet brutally rational in assessing your own narcissistic interests. From a reader in Portland, Oregon:

I’m a long-time reader — all the way back to your days at TNR. Judging from your newsletters at the current Dish, however, I just can’t follow. While on the one hand I don’t want to unsubscribe from your freebie version, I often find it hard to read. Not because I agree or disagree with your take on current issues — that’s mixed, as one would expect in a sane world — but more about your apparent understanding, or lack thereof, about the hierarchy of cultural threats surrounding us, and where the dangers in these threats really lie.

If you haven’t read this story from the WaPo about a Texas principal suspended for supposedly embracing CRT, I suggest you do. Cancel culture has been a feature of conservative America from the beginning. Right-wing cancel culture is the social force that chases millions of young people out of flyover country into the big coastal cities. I fought cancel culture when I was a teenager in Tulsa in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It was made clear to me then that someone with my views — atheist, left of center — would be happier somewhere else. And I’m a white guy from the middle class. 

Bellyaching by conservatives in Trump country about being condescended to by coastal elites is a hilarious irony. It was their condescension to their own kids, their own refusal to be respectful human beings to their kids and neighbors, that chased so many of their children into the ranks of this “elite.” They act the way they do because they’re comfortable treating people who aren’t like them like crap. And now, finally, we’ve reached a cultural reckoning. The revolution is here, and no, it isn’t pretty.

I’m against the mentality of cancel culture, whether from the right or left. But I think your analysis of the gap between the cities and the rest is, shall we say, a little crude. The contempt goes both ways.

Next up, a reader pushes back on the “Email Of The Week” written by the Virginia mother, whom the reader assumes “has totally not read or understood the ADL materials”:

I took a close look at the provided links and saw nothing wrong or indoctrinating about them. The Reparations section is for 11th and 12th graders, for Pete’s sake.  Don’t you think such students are capable of having an informed discussion on this issue? I read the original piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates and thought it interesting and worthy of debate. Ultimately, I come down against reparations and in favor of making sure schools have enough resources to lift up everyone. 

My wife spent six years working on anti-bullying educational materials for middle schools as part of a long-term consulting job. They came up with syllabi that were similar to the ADL materials your reader links to and this was 14 years ago, before CRT and wokeness were even on the radar screen. I think that people are being fed “CRT cookies” as if this is an evil so big that we need to do everything in our power to destroy it. Don’t forget that it was not that long ago that the gay community was being savaged in a similar way.

You can go ahead and support Youngkin, who is a “Trump lite” candidate, but he won’t do anything to set this country or even the state of Virginia on the track it needs to be. With the emerging takeover of elections and school boards, we are on the road to a very dystopian future. Yes, we will ban Toni Morrison; yes, we will ban Margaret Atwood; yes, we will ban Mark Twain; and so it goes. Let’s enshrine the rule of the white male in perpetuity because that is the end game here.

Secession is beginning to look better and better to me!

I was with you until you degenerated into a rant against “the rule of the white male.” That racially essentialist generalization is exactly why the ADL has lost its way on this.

On a very different note, this last reader has an epic dissent against the Dish linking to a Substack piece entitled, “Anthony Fauci Has Been Abusing Animals for 40 Years”:

In reading your newsletter for some time now, I have come to see you as the epitome of rationality (validated by last week’s discussion with Steven Pinker). I am thus dismayed to see you jumping in with the lynch mob going after Anthony Fauci for the unfortunately named “beagle-gate” by linking to that Substack piece by Leighton Woodhouse. Perhaps you can be forgiven for an emotional reaction to this, given your devotion to animals and this breed of dog in particular. But the only thing ghastly about the article by Woodhouse is the lack of any kind of objective journalistic standard contained within it.

Let me start by providing some bona fides. I am a veterinarian who entered my career because of, fundamentally, a love of animals. I am also a research scientist that works for a pharmaceutical company. I work with hundreds of other such people that are lovers of animal and human life and devoted to making the world a better place — just like Anthony Fauci. Nobody I know in this field loves the animal aspect of animal research. In fact, I work with scores of colleagues whose main job is to ensure that our animal heroes are treated with kindness, compassion and respect — and provided as much comfort and freedom from pain as humanly possible, contrary to the implications of the Woodhouse piece.

The use of animals is an unfortunate but wholly necessary part of the advancement of scientific knowledge and, by extension, human health and welfare. Despite what Woodhouse claims, and while the entire field works tirelessly to improve methods that do not rely on animals, there is simply no truth to the notion that we can do without animal research and hope to continue the pace of remarkable innovation in medicine that we as a society expect and demand.

Woodhouse cherrypicks quotes from animal rights advocates and anecdotes that serve his argument while leaving aside the fact that nearly every single industrial and academic biomedical research laboratory or institution uses animals in their research. Animals are expensive, difficult to house and maintain and, as I mentioned previously, the objects of sympathy and respect. There is no rational scientist who would use an animal in her work if it were not absolutely the best way forward. Woodhouse’s “evidence” that animal research is optional is akin to the climate deniers who cite the single climate scientist out of a hundred that still thinks anthropomorphic influence on climate is still “unsettled.” It is very easy to sit back from a distance, while enjoying a quality and length of life and an understanding of biology unheard of even 50 years ago, and sling arrows at the entire endeavor.

In another stroke of fallacy, Woodhouse claims animal research is fundamentally flawed and should be abandoned because it often fails. This is a “false cause” fallacy, misapplying the difficulty of the scientific endeavor to the methods that are being used. On the contrary, it is the difficulty of the scientific questions that we as a community are trying to answer that is responsible for the failure rate. Science is hard! Most experiments — and this would, by definition, include those employing animals — fail. The failure rate would be extraordinarily higher if we were to abandon our use of animal models which, although far from perfect, allow us to mimic and test complex biological phenomena far more accurately than any in vitro or in silico approach available today.

It is a baseless claim, unsupported by data, that there is a cabal of incestuous animal testers that only fund research that employs animals. In fact, most grant submissions require strong justification for the use of animal models and a thorough examination of alternative methods.

Woodhouse states that FDA does not mandate that human drugs be studied in dogs. While this statement is technically true, it is grossly misleading in that it hides a small but important nuance: the FDA mandates that human drugs be studied in dogs OR MONKEYS. But why let inconvenient facts detract from a point you are trying to make?

And the propaganda about organs on a chip and AI is the same fodder fed to legions of PETA activists for the last 25 years. Yes, we are working very hard on these technologies. In fact, my lab is on the cutting edge of this research and we are incredibly excited about the advances that we are making. But make no mistake, these are still very rudimentary models that are flawed in modeling the unbelievable intricacy of a complex, multicellular organism. They are useful in answering certain very well-defined research problems but utterly fail in addressing other, more complex questions.

It is easy to convince a lay person that this is trivial stuff that we can just answer with computers and parlor tricks, but I think few biologists would agree. I’d like to point out that the weather is predicted by only three key variables and yet, with the most powerful supercomputers, we can reliably predict it only three days in advance, maybe five if I’m being generous. In contrast, a human being has 20,000-25,000 genes and many times more epigenetic and environmental variables influencing how it responds to an event, be it an injury, a mutation or an infectious organism. Yes, there are differences between animal and human physiology. However, no organ on a chip or computer simulation will come close to approaching the modeling power that another closely-related multicellular organism provides.

Woodhouse relies on shameful appeals to emotion to make his case. This manipulation is the last resort of a flawed argument. He takes a page from the pro-life crowd, screaming the equivalent of pictures of D&C’d 12-week old fetuses. His article is full of heartrending imagery of the most awful, gruesome things that one could imagine. I am sure that he did not sensationalize anything, such as “FORCE-fed…PUPPIES,” dogs being “CUT OPEN,” “brains DESTROYED,” “AGONIZING pain,” etc.

But guess what? Animal research involves death. Just like eating bacon. There is no way to sugarcoat this, and while I am sure there are plenty of people who will be ready to sign a petition to ban animal research after reading these accounts, I wonder what their perspective will be if their loved one dies after taking an experimental drug that had never been tested in animals and was thought to be safe.

If you think this is only a theoretical scenario, I would encourage you to spend some time learning about the lives of the thousands of babies born without normal limbs to mothers that took thalidomide while pregnant. This is a birth defect that was later shown to be predicted by testing in rabbits (and is the reason that these FDA testing requirements exist today). And this is still, in 2021, not an effect that we can predict in anything other than a whole, living animal (I know this, as this is a subject of the research in my lab).

Finally, and most offensively, the article makes an ad hominem attack on Anthony Fauci as somehow an evil leader of this heinous cabal of animal torturers. Even the title of the article (“Anthony Fauci Has Been Abusing Animals for 40 Years”) conjures an evil, cruel Fauci laughing as he personally administers the torture to his subjects, like a crazed Torquemada. These are shameful tactics being employed by anti-vaxxer, mask-resenting Trumpers who see Fauci as the meddling, come-to-take-away-all-my-rights government, personified. The vile that is spewed at this honorable, intelligent servant of our country is disgusting. Unlike most of the talking heads in the public arena, he is someone who is not seeking power or prestige, has been honest and forthright and, by all evidence, is a caring individual who wants to do the right thing.

No matter what one’s views are on animal research, to paint Fauci in this way is disgusting. Argue against animal testing if you wish (it is a debate I think you will lose), but make no mistake, this type of research is, for the time being, broadly accepted in our society. Anthony Fauci is no more responsible for the culture of animal testing than the surgeon general is responsible for abortions.

Sorry for the long diatribe, but this one touched a nerve. I hope you can place your very admirable love and affection for your beagle aside and recognize both the complexity of this subject as well as the gaping flaws in that awful op-ed in Substack.

Well, we’re very happy to air your arguments. I completely agree with you about Fauci, and I didn’t write the piece — just linked to it. But there are trade-offs with respect to the use of animals in scientific research. I find the whole concept of ripping out their vocal chords to silence their screams and howls as they are experimented upon to be, well, evil. I hope you do too.

Bodenner and I are currently brainstorming guest ideas to discuss animal rights on the pod, so if anyone has a good suggestion, hit us up: dish@andrewsullivan.com. Meanwhile, a reader sees a beaglegänger:

The reader writes:

I am very curious to know where your rescue beagle came from. I’ve attached some small photos of Charlie, who is now almost 8 and so greyer, but they capture him well enough. He looks to be if not a sibling, then a pretty close cousin, to your Bowie.

I adopted Charlie in March 2014, when he was judged to be between 1 and 2 years old (I picked December as his birthday for insurance purposes, but that’s been backed up by his vet looking at his teeth). His paperwork, such as it is, starts in the dog pound in Newport, TN, which is in Appalachia, just north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He came patched up with some scars, one much the length of his leg, and is in blind in his left eye from some trauma. I speculate that he was abandoned and then hit by a car and found by some Good Samaritan. He is terrified of bangs — over and above fireworks phobia. I wonder if he was a failed hunter and abandoned for that reason, or if there was a hunting accident.

Anyway, he now lives in some style in New York, and you can perhaps see that two photos are from a cross-country road trip, in the Petrified Forest en route to Malibu, so, while it must have been a horrible experience, he landed on his paws. He is also my second beagle and I relate to everything you have ever written on the subject. But I know so little about Bowie, and based on this photo you posted of her, she has the same blue tick colouring as Charlie’s, and same patterns, and I note her hair is also a little longer. The tummy and tail look identical. It would be fascinating to hear of any history he knows.

I don’t think they’re related, since Bowie arrived via a Dish reader who was fostering her, and we were told she was originally from New York State. The thing about rescue dogs is that there is always a mystery about their origins. But they sure do look alike!



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Nov 05, 2021
Steven Pinker On Rationality In Our Tribal Times
4048

Pinker’s new book is Rationality. It’s like taking a Harvard course on the tricks our minds play on us. We had a blast — and I pressed him on several points.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of my conversation with Pinker — on what he believes is the biggest delusion in society today, and what we should do about truths that hurt people — head over to our YouTube page.

If you’d rather watch the whole episode in living color — and see the most famous hair in academia — we videotaped the remote convo in the Dishcast studio. It even has the view from Pinker’s window in the background:

Responding to my latest column on “our gay inheritance,” a reader actually hits on some themes discussed by Pinker and me:

I find your argument regarding the new censoriousness of the LGBTQ community to miss some important context. Namely, the Puritans were once the rebels and the outcasts. I understand that from your perspective, as a gay man, the defining Puritan ethos is one of vicious repression, but I think there are larger truths we can learn once we understand the genesis of the Puritans as a “marginalized community.”

How many powerful groups got their “start” in marginalization? The Catholic Church and Christians in general? Other groups that are so powerful that one might be called a bigot just for stating that they are powerful?

A story of persecution is useful for attracting empathy and support, even after a group has recovered from its marginalization. At that point, is there ever any incentive to abandon the story? No, because as a group rises in status, there is power to be had in advocacy for the group. And the higher the status of the group, the more power can be gained by the advocates. And at some point, the preservation and gain of power becomes the point, and so every marginalized group has a tendency to become “The Puritans” over time.

At this point in history, the larger danger, I believe, is that marginalized groups are being used to advance an agenda — the agenda of low-trust authoritarians. “Believe women” undercuts the presumption of innocence that we used to hold as a sacred belief. “Intent doesn’t matter” goes further along the path, essentially implying that everyone and anyone is guilty, and can be shamed at the pleasure of the attack dogs. “Follow the science” implies that there is only one true correct explanation, as determined by experts deemed in good grace by the media and government. Anyone who disagrees is distributing “misinformation.”

Brilliantly put. This next reader, using the tool of rationality but also empathy, continues a discussion thread from the summer driven by an anti-vax reader:

Immediately before reading the dissents over your “Let It Rip” piece, I read with disgust a wildly judgmental essay that a friend of a friend posted on Facebook. While I agreed with the spirit of frustration with the unvaccinated, the bitterness and judgment of the essay were breathtaking. These essays followed Sam Harris’ mea culpa regarding taking a preachy tone on the topic of vaccination. A pretty easy pattern emerged.

It’s not hard to see that many of us are communicating in tone and tenor that is completely devoid of any understanding for people who are simply afraid of the shots and any potential side effects. And whether these unvaccinated folks are behaving in a way we find rational isn’t really the point, is it? We all know what fear feels like, and no one arrives at a place of fear through a rational exercise — so how can we then judge fearful actions only by the standards of rationality? Yet that seems to be what much of the vaccinated population (of which I am one) wants to do.

Your impassioned final dissenter implied as much, and I sympathize: “What are we up against in the future? No one can say with concrete evidence. You might argue, that’s because there is nothing to worry about. Well, I don’t buy that. I know people in my own circle who have experienced heart issues, long-term fevers, menstrual changes and frequent illness since being vaccinated. That’s within months, imagine years.”

I also know women who suffered strange menstrual changes and people with days of heart palpitations. Those folks’ symptoms did subside, and they know that their cases are rare and that most others’ with the same problems will experience similar relief because they’ve read the opinions of people like Your Local Epidemiologist or watched Scott Gottlieb or plenty of others on the Sunday shows. But many others won’t have found their way to that type of information for whatever reason.

Assuming these experts are correct, should people like the dissenter seek out these data and figure all this out for themselves? Perhaps. But this is a confused media landscape we live in, and as The Dish has well documented, traditional outlets like the New York Times have been caught with their pants down on many occasions — not just with their allegiances to the Woke but with over-exaggerating the nature of COVID, so that the left comes off as psychotic paranoids to much of the right. The mainstream media has earned its reputation as the boy who cried wolf, and while I personally think it’s possible to parse through the hyperbole for the “real” news, I can at least understand the skepticism of those who don’t. While I’ve come to the conclusion that “there is nothing to worry about,” I understand some of the many reasons why others might not.

That said, I hope your dissenter would allow me to take exception with a claim that, while no doubt made in good faith, is simply wrong: “Not one person from the CDC or otherwise has compassionately addressed the very real fears that many of us have surrounding this shot. Not one ‘expert’ has given any feedback or concrete evidence regarding the hesitations that are plaguing the un-vaxxed. At least, no one has done that from a place of respect and understanding that I have been made aware of.”

No vaccine in history — and we have many — has developed long-term consequences. Vaccine side effects have shown themselves within matters of months, not years. I know this — and I suspect you know this — because many experts have addressed several of the primary fears people have about vaccines, including this one for COVID. While it’s true that the CDC has hosted a clinic over the last 18 months on how not to communicate to the public, the information the dissenter wants is now widely available, especially if we broaden our query to experts outside the Center for Disastrous Communication.

To start, if one can get past Sam Harris’ tone and that of his guest, Eric Topol, you’ll hear an obviously bright interviewer talking to a respected physician and researcher discussing the slim odds of short-term side effects, the history of vaccine side effects, the effectiveness of this vaccine compared to others, the misrepresentations of reported side effects, et cetera. Or another friend recently posted a concise University of Alabama-Birmingham press release citing a doctor running a vaccination center, tackling specific concerns over long-term side effects. The list of experts needn’t get longer here, I hope, to persuade your dissenter that experts are speaking out.

Your dissenter hopes to be communicated to from “a place of respect and understanding,” which shouldn’t be too much to ask in stressful times. I empathize. But I hope he or she would similarly consider that many of us find that the evidence is rather settled. Yet within that context of available data, we see people making decisions that put our immunocompromised friends in danger, leave us all exposed to greater chance of variants, and put the small risk of our children getting terribly sick against an even smaller risk of a side effect in getting vaccinated. This is where our sense of urgency comes from.

I think that gets the tone and the facts exactly right. This next reader addresses last week’s episode with John McWhorter on the woke religion:

I think woke culture certainly provides a worldview and a personal sense of a narrative arc. But the central aspect of Christianity — and most religions — is making meaning of our own mortality and easing death anxiety. Think of the famous Bible verse on the promise of everlasting life. For that reason I feel like woke culture is not a religion — there’s no talk of an afterlife.

Indeed. But that makes its religious energy more worrisome. If heaven can be made on earth, and there is nothing else, the justification for radical action in the here and now deepens.

Back to more dissents over my column on “betraying our gay inheritance”:

I agree with your take on where the illiberal left is going, but aren’t these just the children of ACT-UP with similar tactics? Didn’t ACT-UP make a big difference in the end? You seemed to think so when you reviewed the film “How to Survive a Plague.”

Yes, they were. And you’ll notice that my review was not lacking in criticism of some of the tactics. I opposed “outing” quite strongly, for example. I decried the violation of churches. And my measured defense of ACT-UP — largely as a psychological movement for overcoming a sense of helplessness — was in an extremely relevant context. Hundreds of thousands of gay men were dying in a terrifying plague, in a society in which they had almost no rights to family or decency.

I’m sorry but the plight of gay or trans people today is in no way comparable. And the way in which the risks we face are grotesquely exaggerated seems to me to be a rebuke to those of us who tackled a real life-or-death moment, under actual oppression. And dying of AIDS in the early 1990s was a little bit more traumatizing than being misgendered in 2021 in a country where trans people have full civil rights, and where the alleged “epidemic” of anti-trans violence doesn’t actually exist.

But this reader has had enough:

I began reading you when I was in college, in 2001 or so, to counterbalance my own leftward impulses. I’m bi, and having a gay “conservative” as a thought leader felt useful to my brain. Watching you support Obama gave me hope that reasonable conservatives could see that the Republicanism had become deeply violent and dysfunctional.

So I regret so much that I’m unsubscribing to the Dish, because I just can’t stand your constant defense of those who would do violence against trans people. If Trump were re-elected and decided to amp up the cops or round up the gender-nonconforming (like my partner, maybe? Or do they “pass enough”), his Goebbels would quote you left and right to steady their intellectual justifications.

I’m very sorry to lose you. But let me ask: which person “who would do violence against trans people” have I ever, ever defended? You’re not including Dave Chappelle or J.K. Rowling, are you? Because that’s completely insane. Engaging in a debate about some of the thornier questions about trans ideology, especially with respect to kids, is not condoning violence. If it is, then liberal democracy is over. Caving to every mounting demand from every victim faction because of “violence” is crude emotional blackmail that is indistinguishable from irrational hysteria.

And it’s worth recalling that Trump had four years to “round up” the “gender-nonconforming” and somehow didn’t. He failed to make his improvised trans military ban stick. While he was president, the Bostock decision was the greatest breakthrough for trans rights in history.

I support trans freedom and equality strongly. I always have. I do not support critical queer and gender theory — and that position is honestly held by me and by plenty of trans people too. I believe in liberal society. I will never apologize for it.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Oct 29, 2021
John McWhorter On Woke Racism
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For anyone who follows online debates over race in America, John needs little introduction. The Columbia linguist just wrote a bracing tract, Woke Racism, against the new elite religion. He, like me, despises the racism inherent in critical race theory and its various off-shoots, and let’s just say we talked very freely about many of the dynamics of our time.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here.  For two clips of my conversation with John — on the banality of wokeness, and how the woke religion hurts African-American kids — head over to our YouTube page.

Speaking of John, a reader mentions him in the context of this dissent:

Love your podcast, but your complaints about the NYT are becoming tiresome and seem to reflect a lack of recent reading. With Bret Stephens, Ross Douthat, and now John McWhorter writing consistently reasonable columns that are not knee-jerk liberal, your tirades against the Times sound more like sour grapes every week. (No rational person supports Trump, so those voices aren’t going to be heard there except in the occasional guest column.)

Sometimes you paint with such broad strokes that you fall prey to the same distorted view of the opposition — lumping them all together with the most extreme elements of the woke left and exclaiming, “Can you believe what they’re saying?!” Stop with the straw men!

Sour grapes? The NYT has published many of my essays and reviews, and gave my new book a rave. But if my reader thinks that non-left views have more than token appearances in that paper, then I don’t know what to say. Conservative writers need not support Trump, but might be able to defend the non-interventionist, neo-protectionist agenda that also seeks to limit immigration. Another reader is curious to find good alternatives:

As a lifelong Democrat (I was elected to county office on the McGovern ticket) and subscriber to liberal mainstream media, I was interested in your antipathy to those sources. What I need is balance. What sources and commentators do you trust for their objectivity?

The Wall Street Journal is often a very neutral read in its news pages. Various Substacks help balance out the left-framing of everything. The Economist is much more based than the biased CNN or MSNBC.

Looking back to our episode with Cornel West, the following clip, where he offers his take on critical race theory and the 1619 Project, was really popular among readers:

One reader remarks how “Cornel West just exudes a cerebral, erudite common (universalist) warmth and decency. Is this why he’s seemingly so out of fashion on the left?” Another reader:

“We’ve got to fight the notion that whiteness is reducible to white supremacy.” Yes — thank you, Dr. West. This is my issue with how CRT is being disseminated. I don’t have any problems with teaching history, however reprehensible some of our predecessors behaved, but don’t teach children that they have some sort of original sin based on their skin color.

Condoleezza Rice said the same this week:

Another reader on Cornel’s deep love for the humanities:

I found very interesting Dr. West’s response to your question of who people should read more of. His response was Chekhov. Now, critical race theory would tell you that Dr. West, a black man, shouldn’t find too much in common with Chekhov, a dead white man. But in fact the opposite is true.

Moreover, Dr. West’s analysis of Chekhov’s work wasn’t a critical theory analysis of cis, white, patriarchal, capitalist, etc, etc. Rather it was a fundamental engagement with. the. text. — can you hear the annoying clapping? — and what that text says about the HUMAN condition. I think there is something deep to this, especially in our current cultural moment. That a black American professor in 2021 finds such deep communion with a Russian white playwright from (roughly) 150 years ago … worlds apart, and yet deeply connected.

And this is the real beauty of a liberal education — you can commune with anyone outside your own “lived experience” and learn from them. Their identity matters far less than their ideas — and the more cultural and historical boundaries we cross the more we stand to learn.

Many more readers keep the conversation going over the episode with Briahna Joy Gray:

This was a really good talk. While it can be fun to hear you, Andrew, chat with your old buddies, this is the kind of talk I’m here for. Briahna is obviously incredibly sharp. In my experience, articulate thinkers like her are rare out on her wing. She really is the kind of progressive intellectual we need to put forward the best version of the worst ideas from the left. I’m so tired of only finding rational sense-makers clustered around the center of everything. I enjoy getting my opinions challenged, but it doesn’t work if those doing the challenging seem delusional.

And so, it was a bit frustrating to hear Briahna make so much sense, and then draw conclusions that don’t line up with her premises — i.e. how she ascribes so much of America’s problems to class differences, but then talks as though race is the biggest game in town. But I also know she has a long life of hard thinking ahead of her, to work out some of the kinks in her own moral and political reasoning, and articulate more connections that will help me see the flaws in my own. I can’t wait to see who she’ll become in the next 5, 15 and 50 years.

Anyway, I just wanted to put my order in for more conversations like that, please.

The conversation between Briahna and me will continue soon, when I go on her podcast, Bad Faith. Another reader quotes me:

“Why, then, one wonders was the black family far, far stronger a century ago, when oppression was much greater and the welfare state so much more meager?”

Mass incarceration. And I learned that from Briahna on the Dishcast.

It started way before mass incarceration. No doubt that hurt it as well. But how else are you going to stop endless murder and mayhem in your communities — if you don’t take the killers off the streets? Another reader:

I want to share one point that I didn’t see mentioned in your reader responses to the Gray interview. I understand the reason that Ms. Gray, and others, seem unwilling to acknowledge “even the slightest contribution of cultural factors.” It’s the underlying meaning that they assume such an admission would mean: that the cultural factors are the fault of the individual. In other words, for her to admit that absent fathers are the problem, either: 

*  She is admitting that the fathers inherently don’t want to be there, or

*  She’s afraid others will interpret it as such.  

The one dissent you posted speaks directly to this misunderstanding when the reader writes, “To hear you lament the lack of father figures in the ghetto as if this was due to the unique moral failings of Black men” ... when people on the left hear someone say “it’s because the fathers are absent,” what they hear is “the fathers are absent due to a moral failing.” The most common way these two sides talk past one another is conflating “responsibility” with “fault”:

Left: “You’re wrong, it’s not their fault”Right: “No you’re wrong, it’s their responsibility!”

Both are right.  

Exactly. What matters is how we fix it — and if we can. This next reader wants me to “please dive deeper on absent fathers!”

I loved your episode with Briahna — it’s so interesting to get the socialist perspective on policy debates, to make us think more broadly about what’s possible. Like many listeners, I was particularly interested by your exchange on the causes and consequences of absent fathers. I think this might be a bit of a blind spot for you, having never negotiated fertility, pregnancy, and parenting within a romantic relationship. For me and my other highly successful, college-educated friends (all straight women), birth control was serious business from early adolescence, for both us and our parents. We all knew that an unintended pregnancy would really undermine our ability to pursue our goals.

The women I’ve known who became single mothers had a very different approach. They were not very proactive and diligent about birth control and became pregnant at young ages while in youthful romantic relationships that lacked the stability and economic means to be an independent nuclear family. These women (girls really) usually still lived with their parents! It’s a pretty difficult situation to integrate a new young father, especially when the mother’s parents may not be very welcoming.

Your Dishcast guest Bryan Caplan touched on this topic as well: in order to avoid absent fathers, we really need to focus on people waiting until they are in a stable, mature relationship to have children. (As I understand it, one of the best tools for this is long-term reversible birth control, like an IUD.) You should invite an expert on this topic on your podcast! I’m not sure who would be right — maybe someone in Brad Wilcox’s circle (though not Brad himself, I don’t think). Maybe this guy, Nicholas H. Wolfinger?

In the meantime, you’ve piqued my interest, so I’ll be diving into a whole journal issue on the subject, “Out of Wedlock: Causes and Consequences of Nonmarital Fertility.” I also just read a Brookings piece titled, “An analysis of out-of-wedlock births in the United States” — written by none other than Janet Yellen, of all people! Essentially, the increased availability of contraception and abortion has changed the dynamics of premarital sex and unplanned pregnancy, ultimately resulting in a huge decline in shotgun weddings.

Out here in Las Vegas, I’m catching up on your podcast episodes after the birth of my second child — out of wedlock, in more of the Scandinavian fashion, because my partner makes waaaaaaay more than me and I would lose tons of tax benefits if we tied the knot.

I agree on early, easy access to contraception. It both reduces the number of kids without fathers and the number of abortions. Win-win.

Yet another reader:

What I found most interesting about your conversation with Briahna is that in terms of policy, you and her actually agree on quite a bit, which you repeatedly make clear. You are both interested in UBI, for example. What’s really different are the philosophical underpinnings behind your positions. Briahna supports UBI because she sees it as a way to help poor and working class people for their own sake; you support it because you think it helps stabilize a society that becomes unstable when there is too much income inequality. Same position, but with a fundamental difference in motive and emphasis.

One more reader this week:

I just listened to your conversation with Briahna while passing into my 10th hour of tomato harvesting for the day. So this part made me laugh:

“ … instead of some migrant worker having to spend all her day in the hot sun picking tomatoes, that that process can be automated and that migrant worker can … can do anything else in the world”

As a migrant (from East Sussex!) who works 40 hours a week at a Montreal rooftop greenhouse, I can happily report that tomato harvesting is wholly conducive to podcast consumption. I look forward to The Dishcast every Friday!



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Oct 22, 2021
Woodward & Costa On The Peril Of Trump
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In the year or so that I’ve been podcasting, this may be the most significant conversation I’ve recorded. It’s a civil, careful examination of the core political question we face today: how can we save liberal democracy from becoming tyranny? The skill with which Bob Woodward and now Robert Costa have put together a chronology of the Trump administration should remind us of how truly grave the threat was — and is. No hyperbole here; just brutal realism and a refusal to deny what is staring us in the face.

Something new for the Dishcast this week: video. If you’re a paid subscriber and want to watch as well as listen to my discussion with Bob and Robert in our DC studio, go here. Or check out this short clip of the 1.5 hour episode:

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here. For two audio clips — on the various signs of Trump’s insanity, and on how the non-interventionist president still got us on the brink of war — head over to our YouTube page.

Staying on the topic of Trump, several readers reflect on the episode we did last month with Michael Wolff. The first writes:

I really appreciate your measured but firm concern about Trump, and I thoroughly enjoyed your conversation with Wolff, whose overall take on Trump — not a mastermind but a moronic, egomaniacal, accidentally genius, dangerous rabble-rouser — has always seemed the most accurate one.

But what I’d add to your essay on “Deepening Menace of Trump” is that, if he’s re-elected (and I agree with you that it’s VERY possible), the GOP and the various amoral grifters attached to Trump will have had four years to give far more purpose to strip-mining democracy.

Whereas the first time around, Trump was an unguided missile, someone who no one was sure could be manipulated, it’s now clear he can be maneuvered to do all sorts of catastrophic harm by people skilled at flattering his demented ego and exploiting his proud ignorance of history and how government works. Take the first Trump presidency and add to it the steely discipline of GOP cynicism and the ever-increasing, violent insanity of his cult followers, and your “deepening menace” becomes lethally nihilistic on many levels. 

This next reader, on the other hand, gives Trump much more credit:

Michael Wolff has such a narrow, one-dimensional view of Trump that it’s hard to swallow completely. I voted for Trump because he lacked the smooth rehearsed qualities of professional politicians. I hoped a businessman would provide refreshing leadership. (After all, Reagan the Actor turned out to be quite wonderful in most respects.)

I have lived to regret my vote for Trump, because his hideous personality has completely overshadowed his accomplishments. If he had stayed out of view and simply put forward his agenda, I believe he would have been re-elected. His response to Covid was far better than Biden’s, something the mainstream press has given Trump little credit for. The great masking debate notwithstanding, it truly was Operation Warp Speed. And while many, including myself, are impatient with anti-vaxxers, you should pull out the clips of Kamala Harris casting doubt on a “Trump vaccine.”

If Trump had been re-elected, would the Left be the main vaccine holdouts? Maybe so.

Other Trump accomplishments include:

* Slowing illegal immigration and his success in requiring asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico.

* He was derided for trying to work with Kim Jong-Un, an impossible task, but Trump managed to put a pause on North Korean nuclear reactor development. Under Biden, the reactor has again been fired up. No other president did anything meaningful on this front.

* Largely ignored was Trump’s successful efforts to broker some degree of cooperation between Israel and Arab countries.

* A less tangible benefit of a Trump presidency was a restored national pride and confidence. Obama seemed ashamed or disdainful of our country. America is truly a place where opportunity is endless and anyone can make good, and he didn’t seem to appreciate that.

In my opinion, the Trump accomplishments prove that he was more than just a crazy guy who couldn’t pay attention.

Speaking of policies under a GOP administration, a reader has a suggestion:

I completely agree with your 2019 argument for nuclear power as a means of combating climate change. My recent brainstorm on the issue: on a political level, GOP primary candidates who are pro-nuclear seem much more likely to succeed than Dem primary candidates who are pro-nuclear. Is it time to reach out, or prod, the Republican Party to make it happen? Steal the entire issue of the environment while putting millions to work building power plants? Launch perhaps 10 years of sustained old-school infrastructure stimulus? Own the libs by making them live through an American nuclear Renaissance?

This could win a lot of elections. But probably only on the GOP side, God help us.

Yes! But of course no.

Another Trump voter compares his administration to the current one:

I would argue that Trump’s domestic and foreign policies were superior, on balance, to Biden’s. Foreign policy: taking action against China and forging Pacific relationships to that end; insisting that the Europeans fulfill their commitments to a common defense; the brokered deal between Serbia and Kosovo; and pursuing the Abraham accords. Domestic policy: the border policies; Operation Warp Speed; promoting our energy independence; and the tax cut that spurred economic growth. 

While both Biden and Trump supported the exit from Afghanistan, Biden has to take full responsibility for the withdrawal fiasco. The Infrastructure and “Build Back Better” pork bills will bankrupt my children and grandchildren and drive the economy to ruin. Inflation is back now. While the Delta variant is causing harm, one can’t blame Biden (too much), except for letting our scold-in-chief, Dr. Anthony Fauci, flap his jaws in excess. Pandemics affect both Republicans and Democrats. 

One reason that many Republicans and Independents support Trump is that he opposed the inclinations of the Administrative State. Many working-class folks feel disempowered by our elites. It’s their way or the highway.

Biden generally supports the “wokerati.” People are getting fed up. Look at the minor “revolts” at school board meeting over masking children. Statistically, there is little threat to kids. People are fed up with the denigration of our country and the push to institute Critical Race Theory throughout our institutions.

I hope that Trump doesn’t run again. I agree that he is a boisterous, divisive and cantankerous. I would not want to work for him. However, if he’s the nominee of the Republican Party running against either Biden or Harris, I will gladly support Trump. I was aghast at the January 6th riot. Yet the BLM riots were far more damaging to the country. Biden was elected as a unifier, but he’s as divisive as Trump.

So if it becomes a choice of two evils, I choose Trump as the lesser of the two.

Another reader underscores a big part of Trump’s foreign policy record:

As a Bulgarian American, who now lives in Brussels, I am mostly interested in the effect of different US presidents on foreign affairs. By looking at the data, unlike all of his predecessors, the much maligned Trump is actually the first one who did not start a new war with the aim of feeding the military-industrial complex that has been ruling America since WWII.

I am amazed how little attention people pay to the actual policies of our presidents, and the media distracts the people by emphasizing the character of the president. Obama was a nice person, yet a horrible president. Trump was the opposite. I feel that instead of talking about Trump’s craziness, people, especially in Europe, should erect a monument for him because he did not start any new wars that ultimately hit the EU. (Remember the “F**k the EU” line by the Obama appointees who fomented the Ukraine-Russia war?)

Here’s one more reader, on “Stop the Steal”:

I regularly read that “two-thirds of Republican voters believe the election was stolen,” as you quoted, and I simply don’t believe it. I believe the pollsters; I don’t believe the poll respondents.

It just seems impossible to me that 48 million Americans really believe that. If even a small fraction of that number believed Trump had the election stolen from him, there would be mass protests, riots — civil war basically — which would have shaken our country to its knees by now. Trump would be chaining his fat ass to the White House door. And as much as I loathe and fear Trump, if I believed the election had been stolen by the Democrats, I’d be out there raising hell, too. 

Instead, we had a few thousand goons cosplaying the “radical” on January 6th.  This was not nothing. The entire thing was and remains terrifying. But again, I believe very few people even there, in their hearts, believed that the election had really been stolen. (My fear is that among them were some flinty-eyed young men a la Timothy McVeigh, true believers on a mission.) 

Most of my family have sadly gone full MAGA, and when I confront them about Trump’s election lies, they sort of mumble something about “Well ... I don’t know, but I don’t trust those Democrats.” It reminds me of their half-denials of climate change and flabby anti-vaccination positions: they are more statements of group membership than expressions of true belief. When liberals call them “stupid” or “uniformed,” they are missing the point. It’s not about having grappled intellectually with these positions and come to the wrong conclusions. These are just public stands being taken, symbolic lines being drawn that transcend the actual issue at hand.  

In the same way, I want us to call “b******t” on progressive cry-bullies who disingenuously claim to have been made to feel “unsafe” by a pronoun they don’t like. We should not be taking the claims of Trumpets on face value. We should call them out for their lack of sincerity. “Really, you believe Democrats denied Trump a landslide victory and all you can do is complain that Biden is a geriatric socialist?

This reality might be more horrifying than them simply being under the spell of bad information. But I think we would do ourselves all a favor by seeing through the facade.

I hope you’re right. I really do. Let me add one thing to these dissents: I’m really proud that The Weekly Dish has such a diversity of opinion among our readers and subscribers. You’re as much a part of what we offer as my own scribblings are. Keep writing. We’ll keep posting: dish@andrewsullivan.com.



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Oct 15, 2021
Cornel West On God And The Great Thinkers

Cornel West’s academic career is long and storied, having taught religion, philosophy, and African-American studies at Yale, Princeton, Harvard, and Union Theological Seminary, where he recently returned. He has written or contributed to more than 20 books, including Race Matters and Democracy Matters — but he recommends you start with Chekhov.

I met Cornel decades ago, when I interviewed him at Union Theological Seminary for a TNR piece I was writing on divinity schools. He has long fascinated me, and Race Matters had a real impact on me decades ago. Erudite, passionate, and deeply humane, he is an unapologetically leftist Christian, who is also a champion of free speech, civility and the classics. In other words: a rare and beautiful man.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here. For two clips of my conversation with Cornel — on how he finds common ground with bigots and racists, and his take on CRT and the 1619 Project — pop over to our YouTube page.

Last week’s episode with Briahna Joy Gray elicited one of the biggest waves of email yet. Here’s the first of many readers to sound off:

This was, hands down, your best conversation on the Dishcast. Ms. Gray is brilliant, and you were, as always, a worthy interlocutor. It was refreshing to have two smart people with very different points of view converse about complicated issues rather than endure yet another diatribe against wokeness. That script has become predictable and boring, and none of us who admire your intellect (even as we often disagree with your views) want you to become boring. There are many thoughtful voices on the left — some of whom regard wokeness as a distraction, which it is, so bring more of them on to your show.

You can always drop us more guest recommendations at dish@andrewsullivan.com. This next reader also enjoyed the “fascinating” debate with Briahna and throws a barbed dissent my way:

I admire your resolution to have on guests who clearly do not agree with you, and such guests are so much more interesting to hear than a sympathetic guest and you mutually endorsing each other’s dislike of Wokery, or congratulating each other on being Catholics. I must say I thought Gray had the edge on you in your arguments, and I found myself at times wanting to scream at your stubborn refusal to see her argument at its strongest. You are right in acknowledging the importance of two-parent households in raising healthy and well-adjusted young people, but you seem blind to the political and economic factors that have made that such a difficulty in the African-American community in the past 30 to 40 years.

To hear you lament the lack of father figures in the ghetto as if this was due to the unique moral failings of Black men reminded me of the way that the British used to talk about the Irish during the Famine and afterwards. Dark references to fecundity, waywardness, intemperance and passivity were all leveled at the Irish then, as they are to African-Americans today. Lo and behold, when the criminal British Imperial policy in Ireland changed, the economy began to develop and the Irish showed those tropes to be exactly what they were: prejudicial nonsense.

Until we stop the War on Drugs, reinvest in inner cities, begin to bring back industries and meaningful work opportunities, and reorient the police away from soldiering and into community care and treatment, these problems will persist, and people like you and others on the right will continue to blame the victims rather than face up to the logical consequences of the economic policies pursued by successive governments since the 1980s. Poverty is not a moral failing; it is an economic consequence of the system we have allowed to develop and until this is grasped, people like you are seeing the world with one eye closed.

Why, then, one wonders was the black family far, far stronger a century ago, when oppression was much greater and the welfare state so much more meager? Another reader is more critical of Briahna:

She set up a false dichotomy: “There are two options: Either you believe that Black men don’t care about their children, have some kind of fundamentally intrinsic cultural lack of interest in their offspring, or you think that there are structural factors that are making it more difficult for Black fathers to be in the home or for them to stay in relationships with the mothers of their children.”

No. Both factors can, and likely are, at play. The real question is the relative way of the two factors.

But Briahna simply refused to acknowledge ANY negative cultural effects. For her, it’s ALL systemic. And, as you pointed out, if it is all systemic, then that world has no individual agency — people are just helplessly subject to the whims of political and economic structures. If those structures were in fact the cause of all life-outcome disparities (an Ibram X Kendi notion), then those disparities may be solvable via government policy. And that is very likely the hope and belief of Briahna. She wants to solve the problems and thinks the entire solution is found in public policy.

But she acknowledged, “I can’t legislate grit.” And that is true. So, to admit that culture (or individual agency) plays ANY role in life-outcome disparities at a group level would be to admit that social policy cannot solve all of those disparities; it can only partially address those disparities. And that is a “defeatist” view that Briahna likely cannot — or refuses to — accept. This blinds here to the most difficult part of the solution: How can cultural change occur outside of the context of formal legislation and other public policy?

Perfectly put. Another reader continues that thread:

I loved the interaction when she said, “I can’t legislate grit,” when talking about the agency of black people to make decisions and run their lives and communities. Nobody denies they have this agency, but that doesn’t deny the structural issues and consequences driven by government and social policy. To the people who were able to overcome those issues, good for them! Doesn’t mean that the policy, or lack thereof, didn’t have an effect that needs to be addressed and repaired by policy as well, and it certainly doesn’t mean that enacting those reparative policies is an insult to the agency, abilities, and intellect of those who were left behind.

With the same “government and social policy,” and under neoliberal economics, other ethnic and racial groups have thrived — often in the very neighborhoods where my reader says the system prevents any substantive progress. How?

Another reader contends with the culture vs. politics debate:

I shared your obvious frustration with Ms. Gray’s unwillingness to acknowledge even the slightest contribution of cultural factors to the socio-economic struggles of black Americans. She kept responding to your inquiries about culture by asking what “policy” you propose to improve those cultural factors. Her question — and, to be fair, your response — reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how cultural change works. It is not an issue of governmental policy, but an incremental, glacial and unsexy policy of changing minds one by one. 

To be sure, there are governmental policies that can make marginal differences, such as subsidies, penalties and tax credits. Primarily, though, cultural change takes millions and millions of conversations and debates, discussions at the dinner table, social media messages, church sermons, parents setting an example for their children, etc. To make an analogy, you played a pivotal role in the dramatic cultural change in attitudes towards homosexuality. This, of course, did not happen because of a top-down law, but the bottom-up process I described.

Ultimately, this is what makes Ms. Gray’s unwillingness to admit the obvious so frustrating: In light of her remarkable intellect, she could make a lot of progress in changing cultural issues in the black community. Unfortunately, she has the typical leftist mindset that holds that economics determines everything.

And, in fact, the real effect of CRT as the successor ideology is that it insists that African-Americans have no chance of advancement until our entire liberal system is systematically dismantled and replaced by coercive racial and social engineering. It tells African-Americans that there is nothing they can do about their own plight. It contributes to a culture of failure and excuses for failure.

Another reader worries that discussions like these have become too siloed:

It is becoming standard practice in the media that only black people can discuss black people, only gays can discuss gays, etc. But this forces the black or gay person to acknowledge problems with their own culture, which often, as with Ms. Gray, makes them uncomfortable and they are unwilling to do so. She just refused to address the cultural issues of absentee fathers and extreme violence in the black community.

Ms. Gray also discussed redlining but I wonder if she read John McWhorter’s discussion (in the NY Times no less) on redlining and how it affected more white people. She did not want to address the growing black middle class or the incredible cultural contributions that black people have made. In the end, she advocated throwing money at the problem while admitting that throwing money at the problem in the past caused problems with black families.

That reader adds, “As a teacher, I’ve seen firsthand how massive amounts of money were given to ‘poor’ schools and how this influx of money had absolutely no positive effect on poor students.” Freddie DeBoer recently supported that point with a mountain of data. In my hometown of DC, the money spent on schools for black kids is staggering, and the results consistently appalling. On a similar note, another reader:

The problem with the utopian vision of addressing all problems with federal programs is that we have 60 years of experience watching the federal government lead a War on Poverty that it hasn’t yet come close to winning, in spite of massive anti-poverty programs in all the areas Briahna mentioned (housing, education, healthcare, etc). Were LBJ’s experts just completely wrong about how to go about it? Were the programs too small? Did Congress and/or subsequent administrations undermine them? 

If there’s a better way, I’m all for trying it — nobody wants a dystopian America —but it seemed as if Briahna was advocating essentially the same kinds of things we’ve been doing for decades. 

In the end, you and Briahna didn’t seem that far apart. Address inequality, provide a better safety net, invest in the future through infrastructure and education, take care of people who are being left behind, address the specific problems we know about (including weak families in both black and white America) with concrete policy rather than nebulous attacks on either black or white culture — these are the kinds of things all people of goodwill should be able to agree on.

Another reader dives deeper into the issue of absent parents:

One area where I wish you pushed harder is the role fathers play in parenting style. It’s not just economical, which is important, but it’s important in the parenting style differences between mothers and fathers. I grew up in Compton, California, and two areas that would have an impact on parenting style is, A) focusing on LONG-term goals (like college, delayed gratification) over short-term goals like drug sales and gang life. Mothering style is generally more focused on the here and now. Did you eat today? Is your jacket on when it’s cold outside? Dads are more focused on the long term (relatively speaking of course.

B) The ability to hear someone YELL at you, and you have to suck it up. Many of my Black friends growing up just frankly never really had a strong male authority figure “put them in their place.” Women just don’t command that much physical authority, even the very strong Black mothers raising these kids. When a Black kid hears his middle school teacher, or even a police officer, yell at him for the first time, it’s sort of understandable that he gets into a rage, since it’s an experience he is not that familiar with.

A podcast guest on this topic I highly recommend is the academic Warren Farrell, and his books are great. He brings to light these parenting styles in ways I can see clearly in my own experience. (I am a single father, raising two kids.)

As a side note, I don’t think any of the social safety nets will do much to change mobility. I highly recommend this podcast episode with Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman on mobility in Denmark — the safety net paradise of many of these lefties. Conclusion? Mobility there is exactly the same as in the United States. Guess why? The #1 factor is family dynamics. Fathers again. Government policy can’t change that. Period. 

I agree. I’d go so far as to say that if the black family had the same proportion of married parents in the home as the Asian-American family, racial inequality between the two would almost disappear. Our core question should be: what can we do to get African-American fathers to stay in the home and take care of their own kids, especially their own sons? We can’t legislate that, as Briahna notes. So how can we help?

Another reader shifts to the Universal Basic Income part of the episode:

When Briahna asked you if you would simply stop working if you had enough money, I found it totally unbelievable when you said you might. You and I both know you can’t stop. I can’t stop, either. Although my work is much less public, I don’t do it for the money. Certain people have a desire ... no, a *need* to do what they do, and we are of that ilk, Andrew. 

The fact of the matter is that once people have their foot on the rung of the ladder of advancement, human nature makes them want to keep climbing. We need not a guarantee of success, only the possibility to motivate us. So many people don’t feel like the possibility is there for them. And that’s not just in the urban African-American communities, but in the white rural communities, where “f**k it” is the mantra. 

The problem is many people don’t even get a chance to get their foot on that first rung. And that messes with pride. And maybe that’s the reason many of those folks abandon their families: they don’t want to be confronted with their own *lack* every single day.

This next reader takes stock of the Dishcast, coming up on its one-year anniversary:

Thanks for all these podcast episodes. They’re a brilliant addition to the Dish and have been a real delight. As with the content of the old Dish, I appreciate the great variety — from Michael Pollan’s lyrical tribute to the joys of gardening, to Tim Shipman on Boris, to David Frum’s careful introspection on what conservatives can learn from the woke, to Ross Douthat sharing his intimate journey with chronic illness, to the various up-close looks at gender issues (Dana Beyer’s, Julie Bindel’s, Buck Angel’s & Helena Kerschner’s, Mara Keisling’s) to many deep discussions of the Christian faith with many interlocutors (Caitlin Flanagan, Michael Brendan Dougherty, Antonio García Martínez), to Michael Wolff’s enlightening inside look at Trump — and that these conversations can go in almost any direction, and often far away from politics, to deeper matters of life and the heart.

I’ve really enjoyed and learned from them as well. A final reader looks ahead:

I enjoyed the episode with Briahna, and I like your idea of having more people you disagree with on the show, since it makes for interesting conversations. Please do the same with some people to the right of you; maybe Michael Anton again, Victor Davis Hanson, JD Vance, Chris Rufo, James Lindsay, Sohrab Ahmari, Michael Shellenberger, Dinesh D’Souza, Kim Strassel, Douglas Murray, Tucker Carlson, etc.

Ann Coulter has already agreed to come on. The guru of Brexit and iconoclastic wonk, the brilliant Dominic Cummings, is also on the schedule. The other suggestions are excellent. Stay tuned.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Oct 08, 2021
Briahna Joy Gray On Race And Class

Briahna, a lawyer and political consultant who served as press secretary for Bernie Sanders, co-hosts the superb podcast Bad Faith. I start our enjoyable convo with a simple question: how can we best facilitate the flourishing of black America? I’m trying to reach out and engage more people I have disagreements with, to see where we might have common ground. I’m immensely grateful to Briahna for coming on.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app” — which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two excerpts of my conversation with Briahna — on the extent to which culture plays a role in poverty, and on the causes behind the sky-high murder rates of young African-American men — head over to our YouTube page.

After listening to last week’s episode with Antonio García Martínez, a reader writes:

While I agree with you on most topics, I have never been able to grasp the logic of your position on immigration. In your conversation with Martínez, you explained that the core reason you support more limited immigration is for the purpose of maintaining the cultural status quo. For you, it doesn’t seem to ultimately be about economics or logistics or crime, just aesthetics.

My question is, why do you think that as an individual person you have any right to decide “what London culturally feels like,” or something similar? Why should your aesthetic preferences about cities have meaningful implications for public policy? And furthermore, what about those of us who enjoy having a few really culturally diverse cities in the world like London and New York? Do we get any say about it?

First off, it’s not aesthetics. I’m not even sure what you mean by that. It’s simply about not creating such massive and sudden demographic change that it threatens the cohesion and common identity of a nation-state. It’s about slowing migration, to encourage social stability and some measure of cultural continuity, not stopping it altogether. And of course I don’t decide. Voters do. And in such a situation, big multicultural cities are not threatened at all.

Next up, a perennial dissent:

I am sure you have heard this before, but I think that the experiences of African Americans cannot be compared to other immigrants. I believe you give short shrift to the ongoing experience and sensibilities of black people in the US. While it is true, as you pointed out in your conversation with Mr. Martínez, that slavery and discrimination were not created in the US, it held a special place, which I believe you minimize.

In my lifetime I have seen the tail end of Jim Crow, the redlining, the mistreatment of Black students in schools, the unwillingness of academic departments to come to grips with the longstanding double standards towards Black applicants and faculty. I was alive, although somewhat young, when Brown v. Board of Education was decided, and during the backlash, the creation of “private” white schools. The Civil Rights Movement occurred when I was an adult. Anti-miscegenation laws were ended when I was an adult as well. I was alive when the Voting Rights Act was passed, and when it was gutted recently because Chief Justice Roberts thinks that discrimination in access to voting no longer exists.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  

We need to consider the experiences of Black people who have this as part of their memories, and of their parents’ and grandparents’ memories. The effect of the experiences of Jews in Nazi Germany on their children and grandchildren are taken seriously, more seriously than the effect of slavery and the brutal experiences that lasted well into the present on the minds and sensibilities of Blacks. 

Discrimination is not over. There is ample empirical evidence that Blacks are still not treated equally, even though less unequally than in the past. But it seems like there is a real desire for them to forget their parents’ and grandparents’ experiences and even their own, and act as if they do not matter.

I know you know all this, and I know you take it seriously, but I do think that the way you have discussed this history, and the ongoing effects of this history, has been dismissive. I do hope that you find merit in my argument and will examine how you have presented this in your past discussions.

I do see a great deal of merit in what you are saying. The African-American experience in this country is indeed unique in its historic enmeshment with evil. The question is how we respond to that inheritance. And I think the woke left’s insistence that history can never be overcome, that the US needs to be dismantled for liberation to arrive, and that African Americans are uniquely incapable of agency because of “white supremacy,” to be unhelpful, if not downright counter-productive. You can acknowledge deeply the victimhood, without being defined by it. This is not a new tension: it has engaged black America for centuries. I think the current emphasis is off — and that we need more empowerment, and less victimhood.

Another reader thinks all the debate over critical race theory is rarified and unnecessary:

I have enjoyed your writing for years, and though I’m not a full subscriber, I get your Dish emails. Your style is excellent, thoughts insightful, and I generally agree with your positions. What has disappointed me lately is your focus on CRT and gender issues.

I don’t disagree with your position on these issues, but I disagree with the amount of focus you are putting on them. If this were truly an existential threat to America, maybe it would be worth being the sole issue worth covering. But unlike you, I don’t see it as a menace, because I disagree with your evidence that it is taking over America and the Democratic party. It may be that Biden has swung left since being elected, and that he has either tacitly or actively begun promoting CRT and sex-doesn’t-exist policies. But remember that most voters didn’t know he would do that. He won the Democratic primary by a large margin.

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, I like to point out to people, were two of the very few candidates who didn’t put their preferred pronouns on their social media profiles. People like Julian Castro, who complained that National Women’s Month was insufficiently celebratory of trans women, didn’t even register to voters. The woke crowd candidates got nowhere. Running on “white people are the problem” got zero votes in the Democratic primary.

Sanders, while far to the left on economic issues, and who came in second, is hardly the champion of this postmodernist thought. His campaigns have been built on the assumption that racial and gender issues hardly matter and that economic concerns unite people across all backgrounds — a strategy that was highly successful. Meanwhile, Uncle Joe ran on being a moderate, folksy, bipartisan, soul-of-America healer-in-chief. Whatever these politicians are doing now, the vast majority of Democratic voters had no interest in this postmodernist, CRT nonsense, and indicated as much with their votes.

You complain that the elites give too much credence to CRT and the like, yet you do the same thing. You are giving it so much air time. Why? Most people don’t care. I live in Oakland, CA. Almost everyone I know votes Democratic. And you know what? Not one has anyone ever brought up critical theory. We don’t sit around self-flagellating ourselves over our whiteness or straightness or what-have-you. I rarely even talk about this with my politics-obsessed friends who live in DC from when I used to live there. So how are you and I getting such different impressions?

The reason I think you perceive this as so prevalent is because of social media. You probably spend a lot of time on Twitter. And if you don’t, the other elites you hang out with or hear about or interact with, do. This has created such a warped perspective of the world. I am very confident that if you spent less time online, and more time talking to average people (people who pay attention to politics every four years and know more “The Bachelor” contestants than sitting senators), or even time talking to people who care about politics but don’t live in a certain political and media milieu, you’d find that this isn't as relevant as you think.

I’m sorry but the adoption of critical race theory by every major cultural and media institution, government at all levels, and corporate America, is a big deal even if many people are unaware of what’s going on. A generation of kids is being taught that liberal democracy is oppressive and must be dismantled, that the central meaning of their own country is persecution of the non-white, that white people are all vehicles of white supremacy, even when they are trying not to be, and so on. That’s a huge deal. Ideas matter.

From a reader on the ground, in the classroom:

I am a great fan of the Dish who, living in a bright-blue suburb of Boston, has found your columns very helpful over the past couple of years. It is very disorienting to observe so many of my friends shifting left without being aware of it, and feeling left out and isolated when my discomfort about the Successor Ideology is ridiculed. But lately, like you, I have felt that people are beginning to recalibrate their outrage, much to my relief. 

I am a social studies teacher who writes a bit on the side. Working in private schools has allowed me to see the impact of progressive orthodoxy on education up close. I find the results very concerning, but most of the reporting on this topic covers the most egregious examples of wokeness gone wild, rather than its more mundane but nonetheless far-reaching effects. I decided to write a piece for Areo about how US History curricula, which is one of the areas I know well, have changed in the past few years at private schools. As you will see, I don’t think the impacts of wokeness are all terrible, but I am very troubled. I hope you find the article worth your time and that it perhaps provides you with a bit more context about how woke ideas are influencing what students learn. 

This next reader should enjoy our new episode with socialist Briahna:

Longtime reader here — you actually posted my responses a couple times back in the days of the Dish (about Bart Ehrman and a film review I wrote of The Bling Ring). My partner and I are enjoying the new weekly format and the podcast. Thank you for continuing to challenge mainstream media and offer rigorous critiques of liberalism. 

My politics, especially on economics, have moved sharply to the left in recent years. I remain more moderate/conservative on cultural issues. If I lived in Europe I’d be a combination of Christian Democrat and Social Democrat. On this score, I am with you about CRT. I must echo some of your readers, though, in pointing out that it’s getting to the point where you are beating a dead horse. There are other stories going on, need I point out.

On that note, the socialist in me is continually frustrated by the lack of attention you pay to the economic inequality in the contemporary landscape. The crisis of late capitalism has produced staggering poverty, concentrations of wealth that threaten democracy, and suffering by the working class. Yet you remain preoccupied with immigration and CRT. And when the government decides for the first time in 40 years to give cash relief to the poor — for one year — you hyperventilate and call it a revolution. Please.

Nothing Biden has done has touched any of the fundamental structures of the economy in the Sanders or Warren model — no increase in wages, no taxes, no regulation (not to mention nationalization). I know it feels that way after two generations of neoliberal oligarchy. It amounts to deficit spending and a Keynesian approach we haven’t seen in decades. And on that score, it marks a welcome shift away from the scourge of Friedman, Hayek, and Schumpeter. 

But it’s not nearly on the level of the New Deal, and the New Deal itself was only reform, not revolution. Certainly it’s no semblance of social democracy in the mode of Western Europe. And it’s light years from the Civil War, the only real revolution the United States has ever had. There, you saw one of the wealthiest and most politically powerful societies on earth utterly destroyed by military conquest, the enslaved class of workers rising up to fight in the Union Army and Navy, and the largest source of wealth totally abrogated with Emancipation. That is a revolution. Yet even our Civil War doesn’t hold a candle to what happened in Haiti or Russia or many other places.

Don’t believe me? Just read people on the actual left, like Matt Karp at Jacobin. These folks want real revolution and they are not fooled by what Biden has done. So if the hard left isn’t happy, I think you should relax and not mislead your readers by crying that the sky is falling. Your masthead quotes Orwell about seeing what is right in front of your eyes, after all. In that spirit, choose your terms prudently.

In any case, I would appreciate it if you paid more attention to the economic crisis and explored proposals that can respond to the socialist option that appeals to so many of us now. I know some conservatives are offering this in terms of nationalist or populist measures. But I see a paucity of that conversation in your show and column. 

Socialist Cornel West is coming on the pod next week. If you have a question you would like him to answer, drop us an email: dish@andrewsullivan.com. This last reader has a question for me:

I started reading your wonderful Out On a Limb book. The first essay, “Here Comes the Groom,” reminded me of an interesting chat I had with my wife. I’ve always appreciated the narrative that the push for marriage equality was so successful so quickly because people like you reached out to your philosophical opponents in the liberal tradition of convincing through reasoned argument and open-minded discussion. You had a strong argument that resonated, so you convinced people, and thus society changed.

I proposed this to my wife, who advanced a different narrative for that success: the AIDS epidemic pushed gay people into the spotlight and made them sympathetic; that was the primary cause for an incredible advance in social acceptance of gays; and once gay people are just regular people, of course them getting married isn’t that big a deal. So it would have happened with or without the organized push for marriage equality. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that alternative narrative!

It was both! As I’ve often argued, marriage equality would not have happened without them cultural and moral impact of the AIDS epidemic. But equally, it was advanced by consistent argument and engagement and activism and public education.

If you have any of your own questions or comments about Out On a Limb, shoot us an email: dish@andrewsullivan.com. I also just discussed the book via Zoom with Philadelphia Citizen co-founder Larry Platt:



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Oct 01, 2021
Antonio García Martínez On Christianity And The Woke Religion
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Antonio is quite the Renaissance man: child of Cuban exiles, journalist, PhD student in physics, Wall Street ace, entrepreneur, Facebook ad pioneer, and Silicon Valley apostate. His NYT bestselling memoir Chaos Monkeys got rave reviews until five years later it got him fired from Apple a few weeks into his job because of a woke revolt. Now he has a brilliant substack. In this episode we dive deep into our Catholic backgrounds, Antonio’s break toward Judaism, and the new Woke religion.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app” — which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. To listen to two excerpts from my conversation with Antonio — on how he thinks Christianity is flawed compared to his chosen religion of Judaism, and on how the Great Awokening is very Puritan in nature — head over to our YouTube page.

A reader reflects on last week’s episode with Ross Douthat:

You and Douthat are my two favorite contemporary thinkers, so listening to both of you discuss such a wide range of topics absolutely delighted me. While you two have some commonalities in your respective backgrounds that are obvious — Catholic conservatives educated at Harvard and working in journalism — the fact that you have both endured chronic illnesses never occurred to me. Listening to you discuss the struggle and the pain, and the way that suffering has shaped your respective relationships with God, was very moving.

I was surprised by how little of Douthat’s personal spirituality I knew about, despite having read him for over a decade and obviously being very familiar with his overall interest in religion. But you have a wonderful way of getting your interviewees to open up and of empathizing with them, and this interview was no exception.

One amusing part of the interview, which underscores the complexity of both thinkers, was your discussion of the political landscape toward the end. I typically consider you to be to Douthat’s left, and in most cases that is true. But it was enjoyable to hear you outflank him to the right on the question of wokeism. Obviously you have different audiences, objectives, and temperaments that shape your writing.

I also want to briefly note that I greatly enjoyed the old interview that Johann Hari did of you. Aside from how moving it was to hear you discuss your personal faith journey, it was incredibly engaging to hear you and Hari get into the weeds of political philosophy. Also, amusingly, I immediately picked up on your thicker English accent, which you eventually acknowledged as probable subconscious code-switching.

I was in England at the time and the accent creeps back in. A question from a reader:

I have a background in Philosophy of Religion, with some familiarity with political philosophy. However, Oakeshott is someone who has only come on to my radar since following you in the last year or two. Could you make a recommendation for where to begin reading him? I realize he apparently evolved in his thinking, but just curious of a good place to start.

Read his introduction to Hobbes’ Leviathan. Then the assorted essays in “Rationalism in Politics.” Then try the final third of “On Human Conduct.” For a superb account of Oakeshott on religion (the ultimate focus of my own book on him), try Elizabeth Corey’s study.

Another reader points to a sermon in the midst of the Jewish holidays:

I love your writing and your defense of liberalism. Along those lines, I thought you might appreciate this impassioned, yet measured, advocacy of liberalism from a religious perspective. It’s the Kol Nidre (night of Yom Kippur — holiest time of the Jewish Year) sermon from the chief rabbi at Central Synagogue in NYC, Angela Warnick Buchdal, who is herself a trailblazer in being an Asian, female rabbi.  (As a Catholic, I hope you don’t mind the comparison at the beginning of Judaism to the Nicene Creed; not sure how valid that is). Her measured yet clear repudiation of identity politics at 14:34 is particularly good:

Central Syngagogue is a Reform synagogue that is probably overwhelmingly liberal in its membership and “social justice” orientation, so I took this sermon, at the most important service of the year, amplified by the Internet and Jewish Broadcasting Service, as a good sign that more are waking up to the threats from the illiberal left.

Another reader turns to the ongoing debate over Covid:

Last week you wrote, “I am befuddled and maddened by the resistance of so many to such obvious common sense.” I find your position regarding COVID “anti-vaxxers” to be uncharacteristically devoid of nuance, especially in light of your recent interview with Michael Lewis. I think I can help explain the skepticism of at least some of the anti-vaxx crowd.

There are many good reasons to be nervous about getting the COVID vaccines. The fundamental problem is that for those who are 12 and older, we have a one-size-fits-all vaccine policy. This despite many well-documented risks for several segments of our population. I will focus on one segment here: Males between the ages of 16 and 24. 

This group experiences an elevated risk of myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle — after a second shot of the Pfizer vaccine. According to research conducted in Israel, the risk of myocarditis for this group is between 1 in 3000 and 1 in 6000. Additional studies in the US (CDC) and Canada support these figures.

The CDC has acknowledged this risk by simply stating that the risk of getting myocarditis from COVID is higher than that from the vaccines. Therefore, young men should get fully vaccinated, according to the recommended schedule. Furthermore, they argue, most cases of vaccine-induced myocarditis are mild.

I would argue that this is a grossly irresponsible and dishonest position.

I have two male children, 17 and 21. After the older one experienced a fairly severe reaction to the second Pfizer shot, I decided to do my own research before vaccinating my 17 year old. (Also keep in mind that the younger one has only one approved vaccine option right now: Pfizer.) After presenting my findings to several doctors and researchers whom I know, they all quietly suggested that my son be vaccinated but that the second shot should be taken 10 or more weeks after the first shot, rather than the three-week standard protocol from the CDC. They all agreed that “spacing” the shots would likely reduce the possibility of severe side effects.

Thankfully, and not surprisingly, my 17-year-old son did not experience severe side effects after his second jab.

To mitigate the risk of side effects, why hasn’t the CDC pursued spacing shots or other options (e.g., hold off on vaccinating 12-17 year olds until a non mRNA vaccine is approved for them)? Instead they have adopted a “my way or the highway” position.  Furthermore, the CDC has damaged its credibility by shrugging off “mild” cases of myocarditis. According to the Mayo clinic, someone who experiences a mild case of myocarditis cannot play sports or otherwise exert themselves for three to six months.  Anyone who knows how to use Google can easily discover the CDC’s blatant dishonesty. 

Given my personal experience, I am sympathetic to those who are skeptical about COVID vaccines, if they are concerned about side effects. The vaccines present real risks that the CDC is not properly addressing. 

I take my reader’s limited point. But in the grand scheme of things, the CDC’s policy is not, I’d say, “grossly irresponsible.” A final reader ends on a promising note:

In light of the census data that came out while you were on holiday, I am picking up a thread from your essay “The ‘Majority-Minority’ Myth.” Most pundits seem determined to view the data through the lens of white vs non-white and, accordingly, to assert that American politics will be forever transformed on the day that those numbers go from 60-40 to 49-51. You offered one good reason to wonder whether this is really inevitable, which is that the boundary between white and non-white is blurry and getting blurrier every year. I’d like to offer another, in the form of a question: what would be the basis of a political coalition among the non-white?

It should be clear by now that “antiracism” has nothing at all to offer Hispanic Americans and is openly hostile to the interests of Asian Americans. The census confirms what every other data point over the last decade has suggested, which is that those two demographic groups are thriving in America. Why on earth would they sign up for the dismantling of a system that serves them so well?

People love to suggest that the driving factor of our deranged politics is the fear that white people have of becoming a minority, but I wonder if it isn’t at least as much influenced by a certain group of “antiracist” activists sensing that their own relevance is rapidly fading.

The reality is that there already exists a multi-racial majority in this country: the people who have more or less bought into the concept of the American Dream and committed to expanding access to it to all who are willing to sign up. This coalition includes the majority of white people, of Asian Americans, of Hispanic Americans and of a slice of the Black population that is hard to estimate but which may well be a majority of that group too.

Perhaps what we are experiencing, rather than the rage and fear of white people, is the desperation of “antiracist” activists who see one last window to make their case that the whole system is rigged beyond repair before people finally acknowledge the simple truth that the American system, flawed though it is, offers opportunity for all.  

That’s my hope too. If the GOP were not a completely batshit cult, its potential to become a multiracial party in defense of a free society would be considerable. But they can’t or won’t see this.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Sep 24, 2021
Ross Douthat On Chronic Pain And Faith
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Ross is a dear old colleague whose newest book, The Deep Places, is a memoir about his long fight against Lyme disease. In this episode we talk about the world of sickness, which we both know something about, and we debate our differing views of Pope Francis and our different levels of panic over Trump and CRT.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app” — which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. To listen to two excerpts from my conversation with Ross — on how chronic pain affects one’s religious faith, and on whether the Vatican should deny Communion to certain groups, such as the rich or the remarried — head over to our YouTube page.

A religious reader writes:

I listened to the first part of your interview with Johann Hari (whose book Lost Connections is in my library), and I have a small dissent. You said something (at 1:11:00) that I interpreted as a belief that Jesus was not literally resurrected, on the grounds that the resurrection is an accretion: “the Gospels themselves are oral histories written one hundred years later.” This sounds an awful lot like form criticism and is wrong. The Gospel of Mark was written 30-40 years after the crucifixion and the Gospel of John was written about AD 90. I recommend a book called Jesus and The Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham, who explains why this is probably so. It isn’t apologetics; it’s a serious academic study.

However, what is even more important is that we know that one of the earliest pieces of oral history, written within months of the resurrection (I can’t explain how the experts know this, but apparently even Bart Ehrman agrees), appears in Corinthians 15:13, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance [a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture” … which apparently scholars date to within a few months of the resurrection. A more detailed explanation is here: 

The Gospels may be full of accretions, but the resurrection isn’t one of them. It is one of the first things. 

I think you misinterpreted me. It’s quite clear that the resurrection was believed by the earliest sources. My point is that what the resurrection actually has multiple versions in the New Testament, and what it means specifically — did he retain his body? could he walk through walls? could he disguise himself as someone else? —remains a little obscure.

Another reader zooms out:

After falling behind on your podcasts, I was able to catch up. While my comments are not timely, I feel the need to share them.

Michael Wolff: He had a better understanding of Trump than anyone at the NYT, WaPo, etc. He really exposed the weakness of the coverage of Trump by mainstream media.

Michael Moynihan: Very sharp and interesting. Gives you hope that there are sane journalists out there not afraid to expose the deficiencies of the CRT/Woke ideology. It made me wonder if young “woke” poorly paid journalists understand that they will soon be replaced by younger poorly paid journalists — who will criticize them.

Michael Schuman: Pivoting to China (away from CRT) shows the breadth of the Dish. China is obviously a present and future problem for our country, and a problem that people (and politicians) know little about. Schuman’s suggestion that we expand our trade partners beyond China (TPP comes to mind) would be a wise course of action. We will never compete with China with American workers.

Michael Lewis: As interesting as his books. Listening to him discuss the death of his daughter; and thinking about the difficult situation he faces grieving for her and supporting his family who is also grieving, I thought of those who speak of white privilege and how they should look at Michael’s tragic story as an example of how the world can, at times, cause everyone pain, no matter how white or wealthy.

Wesley Yang: No one can say Andrew Sullivan talks over his guest anymore.

Peter Beinart: I’m stunned at Beinart’s support for the direction of the media today and enjoyed hearing him challenged on the basis for that support. Did he really say there are examples of great writing from Nikole Hannah Jones? Where? 

Here’s a followup to the Schuman pod from another reader:

I grew up with a foot in each world with a mixed background: father’s side is Irish/Polish from Boston, mother’s side is ethnically Chinese and has been educated in the US since the late 19th century but has called Hong Kong home since the 1970s. All four past generations have essentially split my life between the East and the West.

Here is my dissent to the interview: When I hear Westerners talk about East Asia, there is a false parallel that most fail to understand. One must beware of the temptation to equate Christianity’s influence in the West to Confucianism in the East. In the West, we tend to define much of our history in terms of tension based on religion (think: Rome pagan vs. Christian, Crusades, Reformation, persecution of the Jews). 

Religion in East Asia, in contrast, has never had the same thematic influence. This could partly be traced to the ideology of Daoism, which implies significantly less individual agency and more flexibility. The Chinese are a pragmatic people, who believe in working with the tools they are handed, and are relatively private outside of the family unit. 

What I think many Westerners fail to understand is that the basic concept of morality and virtue is fundamentally different in countries that don’t have a Judeo-Christian concept of equality/sanctity of life. In many ways, Chinese culture is fundamentally more capitalist than American culture — money and morality are intrinsically linked (Lunar New Year traditions w/r/t prosperity, morality of luck/gambling, etc., no guilt associated with amassing capital). Until one understands this difference in values and ethics, it’s very difficult for a Westerner to understand Chinese culture today.  

For example, I think you might be interested in investigating gender relations in China further. While femininity looks constricted to a Western eye, I have also observed women have more professional success in leadership roles in Greater China than in New York City (role of the woman in family, childcare, structure of families, power balances linked to source of familial wealth rather than gender). Also interesting is Shanghai’s tradition as a matriarchal society (the Soong sisters have a fascinating history).

My point here is that understanding China today requires a similar approach to learning a new language: one needs to adopt a completely different mentality to understand the rules of play.

One more reader keeps the debate going on Afghanistan:

I’m disappointed that you’ve succumbed to the mob attacking Joe Biden’s decisions to get us out Afghanistan quickly.

The unpleasant truth is that there was never any chance for a “happily ever after” scenario in Afghanistan. President Bush squandered that chance when he ordered most of our troops out of Afghanistan to search for WMDs in Iraq, and Trump cemented it 20 years later when he signed the peace deal with the Taliban handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban and returning thousands of their solders in exchange for their agreement not to target American soldiers. By the time Biden made his decision, there were no good options for an orderly evacuation, especially with the Taliban steadily advancing on Kabul.

Biden’s menu for extraction consisted of only two realistic choices. Both required a leap of faith. The one he chose required the Afghan army to be able to hold out for at least three months in order for the US civilian and military bureaucracy to work around the extremely hostile refugee requirements imposed by the Trump administration. A much larger leap required the Afghan army to hold out long enough to negotiate a comprehensive settlement. Given that the Afghan army was three times the size of Taliban’s and better armed, it was reasonable for Biden to believe they could hold out for a couple of months. After all, we spent billions of dollars training them and decades touting their skill and courage. 

Unfortunately, the Afghan army was even more corrupt and cynical than imagined. Its sudden collapse and the flight of their president forcefully demonstrated that Afghanistan was a house of cards, resting on a phony army and corrupt government, ready to collapse at the first hint we were leaving.  The notion that we could have left secretly is the same type of magical thinking that pervaded our missions in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The only other option was to redeploy several thousand American troops, but this violated the terms of Trump’s agreement and triggered a new set of risks.

At least for now the Taliban are honoring their end of the bargain. They have not attacked US soldiers and planes. The tragic attack that killed 13 American soldiers was engineered by a branch of Al Qaeda, an enemy of the Taliban. The Taliban have also allowed any Americans wishing to leave to do so, and it is likely all US citizens wishing to leave will be able to return home. The Taliban have also allowed almost 100,000 Afghans to leave, many of whom fought against them in various ways. If American soldiers had reentered the fight, this cooperation would have vanished. If even one plane were shot down, imagine the loss of life and the desire for revenge, leading to more death.

Certainly, Afghan women again are not being treated well. The Taliban government is a religious theocracy allowing little dissent, and there continue to be acts of extreme brutality. But are Taliban’s actions any worse than those of our close ally, Saudi Arabia? Worse than some of our own unholy acts in pursuit of the War on Terror?

What is particularly tragic is that Biden is taking the hit for our collective failure and guilt, the one president who had the courage to end a failed and costly war.



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Sep 17, 2021
Michael Wolff On The Trump Threat
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Michael Wolff, a longtime media critic, and now the author of three Trump tell-alls, talks with me about the 45th president. How politically dangerous is he still? How delusional and mentally unbalanced? Will he run again? We get into it.

You can listen to our conversation right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app” — which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of the episode — on the questions of whether the media confronted Trump appropriately and whether the madman will return to electoral politics — head over to our YouTube page.

A reader writes:

Your two-week vacation gave me time to listen to the Michael Lewis episode. Since Donald Trump is supposedly responsible for all of the country’s ills, here’s a counterfactual: If he had taken the California approach to controlling Covid, would he have been branded an authoritarian dictator who was denying Americans their basic freedoms?

Had he taken that approach, along with Operation Warp Speed, I doubt he would have been hailed as someone who was doing his best to protect the public’s health. He knew how the media would portray an attempted federal shutdown of the country and his only response was to err on the side of less restrictions. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

I don’t disagree. That’s what a tribalized country does: one tribe cannot ever give a president of the other tribe the benefit of the doubt, even in a public health emergency. That applies to Biden now as well, of course.

Another reader swung his support to Trump out of a reaction to the media:

I come from a Muslim country and I’m a naturalized American. I was a registered Democrat for 10 years. I always voted for the Democrats. But in 2020, I voted for Trump, due to the lies of the leftist MSM after watching all WH press conferences in full. I saw the edited/manipulated sound-bite videos and I couldn’t believe the lies and the distortion. All those “mostly peaceful” protests ... simply disappointing.

The left doesn't represent me anymore. I don’t like watching Bill Maher, Steven Colbert, John Oliver, or Trevor Noah anymore. I don’t share the same values with them anymore. I’m a **civil libertarian** before anything else. I'm tired of you guys’ constant Trump Derangement Syndrome cramps day and night. 

Switching to Afghanistan, a reader sends a view from his wartime:

From the reader:

The 2014 window view from Afghanistan that you posted prompts me to share this photo, taken through the window of a truck in Khost, Afghanistan in 2004. I was a hardcore neocon when I enlisted after 9/11, and of course I’m much chastened from those days. I enjoyed your writing all along the sad journey. My mom would send several days’ worth of the Dish in letter-format when I was in basic training — when reading anything but letters and religious texts were forbidden — and I continued reading you while in Afghanistan, when I could get to the Internet.

Next is a dissent from an “ex British Army soldier who completed two tours of Helmand province and then worked for several more years as a civilian in Afghanistan.” It’s a powerful testimony, and the impact of the chaotic withdrawal on our alliances is something I haven’t fully accounted for:

What you have wrong here is that whether to withdraw or not is barely half the question. It is possible to withdraw in a manner that isn’t reckless, petulant, tin-eared, chaotic and certain to inflict pandemonium on your partner nations. It is possible to let your allies and your own military actually plan for the tasks that withdrawal necessitates, whereas here it seems plain that the operation to extract people has not even had time to plan movements from the city to the airport (this in a city whose airport, as most people don’t know, is practically in the city centre).

Biden, in short, has absolutely fucked not only Kabulis, but all of the US partner countries in Afghanistan, all of whom are absolutely swamped beneath this task. This is Biden pulling the pin without caring a s**t for America’s allies. 

Good grief, Andrew, this is very far from “grown-up.” You seem to imply that the only people complaining about the exit’s manner are those who are opposed to it — I think you have that quite, quite wrong. There is no incoherence in the notion that withdrawal is necessary but the manner of it is an embarrassing and shameful episode which will damage enduring partnerships. 

That damage is worst with the British, who expended more blood and treasure than any other NATO country. What many British officials have internalised over the years is that the special relationship is largely meaningless as far as the Americans are concerned. But for the first time we have incontrovertible proof that first, the US doesn’t care about us, and second, the US is unreliable anyway. This may prompt a wholesale rethinking of British foreign policy. I really don’t think even Trump — even Trump! — could have done anything so spectacularly tacky, so profoundly deleterious to alliances.

Thankfully, the Afghan guy who worked for me has happily made good his escape and has been housed in the UK with his family. The euphoria of learning that, set against the horror of what was going on in a city I once knew intimately, has created quite the swirl of dissonance for me.

But anyway, thank you for the Weekly Dish (which I do pay for!) — it’s one of the highlights of my week. I’ve been an admirer of yours since I first saw your long CSPAN conversation about post-9/11 America with Hitchens ... who would be incandescent over this withdrawal!

The reader is probably right on that last point — here’s Hitch on Afghanistan in late 2010, a year before he died:

Many readers have opinions about how Afghanistan should have been handled. The first:

When an army leaves, it must leave strong. We should have surged, say, 10K troops with mobile artillery, and as the Taliban melted into the hills in response, we should have set up defensive perimeters around Kabul and other collection points for US citizens and our allies, and withdrawn at our leisure, from a position of strength. And screw Trump’s deadlines and deals.

Speaking of deadlines, another reader:

Everyone who has followed Afghanistan knows that from roughly October to March, there is no fighting; it is just too damn cold and miserable. A more thoughtful person than Biden would have given a date of November 1 to begin leaving with everyone home by Thanksgiving. It would have sounded great.

Another reader thinks we should have stayed:

No American servicemember has died in Afghanistan for nearly two years. Less than 3,500 of them are even there, enabling the formerly free Afghans to stiffen what resolve they have, nevermind guaranteeing the equal status of women there, and providing America with an unblinking eye in the sky.

That reader is incorrect regarding dead American soldiers (not to mention all the injuries and PTSD). From FactCheck.org:

In fact, 11 U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan last year, including four in combat, according to the Defense Casualty Analysis System. Twenty-three service members were killed in Afghanistan in 2019, including 17 in combat. No service members have been killed or wounded in action in Afghanistan in 2021, according to Defense Department reports as of Aug. 23.

This next reader also wants the US government to stay in Afghanistan:

In my view, keeping a presence there with 3,500 soldiers, a great airbase within minutes of Russia and Eastern China (not to mention Pakistan), an embassy with intelligence capacities (not to mention providing a modicum of rights and some cultural influence on millions of Afghans), seemed like a fantastic deal.

Along those lines, another adds:

There’s another concern: terrorism in the West and, particularly, in the US. My understanding is that through Afghanistan, we had an intelligence window into the comings and goings of various terrorists, some of whom have been identified as crossing over into the US from our porous Mexican border. That’s now gone.

Another reader looks back in history:

I agree with you on the failure and need to get out of Afghanistan, but I don’t think it was always a doomed effort. I think Afghanistan was lost the moment President Bush gave his Axis of Evil speech against Iraq, Iran, and North Korean. That speech said clearly that Afghanistan wasn’t really important, nor was eliminating al Qaeda. We have bigger fish to fry. It also said that we will make up stuff to justify invading a country we want to overthrow — by then, UN inspectors had shown our reasons were false. It named the next two nations on our hit list.

Is it any surprise North Korea finished developing a nuclear bomb in 2006? They needed it for self-defense. The threat of destroying large parts of South Korea was all they had without relying on China. 

Iran had been moderating their stance, and there were reports that Iran was providing underground assistance in Afghanistan, since they didn’t want the Taliban in power either. Of course that ended, and in their next election they turned towards the most radical elements in their society. Their best defense is to stir up trouble in the region and keep the dogs snapping at US heels elsewhere by supporting terrorists throughout the region. An act of self-defense.

Bush also diverted resources from Afghanistan that might have helped achieve a positive outcome in the early days of the mission. By the time our focus returned to Afghanistan, it was too late.

Another reader worries about the future:

You quoted Francis Fukuyama, who wonders why the US wanted an Afghan nation with a central government rather than a more logical tribal federation. The answer may lie in the ever-present capitalist influences that pervade our foreign policy goals. Afghanistan is a trove of extractable mineral wealth. Dealing with a central government simplifies the process of attracting the kind of investment necessary to extract that mineral wealth. 

Of course, now that the US is out of the way, look for Russia and China to try to insert themselves into whatever sort of political jigsaw puzzle evolves from the Taliban takeover. Neither country will have any problem stooping low enough to get under the morality bar that the Taliban has set.

This reader is less worried about the future:

Sorry, but I can’t get myself to say the withdrawal has been a disaster. This thing has to play out. Shame on Americans who haven’t kept up with events in a war being pursued in our name. We know deals have been made between warlords and the Taliban, tribes, military commanders, etc. We know the country is different today than in 2001, with a majority of the youth under 20 never knowing the Taliban. We know the Taliban faces a typhoon of problems and unruly constituencies. More than one person with knowledge of the situation has said it might be easier for the Afghans to resolve their internal conflicts without a foreign occupier weighing every move. 

This is a dynamic situation. It’s easy to feel guilty or badly for the Afghan people, but nobody, including the Taliban, knows what this will look like even a year from now, much less five or ten.

A quick question from a reader regarding the other war:

I went looking for your book “I Was Wrong” about the Iraq War and it did not come up on Amazon when I searched “andrew sullivan.” Perhaps you might add a page to your substack where you could purchase your books? It would be better than giving Amazon a cut.

“I Was Wrong” is actually an ebook available here for free. Lastly, a reader recommends a guest for the Dishcast:

Might I suggest (again) Ross Douthat? I’d love to hear you two discuss the goings-on in the Church and the state of Francis’s papacy nine years on. Douthat also has a new book out soon, about his long illness with Lyme disease and his struggles with the medical establishment. Given your own experience with a disease that American medicine spent an awfully long period of time essentially ignoring — and your recent writings on how HIV has shaped your understanding of COVID — I thought this might be an opportunity for a really profitable dialogue during a period where the American medical establishment seems to be hemorrhaging credibility. 

Our reader has read our mind: Ross is slated for next week.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Sep 10, 2021
Andrew Sullivan On His Early Influences (Part Two)
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While Andrew and I wrap up our two-week summer vacation (back on September 10), here is the second half of the very personal interview he did with journalist and friend Johann Hari (who wrote the bestselling books Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs and Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope). To recap, the idea to re-air the 2012 conversation all started with this reader:

I began reading Andrew in the early 2000s, and even though I’m a huge fan, I’ve never heard him systematically discuss his intellectual origins and development. […] I bet your listeners might enjoy hearing Andrew being interviewed thoroughly and in-depth about how he sees the trajectory of his intellectual life. (I know I would.)

That posted email prompted another reader to write in:

[Andrew] did an extensive two-parter with Johann Hari a decade ago, which covers most of the areas that your reader mentions. Johann put this out as his own podcast, which is no longer available online, but I have mp3 copies that I’m happy to share.

A big thanks to our reader for saving the audio files from oblivion! I vividly remember listening to that interview, almost a decade ago, because it was one of the most riveting and revealing conversations I’ve ever heard from Andrew, publicly or privately. Johann has that effect.

You can listen to the second half of the conversation right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app” — which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. (The first half was posted here.) The second half includes an emotional recounting of Andrew’s best friend Patrick, who perished from AIDS in the middle of the book tour for Virtually Normal, a book he helped edit:

Another part of the conversation tackles the nature of religious fundamentalism and natural law, especially when it comes to sexuality:

For three more clips of Andrew’s conversation with Johann — about two of the earliest influences that made Andrew a conservative; on the genius of his dissertation subject, Michael Oakeshott; and on why true conservatives should want to save the planet from climate change — head to our YouTube page.

In lieu of reader commentary this week, we are trying something different: a transcript of a podcast episode, specifically a July interview that Andrew did on Debra Soh’s podcast, focused on the AIDS crisis and the marriage movement. (We are thinking of making transcripts available for our most popular Dishcast episodes. Unfortunately we we don’t have the staff bandwidth to do every episode, since transcripts are a ton of work, even with auto-transcription tools.) Below is the second half of Andrew’s conversation with Debra, author of The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society (the first half is here):

Andrew: I could take you to a few leather bars, where it’s probably the last place now in America where raw masculinity can be simply celebrated, where it isn’t complicated. I mean, it’s in the presentation more than in the actual reality, but nonetheless it’s like, “Yay! Men like sex, we’re men, sniff my armpit, look at my back hair, and let’s go for it.

And in a couple of weeks in Provincetown, where I am, we’re going to have Bear Week, which was the moment when a whole bunch of middle-aged overweight, hairy-back dudes who were able to actually be welcomed as integral to gay culture and gay society — which took a while too — instead of all these perfect little muscle bunnies that show up for circuit party.

Debra: When I go to gay bars, it doesn’t matter where I am in the world. Sometimes I’ll go by myself even, just because I’m curious to hang out there — and everyone is always so nice. They’re a little bit concerned. They look at me and think, like, “Why is she here?” But they never ask me, “What are you doing here?” And they never told me to leave. And that’s one thing I love about it.

Andrew: The thing that we are getting a little upset is, um, vast numbers of straight women coming in — especially this bachelorette party thing, where gay male spaces are just overwhelmed by women.

Debra: Yeah that’s a problem. Because they’re disrespectful too. They get really drunk and they’re all over people — don’t do that. Be respectful.

Andrew: We’re like zoo animals to them. And they want their Instagram photos in the cool leather bar. And we’re just like, you’re killing the mood. Like, you know, we don’t want to be mean and tell you to leave, but can’t you see that this is actually a place you might want to respect a little bit? I mean, they had a bachelorette party coming in, they’re playing bareback sex on the screens up there, and they will still sit there with their gin and tonic.

Debra: It’s weird. I feel it’s changed, because when I used to go, I’d be the only straight person there. Now when I go out, it’s weird to see — you see a younger generation of straight kids there, and I’m like, this is crazy.

Andrew: Well you take the word “queer”, which is now integrated into the LGBTQIA+ thing.

Debra: Yeah, like I always say, I don’t like that word.

Andrew: You can be definitely be straight and queer, you just dye your hair blue. And then when they do surveys of LGBTQIA+ people, we don’t know if that’s gay people or if it’s straight people in a mood. And my view is that you can call yourself whatever you want. You can have whatever sex you want. I’m a total “live and let live” person.

But at some point language must mean something. And if the gay rights movement is essentially a movement of straight people, some gay people, lots of trans people, fighting on around questions of race and gender and deconstructing society and dismantling sexual norms and dismantling the sexual binary, then I don’t have a place in that movement. I’ve left it. I think a lot of gay men are just like, “We’re done.”

The left elite that controls the media, that insists and controls the image of homosexuals so that we are always queer, always left, in which none of that diversity is ever explained. I mean, they are brilliant at promoting narratives that are not truth. So for example, we are constantly told that Stonewall was started and led by trans women of color, and that if it weren’t for trans women of color, we would have no rights. This is absolutely untrue. You only have to look at the photos. You only have to read the histories. It’s completely outrageously untrue. And yet now it is repeated ad nauseam.

Debra: Well, it’s like you’re saying, because you can’t tell the younger generation, they just rewrite the history and they don’t know.

Andrew: They’re going to write white gay men out of the entire history of the gay rights movement. They will not mention people like me. They will not mention anybody who played a part in the marriage movement. For example, we are, I mean, I’m particularly non grata, you know, I’ve never been given a single recognition by the gay community to any of the work I’ve ever done, because I’m not a left-liberal.

Debra: That’s sad. That’s wrong. How did you deal with — you’ve gotten abuse from all over the political spectrum since disclosing your status as being HIV positive. What helped you manage and get through that? Because those attacks have been very personal.

Andrew: Yeah, well, HIV led me to be subject to deportation for 19 years, which was a very frightening place to be in. And it’s lovely to hear left-wing progressives tell me they wish I’d been deported. The truth is you accept in some ways — and I learned this very early — when I was out as the editor of The New Republic. I was the only out journalist in Washington. I was only 26, but I was the only out one. So I was very prominent at the very beginning. And because of that, and a lot of fuss was made about me, I was supposed to represent everybody gay. Of course I didn’t. I said “I don’t, and I’m not going to, and I’m going to pursue my own view of the world.” And that was just not allowed, because I did not fit in to the existing left-power framework within the gay rights movement. I was basically ignored or attacked.

But you get through it because you know what you’re doing is in good faith. You’ve actually made a difference. You can see exactly the arguments that you helped frame and create — they came to win the argument. You can see how in that fight for marriage equality, liberalism worked, in as much as I went and talked to anybody from the fundamentalist right to the crazy left. I talked to anybody. I went to Christian churches, I went to Catholic colleges. I had a policy of never turning down an invite, which is what you do if you really want to get your message out there, if you really want to talk. And that included countless TV and radio stuff. And then when I did an anthology on marriage, I actually included all the major arguments against it, which is unimaginable today. You would have a book that would sell, that would have different views of the same thing.

Debra: You’re triggering.

Andrew: Yeah, but we knew, I knew, that we had stronger arguments. I wanted them out there in public against the other arguments. I thought we would win if we just kept at it. And because so many other gay people saw this, they also began to come out and they also talked about marriage and they also talked about their own relationships. And the truth is that, when you see that happening and when you know that you played any part in someone’s wedding day, and you can see how healing that is to people, their families, their sense of self-esteem, their integration into culture — who gives a damn if I’m called a white supremacist on an hourly basis, because I’m not.

And also the truth is, the gay community, the people I know and love around me, we have a lovely relationship. And your friendships and you — you rely on that. And gay people, most of us, we’re not that political. I come to Provincetown. This is my 26th season here. And all the people I know, know me as me — not as this writer or this other stuff. With that kind of friendship network and support network, you can get through most things.

Debra: Yeah, because you know who you are, and people who love you know who you are.

Andrew: I think the thing is to believe that you don’t care what anybody says about you, as long as it isn’t true. Now, if it’s true you should listen, to figure out what you’ve done wrong. But if it’s really not true, I mean, if they start calling you a white supremacist, as they do on — you know, literally every other tweet I’m called this — there’s nothing you could do about that. It’s their problem, not yours. I mean, they’re projecting on to you all these insecurities that are pretty obvious.

And I learned from the beginning too, when I was the only openly gay person out there, the number of gay people who reached out to me and wanted me to be their idol or their representative, and I couldn’t be — I learned slowly over a few years to erect a boundary so that I wasn’t so emotionally vulnerable to all of that.

But it hurts, it has always hurt. Of course it hurts you. I don’t want to get to a point where it doesn’t hurt. I just want to get to resilience. And also the thing about AIDS, and watching, you know, half your friendship network die, and contemplating your own death as you saw them die, because you knew you were going to go through the same thing — it’s liberating. I mean, I thought I would have a few years to live. Why f**k with the b******t when you’re going to die in a few years? Why not tell the truth? The book Virtually Normal? I wrote that because I thought I was going to die and I wanted to write something now, to leave behind, so the arguments for marriage equality, which were otherwise not being made, could be done definitively. And I could leave that behind.

And I wrote in the preface — dated it to the date of my seroconversion as a memory to myself — that this is why I wrote this book. So I think when gay people come out, first of all, they risk a lot. Or they think they’re risking a lot, and that’s liberating truth. And I think to face mortality young gives you this sense of perspective.

I’ll give you a tiny little anecdote. After I got into all that mess by publishing a symposium on The Bell Curve — which you weren’t supposed to talk about, let alone debate — but I’d published a symposium, a piece from the book and 13 criticisms of it. And it was a huge fuss. And I nearly lost my job. It was besieged within the office. I upset a lot of people.

At some point, Charles Murray said, “Well let’s go out and have a dinner, I’ll take you out to dinner to thank you for this.” And at some point he said to me, “This must be a really life-changing moment for you.” And I said to him, “It isn’t. You don’t know this, but let me tell you now: I’m dying of AIDS, and half my friends are. I’m in a crisis. This [the Bell Curve controversy] is not a crisis. This is a tempest of ideas and slurs and stigmas and realities and debates, but it’s not for me a major life event.”

So there’s a certain liberation in having survived. And I think Churchill said there’s nothing more exhilarating than being shot at but not being hit. And I think the fact is, I’m still here, I’m still dodging the bullets.

I do want to say, though, I hope you don’t mind me doing this: Next month my collection is coming out, which has all those early gay essays. I wrote about AIDS and the early arguments of marriage equality, all chronological. So you can see how the arguments developed over time.

Debra: Listeners can’t see that Andrew held up his forthcoming book. So where can they get your book?

Andrew: On Amazon, where you can pre-order on Amazon, if you want. It’s called “Out On a Limb: Selected Writing 1989 to 2021.” And it’s basically a greatest hits. Hitchens did his collection then dropped dead within a couple of years. So I hope it’s not going to happen to me.

There is something wonderfully liberating about facing mortality when you’re very young and living through it, and the knowledge that that’s always there. And I’m still a Catholic. So for me, the truth matters. And people used to ask me, “Like, how can you be openly gay and Catholic?” And my response was always, “Don’t you understand: I’m openly gay because I’m Catholic, because the church taught me to tell the truth as a core virtue. I am not lying to you. You were asking me to lie about myself. I will not do that. That is not actually the Christian thing to do.”

And so the conflicts, they are not as profound as you might otherwise think. And the truth is, actually, from the very get-go, the first time I realized I had this magic stick and it would give me all sorts of … whatever. I hate to say, but it’s true, I, um —

Debra: It’s a sex podcast. You can talk about your magic stick all you want.

Andrew: Well I’m talking about when I turned 13, 14, and I was like, “This is awesome. This can’t be wrong.” Obviously it’s not wrong. It’s happening spontaneously to me. I mean, I didn’t choose it, obviously. It’s not wrong. And there’s so much of it at the time, that how on earth am I supposed to save this up for one woman every year? I’m like no, it’s not happening. I had real wrestling with the arguments — though I also try to wrestle them to earth — but I’ve never had much sexual shame.

Debra: That’s amazing. So before I let you go, what advice would you have for young gay men who may have concerns about how to approach sex and dating?

Andrew: The idea that I’m giving advice to people, on dating, is quite bizarre. I’m in no a position to advise anyone. What I would say this is: You are lucky enough to have been born when all the major gay rights have been established. You’re the luckiest generation of gay people ever in the history of mankind. It has never been a better place to be gay than now in America.

So live your lives, live them fully. Don’t be obsessed about this subject. Be yourself and also know that finding the right partner, the right person to be with you in that journey, is incredibly important. It doesn’t mean you can’t have sex, or you can’t date and do all sorts of things. But at some point that’s going to matter — choose wisely, if you can.

But you don’t have to be political the way we had to be political. You don’t have to be an activist in the way that we had to be an activist — because we had to get to a point of equality. Now we’re there. There is a range of possibilities for you. And do not believe that a gay person is somehow restricted in the areas they can live and act and work in anyway whatsoever. Do not believe that being gay is somehow incompatible with being a construction worker or an airplane pilot or any of the other — don’t buy into any of the sexist stereotypes that want to turn gay men into women, or lesbians into men.

Your job is to show what gay people can do. What we can give back to our society. And we have over the centuries done so much in terms of creating educational environments, in creating artistic achievements, and intellectual development — in the arts and the sciences. I mean, you have Alan Turing, who created the computer, as your idol. And he did that while he was being imprisoned for being gay and chemically castrated to prevent him being gay. And he invented the computer while he was doing that.

So my point is, you have no excuse. Go out there and forge your own lives, obey no rules — as opposed to what you’re supposed to do. We can create a really wonderful gay future, and we can contribute — as we did to your life, Debra, as those men did for your life. We can be emblems of integrity and we can be emblems of responsibility. And we can be part of giving back, which is the most rewarding thing.

So I’m more interested in what we can make of gay culture and of gay existence now, more than constantly worrying about oppression. The truth is — I hate to tell you this — but you’re not really that oppressed. And certainly if you think of any other gay human being who’s ever lived, you are certainly not that oppressed. When I was in my twenties, it was a crime for me to have sex with another dude in my bed, my own bedroom. So don’t talk to me about oppression. You have no idea. A lot of it’s in your own heads. Go be the people you always wanted to be and be proudly gay alongside it. And don’t listen to anybody telling you any rules about what gay people can be or should be.

Debra: Alright, Andrew, thank you so much.

Andrew: Oh Debra, that was lovely. Thank you so much for asking me. You know, the thing about this, we don’t have our own children. There are many of us in my generation that look to the young now and see them treating us as if we were dinosaurs who really need to be relegated to the past. And they don’t know what we did for them, or the toll it took on so many, and the agony that it created. And sometimes that amnesia hurts a lot.

Maybe one of the things we also need to work on as gay men is building more relationships across the generations, so we can make sure that these stories, and this history, and this enormously transformative period can be conveyed. But we are unfortunately very age stratified. And the ability of older men to talk to younger men is not as strong as it might be. You know, we fought for the right for you to piss your life away in a dance club, if you want to. So that’s great! Go ahead, but have a thought for second of the people older than you, who went through the equivalent of a war and are veterans of that war and deserve a little bit of the respect that veterans of such wars tend to get. So thank you, Debra.

Debra: Thank you.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Sep 03, 2021
Andrew Sullivan On His Early Influences (Part One)
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This fortnight, while Andrew and I are on our annual Dishcation in August, we are airing a two-part interview of Andrew from 2012, conducted by the journalist Johann Hari (author of the bestselling books Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs and Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope). The idea to re-air the interview all started with this reader:

I began reading Andrew in the early 2000s, and even though I’m a huge fan, I’ve never heard him systematically discuss his intellectual origins and development. I know bits and pieces of the story — a provincial kid, debated at Oxford, proud Tory and Reagan supporter, came to the States, courted controversy at The New Republic, was a pioneering supporter of gay marriage, supported the Iraq War and lived to regret it, and so on. But I bet your listeners might enjoy hearing Andrew being interviewed thoroughly and in-depth about how he sees the trajectory of his intellectual life. (I know I would.) Another impetus for this suggestion is that I recently enjoyed listening to Glenn Loury do something like this on his own podcast. I loved it and learned a lot.

That posted email prompted another reader to write in:

One of your readers suggested that Andrew do an in-depth interview about his early life, his intellectual influences, etc. I listened to his interview with Giles Fraser, which was interesting, but he also did a more extensive two-parter with Johann Hari a decade ago, which covers most of the areas that your reader mentions. Johann put this out as his own podcast, which is no longer available online, but I have mp3 copies that I’m happy to share.

Even Johann doesn’t have the audio files anymore, so a big thanks to our reader for saving them from oblivion! I vividly remember listening to that interview, almost a decade ago, because it was one of the most revealing conversations I’ve ever heard of Andrew (and I’ve known him a long time). Johann has a real knack for allowing people to reveal themselves.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app” — which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. (The second half of the interview will air next Friday. Update: here.) For three clips of Andrew’s conversation with Johann — on two of the earliest influences that made Andrew a conservative; on the genius of his dissertation subject, Michael Oakeshott; and on why true conservatives should want to save the planet from climate change — head over to our YouTube page.

In lieu of reader commentary this week, we are trying something different: a transcript of a podcast episode, specifically an interview that Andrew did last month on Debra Soh’s podcast, focused on the AIDS crisis and the marriage movement. We may start making transcripts available for our most popular Dishcast episodes, rather than all of the episodes, because we don’t have the staff bandwidth right now, and transcripts are a lot of work. Let us know if you think they would be particularly useful, or if you have any ideas in general about the Dishcast: dish@andrewsullivan.com. For now, we hope you get some value from the transcript below, which gets very personal about Andrew and his friends who suffered during the AIDS crisis.

Debra: I want to start by saying thank you so much for agreeing to do this. It’s really an honor for me to get to talk with you, especially about this subject.

I guess I’ll explain to listeners what got me interested in wanting to do this episode. So my audience knows I’m straight, but I grew up in the gay community. When I was younger all my friends were gay men, and I really do credit them for helping me become the woman I am. I’m very proud of that. I love them so much, and I don’t feel there’s enough of a discussion about the AIDS crisis and what happened in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I feel like there needs to be more education about it, and I admire how open you’ve been about what you’ve been through. And I get so many questions from my audience, because I have a lot of young gay men in my audience, and they ask me about dating and sex, just like everyone does, but specifically in the context of this history and how to go about safer sex practices. So that’s what brought me to you.

Andrew: I’m delighted to answer any questions or engage in various reminiscences, as you please.

Debra: I want to start with a bit of a broader question in terms of coming out, because some of my audience, they live in parts of the world where it’s not acceptable to be gay, unfortunately, or they come from families where their families don’t accept them. What was it like for you when you were coming out? And also, what advice would you have for them?

Andrew: Well, I came out in the ‘80s, and I was a gay boy entirely surrounded by straight people — the complete inverse of you. And I love them all. I never heard the word “homosexual” ever. I never heard any discussion of it. I never heard anything on the radio. It was never discussed in our house. All I knew: it was so awful that you couldn’t even mention it. And if you brought it up, it would immediately mean that you were gay, because who else would bring up such an appalling subject? I know it’s hard for kids today to understand that this was the atmosphere I grew up in. And it was not that long ago. I’m not that old.

And so coming out was terrifying. I didn’t come out until I was in my early twenties and I had left England and arrived in America. I was able to sort of catch some of the extraordinary shifts in gay culture in the ‘80s, in Boston, and then in Washington, DC, and came out like that.

I had never really said I was straight, ever, but I was asked outright when I was at Oxford, because I was president of the Oxford Union — the newspaper asked me, in 1981, “are you gay?” And I was like, “I have great relations with the men and women.” That was my only — I couldn’t, I wasn’t going to be drawn.

But after that I came out and almost immediately told everybody — except my family. And eventually I had to go back and deal with them. Do you want me to tell you about that process?

Debra: Yeah, please do.

Andrew: I grew up in a Catholic family, with a strictly Catholic mother and grandmother, so I was brought up very profoundly within that tradition. So obviously that was a big worry for me.

And secondly, my dad was the captain of the town rugby team. He was an athlete in school. He was the jockiest jock. He was the guy that all the guys used to hang out with. He was such a stereotypical male, and my brother and sister were like, “Please don’t talk about it, don’t tell Dad,” because they were terrified of his reaction. Apparently they had attempted to raise the possibility once, and my father had said at the time, “If he ever tells that to me, he’ll never be in this house again.”

So I was terrified. But at that point, I was sort of part of the ‘80s revival of being proudly gay, even as we were surrounded by the beginnings of this horrible epidemic. And so I was like, I’m going to do it anyway.

So I asked both my parents down to sit together in the living room and I was going to tell them something. And they were “What?!” I don’t normally ask them both to sit down. The usual means of communication was I would tell my mother something, she would then tell my father. And then if my father had anything to say, he would come back behind my mother — a fairly traditional kind of household in that respect.

Anyway, I sat them down and I said, “I’ve come here to tell you I’m gay.” My mother said, “What?” I said, “I’m gay.” And she said, “What does that mean?” And I said, “I’m a homosexual. I always have been, I always will be. And I’m happy.” And she said, “Oh my God, I better go make a cup of tea” — which is what every English person does when the s**t really does hit the fan.

So she disappeared from the room, leaving me with my father.

And suddenly he was bent double. I could see his shoulders shaking a little bit. And I realized he was sobbing. And I’d never seen my father cry before. It was basically unknown.

I didn’t know what to do. But I said, “Dad, stop crying. There’s no need to cry. I’m okay. I’m okay.” But he kept on. And I said to him, eventually, “Well, can you tell me why you’re crying? And I can address that.”

He looked up at that point and said, “I’m crying because of everything you must’ve gone through when you were growing up. And I never did anything to help you.”

At that point I broke down. My father totally rose to the occasion. And since then he was rock solid — until he died last year — in my defense, and his pride in me as a gay person.

My mother had a lot of issues about it, almost entirely because of the church, and she was never really comfortable. Because she felt it was going to — she had such hopes. I was the first kid in the family to go to college, and I had gotten into Oxford and then Harvard. And then I was going to throw it all away, by being gay? Why would you do that?

I remember my first book, Virtually Normal, which was a case for marriage equality. After it came out, I said to my mother, “What did you think?” And she said, “Well, I didn’t really read it. I just want you to write a real book about a real subject, that isn’t stigmatizing to you and peripheral to normal good people.” At which point I kind of sighed and gave up — but she’s still, I mean, she’s still alive. And she loves me enormously. And only a few times did she drive me completely crazy.

One of those times was in the epidemic, when my closest friend and I found out six weeks apart from each other that we were both positive. My friend died two years later, in an absolutely grotesque way. And at one point, when I was really, really in the dumps about it, because I’d just come from him, and he was basically a pile of bones, and in so much pain, and he couldn’t keep anything down and shat himself on the floor. This is a 31-year-old man.

And I said to my mom, “I don’t know how much more I can do this.” And I was also a volunteer; I was nursing someone else to death at the same time, as a buddy. And my mother said, “Oh, Andrew, I wish you weren’t gay. If you weren’t gay, you wouldn’t have to deal with all of this.”

And I said to my mom, “You know what, I’m going to put the phone down. If that’s all you can say — you wish that I weren’t me — at a moment when I need your support, because so many of my friends are in extreme crisis …”

She didn’t know at the time that I had it too. I kept it from them.

And so I said to her, “When you figure out why that is so horrible, what you just said to me, you can call me back.” It took a few months.

That was the worst moment, because I just felt no one was there for me. And no one was. I mean, they didn’t understand. They just didn’t understand. We were living — I said this in an essay I wrote — like medievals among moderns.

The COVID fatality rate, I think, is 0.1%, or something like that. Or not quite that low, but somewhere below 1%. HIV back then was a hundred percent fatal. Everyone died. It was not a matter of if; it was just a matter of when and how.

And the way people died … it’s very hard to convey to people. It was not an easy death. It was a long, terrible series of nightmares. There was toxoplasmosis. Your immune system collapses. And after it collapses, below a certain point, other kinds of infections can come in, ones that normally your body would easily repel. But when they’re not repelled, they can take over your body.

So for example, cryptosporidium, which is a little, little bug in the water that everybody drinks. But with people with AIDS, it just started to take over their gut and their stomachs. And so it ate all the food they tried to eat, before they did. So they started to become like skeletons.

Or they would wake up one morning and a bug called toxoplasmosis might’ve gotten into their brain. A friend of mine literally woke up one morning and couldn’t tie his shoelaces, and didn’t know why

Or cytomegalovirus — a friend of mine who was a photographer slowly, slowly went blind. At one point he had to have injections directly into his eyeballs. And I said to him, “I couldn’t, I could not look at a needle come right into my eye. How did you do it?” He said — I’ll never forget this — “because I want to see.”

And pneumonia, pneumocystis, KS — Kaposi sarcoma — causes lesions all over you. Neuropathy — that was was huge. The man I volunteered for, to help him die, if you so much as brushed his feet with the sheet, he would scream in agony. And he was propped up on a couch day and night with gray liquid spurting uncontrollably out of his butthole. The sheer indignity of people.

On top of the physical agony, they were unrecognizable. Their bodies were completely contorted. They were destroyed. They couldn’t see, they couldn’t breathe. They couldn’t eat. And you never knew what next was coming.

I went once to a hospital ward and saw — this was the early part of the epidemic — people were still being sequestered into one ward, where the bodies were taken and put into black plastic bags, kept outside, quarantined. This was an AIDS ward. And my buddy who died — he used to be a big bodybuilder, but now he was 90 pounds at most. And next to him was a hospital bed, with the curtain drawn around it. From within it, I heard someone singing a pop song. I said to Joe, my friend, “Well, at least someone here is happy, you know, keeping their spirits up.” And he said, “Oh no, no. He died this morning. That’s his boyfriend singing. They’ve been together for 10 years. And he’s been barred. He’s been thrown out of their apartment. He’s been barred from the funeral. And that’s their song, that they sang. It was the song that was playing when they met, and this is the last place he’ll really be able to feel some physical contact with the husband who had just passed away. And the nurses can’t bring themselves to tell him to leave.”

So it was not just the physical agony. It was the horrible stigma, the way in which people were treated, the indignity that they faced. And of course witnessing that, as I did, and many other instances of this, and also witnessing couples whose husbands were just magnificent in terms of sticking with people forever, you realize, I realized, that that must never ever happen again.

And so that was the origin of the marriage equality movement. That’s the only thing that will stop this, and we will make sure it happens, and we will do so in honor of the dead. And that’s why we did it. And so the AIDS crisis was also as crucible for action.

Debra: Would progress have been quicker, had being gay not been so stigmatized? Because homosexuality had only been taken out of the DSM less than a decade before the crisis began. You talk about the stigmatization. And I was reading about how, even in some cases, families couldn't bury their sons because again, the stigma around it, and also in some cases, funeral homes didn't even want to have the bodies there. So how do you think it might've been different if there was more acceptance of gay people?

Andrew: You know, I’ve thought about that. And the truth is, I think it didn’t make that much difference to the trajectory of the epidemic. It made a huge difference to how gay people, gay men, were treated in that epidemic. And it had a huge impact on our radicalization and attempt to rebuild a future that granted us formal equality.

But the truth is, the only way to stop the virus — apart from safer sex, which we could do ourselves — it turned out a very sophisticated set of therapies were truly on the cutting edge of research, helped in part by a big leap in computer technology, as well as massive investment by pharmaceutical companies that were attempting to find for the first time in human history a medicine that could stall a retro virus — a very, very smart virus that situated itself into your DNA and replicated there.

It was really, I think, all about getting there quickly. And it really was a miracle that we got it by 1996, which is when there first started to be human trials. And so when I asked myself, how could that have been sped up when you look at the way in which technology was evolving to make those breakthroughs possible? I don’t think a huge amount.

I think that a better, less brutally homophobic society would have done, would be to — first of all, notice this quickly and see it as huge story — and then develop treatments for the various opportunistic infections that were actually killing people, even as they tried the extraordinarily difficult process of isolating the virus, because we had no idea what it was. It took time. And then of course, to start testing possible combinations of drugs that might prevent it.

I wish you could say, “Oh, if we had only been more enlightened, we would have immediately jumped to attention and gotten a cure within five years, and all these people wouldn’t have died. The truth is that the technology wasn’t there, the science wasn’t there yet, the computer graphics that we were able to model the precise shape of proteins that would come into a precise niche in a particular cell to block the transmission. It was a huge medical advance. And as late as 1995, we were being told it wasn’t working. It was a huge shock when suddenly the drugs started to work in combination with, because when the protease inhibitors were tested by themselves, they didn’t do everything they could have done. It turned out it was the added arm of protease inhibitors that rendered the entire combination therapy — the cocktail — viable. And by the time we really knew the disease was at large, it was already too late. It has a 10-year latency period. You don’t notice for about a decade.

Of course at the beginning, there was a huge fight in the gay community about shutting the bathhouses, taking this seriously. There was a huge battle and, and men — great man, like Randy Shilts, God rest his soul — really fought that battle and won. But he was targeted as a right-wing fascist by left-wing gays. So that’s the other thing that was true: we weren’t all united. We were fighting each other at the same time as the disease, rather viciously. I’ve never experienced the kind of hostility from other gay men than I did during that period.

Debra: Why is it that some gay men were saying that the bath houses shouldn’t be closed? Is it this sense that the virus wasn’t that serious of a thing to be afraid of?

Andrew: It was more that the extraordinary trajectory of the gay rights movement. There was the beginning in the 1950s and ‘60s, the real pioneers, people like Frank Kameny, arguing for civil rights for homosexuals, walking in front of the White House in the 1950s, the first person who was fired in a security clearance for being gay and sued the federal government in the 1950s to say, “reinstate me, a real hero.”

But then there was this merger with the ‘60s counterculture, and then it exploded with Stonewall. There really was this culture of sexual free expression, which became a symbol of liberation. And people just didn’t want to be told that their liberation was at an end, and the institutions that represented that liberation they clung to — however irrationally, however bizarrely.

And it was not yet known for sure how this virus was contracted. Although it seemed pretty obvious you don’t want to be having unprotected anal sex if you don’t want to get this. And so that was the reason: there were political and cultural reasons to resist closing the bathhouses. And once again, it was a battle between the center-right of the gays and the left of the gays. And it’s been a continuing internal battle that is never really explained in the mainstream media, or even detailed.

Debra: Yeah, I think that’s something that people don’t realize — that I’ve heard people say they don’t even like using the term “gay community” because it’s not homogeneous. And that you can’t really say that by being gay, everybody thinks the same way. And even for myself, for a long time, I foolishly thought, “If you’re gay, you’re liberal.” And it wasn’t really until I became a journalist that I realized, no, you can be conservative and gay too.

Andrew: Almost a third of us voted for Trump last year. Now a third is not the same as the African-American community, or even the Jewish community in terms of Democratic Party support. The Democrats got the lowest-ever share of the gay vote last time around. So that’s interesting, but also it makes sense simply because, you know, as I’ve said before, gay people aren’t invented under a gooseberry bush in San Francisco and then unleashed across the nation to ensure that your interior design is perfect and your dinner parties are very well attended and very amusing to attend.

Gay people are born randomly. We’re the only minority that’s born randomly to the majority. So we all grow up in straight contexts, almost all of us. I mean you didn’t, Deborah, but obviously you’re an exception to this. Certainly most gay kids, they're born in Arkansas and Texas — in the reddest of red states — they’re born seeking to be soldiers, doctors, lawyers, construction — there is a vast array of different kinds. And because we just sprinkled randomly through the population, and because we are not with other gays for at least, you know, a good couple of decades, usually there’s no community in that sense.

And there’s also because we don’t have our own children. We can’t transmit the historical knowledge of the community to the next generation in a way that, for example, Jewish parents can talk about the Holocaust, or black parents can talk about the experiences of African-Americans in America, or Asian parents can talk about internment, as well as good stories of success. We don’t have kids. We can’t tell them that. They are being born to straight all the time. And some of those straight people are hyper liberal. Some of them are hyper conservative, and their gay sons and daughters can react or can conform or not conform.

And that was the first thing I knew. The first time I went into a gay bar — to be honest with you, I was like, Jesus, I was expecting something completely out of RuPaul’s drag race, or some sort of leather festival. But no, there were all these bloody normal people hanging around dancing. They come from all walks of life, seem very straightforward. You’d never guess they were gay outside of this place.

And I was like “Blimey! Who’s been lying to me all these years?” It kept me from coming out and it’s still true.

Like there’s a way in which, I mean, I've gotten mad and I shouldn’t, because it's pointless, but the mainstream media will distort the reality of gay people in grotesque ways. And you would think, first of all, that there are only trans women of color in the gay rights movement. And you’d also think that we’re all queer, even though a hefty proportion hate that word. That, you know, we’re all obviously lefty and that we’re on board with the new alphabet movement, which is less a gay rights movement than it is at this point a trans movement allied with a racial justice movement, which is utterly unrecognizable as the gay rights movement was in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and even the first decade of the 21st Century. Gay men are no longer really regarded as part of this movement.

Debra: Well, you guys are — gay men or just white men now, even if you’re not —

Andrew: Well we’re the oppressors, if we’re white. And you know, the number of white gay men that are now allowed to represent, uh, the 2SLGBTIAQ+ community is vanishingly small. And most of these organizations now condemn a white male power, which includes the gays. Meanwhile, financially, a lot of these movements are funded by white gay men. At some point, somebody is going to say, “Why am I spending money to be told I don’t really belong in my own community?”

Or we’re told, like lesbians are told, for example, that if those of us who support civil rights for transgender people and are thrilled by Bostock — the decision that basically put transgender people in the Civil Rights Act, and I’m very proud of that and want to support that and believe in transgender rights — nonetheless, if we say that we don’t want to have sex with someone presenting as a man, who has a vagina, we are bigots, we are transphobes. Because the core reality now of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, so to speak, is that the core element is not sex — biological sex — which I think of as foundational to the definition of homosexuality. I mean, it’s the attraction of one sex to the same sex, right? Because we used to call it same-sex marriage.

Now it is gender identity, which trumps that. So if you have all the biological capacities of one individual and you’ve transitioned, you are now a male. And if you are gay and not attracted to that male, you’re obviously excluding trans men from your dating or sexual pool. And that is offensive and bigoted.

And so we’ve come full circle. I, at the beginning of the movement, was told by lots of right-wing church ladies, “You just haven’t met the right lady yet.” And now I’m being told, “You haven’t met the right person with a vagina yet.”

And part of me is like, “No, I do not have to defend my sexual orientation.” The whole point of this movement was not to have to defend my sexual orientation. Now I’m being told I can’t own it. I can’t celebrate it because the trans movement has deconstructed sex into gender. And gender means that I don’t have a biological sex. I’m just gendered.

Debra: I have a whole chapter in my book about this — chapter six in The End of Gender — about how lesbians are being told that they should like a penis if someone identifies as female. So you're the perfect person for me to ask this because I've been wondering why is it that these powerful gay men have essentially turned their backs on the movement?

Andrew: Well it’s achieved its objectives. What more does a gay rights movement need to do? We have full civil rights. We have the right to marry. We have anti-discrimination laws for every branch of activity and we have the right to serve our country. If I told someone 20 years ago, that all that would be possible, they’d be like, “Oh, well, we’re done now.” And we are done. What else is there to do?

What happens is that these groups that have existed to do that, they no longer have a reason to exist. So they come up with new reasons and they generate new controversies and they fixate on other questions. So that essentially, we now have a BIPOC trans movement that is operating in the carcass of a gay rights movement. And I don’t think that trans people really have much more to accomplish. I think once you’re in the Civil Rights Act, and once you can get your transition paid for, what we’re talking about now is a few small areas, such as whether children before puberty, especially gender nonconforming kids, have the capability to knowingly consent to permanent, irreversible changes in their body that will prevent them from fully becoming the sex they were born as. And that is a whole other question.

There’s also a whole other question about sports. But these are not big questions, essentially, in terms of how many people they effect. And if you look at the Equality Act, which is what they want to pass, they've been trying to pass this since the 1970s. I mean, I was told I had to wait. I should shut up about marriage until we get that done. Well, if I had, we’d still be waiting.

The Equality Act adds two things. It redefines sex as subordinate to gender, and it eviscerates any rights of religious people to exercise their conscience and say that they don’t want to be involved in anything to do with any particularly substantive gay or transgender issue. Which of course I’m against too.

Debra: It drives me crazy with the kids, because I would think that these men know that those kids were them when they were young. I don't know how they wouldn't, because the research backs that up. I don’t want to go too much in this because my audience has heard me talk about this a million times already. But that’s what upsets me about it.

Andrew: I’ll tell you this from my own experience that I, as a kid, before puberty, I had crushes on other boys. I even had a scrapbook where I would — because there was no porn for us. I didn’t even hear the word “gay”, let alone a picture. And I would cut out of Sunday magazines hot-looking guys and put them in my copy book. And I would draw the men I was attracted to because that’s all I had to go on. And they were dudes, they were definitely dudes. And in fact, they were big hairy dudes, which turned out to be my main predilection in men, as I grew up and grew older. But I didn’t know I was gay. I didn’t know what sex was. You don’t know really what sex was till you go through puberty.

So there was some panic in some ways — that I wasn’t like the other boys. But then puberty happened. I couldn’t have been more psyched to be a man. I suddenly got this amazing 24-hour gift in my crotch. That was something that never stopped giving intense pleasure. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I wanted to be more male. I actually, at one point was a kid, I poured my mother’s mascara, and I didn’t do my eyebrows, but I tried to get the little boy hairs on my chest to look black, so I could have a hairy chest. I was obsessed with every chest.

Everyone’s different, of course, but I’m concerned that young gay boys who may be gender nonconforming, who may like Barbies, or may have experiments with lots of female activities, I’m concerned they could be pressured into thinking they’re not gay, but that they’re actually girls. And gay men have fought for a long time to be understood as men, not as something other than a man, not as something like a woman. Straight guys sometimes say to me, about me and my husband, “Who’s the girl, who’s the boy?” And I’m like, “You don’t understand. We’re both boys. That’s the point.” That’s more subversive — so much more subversive and so much more shocking to people than the notion that you’ll change your sex and conform to the male/female dynamic.

(The interview continues next week with the second half)



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Aug 27, 2021
Michael Moynihan On Afghanistan And Free Speech
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Moynihan is one-third of the The Fifth Column — the sharp, hilarious podcast he does with Kmele Foster and Matt Welch — and he’s a long-time correspondent for Vice. In this episode we mostly cover the cascading news out of Afghanistan, but also bounce around to topics like old media, woke media, neocons and Israel, Big Tech, and third rails. We also reminisce a little about our mutual friend, the late Christopher Hitchens — like that one time Hitch called me a lesbian on air.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here. For three clips of my conversation with Moynihan — on our shared bewilderment over anti-vaxxers, on the need for intellectual humility and occasionally eating crow, and on gay men having a very different culture of consent and flirting — head over to our YouTube page.

Two of the subjects that Moynihan and I covered in the episode — wokeness and anti-vaxxers — are discussed by readers below, spurred by previous pods with Wesley Yang and Michael Lewis. This first reader “really enjoyed your conversation with Wesley and his idea of the ‘successor ideology’”:

I appreciated your and Wesley’s suggestion that a kind of racial anxiety feeds into both “woke” and Trumpist takes on culture, specifically the woke anxiety that America will soon (if not already) no longer be primarily black and white, and so they will be less justified in framing their projects in his mode. Yes, I agree! 

I am a mother of two young children. My family mostly hails from the British Isles (though it was a long time ago!) and my husband was born in Iran. Thus our children are, in the current understanding, “biracial” — or if you prefer, “brown” — or “white”? depending on the season? And yet, what an empty, grasping way to look at them! I shudder to think of the day my children will be informed by someone that they are growing up not with vegetarian, Catholic, urban, Persian, Muslim, musical, and Midwestern values and influences, but with “whiteness” or “brownness” to which they must confess some kind of allegiance. The absurdity of this idea should be obvious.

Not just the absurdity, but the toxic crudeness of it all. Another multi-racial perspective from a reader:

A recent piece at The Atlantic, “The Surprising Innovations of Pandemic-Era Sex,” reads like a parody of 1990s POMO-speak: “Many queer people are reimagining their own boundaries and thinking of this reentry period as a time for sexual self-discovery.” When you boil it down to ordinary English, the piece argues that any person should be free to have sex with whomever they wish and however they like.

Well sure. Almost all readers of The Atlantic would agree. Those who don’t will not be persuaded by sentences like, “This drive stems from the fact that many queer and trans people — especially those of color — live under a kind of sociocultural duress in which our livelihoods and human rights are constantly subject to negotiation and popular debate, to say nothing of our physical safety.”

It’s not surprising that the author, Madison Moore, is “an assistant professor of queer studies” at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Their” personal web page is here. I’m not sure how to name this kind of young gay thinker with whom I agree at root, but whose mode of presentation is … risible. They “discourse” only with each other and their university’s uneasy tenure committee.

I myself am a white male gay boomer who bought a home in Central Harlem and lives there happily with my Black boyfriend. I studied for the Ph.D. in English at UCLA, progressing to all but dissertation. If even someone like me finds this kind of writing to be counter-productive for the cause, I’m not sure who else is left to applaud it.

P.S. The conversation with Yang was tremendously fine. The crucial part came when you debated whether the successor ideology was merely a fad, or the ineluctable doom of liberalism, or something in between. Listening, I felt some hope.

I too wince at some of the brain-dead grievance porn that now passes for “queer” discourse. But it’s particularly painful to read it in the pages of the Atlantic. A dissent from a reader:

I tend to concur with your dislike of the “woke” ideas that have increasingly percolated in the media in recent years. However, I think your emphasis is misplaced. In my view, the essential problem with this ideology is its phoniness; the people pushing this rhetoric are from the professional bourgeois class, and many of them aren’t actually concerned about lower strata of society on their own terms — they’re definitely not concerned with the values of the working class and the indigent.

If you accept this premise, then the ideology isn’t quite the threat to the liberal order that is your refrain. And the most effective response is not to continually sound the alarm about the danger of these people, but, rather, to mock them dismissively and then move on to more important topics (climate change, the rejuvenation of right-wing and left-wing authoritarianism, anti-vaxxers, mortality, love, the beauty of a perfect spring day, etc). The alarmism — which is being aped by Trumpist reactionaries — only perpetuates the culture war and doesn’t serve to push beyond it.

Shifting to Covid, many readers have responded to the impassioned dissent from a vaccine holdout, starting with this reader:

To the anti-vaxxer who asked, “What are the long-term side effects of the COVID19 vaccine?” I’m not sure it’s logical to fear the long-term side effects of a vaccine as opposed to the disease itself, whose long-term side effects are also unknown, and whose short-time side effects — particularly for some 600,000+ Americans — are all too well known. 

Another reader looks at the risks:

We know from clinical trials what the side effects of the vaccine tend to be: mild flu symptoms and arm pain for most people, up to myocarditis and sudden death for a small sliver of people: “6,789 reports of death (0.0019%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine.” We’ve seen millions of people take the vaccines and no other serious complications emerge. There is a small group of probable side effects linked to a vaccine, because there is always a group of side effects tied to a disease. The reader leaves open that ANYTHING could happen longer term, but we know from other vaccines and disease theory in general that that is not the case.

Another articulates the core reality of society, especially in our hyper-connected times:

To put it briefly, respecting and fulfilling public-health requirements is an important component of the responsibility of being a citizen and justifies the exercise of the limited rights that we enjoy and help us prosper. Are there risks? YES. And we all share them, because the chaos that an unrestrained plague would sow is far, far worse. But the scientists have shared data and analysis methods, and they too have taken the vaccinations, so they’re in the same situation as the rest of us who fulfill their citizen responsibilities. Is your reader’s opinion, backed with unknown credentials, the equivalent of experts in virology, immunology, etc? Especially based on his/her communication style, the answer is NO.

The husband in this video has a very effective communication style:

A softer touch comes from this reader:

Kudos to you for printing the letter from the anti-vaxxer — and not responding to being called a selfish bully! In any case, if your reader wants some of their questions answered, I would recommend one of the American Society of Virology’s vaccine town halls. They have real experts who try to answer whatever questions come up (Vincent Racaniello was on Aug 12th and he has literally written the textbook on virology). Don’t think this will necessarily change anyone’s mind, but everyone deserves to have their questions answered.

A person who has changed minds on this is Frank Luntz, the famed GOP pollster. He volunteered to be featured in an episode of This American Life that hosted a town hall filled with vax holdouts. Here’s some key context from the narrator:

Frank had a stroke a year ago in January, which is actually one of the reasons he wanted to work on this. The experience made him really angry with all the people who weren’t getting vaccinated. He says the stroke was this thing he probably could have prevented if he’d done what the doctor said. But he didn’t take care of himself, didn’t take his medication. And now, seeing people do some version of that, not protecting themselves by getting the vaccine, endangering themselves and others, it was driving him crazy.

Another recommendation from a reader:

This is what I’ve been sharing with people I know who are still hesitant, but it’s a bit of a commitment that I fear they won’t all make: Sam Harris’s discussion with Eric Topol, a cardiologist who famously challenged Trump’s head of the FDA during the vaccine rollout:

A final reader has a quick dissent against me and then addresses the anti-vax reader:

You wrote, “the most potent incentive for vaccination is, to be brutally frank, a sharp rise in mortality rates…” First, that would all be fine if unvaccinated COVID patients only harmed themselves. The fact is that morally (and legally) all those unvaccinated COVID patients will have to be cared for by healthcare workers who have been under extreme duress forever a year and are now asked to suck it up and do it again when an effective vaccine is widely available. (See Ed Yong’s recent article.)  

So I respectfully disagree with your proposition to just “let it rip.” Since local and federal governments cannot mandate vaccinations, our only recourse is to encourage marketplace vaccine mandates. We should also stop the counter-productive demonizing of vaccine refuseniks, and provide local public-health officials adequate support to mount local public-info campaigns that engage trusted community allies to neutralize misinformation and provide non-judgemental evidence-based answers to people’s questions. 

I acknowledge the fear of the writer who defended his choice to remain unvaccinated because there is no guarantee that the vaccine won’t have some long-term side effects. But using that logic, polio would never have been eradicated nor ebola brought under control. Personally speaking, my father suffered polio as a child, an aunt and her newborn baby died from bulbar polio, and my sister is still recovering from a five-month hospital/rehab ordeal due to a near-fatal COVID-19 infection.  I’m firmly in the pro-vaccination column.

That being said, we who are vaccinated took a calculated risk as well. We weighed the risks against the evidence that the vaccine minimizes serious infections and deaths from COVID-19. We made that choice in hopes of returning to a more normal life for us all. What I don’t accept is the right of the unvaccinated to unnecessarily stress healthcare workers, overburden the healthcare system, prolong disruption and viral spread, when a safe vaccine exists.  

On another note, I appreciated your conversation with the incredible Michael Lewis. His analysis of the bumbling efforts of the CDC and government leaders was sobering and enlightening. And God bless him on his own journey through grief.

I hope and pray that we will get through this pandemic. When we do, a lot more humility, empathy and brilliant thinkers like Michael Lewis will be needed to sort out what went wrong and how to fix it before the next pandemic.



This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit andrewsullivan.substack.com/subscribe
Aug 20, 2021
Michael Schuman On China's Threat And Confucius
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Michael, currently in Hong Kong, is a veteran journalist on East Asian affairs and a regular contributor to The Atlantic and Bloomberg. He’s written a book on Confucius, and his most recent one, Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World, explores the driving force behind the current Xi regime. After our episode with Peter Beinart that touched on China, and after the reader dissents that made me rethink, we wanted to bring on a Sinophile to help us sort through the most important foreign policy issue of the next decade.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app” — which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For three clips of my conversation with Michael — on whether China is really that culturally alien to the West and its economic system, on the overt structural racism and sexism in China, and on the current relevance of Confucius in foreign affairs — head over to our YouTube page.

Keeping the debate going, a Canadian reader who recently moved back from China responds to my initial column on the darkness visible there:

I wanted to say thank you for finally talking about international politics again, even if it is just to reach another disappointingly isolationist/non-interventionist conclusion. It’s so sad that there aren’t any bold freedom hawks in the West any more, whether conservative or liberal. I thought freedom mattered, you know? Spreading democracy, trying to make the world a better and fairer place.

I don’t know what the solution on China is, but I wish we got to hear more varied opinions than “work side-by-side with a genocidal government because climate change is worse than authoritarianism,” or “ignore the foreign fascists trying to shape media narratives internationally because U.S. journalists writing about systemic racism is a bigger threat to the liberal order.” It’s depressing that there isn’t a unified voice of resistance. That means the authoritarians already won, since they seem to have already defeated the spirits of most Western elites.

In that spirit, here’s a tangible tactic from a reader that doesn’t involve the military:

Your column on China was the most clear-headed piece I’ve read on the subject and I appreciate the practicality of it. But you missed something major: We can accept refugees. One of the greatest moral errors of the 20th century was the failure to accept Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler. One of our greatest moral triumphs against Communism was the open arms with which we embraced refugees from every place the Soviets and their allies controlled. 

This is the right course of action on principle alone, but in an ongoing struggle for global hearts and minds, it’s practical as well. No one flees a utopia, especially not en masse, and especially not toward a country that’s a nightmare. The sight of refugees arriving on the shores of America, telling their stories, using newfound freedom to organize in a way that's impossible in the land they fled from is devastating to China on a global scale. Think Avital Sharansky campaigning across the world to free her husband but boosted by TikTok. (The irony of a Chinese platform serving endless anti-China content would be delicious.)

I know the escape would be difficult, but as the Talmud says, he who saves a single life, it as if he has saved the entire world. And perhaps we’d be lucky enough that Xi would pull a Castro and allow people to flee. If we coordinate well, we can probably also prevent the sort of backlash that came from the Syrian refugee crisis. Regardless, it’s the right thing to do.

Offering Hong Kong citizens asylum seems a no-brainer to me. To his credit, Boris Johnson has offered a path to UK citizenship to anyone fleeing the former British colony. Maybe the US could do the same for Taiwan. What other forms of soft power can we deploy? Vaccine aid, says this reader:

I’m curious about your take on Pfizer and Moderna raising prices on their Covid vaccines and not sharing manufacturing capabilities with the rest of the world. This behavior and its lack of coverage seems both tragic, hypocritical, and an inevitable blow to America abroad.

For the past year and a half, we’ve made tremendous sacrifices to confront this pandemic and forced many of those sacrifices upon small businesses in the name of public health. Why won’t we force similar sacrifices upon the large vaccine manufacturers? How can people decry the possibility of mutations developing among the unvaccinated in the US without screaming about our corporations refusal to do all that they can to end the pandemic abroad? And how can we claim a moral standing in the world when even the tyranny of China can take this right-minded step?

I wish I could trust our companies and their corporate leadership to make these decisions. But the vaccine manufacturers stand to benefit far too much financially from a never-ending pandemic with ongoing cycles of mutations and booster shots.  In my view, it’s time to examine nationalizing this capability and making it available abroad. We can help the world recover as well as build manufacturing capacity that can assist during the next pandemic.

Er, no. I’m a big supporter of private sector healthcare and pharmaceuticals. They’re essential complements to universal access to insurance.

Here are a few other suggestions from a reader to counter the Chinese Communist Party:

1) the massive, well-organized underground Christian church made up of believers who have proven they are ready and committed to suffer hardship and even death for their faith. The CCP has yet to learn what every other totalitarian regime in history learned: the Christian faith thrives under persecution. As selfless compassion, real faith in God’s imminent and powerful love, and the supernatural work of the Spirit infiltrate a totalitarian culture the culture is transformed.

2) Unleash the dynamo of the American and British satire industry to expose the ludicrousness of CCP propaganda. No threats of violence or embargoes needed; the CCP will cower before the West in shame.

Unfortunately, the West has been completely compromised by its lust for cheap (and mostly unnecessary) goods provided by China and Vietnam. This lust might well be the West’s Achilles heel.

Sadly, Hollywood is so craven the chance to deploy mass culture to ridicule the Chinese is pretty remote. Matt and Trey will have to keep doing the heavy lifting.

Next is a reader who dabbles in some whataboutism:

I was fascinated by your column on China. I have worked regularly in the country (and most of Asia) over the past 30+ years, and I have never sensed that my freedoms were more restrictive in China than most other countries. I realize that the Uyghur situation is particularly challenging and horrible, and I would never apologize for such oppression of any people. Having said that, it is hard for our nation to be taken seriously about oppression of minorities with our own history, and our own continued treatment of certain folks here as second-class citizens — which I trust you would not deny, even if it is not so obvious in your own daily life and work.

You and I are both fortunate in our birth (I am a mongrel of German, Swiss, and Scots-Irish heritage), but I regularly see disrespect shown to immigrants and people of color— my wife being a good example of somebody who regularly receives second-class treatment. She is not imprisoned, but she is harassed and disrespected on a weekly basis from folks who are no better than she is.

While I appreciate your advocacy of a pragmatic approach to China relations, I hope you can see the need for at least as much attention paid here in our own nation. These past few years have made me all but hopeless about the future of the US as a civil and coherent nation, and we need those who have influence (as you do, even with its limitations) to keep pushing for fair, honest, civil behavior in our own nation. I think that we will  be much stronger advocates of fairness in China when we see a lot more fairness here at home. At the moment, we seem to be casting stones from within an increasingly fragile glass house.

Comparing micro-aggressions in a free, multiracial society with organized genocide and rank racism in a totalitarian regime is preposterous. Equating resilient racism in America to full-on Han Supremacy in China is just as mad.

On the more specific topic of Taiwan and its tensions with China, here’s a dissent from a U.S. sailor stationed in Hawaii who insists that “Taiwan is extremely important to our strategic and military posture in the Indo-Pacific”:

I agree with most of your analysis regarding our strategy vis-a-vis China and the depressing choices we face in regards to the Uyghur genocide and rollback of democracy in Hong Kong, but I must strenuously object to your strategic assertion that Taiwan is not a critical interest to the U.S. Back in the 1950s during the Cold War, American officials came up with the idea of three island chains dominating the Pacific — a kind of defense in depth:

* The First Island Chain (FIC) runs from Japan, through the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the Philippines, and rounding out in Borneo

* The Second Island Chain (SIC) consists of the Mariana Islands, Guam, and Palau

* The Third Island Chain (TIC) is the Hawaiian Islands stretching from Midway to Big Island.

What’s critically important about Taiwan is that by being a hostile, anti-CCP entity, it prevents China from easily projecting power into the Western Pacific and thus threatening the SIC. We maintain bilateral security alliances with Japan and the Philippines, and our policy of strategic ambiguity regarding Taiwan helps keep Cross Strait tensions down.

Nevertheless, if Taiwan were to fall, the SIC — specifically Guam, which its many U.S. military bases — would be threatened by China’s ability to break the FIC and project power deep into the Western and Central Pacific. Taiwan would also turn into a giant forward operating post for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which would threaten our security guarantees and forward deployed forces to Japan and the Philippines.

Make no mistake,