07/10/2020 - There Are No Facts

Mark Blyth, political economist at Brown's Watson Institute, and political scientist Carrie Nordlund share their take on the news.

On this episode: unpacking the biggest SCOTUS cases of the last two weeks; Trump's not-so-good summer so far; questioning if Trump's numbers are really as bad as they seem; 2020 Election as declaration of culture war; the difference between affect (also known as bull***t) and truth; the racial, economic, and generational contours to the debate over 'free speech'.


[MUSIC PLAYING] DAN RICHARDS: Hey there. This is Dan, the producer of Mark and Carrie. If you like this show, we highly recommend you check out Watson's other podcast, Trending Globally. You'll hear more in-depth conversations about politics and policy from some of the world's leading experts, including, occasionally, Mark and Carrie. You can find it by subscribing to Trending Globally on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

All right, on with the show. Thanks.


CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, hello, and welcome to the podcast. Hi, Mark. Can I help you with your car insurance today? I always feel like I work in customer service when I wear this headset.

MARK BLYTH: That is totally a customer service headset. It's really good. I was actually about to-- I should know to shave before I go on. I mean, if you're watching this on YouTube, these films will make sense. But if you're listening to it, they won't.

I haven't had a shave, but I am wearing my glasses, which I always think makes me look kind of strange. What-- how do you--

CARRIE NORDLUND: They're smart glasses, maybe. They make you look even--

MARK BLYTH: Are they the smart ones?


MARK BLYTH: So they--

CARRIE NORDLUND: Intellectual, yeah.

MARK BLYTH: OK, right. So these are my smart glasses. All right, fair enough.

So it's been two weeks. I mean, nothing much has happened.

CARRIE NORDLUND: No, not really. In fact, you feel like it's more of the same with slightly different--


CARRIE NORDLUND: --terms used. But on a more serious note, actually, yesterday was a big day for the Supreme Court. This is one of the latest-- yesterday's decisions were some of the latest decisions that we've gotten. I mean, part of it was that they had to hear some of the cases over Zoom. We remember some of those discussions.

But the interesting ones from this week were-- in Oklahoma, Governor-- or Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion that the eastern part of Oklahoma is considered tribal land. And so the question before the court was whether this area of land, which was under a treaty from 200 years ago, was federal or whether-- and under federal law or whether it was tribal land. And the decision that Gorsuch wrote was that it was reserved land.

Now, the implications of this are not yet 100% clear, but mostly that Gorsuch wrote the decision-- the political stuff coming out as Gorsuch wrote the decision. I mean, it's not totally surprising because he's from the West. He's from Colorado. And-- but also that he sided with the liberal part of the court.

And so that sort of stuff is interesting as we think about the-- as the president often tweets about his justices and President Obama's justices and that sort of stuff. And then Senator Ted Cruz, who's from Texas-- you might think he has other issues going on in his life, but he tweeted that what was next, Manhattan? So I mean, I just thought that was really relevant. [CHUCKLES]

MARK BLYTH: So is this a kind of a blowback from what happens when you think that strict constitutionalists are always going to act in your interests?


MARK BLYTH: Because if you think about, what I understand of this one is that, essentially, there's a legal case here that the law was never superseded by federal law. Therefore, as a strict constitutionalist, I must take the letter of the law. Boom-- that's what you get. So it seems to be the case that if conservatives are banking on people like Scalia and Gorsuch who are the so-called strict constitutionalists adhering to the letter of the law, sometimes the letter of the law can throw up some surprises.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes, and especially in cases that you might seem-- that might seem very straightforward to one side of the spectrum versus the other, I mean, this was a surprise and especially, again, because you had one of Trump's justices writing the majority decision. And then the two big ones everyone was waiting for-- and I was, like, doomscrolling through Twitter on this yesterday morning-- were the Trump tax ones. And so I was interested in this from a presidential power perspective.

So there are two cases, one having to do with the Manhattan district attorney, whether or not they were going to have access to Trump's records, and then Congress, whether Congress is going to have subpoena power. And so the presidential power perspective on this was that the court said, and really questioned in their decision, whether congressional-- whether Congress has the subpoena power and actually said in it that the power that Congress was asking for was too far-reaching and then kicked it down to the lower court. So this isn't really a win or a loss for the president. It's just more litigation and more courtly legal stuff. And then on the stuff--

MARK BLYTH: Hold on. Didn't it allow the Manhattan DA access to the files for criminal prosecution?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes, it did. So on the second one with the Manhattan DA, that's exactly right. The grand jury will get access to that, though I think it still has to be decided by the lower court as to the parameters of that. But--

MARK BLYTH: And then?

CARRIE NORDLUND: --what was interesting about that was that Trump-- the president said that, as president, he is immune from criminal subpoenas, and the court loudly rejected that. So it's kind of similar to US v. Nixon, where the court said, on one hand, you have to give up the tapes, but on the other, we recognize executive privilege, and so giving the president more power. I saw these two cases as saying, Congress doesn't have power to subpoena you unless it's really specific, which was interesting, curbing congressional power but then saying the president doesn't just have this blanket immunity. So I think always pushing a little bit against presidential power but never really wanting to curb it all whole hog.

MARK BLYTH: Mm-hmm. And then, of course, there was a win for religious conservatives.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, I mean, there's always a fight over birth control. But this was part of the Obamacare, and that there had been a section that allowed employers to opt out of providing free birth control. The court said that is the case, that religious employers can opt out of this. And it seemed to be a bit of a whimper in comparison-- in terms of the decision magnitude as compared to the Oklahoma or the Trump tax cases, but it's not a surprise. I mean, it's a continuation of-- just the contraction of access for women to birth control.

MARK BLYTH: So it's been a good week for the president, or a bad week for the president?

CARRIE NORDLUND: In the-- from the SCOTUS rulings, I think it's a bit of one step forward, two steps back. So there's probably some terrible metaphor there I'm using. But I think in-- probably not the greatest, because their stuff is still going to happen as the lower courts.

I don't think-- I mean, everyone says nothing's going to happen before the election. But the other thing that I keep thinking of is that Trump is no idiot when it comes to this. I mean, he doesn't do his own taxes.

I mean, if anything, his lawyers are lying for him, right? So if he-- if there are lies or fraudulent claims or whatever, he's going to just blame the lawyers and accountants, isn't he? I mean, it's not like he's doing this at night on his computer or something using TurboTax.

MARK BLYTH: Well, exactly, this is why audit firms are sort of double-edged swords. On the one hand, they verify your account. On the other hand, they take the fall for what you have done or what they have done or what someone has done, which is sometimes a bit opaque. But has travails this week have gone a little bit farther than just this. I mean, apparently, he didn't do his own SAT test. What else?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, yeah, sure.

MARK BLYTH: Oh, there's that thing called corona, right?


MARK BLYTH: There's that thing called corona. There's 130,000 dead, as completely predicted and was predictable. All those states, that opened up four weeks ago now, that whole period of the deaths are going down seems to have abruptly ended, and they're going back up again.

Remarkably, despite all that, Trump still has 50% of people thinking his handling of the economy's OK, which is something I honestly cannot understand, but there we go. And the base is still the base, and it's still there. So despite everything that's thrown at him, despite the fact that his July 4th speech was basically the declaration of a culture war, right, it seems to be he's still in there. And Joe Biden's still struggling to get a hearing. So again, as my resident American politics person, make sense of all that for me.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I think the economic approval number is so interesting because it's at 49%. And I thought, maybe he's not doing a bad job on the economy, minus the whole pandemic thing. And people are like, well, are somehow giving him an out because they're like, oh, well, COVID screwed everything up, not seeing his role in the COVID screw-up. So there's that.

MARK BLYTH: And the official unemployment number is still only really 12%. If you go with one of the bigger measures, you can get the-- but it's not what we were expecting or were told to expect, that a third of all people are going to lose jobs in the pandemic. So essentially, despite the economy doing very badly, particularly in soft touch services and bars opening and closing and all that sort of stuff-- airlines are a catastrophe-- there's going to be much more unemployment coming in the next few months, unfortunately.

But at the present moment in time, for many people. I guess if they look around and they still have a job-- that's not the problem. There may be various problems, but he's still getting, yeah, it's not really his fault. That could be well exactly what it is.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well-- and I think the culture war speeches, and especially the tearing down of the statues and the radical left, I mean, that stuff obviously is getting traction because he's used that speech now both at Mount Rushmore and then on 4th of July. And you see some ads around this as well. You see this is clearly going to be the strategy for them, because they're not going to win in the fall, especially because jobs-- unemployment numbers will be higher. They can't win on that they contained the pandemic.

So the culture wars is really all he has to lean on in order to make the case to the country. And so in that way, you just-- I mean, it's a pretty good playbook, I guess, because you can focus on the stuff that you can control-- the liberal left is going crazy-- or the radical left is going crazy and tearing down all these statues and full on "you can't say that, you can't say that." And so I think it's a good positioning for him, and it sticks, too.

MARK BLYTH: So it's good for the base. It solidifies the base. Does it really get him into victory territory? That's the question. I mean, the polls, for example and the continuing protests still show that a majority of Americans think that they're on the right side. So the ability to play the classic Southern strategy-- maybe that-- maybe it finally has diminishing returns to that strategy. But the econ numbers do suggest elsewhere, that it is actually working. So--

CARRIE NORDLUND: But what does this look like in the fall to you in terms of the economic data? I mean, it just--


--looks like garbage, right?

MARK BLYTH: Well, it's hard to say. I mean, it's kind of weird, right, because if you were any other country, your numbers are going down. Right?


MARK BLYTH: There's a very inter-- there was a great piece in the Financial Times by Simon Kuper last weekend where he said, look, there's this wonderful piece of-- this essay by a philosopher called Harry Frankfurt. He's at Princeton. And it's called On Bullshit.


MARK BLYTH: And the characteristic of a bullshitter is someone who-- they don't care about the truth value of a statement. That doesn't matter. So if you call them out on being a liar, it's irrelevant. The only reason you say something is because it has affect. It makes you feel a certain way, and it gets them what they want instrumentally.

So Trump, Bolsonaro, Boris Johnson, what they have in common-- they literally are bullshitters under that definition [INAUDIBLE]. Now, the thing is, the virus doesn't care if you're a bullshitter or not. The virus doesn't care if you're wearing a mask or not. And if you start to believe the bullshit, and you don't wear a mask and you're in a state that opens up, it is inevitable that you're going to end up closing down the economy again.

So the harder that he pushes on this line, the more damage he's doing to the economy itself. And that seems to me to be the pressure point with his own supporters, whereas up here, for example, in Rhode Island, cases down. We're looking like New Zealand in comparison to other parts of the United States. The whole of the Northeast-- mask country, liberal country-- seems to be doing OK, and we're on phase 3 of opening. Meanwhile, Texas and those other places that opened up-- we spoke about in prior episodes-- it's a disaster. And if you keep going that way, you will continue to open and then crash and then open and then crash. That's where the problem lies when he gets up to November.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, and there was a great article in Politico yesterday about Governor Raimondo and her-- and why it is Rhode Island is doing as well as it is. But you have-- I mean, to your point about the regional differences, I mean-- so if the South, then, sort of starts to decrease, does the Northeast then start to increase? I mean, the fall just looks like-- I mean, it could be just scattershot around the country. It doesn't-- the fall does not look good, I guess, is what I'm trying to say.

MARK BLYTH: So let's bring that into more pointed areas, so universities and schools opening up in the fall, right. So the first one is something I take personal affront to because I was one of them-- international students being banned.


MARK BLYTH: So two weeks ago, we have the ban on, basically, green cards and anybody coming in, and no international students. Now, the interesting one on this is this is actually under existing law, not that much of a stretch, because you do need to be enrolled face to face, because otherwise what would happen is you have lots of people on student visas who could be sitting anywhere in the world pretending to be in a class, and you're essentially handing out visas. You need to know where people are and that they are doing the things that they want to do.

But this has been weaponized by the administration as yet another all foreigners are bad move. Let's keep them out. And 1.2 million people who are here, who are an incredibly important part of the basic research infrastructure of the United States, are now looking around going, what just happened?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well-- and the rule is written so you don't know whether-- is it they have to be in face to face, in person, once per semester? Twice per s-- does the professor have to be there as well? And so the rule is so vague. And of course no one at DHS is saying what the details of the rule are.

And then to your point about the economy, too, I mean, they-- this is a ton of money that they're pumping into the economy as well. I mean, I get the xenophobia and all that sort of stuff, but I just think about the business side of this. And that's a huge business to universities and higher education.

MARK BLYTH: But that's why I think that to go back to the Frankfurt bullshitter category is really useful, right? Because if this was a normal Republican president, you know that he would be getting hell for tariffs from business. He'd be getting hell for tariffs for his immigration policy. And he is getting hell from business, but he doesn't care because ultimately, it's all about one thing-- seeing what's effective to get elected. It doesn't matter, really, what it is. If you imagine a Democratic equivalent of this, it would be somebody that would be facing down their own team-- exactly the same thing, not because it's a good idea, but because it's effective.

So did someone really genuinely think that banning green cards in progress was going to help the unemployment numbers? Absolutely not. How would you connect the dots? It's ridiculous, right?

But it's popular. It speaks to basically that sotto voce racism that's come to characterize the culture war move. And then that's where we are. So--

CARRIE NORDLUND: But that's such an interesting point, because it means there's no facts. Fact does not matter. So when we-- when people-- number of Pinocchio noses and that sort of stuff, I mean, none of that is relevant, because he's just saying stuff.

Tear down those statues. What are they doing? They're crazy. And that just makes us-- makes some of us feel good.

MARK BLYTH: But this isn't-- so this brings us to the bring back free speech, protect free speech move-- the Harper's letter and all this other stuff.


MARK BLYTH: So here's how I think about this one. So what-- apropos of what we've just been saying, the right, for the past 30 years, had been winning by giving up on facts. It basically does affect, how it makes you feel. And what they did was, they said, these are our values. And they turned values rather from sort of contingent historical products that we think are good at a certain moment and to absolute truth, Ten-Commandments-style.

And essentially, you're for us or you're against us, and that was sort of the right-wing move. This is what's residualized the base. This is what's made primaries so toxic, right? You either subscribe to these views, or you don't. That's the end of it.

Now, what's happened on the left, which-- interestingly, what the center-left, the Harper's letter signatures, are doing is getting onto the so-called far-left for their intolerance and cancel culture and all the rest of it. But if you think about it, in an arms race, it's an equivalent move. And it's a very effective politics, but what it means is both left and right are now playing values absolutism.

Now, in the middle of that, there's a bunch of people who basically have done well from the existing system, my class, who are saying, what about free speech? Well, you're like, well, really, this is the moment to talk about that? Because let's think about it.

All those Confederate monuments put up in the nineteen-thirties-- that was an example of free speech. Jim Crow-- free speech was alive and well all the way through that. So it's a bizarre-- if you're not in the bubble that is my class, that is such a weird intervention into this moment, because both the left and the right, who are playing kind of moral absolutisms, it literally makes no sense. It's literally not legible as anything other than a bunch of old people trying to be relevant in the middle of a screaming match.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, and I agree with everything you just said. And I've thought a lot about this because I've been trying to sort this out for myself. And I think about in class or how I'm super careful about what I say, because I-- really, I don't want to hurt my students if I say the wrong term or-- and I have gotten emails from students that have said, you said this, and here's what you should be saying, and sent me a handbook.

And I mean, I've taken that to heart in that I know that I hurt that student. I mean, there's also a part of me that's kind of annoyed, and like, seriously, I didn't. But I take it for what it is, and they're doing a good faith effort. But I think it really is-- and I can understand it from just a generational perspective of I don't know what words I can use or what words I'm not supposed to.

And so in some ways, you kind of feel like JK Rowling is just pissed because she got yelled at on Twitter for saying the wrong stuff, although it's much more than that. And she just doesn't know how to-- she feels so embarrassed, she just can't say, I'm sorry and I'll do better next time, or something. And so she signed on to this letter.

MARK BLYTH: So the sociologist Bourdieu had a nice way of thinking about this, which was-- he said, financial capital, wealth, is one form of capital, but there's also cultural capital. And there's also social capital. And what this class, our class, has is basically cultural capital. And what's happened is what we are selling just isn't valued by either of these constituencies. So you're watching people react to the devaluing of their, if you will, their intellectual capital in that sense. So--

CARRIE NORDLUND: But I mean, there is a part that I think there-- that I can be empathetic to within this bigger conversation. And I just catch little bits of this is when, for example, there's a new term that's used. And I mean, and I should have heard of it, but I haven't.

And so then you're like, but am I-- I must be out of date. I'm totally out of it. And there is this feeling of frustration.

But I guess it's-- I don't know. Talk to me in 30 years, I guess, and I'll be that grumpy person that has signed this letter. I guess that's-- is this generational? And is it just a bunch of grumpy old people?

MARK BLYTH: Right. Yeah, I mean, all of the above, right, and it's more important than that, but I mean, there's a reason I'm a political economist. I posted something on Twitter this morning or yesterday from a PricewaterhouseCoopers report on wealth. So high-net-worth individuals, people who have more than $1 million in assets have more wealth than all the world's pension funds and all the world's insurance companies combined. And they have 10 times that of all the sovereign wealth funds.

Now, we can scream about statues. We can do [? everything, ?] but that's the underlying reality. So you can get involved in any politics of recognition or misrecognition you want, but at the end of the day, the same people still control all the power and the wealth.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, and that was a big push--

MARK BLYTH: And that's the bit that just-- this is what's missing in all of this.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes. Well, that was a pushback, not in terms of actual dollar wealth, but that JK Rowling, for example, has so many platforms and speaks to so many people. And so is she really a victim of not being able to say what she wants to? I mean--


CARRIE NORDLUND: That's-- it's just not what's--

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, no, absolutely.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. I mean, on this not being able to say or do what you want to, yet another day and another video of someone yelling at somebody at the grocery store for-- when they're asked to put on a mask. What do you make of all of this about "my freedom, my--" and then screaming and cursing someone out for-- when they're asked to wear a mask?

MARK BLYTH: So the first thing to recognize is that it's not just the United States. This actually does go on in other places. There are reports of this in other places. It's not as extreme. But for example, if you talk to people who are in Britain, if you're in the Northeastern United States, you're probably going to see more masks than you do in London.


MARK BLYTH: Right? I mean, it's just-- the pubs are-- look at the pictures of the pubs in London last weekend. Like, nobody was wearing a mask. They were all completely cheek by jowl with each other. Bournemouth Beach, it was like 10,000--

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, I saw that. Yes.

MARK BLYTH: --people on this one strip of sand. So it's not the only place where you have those behavioral responses. The violence in it, because it's laced with everything from sort of like deep frustration, racism, et cetera, layered in different ways. I mean, the mask thing is often tied up with "you people go back home" comments and all the rest of it as we've seen. So you know there's an American peculiarity to it, but guess what, other people can be stupid too. The other one, historically, is quite interesting. If you go back to the nineteen-eighteen pandemic, they had all exactly the same thing going on.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, they did.

MARK BLYTH: They had marches of people refusing to wear masks and saying it was a hoax and all that sort of stuff. So yeah, I mean, part of it is because with the availability of digital media and everybody recording everything, you see things now more often that are shocking.


MARK BLYTH: But just because you didn't see them in the past or they weren't recorded in the past doesn't mean we didn't behave just as stupidly then.

CARRIE NORDLUND: [LAUGHS] Yes, I like your point that other people around the world are just as dumb. I-- this does take me to the nanny state and, this, you know, connects to the Harper's letter as well. But I mean, the government usually controls negative externalities in some way.

Is-- it makes me think we do need a nanny state. But then, I mean, it's true we've gone too far, and they're now trying to levy fines if you're not wearing a mask, and people just roll their eyes. But it does make one wonder, if there was someone different in the White House, if there had been some control, whether we would have this-- all of these outbursts of emotion around it.

MARK BLYTH: Well, it'd if you actually had a policy that we're going to try and do something consistent, we're going to stick to it, because that's what consistency means, and we're going to follow what other people do that seems to be working, rather than it's not real, it'll all be gone, it's all the fault of the governors, we're doing great, we're only getting results because we keep testing people, et cetera. Of course it would make a difference.


MARK BLYTH: How much of a difference? I mean, it seems to be the case that if you fire everything you've got all at once, really early lockdown completely, then you get a great outcome. If you don't do that, you can end up with crappy outcomes. Spain has a second wave.


MARK BLYTH: Italy might kick off. Britain's not looking so clever. And Sweden, despite all the hope for basically herd immunity, has a huge amount of death and very little herd immunity. So--

CARRIE NORDLUND: But they also have not had a huge impact on their economy, right?

MARK BLYTH: No, actually they have--

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, they have.

MARK BLYTH: --because everybody else around them has had an impact.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

MARK BLYTH: And they live and die by exports, right. So they get just as stuffed as everybody else. So there's a kind of nationalistic fallacy in this, that if we do this, we'll be fine.

I mean, a good example is New Zealand. They're totally fine in terms of health care outcomes. But they have no tourists. Their international trade is completely constricted. I mean, they're going to take a massive hit economically, but they will not be dying of COVID.

CARRIE NORDLUND: What-- I mean, so the big thing out of-- well, we're talking about it right now-- is what's going to happen in the fall with schools and universities. So Brown has just announced that it's going to be a hybrid. A couple days before, Harvard had announced that they'll be on-- remote for the entire year. Princeton, I think, is doing freshmen, fall, seniors, in the spring. Sophomores and juniors get stuffed. What's your take on what's going to happen for K through 12 or, I guess, higher ed, but really K through 12, which is where the lines are really being drawn?

MARK BLYTH: Well, the most important one is K through 12 in the sense that if you want to get people back to work if the conditions allow it, then you have to be able to send the kids there. But if you loo-- this is where the United States is different. So you have the president saying the schools must open. OK, everybody else is kind of saying that, perhaps not exactly as angrily as he's saying it.

But you know what they're doing? They're putting resources into it. So they're making it possible for the schools to open, but as-- we just have someone shouting that it needs to happen in the midst of a depressed economy.


MARK BLYTH: So that's the big difference. You're not actually helping. You're just shouting at people as usual. And that's the disappointing aspect.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I have a couple friends who are teachers, and they've been told by their districts to buy thermometers and Clorox wipes since they'll be taking temperatures and cleaning their classrooms. And they're like, but there are no Clorox wipes anywhere, first of all, and second of all, so I'm now the medical professional as well? I mean, just the stuff-- the directives that they're being given is totally ludicrous.

MARK BLYTH: Absolutely. And in other countries, they tend not to do that. They tend to recognize, oh, we're trying to solve a public health problem. Let's not create one in our classrooms--


MARK BLYTH: But try and actually make the classrooms safe so that we can send the kids back, whereas, as usual, we're just a public policy disaster.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Have you fallen back in love with-- is it-- I'm going to try to pronounce it correctly-- Angela Mah-kel. Is that anywhere close to it?



MARK BLYTH: Angela Merkel. I mean, it's not that difficult. No, I mean, the whole Europe--

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I want to call Angela at like, McAll--

MARK BLYTH: Angie, Angie.


MARK BLYTH: No, the whole thing-- I mean, basically she's someone who's a pretty good communicator, who has a science background, who right at the start has been communicating clearly. I mean, basically women leaders who can talk in sentences handle corona well. That's pretty much it, with no drama, right.

And so in that sense, it's the rebirth, right. And populists, because their entire thing is foreigners are bad, and you've been lied to, and all the rest of it, they're not doing too well in the coronavirus era, because it turns out you do need things like experts and public health systems, or at least you do in countries other than the United States. We just shove ours off to the side when they become annoying.

So yeah, so has she been reborn? Only to the extent that coronaviruses has given, if you will, center party leaders a second wind. But have they fallen back in love with her? OK, so what has she done, right? There was meant to be this thing, a $750 billion bailout fund that was going to go to Italy.


MARK BLYTH: That's been watered down now and turned into a bunch of grants-- a bunch of loans rather that nobody actually wants. The Italians have drawn a line in the sand in terms of conditionality. The Spanish are doing the same thing. The Dutch are saying, we are not paying for these people. And Merkel, rather than showing leadership, is basically saying they're looking for the lowest common denominator, which is what she always does.

So as usual, European countries are having variously good or bad crises responses. The EU is doing exactly what it always does, look for the lowest common denominator.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, it was interesting your point about women leaders. Hillary Clinton, in a recent interview, said the exact same thing. She said, women leaders-- and she named off-- listed off all the countries-- are doing far better than male leaders.



MARK BLYTH: I mean, no, it's really true. It's just completely true. Yeah, absolutely.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, I shouldn't. But I did. Bolsonaro tested positive. And I just-- I had a little smile on my face because he's been at the forefront of this is a hoa-- this is crap, and blah, blah, blah. But then I saw on social media that he was then going to take hydroxychloroquine on social media to show that it was effective. And I thought, try that out. Let's see how that goes.

MARK BLYTH: My favorite one from him was he was at a press briefing admitting that he had it with a mask. And he took it off to then give the rest of the press briefing, thereby exposing everybody in the room. I mean, it really--

CARRIE NORDLUND: Can't make it up.

MARK BLYTH: This is it. No, but it's this bit where it's like, there are no facts.


MARK BLYTH: There really are no facts. There are only how I manage this room, this situation, how I make you feel. My election is the only important thing. That's pretty much it.

CARRIE NORDLUND: But I actually was surprised that they announced that he even had it, because I didn't know that our president would if he tested positive, whether or not we would ever hear about that or-- I mean, because that would clearly be such a vulnerability for him. And he doesn't have any vulnerabilities.

MARK BLYTH: Well, he doesn't seem to, actually. He's been run loads of people who have been infected, and he never seems to get infected.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, maybe he's that person that just have whatever antibodies and will never get it.

MARK BLYTH: Well, there is some research on this. I mean, we analogize it to influenza. But last week, I think it was the British or someone's recategorized the disease caused by COVID as cardiovascular, and really a vascular disease. What it does is it causes micro blood clots everywhere. And that's what really screws you up. So even-- we thought it was mainly respiratory, and it turns out it's actually mainly vascular, at least on that definition. But if you do stick with it as being a virus. I mean, it's more like the cold. So there's like a third of us-- and maybe we spoke with us last time. There's like a third of us that never get the cold.




MARK BLYTH: And they say-- and whether it's because we're micro-dosing the virus, or we have some kind of natural immunity or whatever, right. And it could be the case that Trump's just in that third of people who just would never get this. You put him in a room of it, and it's just not going to happen.


MARK BLYTH: And then other people get it, and the worst possible outcomes happen, which is what makes it so unpredictable and scary. And I've got to finish up soon our little tour around the world. Have you been paying attention to China recently?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, I mean, just a little bit, but not as much as I should.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, exact-- so it's quite interesting. They're getting themselves into quite a pickle. So if you just started back in Twenty-Sixteen when Trump was elected, and he's railing against trade and all this other stuff, China's Xi comes out, goes to whatever it was, Davos or the WTO meeting or whatever, and says, we will defend globalization, this is what we do, whatever. And everybody went like, oh, thank god, there's an adult in the room, right?

And then it turns out that when you imprison a million people in basically re-education camps, when you tear up the Hong Kong agreement and terrorize your population with threats of life imprisonment, when you run a giant spy ring abroad that is based around repatriating your nationals and in some cases, giving them the option, come home or commit suicide, when you really start to register on the buttons of all of the different intelligence services across Europe, when the Europeans themselves, even at the EU level, start to get really angry with you because you've been negotiating a trade agreement for eight years and frankly, you're taking the piss-- they have no intention of signing anything and they just want to basically steal your tech, turns out everyone's getting cross with China.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Who would have thought that the entire world be against China.

MARK BLYTH: I know. And to me, the most interesting one in this is the Brits seem to be quite serious about offering 3 million people in Hong Kong British citizenship, which is a really big one, because China's super pissed about this, as you can imagine. And I can imagine the Brits at this point going, look, once we wean ourself off of Huawei's 5G, which they're committed to doing, and we're not relying on them for funding that stupid nuclear power station we shouldn't be building anyway, what do we need them for?

CARRIE NORDLUND: But is it inter--

MARK BLYTH: Forget it.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Is it interesting that the UK-- xenophobic UK-- would want all of those foreigners in, and welcome them to their borders.

MARK BLYTH: Well, there's always been a weird British way of talking about the right type of immigrants.


MARK BLYTH: And I think what that means is basically loads of massively entrepreneurial, loaded, English-speaking people from Hong Kong--


MARK BLYTH: --totally fine.

CARRIE NORDLUND: They're the good ones. Yeah.

MARK BLYTH: They're the good ones. Exactly.

CARRIE NORDLUND: But then does that ever-- I mean, the cynic in me wonders whether that ever results in anything, becau-- I mean, the pushback against China, because China's so rich. They have so much. And is there-- well, in this game of chicken, who backs down first?

MARK BLYTH: Well, there is-- so there's two camps on this. And apparently within China, there are those people who are saying very quietly that Xi moved too far and too fast.


MARK BLYTH: They're powerful, but they're not that powerful. And if you basically manage to get the EU and the US against you, when the EU should be your natural ally as the USA implodes and turns hyper-nationalistic, then they've really mismanaged it, because they've got nowhere else to go. At the end of the day, they still rely on the United States being the net deficit in the system to the surplus that they're running.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I guess it would be whether Xi exits stage left or they just disappear him in some way. That would be the signal. I mean, Xi, I have wondered whether he's going to get the boot pretty soon, just for all these-- well, mainly for COVID and just to put somebody, someone who's more trustworthy into the position.

MARK BLYTH: Well, the whole Uighur situation plays really, really bad for them.


MARK BLYTH: I mean, again, 50-- 10-- five years ago, 10 years ago, it was technocratic China opening up to the world. You could wander around any of the cities. It seemed to be a functioning place, even though it wasn't a democracy. And now, there's a million people in jail.


MARK BLYTH: Right? I mean, admittedly, the United States still has more people in jail than anybody else. But putting that to one side for a minute, we don't do it just because they're Muslim.

CARRIE NORDLUND: We do do it for other reasons similar, but yeah.

MARK BLYTH: We do it for other reasons, right.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes, totally. Your point is taken. Is there anything out there that's not total doom and gloom?




CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I am-- I have a tiny one, but you go.

MARK BLYTH: All right, you go in for it. Go ahead. You go first.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I don't know if you watched Hamilton, but it seemed like, I mean, my very curated Twitter feed, everyone was watching Hamilton last weekend. But I just thought was interesting because Aaron Burr is getting so much press right now. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court cited him in what-- in his decision for-- the Trump tax decision. The duel with Hamilton is-- the anniversary is tomorrow, 216 years since that duel. And I just thought, someone dug up from American history that we never would think twice about is really having his particular moment.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. No, I was thinking of Hamilton in a different way. First of all, I wasn't watching it. But I was watching some of the commentary around it.

And I was just waiting for "cancel Hamilton," and of course, it came along, right? And I started-- just spent 10 minutes looking into this. And the argument seems to be one which, if you scratch beneath the surface, really is just disappointment.


MARK BLYTH: So when this thing's launched-- this is this remarkable thing, where basically African-American and other minority cultural influences are put together into this most traditional of white musical forms with multicultural actors and so on and so forth, and it was brilliant, right? And in a sense, it was like what the Obama coalition thought-- the intellectual elite of the Obama coalition thought the world should look like. That was it.

And now, clearly after four years of Trump, that dream is shattered, whatever. And all of that, that was meant to be good, it's gone. It no longer matters, right?


MARK BLYTH: It's just the fact that this is just another vehicle of cultural oppression. And you just-- you do get to the point where you're like, yeah, but it was a really good musical.

CARRIE NORDLUND: The music was good. I mean, I'm just going to annoy you because I liked it, but I also thought, women are still in these super-gendered roles. If you're going to make Thomas Jefferson a black man, why not make him a black woman? I mean, if we're going to think about reimagining a musical, those would be ways that I would do it.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, but have one reimagining at a time.


CARRIE NORDLUND: OK. I'll take the hit. I'll take that. No, but I mean, just letting it all go. It's-- yes, it's great.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, but I did love the Twitter comment that just something he said, oh my god, five years ago, the same people who are wanting to cancel thought this was the greatest thing in the world. And it's absolutely true. So much of this is just disappointment. We're all just angry and disappointed for our own very different reasons.


CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes. So on that wonderful high note--

MARK BLYTH: On that happy--


MARK BLYTH: --happy note. Yes, exactly.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Anger and disappointment. Well, stay safe. Take care. Talk to you in a couple weeks. Thank you for listening, everyone.

MARK BLYTH: Indeed. Bye.


About the Podcast

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Mark and Carrie
Mark Blyth, political economist at The Watson Ins…

About your hosts

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Mark Blyth

Host, Rhodes Center Podcast
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Carrie Nordlund

Co-Host, Mark and Carrie