On this episode of High Noon: After Dark, Emily and Inez discuss the likely shape of the coming midterm elections, the growing gulf between the priorities of the elites and the challenges of the rest of America, and whether a GOP win is likely to do much to improve the country’s path. They also discuss long-term survey results showing that Americans are increasingly friendless.

High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. The podcast features interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.


TRANSCRIPT

Inez Stepman:

Welcome to High Noon where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. And as always, once a month we do these docket episodes with Emily Jashinsky, over, culture editor over at The Federalist. She’s a fellow with us at Independent Women’s Forum, a senior fellow for somebody so young. And she also, she has a segment over with Ryan Grim at Breaking Points. They call it Counterpoints now. So she’s on there every Friday doing the independent media thing. And of course she is teaching intrepid young journalists over at Young America’s Foundation. So she has many hats. And I just want to start this episode with a quick apology to the listeners. I was actually on vacation last week, that’s why there was no episode last week. But we are back now and we’re going to do, I guess we have to do a midterms episode since this will really be the last time Emily and I speak before the midterms on this show. And Emily really has a better handle on this, I think, than I do really covering the horse race.

So I mean, it seems like, just from the outsider perspective, polls have definitely narrowed, Republican red wave rhetoric seems to be roaring back. Republicans seem pretty confident. But what do you think is likely to happen? I know that predictions are always difficult, but where do you think there might be some interesting upsets, if they happen? And generally, what is your outlook on the midterms coming into this midterm season in just a couple weeks here?

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah, it’s, I think a really important lens to keep fixed onto your vision of the horse race conversation right now is that polling isn’t good and pollsters are actually still at this very moment talking to the media about how they don’t really think that they’ve calibrated, they’ve recalibrated in a way that allows them to have a good and confident gauge of, or confidently gauge what public opinion is in some of these different races and as a whole. And that is obviously a huge problem. So a good way to pay attention to that is movement in the same polls. So the same poll from April to May to June, July, August, September. That’s a good way to look at some of that stuff. And most of the motion we’ve seen in those polls is towards Republicans since Labor Day. And what happens after Labor Day is that all of the money starts going into those races and as the money starts pouring into those races, they kind of clench onto what their final message is going to be.

We see the message, the sort of red versus blue congeal, and as gas prices are going back up, as inflation continues to get worse for average Americans, that’s sort of, I think, interestingly combining with the trap that Democrats are in where they can’t not talk about certain things, they can’t not talk about trans rights, they can’t not talk about woke generally sort of woke content. And when you combine that with a bad economy, it’s a toxic, toxic combination for Democrats. So I think we have seen movement and if I had to guess right now, I would say it’s a pretty solid win for Republicans in the house. I don’t know that they’ll win the Senate. I think it’ll be really close. I think we’re looking at a very, very closely divided Senate either way, which we have now. So I’m not sure there’ll be much change there.

But I think Republicans will take the house by a comfortable margin. But again, it’s just we are up a creek without a paddle in terms of polling and polling determines where money goes. Polling determines where attention goes. Polling determines where media goes. And then media in and of itself can really change these races too. So we’re in an odd, I think a very odd situation, especially in DC where people rely heavily on those polls to figure out what on earth they do with all of these millions and millions of dollars? But I would expect it’s not going to be pretty surprising from the perspective that Republicans will have a comfortable win in the House.

Inez Stepman:

Speaking of things that are sort of floating around DC, I think large part of the conversation now is on priorities and whether the parties are running or talking about the issues that are aligning with voters’ priorities. And that really seems to be just a general across the board problem, honestly. I think in this cycle Republicans are focusing on inflation and economic woes, which certainly aligns at least if we trust polls at all with what voters are thinking. Although, one thing that I keep seeing in the top three is immigration. And somehow we never talk about the fact that immigration is still a top priority and sometimes 1, 2, 3. But in almost all of these priority polls like what issues matter to voters, you end up having immigration as this third big issue that somehow never makes it into any of the talk shows or any of the discussion.

But there’s a real disjoint between oftentimes between both parties and the priorities of voters. But there’s a sort of conventional wisdom in DC developing which may or may not be right that Democrats may have overplayed their messaging on abortion. Even though it does motivate their voters, it doesn’t allow them to talk about some of these economic concerns. That doesn’t make basic sense to me. I think they can’t talk about those economic concerns because they don’t have an answer to it and it’s not necessarily because abortion is taking up their air time or whatever. But maybe I’m wrong. Emily, what do you think?

Emily Jashinsky:

No, I actually was talking about that the other day. I think it’s completely true that Democrats don’t really have a lot to talk about when it comes to inflation and the economy because of what the Biden administration has done and what many members of the House and the Senate have voted for or governors that have supported it. So I think it’s absolutely what it is. And from the far left perspective, they’re like, “Well why aren’t Democrats talking about corporate greed and corporations increasing their prices just because of inflation as opposed to actually doing it because of inflation because they had to, they can’t afford to do anything else.” And it’s like because Democrats are now the party of the Chamber of Commerce, they’re the ones that are in a comfortable relationship with the Chamber of Commerce. They’re the ones that control the Fed.

They’re the ones that are passing these sweeping pieces of legislation after there was a ton of spending in the latter half of the Trump administration because of the pandemic. So they don’t really have a leg to stand on and it makes it hard for them to talk about that. Midterms though are also about turnout and that means you energize the base. So every person who is likely to vote Democrat, you need to get them out there voting for your Democratic candidates. So it does make sense to an extent that you would be running heavily on the historic decision to overturn Roe. So it actually, there’s some logic behind it if it’s targeted right. We can step back and take a look at from our vantage point here in October is they focused more on abortion than any other issue by some metrics when you’re looking at ad spending. I think it was especially on Facebook, but over a certain period of time they were running more on abortion than anything else.

So if that’s not targeted towards turnout, then yeah, you’re wildly overplaying your hand because also, and as this was something that you’ve like, I would sort be curious to see what you think. I think Democrats don’t or aren’t prepared for the new kind of Republican party and whether or not you agree the Republican party has changed in terms of its policies, at least in terms of the way that Republicans talk to reporters, it’s changed. And I don’t think Democrats expected Republicans to so easily and willingly flip the script in states like Arizona with Kari Lake and Blake Masters or other states where it becomes, okay, well you tell me John Fetterman for example in Pennsylvania, you tell me what restrictions John Fetterman supports on abortion. And I do not think that Democrats were prepared for Republicans to flip the script in that way. And I do not think Democrats understand how just offensive it is to voters when you can’t say, “Yeah, I support restrictions at nine months,” something like that. So I think that also sort of neutralized a lot of their abortion push.

Inez Stepman:

I mean certainly on the issue of abortion, just the American people are in neither camp really. Polling is pretty consistent on that question. Like long term polls, Pew polls, the majority of Americans are in favor of legalized abortion through the first trimester and four heavy restrictions after that, which I mean accords with the rest of the western world. Most European countries have laws somewhere in that range. Neither one of the parties is going to run on that platform, but I think it is just open as to who will seize the moderate ground? Democrats seem completely unable to. Republicans probably won’t too, because this is a moral issue that people have really strong feelings about. They will anger their own base by, for example, embracing a 15 week ban but no further. So I do think actually on the abortion question, the only thing I think is really, really interesting about it is that it is exercising those capital “P” political muscles that have atrophied over time.

We’re talking about an actual strong moral issue with real legislative consequences, real life consequences. We really haven’t had a non-economic issue like that live in the public square the way this is for a very long time because of the way that our system takes so many of those political questions out of politics. Either it gives them to the judiciary or it gives them to the administrative state. So I think regardless of where you fall on abortion, it’s a good thing that we are actually having this aggressive debate over it. I think it’s kind of a good experiment for all the other debates that we’re going to have to have over central moral questions. And I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s a good thing that we have to hash this out in the public square. I think it’s healthy for the body politic, but there’s some other culture war issues that Democrats don’t seem to be able to let go of.

And it does speak to this mismatch in priorities. We had the president doing an interview with, I think his name is Dylan. I’m not going to call him her, with this transgender guy, male to female who asked the president about minor transition. And the president basically said it’s a moral issue that we protect transition for kids. And then the other subject they don’t seem to be able to get away from, even though it’s nowhere near high on voter priorities list is climate change. Particularly now with rising gas prices. This is putting additional restrictions on energy to make it more expensive right now is not a politically viable issue, but it’s also something that the Democratic base really wants to hear their candidates say. And so those two issues seem to me to be, they’re just millstones around democratic candidates’ necks. The more they’re talking about those issues, I feel like the more, in the best case, they’re merely out of touch with what the average voter, even independent voters thinks is important this cycle.

And in the worst case, they’re actively turning people away because as we’ve said so many times here, a lot of these cultural issues are actually like 75-25 or 80-20. There aren’t a lot of, even Democrats who support minor transition to support hysterectomies for minors or mastectomies for minors who are “changing sex.” This is rightly an issue where the American people fully reject except for a very small percentage on the left. So I think Democrats really are kind of the dynamics within the party. And I think this goes very much to what you said about the Chamber of Commerce. The dynamics in the party are preventing them from being able to seize on even traditional Democratic issues. They could be railing against austerity, right, with the Fed hiking rates, or they could be railing against potentially plunging the US into a recession. There’s a traditional economic leftist case to be made there, but they’re not making it because they’re talking about trans kids.

Emily Jashinsky:

Well, and they’re trying. I think they know that they’re in some measure of trouble because of all of that. It’s sort of like a case where the beltway conventional wisdom on the left is probably correct. That what James Carville has been saying for years about how you’re not communicating with voters, et cetera, et cetera, but they’re in a position where they have created a dichotomy where if you do not fully support their conception of trans rights, so called trans rights, if you are not fully on board with that, it’s not that you just disagree, you’re from a purple district, you’re a moderate, it’s that you are a bigot. It is you are a bigot. If you disagree on abortion, if you think there should be restrictions on abortion, if you’re a consultant telling a candidate to talk about where there should be restrictions on abortion, it’s not just that your candidate needs to win and they’re moderate and they’re going to say something in public that might not be what they actually believe.

It’s that you’re creating violence towards women and women will die because of what you say. And they’ve locked themselves into these prisons where they can’t take positions that first of all, are shared by most of their voters, that are common sense, that they probably privately share in some cases, in other cases not, but that they privately may share. And that just frankly from a naked sort of political perspective would help them win the election. They can’t take those positions because it’s the progressive or bigot binary. If you’re not fully on board with every tenant of this dogma, then you fall into the bigot category and the risk of falling into the bigot category, from their perspective is, outweighs the reward of being able to just level with voters and have maybe a more politically palatable, a more reasonable position either way. And it’s not to say that Republican voters don’t have a similar thing with the election right now because that’s certainly happening with Republican candidates, but Dems at this really broad slate of issues, cultural issues that they just cannot compete on anymore because they’ve locked themselves into these positions.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, I was thinking about what you said about essentially, the way that all of this becomes zero sum, you’re always a bigot for disagreeing on any of these cultural issues. And that’s the traditional analysis, I would say, is that Democrats are becoming, or especially the left, is becoming more intolerant of dissension. But there’s a deeper critique there, which is I think we have to consider from the post liberal right and left, which is that this idea of rights or the ever expanding conception of rights that essentially eats democracy, that more and more things become set aside out of the sphere of democracy because they’re considered rights and that there’s always going to be a temptation to clothe whatever… If you have the two political parties and a normal political rough and tumble, there’s always going to be this temptation both rhetorically and substantively to set aside whatever your pet issues are into that category where it’s just over. There’s no more debate.

Legislatively that’s putting things into the Civil Rights Act, which Democrats not only they attempted to put that in legislatively, to put in sexual orientation and gender identity into the Civil Rights Act. They failed to do that multiple times. Biden has backdoored it through Title IX regs, which we’ve talked about many times here. But that’s clearly the goal is to set aside these debates and say, “This is no longer subject to democracy.” What is interesting, again, about the abortion issue is that it’s the only example recently where it’s the reverse, where an issue got put back on the plate for democracy.

But there is this real critique here that there’s always going to be a political incentive to characterize your cultural mission or your social agenda as clothed in rights. Something far beyond what the founders ever would have considered natural rights or certainly what they enshrined in the Bill of Rights. And look, Republicans frankly do that too, right? There is this idea of economic rights. So by the way, even something as fundamental I think is natural as parents control over their children’s upbringing, that’s not really, I mean there’s a good argument. That’s not really a constitutional right. It might be a pre constitutional right, which is why by the way, there’s actually a movement afoot to try to introduce an amendment to the US Constitution to recognize formally parental rights.

But in any case, it seems like there is this larger problem here where it’s just too easy for particularly Democrats, but even Republicans to take whatever cultural issue or battle they’re fighting at the time and jam it into either the civil rights framework or the rights framework more broadly. And then it becomes untouchable. Both sort of linguistically, culturally for us because we are so dedicated to this liberal small, a liberal idea of rights in this country and also legislatively. It’s very, very difficult to undo once something is, for example, in the Civil Rights Act. I mean it’s one notch above, below constitutionalism in terms of our system.

Emily Jashinsky:

And what’s interesting about the Civil Rights Act in that context is, it created the sort of administrative bureaucracy when it comes to these questions about it really laid the groundwork for a lot of what was to come and enabled a lot of what was to come in that. But it was in and of itself hashed out democratically. That one went through the system. It’s the ones after it that have been of enabled by the system that set up. And so the left, of course, would say, “Well, we sort of democratically decided the Civil Rights Act, thus Title IX and any administrative manipulations of Title IX are valid because it was enabled by this democratic process, the product of the democratic process that, of course, were decades and decades removed from and probably never would have foreseen where the cultural question of sex would go in such a short period of time.

And that actually reminds me of, again, on this deeper issue thinking of the protests that have roiled Dearborn, Michigan where the Muslim community and the Christian community have come together to protest these books in the high school library, so available to kids 14, maybe even younger than 14, if they’re early. And I took a look at one of the books and I knew that that book was the subject of other protests. It’s called “This Book is Gay,” but oh my goodness, the stuff in that book, it is just like… The way that it talks about sex in such a casual, flippant and graphic with descriptions on that level is unreal. And what’s interesting about that is it shows that we can no longer even do these sort of basic functions of a democratic-republican society like libraries.

If we think about the ways that Americans have historically treated the depth of community and local government libraries, the fact that we can no longer even have a consensus position on whether it is either essential or extremely inappropriate to have a book like that in the library where you have the American Federation of Teachers protest supporting the people who want that book in the libraries. The AFT, supporting the book in the libraries and then CARE on the other side of it, supporting the Muslim protesters.

It’s just a bizarre state of affairs. But I think at the end of the day, the fact that that’s even a bitter battle and not just this is done that tells you everything you need to know about our inability to really function. And to me it’s a strange dichotomy to go out into society. I mean I live in a big city that feels dystopian post covid, but you go out into society and it is literally functioning like we can still gas up our cars, for the most part. We can still go to work, protect our families. And there are caveats to that, obviously, depending on where you live and what your community is like. But yes, we are functioning, but we’re not functioning at all if we can’t decide whether a book that teaches kids in very graphic terms how to perform oral sex and get on sex apps is appropriate. So it’s strange because in some ways, yes, the world is still turning. In other ways, everything has ground to a standstill.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, I mean I think what you’re really saying is we don’t have a substantive agreement about what the good society looks like anymore or what the good life looks like. And I think, yes, we are wealthier than every other country. We can go on autopilot for quite some time in terms of the level of collapse, although I would argue that I never thought we’ve talked about before, I never thought Americans would, middle class Americans would accept the kind of shortages that are ongoing in grocery stores for example. There’s still a formula shortage going on. It’s just kind of dropped out of the headlines, but people just accept it now. You have to go around to different stores to try to find formula. You have to stockpile it. These are things that Americans I don’t think would’ve ever seen themselves accepting in 2019. So even though that kind of normalcy can shift very, very fast, but I mean I think what you’re observing there is more just people are adaptable.

People do adapt and renorm to baseline even when their lives become worse. It’s a transition that often engenders the rage or the reaction before people just become used to something. But what I really think you’re talking or speaking to there is that content-less neutrality can only take us so far. Liberalism in that sense, and I am a liberal, I a small “L” liberal. I still think that this has produced a great human flourishing that is uncomparable in human history. But I think we are pushing the limits of it today in terms of this content-less neutrality. People are finding that it’s very difficult to come up with an argument as to why this book with graphic descriptions and in fact sort of instructions on how to go out and have various kinds of sex as a young teenager, people are finding it really difficult to describe why that’s bad.

They have this very strong basic instinct to say that it’s bad, but we’ve lost any kind of normative assertion about the good and correspondingly the bad that they don’t have the language to talk about it because all we have is this language of rights, of neutrality. And I do think that’s why that Sohrab Ahmari-David French debate exploded the way that it did on the right because I think there is something real there. And actually I think a lot of us didn’t find ourselves represented fully by either side of that debate. But leave that aside. But I think that is an important underlying, crippling force in America. We are a house divided now and it’s running out of good resolutions to hope for, for that kind of underlying division, it really does seem like we are two different nations. But I’m not at all an accelerationist because of the things you just pointed to Emily.

I still think it’s a wonderful and important and rare thing in human history that we don’t have many people in this country worried about their next meal. We don’t have many, despite all those studies that say one in five Americans is “food insecure” or whatever. Most of the people answering those surveys are probably on diets. No, they define food insecurity like ridiculously broadly like, “Have you ever thought that you might have difficult…” We don’t have widespread starvation in America. Obviously, we still have access at our fingertips to an enormous amount of information. There are ways to circumvent the kind of censorship that’s increasingly becoming the norm here. This still isn’t… We don’t have good [inaudible 00:26:17].So all of that I think is worth, I’m not an accelerationist, I don’t think that’s worth nothing, but it does beg the question, how long can a society divided on things that are this fundamental? And it sounds silly like, “Oh, this book in the library.” But you’re right. Even 10, 15 years ago, this would be a universally obvious, no one would even feel the need to explain it. No, this is inappropriate for kids and here we’re finding that we don’t have the language to say something that simple, that’s in common in this country.

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah, it’s incredible and it’s because the American Federation for Teachers is infiltrated by people who totally have bought into this. Young people have totally bought, not young, totally young, but millennials who have completely bought into this ideology and everyone else is just too afraid to go against them because that would make them bigoted. That would make them anti-gay, that would mean that they are putting at risk the gay teenagers who need that book in order to have a healthy life, which is actually the argument being made. So it’s all downstream of the one really, really, really big question of truth. And we talk about this a lot.

It is the most obvious, root cause for all of this. If you can’t agree on objective truth anymore, then you can’t build consensus norms and you surely can’t build healthy norms because if we can’t agree that something is fundamentally right and something is fundamentally wrong and we can’t have consensus positions on what is fundamentally right and what is fundamentally wrong based on objectivity, based on objective observations of the world around us, then yes, slowly the threads are going to start to unravel. And I think that’s what you see.

I mean, again, a great example. That high school library still standing, still has plenty of books. Kids can check them out. The school is still functioning. But we really see there a massive crack in the foundation and it feels like a matter of time before the whole project becomes impossible. And something as luxurious, historically, as a library, let alone a public library, becomes really almost impossible. And we don’t know how long that takes, but we do know that this is clearly, clearly one of those big threads that gets pulled out and the whole fabric starts coming apart.

So yeah, there’s a question of how long this can be sustained and does there come a time when the scarcity is hardly a problem in American society? Obviously, we’re one of the only places historically where your poorest have been struggling the most with obesity. And that’s because obviously really bad food is really cheap. But it’s kind of the opposite problem. We have not so much a problem with starvation as we have a problem of gluttony, but that people are profiting off of it and it’s hurting others who don’t have the means to do the Gwyneth Paltrow diet or the diet of Chris Cuomo’s wife. I don’t know if people remember that she had a-

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, I totally remember that.

Emily Jashinsky:

A wannabe Goop blog and then they had a great covid diet that, oh my gosh. Anyway-

Inez Stepman:

But it was like, I eat three limes and then-

Emily Jashinsky:

It was wild. It was telling people to get takeout from this one place in South Hampton to cure their… Not to cure but to nurse their covid. Yeah. Anyway, so when does it become that they are prioritizing that the sort of elite is prioritizing? Let’s see, what’s a good example? This super long term COVID thing over feeding people, not covid, super long term climate thing over feeding people right now. This trans priority over people being able to fill up their cars and go to work. When do we actually get to that point and will we have an elite that is so hardened and calcified that they are not responsive to the public? And then you get revolts, you get total subservience, you have a total break and those essentials become… The society can no longer deliver on those essentials. So we’re not there, clearly we’re not there, but it does feel like we keep having cracks in the foundation and giant threads being pulled out to the point where we’re unraveling at a pretty frightening clip.

Inez Stepman:

This is really what you pointed to in your speech in NatCon that we talked about last time, which that so many of these issues are not making it into our politics at all. It’s kind of a similar issue as we’re talking about with the midterm polling. One is about, what’s the most pressing political issues and you see over and over again, economy, inflation and immigration consistently. So those are the shorter, I would say shorter term priorities for a midterm, which are appropriate. But a lot of these issues aren’t even… Nobody’s even asking people if they think despair is a top priority because the priorities of the elite of both parties are so wholly different and they are separated from a large part of this. Although I don’t think they can fully separate from some of these questions. But even something like a lot of my family members have the consequences of eating a terrible diet.

That’s something that’s not at all a priority for elites because it’s frankly not a problem for elites. If you walk around Manhattan or you walk around, actually I think Colorado like places in Aspen or actually the slimmest parts of America, it’s simply not a problem that affects the elites on any level. And in fact, as you’ve pointed out, the elites are totally happy to run with the body positivity sort of message, “Oh you’re fine the way you are.” But they’re not really paying any of the consequences of eating this kind of diet. I’m actually, as an aside, I’m becoming more conspiratorial about this because I was talking to Spencer Klavan who’s been on cast on this show and he’s been in Europe, lucky enough to be in Europe twice in six weeks for a few weeks at a time. And he’s a super health nut. He’s always lifting heavy stones and building up his body and everything.

And he found that even though he was eating whatever he wanted in Europe, he didn’t gain any weight even though he watches really, really strictly to stay the way he is at home. And I’ve had the same experience and people always say, “It’s because you’re walking,” but I literally have the step counter to prove that it’s not true because I walk that much in New York, but if I go to Europe for two weeks, I lose weight even though I’m sitting down to lavish meals all the time. So I am becoming more and more conspiratorial that what’s actually in the food in America versus other countries, even first world countries is substantially different. But let’s leave that debate aside.

Emily Jashinsky:

Well, no, but the point is, we don’t talk about it and there’s no conversation about it in Washington, DC. There’s literally nothing. Even though if you look at what is killing Americans prematurely, what is killing Americans in general are all problems stemming from poor health and bad diets and what we are eating. And it’s insane how little we talk about it because for what a big issue it is. Like what is going on with mental health. They’re hugely terrifying numbers about mental health. And of course as you’ve talked about before, and as we throw SSRIs at the problem, and we don’t need to get into that because we’ve talked about it before, but we have all of these band-aids, but we have zero conversation. We pass the Farm Bill, we rubber stamp it constantly. There’s no conversation whatsoever from the revolving door folks over at the FDA at all about the fact that heart disease, cholesterol, all of these different… Obesity, all of these different issues that are obviously downstream of what we’re eating are making us miserable and killing us early. Nothing, I mean, it’s just incredible.

Inez Stepman:

There was a prime opportunity to talk about that with Covid, right? The one thing that did not get discussed with the fact that America’s numbers on Covid are worse, it was all about the politics of it. “Oh, Florida’s conducting,” what was it? “Georgia and Florida conducting experiments in human sacrifice by keeping the schools open,” which in retrospect seems to be the wholly right decision, but we had all of this sort of sound and fury over our Covid policies. But there’s a very good argument to be made that the reason that America’s Covid numbers are worse than some other countries is simply the underlying health of our population. And that’s also always been in the defense of America’s healthcare system, that we have the best healthcare system in the world if you have cancer or you have a heart attack. You don’t want to be anywhere but the American system, which is why billionaires from other countries fly into our system to get treatment for those kinds of things. We have the best treatment rates, but we have lower overall life expectancy. Well, that’s not because of our healthcare system, it’s because of our lifestyle.

But I guess to return to the midterms briefly until we [inaudible 00:36:00] track… No, I have an actual segue, which is legitimate one, which is, let’s say that Republicans, there is this real red wave. We don’t know because as you said, the polls are unreliable. But as you also said, within the same polls, things are trending towards Republican side. They at least have a solid chance of retaking the house. They may retake the Senate by a senator or two, they may not, but let’s say it all comes up Aces for them. And by the way, all the candidates who we are told suck, right, by the media, in the last couple weeks they’ve all come up great, right? Kari Lake is out there doing battle with the media over the phrase “election denier” and coming up with a stack of papers of examples of Democrats questioning election results back to the media.

We have Herschel Walker and his tête-à-tête over abortion, very deftly handled. We were told, “This guy can’t debate. Oh my God, he’s the worst candidate.” Blake Masters is very much in the race. We were told, “Oh, Blake Masters is terrible.” That one I really never understood because he always struck me as very eloquent, serious, actually a real thoughtful realignment candidate in a way that sometimes I fear other folks can get a little bit almost just silly in some of… Anyway, I’m not going to name names on this. Blake Masters always seemed to me to be very serious and I was at a loss as to why people thought he was a bad candidate. But in any case, all of these candidates seem to have performed actually quite well in recent weeks. They’re all in it to win their races.

We’ll see what happens in November, but let’s say all the Republicans have a great night. Are they going to address any of this? Right? Obviously they do have to address the economic situation in the country. It is at the top of all voters’ minds. But what are they going to do about any of the rest of this? They’re interested in doing some oversight over the FBI, but it’s not clear that they’re interested at all in doing something more comprehensive about an out of control and weaponized administrative state. What are we going to get out of this is I guess what… This is always where I get super, super pessimistic. What are we going to get out of this even if they have a huge night?

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah, I mean there’s anything substantive, I don’t know. I mean they’ll introduce legislation. If you have a senator JD Vance and a Senator Blake Masters, they’ll introduce legislation, surely, that is sort along the lines of good stuff that we’ve seen coming out of Marco Rubio’s office over the last couple of years. Serious thoughtful bills that are designed to nudge the conversation in a particular group.

Inez Stepman:

Please, ask the universities. I want them to propose that somebody at least should put that idea on the table.

Emily Jashinsky:

JD Vance, I think JD Vance would have no problem doing that and no problem telling his staff to actually direct their resources into coming up with a bill like that. We saw Josh Hawley with a great bill when he first hit the Senate on infinite scroll, which is one of those things again that talks about how some of these technologies that we now conduct the vast majority of our lives on, are designed to make us unhealthy and to keep us addicted to screens. So I think they’ll introduce legislation like that. Whether anything can actually happen is a totally different question. And I’m not optimistic about that at all. That’s why I think the routes are… It’s not to say that our politics don’t need to change, that Republicans don’t need to be more willing to think of government solutions to some of these problems.

And I say that coming from your sort of position and as well as a small “L” liberal, I don’t know that you even need to shatter precedents about what’s an appropriate use of government power to think about whether chemicals in our foods should be in our foods and if the sort of revolving door crony capitalist lobbyists that are controlling the FDA or controlling Coca-Cola are being appropriate, are using their power wielding, their power appropriately.

I don’t know that you need to shatter precedents of conservative dogma to do something like that. You just need to reprioritize. But all that is to say, I mean I think it’s sure we should think about those things, but I think the solution is overwhelmingly cultural. So because our politics are so Madisonian in a good sense, but also in the sense that we’re totally jammed up by special interests and by the coming apart class, the people that are just still stuck in 1999 because their lives are just as good as they were in 1999 and they’ve noticed if not better by the way. They’ve noticed so little change to their daily lives and all they care about is virtue signaling against Donald Trump. So I have very little optimism about anything happening differently in our politics.

I do think House Republicans are poised to do a lot of oversight that’ll be positive because I had a piece last week that came out about Kevin McCarthy. I interviewed him a few weeks back and pushed on that question of, “What are you actually going to do with oversight? What are you actually going to do with legislation?” But I think they’re really going to tackle what happened during Covid. I think they’re really going to tackle what the heck is going on with the Biden family, whether a president is compromised and the downstream effect of that can be chilling if they do it right for the bipartisan lobbying class in Washington, DC. If they do it right, which is another question entirely, but getting to the bottom of Covid, getting to the bottom of what happened in our education system during Covid, I think they’ll press some of those hot buttons, so to speak, in a way that they wouldn’t have before.

And I think they’re going to give Democrats a little bit of a taste of their own medicine in terms of who’s allowed on committees. And that may all sound like beltway chatter, but it is something that can make our politics work a little bit better if Democrats realize that some of their precedent and norm breaking wasn’t entirely healthy. So we’ll see, but this is going very, very slowly again in a Madisonian sense, but going very, very slowly in general and in ways that might not ultimately be timely enough to tackle some of those questions.

Inez Stepman:

I really like the way that you phrased part of that when you opened your answer that time that there is a class of our leadership whose lives haven’t either at worst haven’t changed since 1999 and a lot of them, their lives have improved. And I think that is actually a really deft way of describing the divide that’s growing here is that there is a majority, probably a large majority of Americans whose lives are noticeably worse in both the political sense and in the private sense. Their lives are notably worse than they were in 1999. And this is not just an economic question, although there’s an economic component to it that the middle class life is becoming more and more unaffordable. The American middle class way of life that has been… Especially the crystallized American Dream since the 1950s. That’s becoming more and more unaffordable economically and structurally so, right.

That’s obviously a large part of it, but it’s also all the stuff that we talk about and have just talked about, right, about having no sense of American cultural identity anymore and no sense of being a good force in the world and no sense of agreement even on fundamental moral questions. You have the collapse of churches, of other civic institutions since the ’90s, and those declines didn’t start in the ’90s, obviously, but the rise of people who are unchurched or unbelievers like myself. I think all of these factors, and then of course actually what we just talked about, like skyrocketing obesity rates since 1999, skyrocketing mental health problems, the rise of social media. None of this has actually worked out poorly. I would argue that some of this is still hurting people in the upper class, but they have the resources to control the effects, right, in a way that it hasn’t trickled down to the rest of society.

Emily Jashinsky:

They can go to Equinox and get their escape 90 minutes every day and they can escape from the sort of processed food by going to their little organic grocery store and their organic cafe down the street. So they have better escapes, for sure.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, I think that’s just the thing that’s a really good way of putting the divide is, has your life gotten better or worse since 1999? And I would imagine, I would love to see polling on that, “Have the lives of you and your family gotten better or worse since 1999 and then segmented out by not only income but profession. And I’d imagine you’d see Charles Murray-like gulf opening up between the elite and the rest of America on this. But I do want to push back on one thing you said earlier, which is that a lot of this is cultural… A lot of the healing to all of this has to happen from outside of the political process. And that’s obviously true on some level. We are still individuals making choices. We still have free will in the same way, actually, I think obesity is a really good example of this.

We just talked about all of this structural reasoning why we might be fatter than we were in 1999 as a country. But there’s still a strong element of individual will involved in this. People are still choosing to put certain things in their mouths, at the end of the day. But I think we tend to downplay and here I mean we, the right broadly. We tend to downplay, I think, how much of this is a policy choice, even within the context we were just talking about. Obviously there is the Farm Bill. There are heavy subsidies for corn syrup as opposed to granulated sugar in the United States. There are enormous incentives to put a ton of preservatives into food because then it can be shipped to long distances and it’s more economically efficient for the companies that make it, right. So these are policy choices. And in the same way there are some really important policy choices that are shaping our culture.

The biggest one to me being, heavily, heavily subsidizing and continuously subsidizing universities and subsidizing credentialism for… There was actually it was an interesting story. I think it was, I can’t remember what school it was. It was either like MIT actually it was a surprising one. Maybe it was… I think it was UPENN. They are offering now an actual major in diversity, equity and inclusion, which is, to my mind, is actually just honesty, short circuit it just be clear about the fact that we are ideologically credentialing the children of the elite because that’s what a university degree is increasingly means. But that’s a policy choice, right? We are choosing to let universities accept from the taxpayer largess these heavily, heavily subsidized student loans. We are bailing out the student loans on the back end, which by the way, there was a stay of Biden’s decision to do that I believe in the eighth circuit. So we’ll see where that goes legally.

But regardless, there’s enormous pressure building to go ahead and bail out these loans on the back end where universities get to the runway with their money. That’s a policy choice. It’s a policy choice to let them sit tax free on trillions of dollars of real estate and hundreds of billions of dollars in endowments. That’s a policy choice. So yes, there is this larger Neitschean shift of the west and the death of God and moving into a post-Christian society, which you know and I love to talk about and I think is very important and very interesting, but there are some very concrete policy choices that we have made in this country that have, well beyond what even the natural shift of these things would do, privileged a particular class and elite and particular ideologies.

And so I know that you agree with that in a larger sense, but I bristle at talking about it as though it is this sort of inevitable movement of tectonic plates or glaciers or something, when in reality there are some very concrete things that we are doing to maybe not make this happen in the deeper sense, but to bolster it, to encourage it, to make it that shift happen faster and more powerfully and to make it much more difficult to do anything about.

Emily Jashinsky:

Well it’s interesting because there’s, a lot of what you said actually is covered or can be covered by the administrative system of incentives and disincentives or a house oversight campaigns, incentives and disincentives to the business community. For instance, if they start investigating DEI as corporate racism basically, which you can make a very good case for, and they start doing that from their platform of the House of Representatives and calling executives from Exxon Mobil up to talk about institutionalized racism, you basically get rid of the incentives for people to push that at your big banks, at your big corporations and then even on the smaller levels.

So I actually think there’s a good chance that you see some motion on that front, like the set of incentives. But then there’s this question of, if Republicans controlled Congress, because Democrats as we talked about earlier, cannot really move on any of these issues because of the set of incentives in their own party that if you’re on the wrong side of it’s not just that you’re on the wrong side of it, it’s that you are a bigot. And that’s a huge problem for them. And there are some who are brave enough and willing to break it, but they’re Tulsi Gabbard. They’re not the ones that are still in Congress for the-

Inez Stepman:

She had to leave.

Emily Jashinsky:

Right, exactly, for the most part. So it pretty much has to come from the Republican party, and that means you have to have basically a Republican Senate, Republican House, or at the very least a Republican presidency to push from the administrative level some of those incentives. For instance, to say universities if you want to play, give Democrats a taste of their own medicine to say that universities who violate Title IX on the basis of sex are going to lose federal funding, to sort of wield the purse strings back at Democrats in ways that they’ve done it in the reverse. At the very least you have to have a Republican president. Well, then what happens, Joe Biden comes in and takes the Trump administration, the Betsy DeVos Education Department policy on Title IX and immediately changes it. And I’m not referring to sexual assault. I’m referring to gender identity. Immediately flips it back despite the fact that that is an incredibly unpopular policy that the vast majority of Americans disagree with it. He’ll just come in and change it.

So that’s why, I mean the political process is frustratingly slow and in some ways that’s good and in some ways it’s bad. But that’s sort of where, I mean, that on a deeper level, I agree with you completely. There are plenty of things Republicans can do. These are absolutely policy choices. Republicans are now sort of divorced enough from the business community. And one thing that became clear to me, talking to Kevin McCarthy and other conservatives in the House, they’re actually pretty convinced that we’re in a state of national emergency because of the way that the FBI is being wielded, for instance. And so nakedly out in front, not in the old J Edgar Hoover way where you’re trying to be clandestine, but just bragging about the ways that you’re abusing state power openly and in public and running on it, in certain cases. So Republicans are so thoroughly convinced that we’re in a state of national emergency.

I think their incentives are there to do some of these things, to create incentives to reverse those policy choices and to actually reverse those policy choices. I just don’t think that’s sustainable until it becomes toxic for Democrats to pursue some of the same policies. And for that to happen, it means they need to marginalize what is an increasingly large part of their base among millennials and probably older members of Gen Z who have been conditioned to believe some of these things really are bigotry and to believe some of these things really are dangerous and violent, et cetera, really marginalize those voices and stigmatize those perspectives. So you can create a different incentive structure on the left that allows Democrats to engage in some of the same policy choices and get behind some of the same policy choices. So I guess that’s what I mean is, there’s a lot Republicans can do and as we both agreed, there’s a brick wall ultimately on that too.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, the only thing I would add to that is, you don’t just need a president. Even in your particular example, it took the DeVos department, and more power to them and I always want to give them credit for this because it took them the better part of two and a half years to put forward restrictions on Title IX or regulations on Title IX that are just merely in line with what the Supreme Court has already said about due process. And look, again, more power to them because they went through the APA rule making process and now the only reason that we didn’t have these Title IX changes on day one from the Biden administration is because they went through that process and now the Biden administration has to go through that process.

And by the way, thanks in part to the wonderful work of IW on this. I think we broke records in terms of how many comments were submitted, many of them negative on this Title IX change that redefines sex. So I think that the Biden administration’s going to be busy with those comments for quite some time. By the way, 160,000 of them disappeared off the website counter and there is no real explanation for why that happened.

But yeah, you don’t just need a president, you need an ability to control the bureaucracy so that because there’s a thousand things just like these regulations that were painstakingly promulgated by the DeVos Ed department. There are 1,000 different things that each of those departments actually needs to do for us to even have a fighting shot at leveling the playing field in terms of policy incentives. And so you can’t operate in the executive branch that way, which is why I think the solutions really do have to be much more structural. We need to find a way to control the bureaucracy in a much more direct way. I’ve always obviously submitted my policy ideas for that, which is just, make them fireable. There might be other ways to do it, but this is something that needs to be very high priority for any serious Republican party.

But I can’t let you go, Emily, without discussing something that I think is actually very tied to a lot of the deeper stuff that we’re talking about with regard to the midterms. These kind of political, these issues that haven’t made it up into our politics even though they really are affecting people in the most basic and real level. And that is this poll that was released showing, and I’m reading off of it here, this is the American Perspective survey, and then Gallup in 1990. So these are polls going back to 1990 and they’re showing the change in people, a percentage of people who report that they have the following number of close friends, not counting their relatives. And there’s a huge increase in the number of people who say they have no close friends at all, and a huge decrease in the number of people who say that they have five or more close friends.

I’m just kind of lumping all of those together. They put five, five to nine, 10 plus. But you’re seeing basically a massive increase in the number of people who say, they have no friends at all. No close friends at all. I see this very much as of a piece of the thing that we talked about last time, which is the huge change in male virginity at age 30. So people are not having sex and they are not making friends either. I think this is probably one of the most important trends in our society. Maybe it’s longer term. I mean, I said on here, that I think Americans are weird about friendship. That’s definitely been reinforced. Every time I tweet about this there’s some guy or several guys in my mention saying, “A man doesn’t need friends. He just needs a dog, a gun, and his wife taking care of his wife and kids.” And those are always folks from the right.

And so we are a little bit weird about friendship that way, but this survey shows that in fact, even 1990, speaking of things that were better for most people in the 1990s versus today, there was a vast majority of Americans said that they had plenty of good friends. In fact, 40% of men in 1990 said they had more than 10 good friends.

Emily Jashinsky:

That’s like unthinkable now.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. Now it’s 15%, so less than half. But that is just so almost a majority. And in fact, if you look at… Let me pull this back up. You have 15, I’m doing quick math in my head. Just about 70% of men in 1990 had five or more close friends. That’s obviously not the case today.

Emily Jashinsky:

And we started the episode talking about the flaws of polling and that’s why it’s always important to look at things that are polled on the same metric over time. That’s actually just a very, very helpful way to gauge things as this poll does. And also, by the way, political polling is different because it’s trying to actually ascertain who’s going to vote and then measure their opinions. So it’s sort of a different question. And this poll I think is powerful because it is tracking the same sort of mile marker at one point versus another point. And that all happened over the course of a time period in which very, very wealthy people told us that they were creating products that were going to bring us all closer together, that were going to basically shorten the… Or make distance immaterial. You could have a best friend over in China or in Argentina or whatever it is.

And sure, maybe that is technically, literally the case. You can maybe figure that out. But how is it? How is it? I mean, if you told somebody in the 1990s that this is where it was going to go by 2022, they would say, “What are you smoking? That’s impossible. We are making the globe smaller. We are bringing people closer together in ways that you can’t even imagine. You’re going to be able to call up your grandmother and see her face with the click of a button. You’re going to be able to talk to a robot and tell it to call up your grandmother and see her face to face without moving a muscle.” They would say that was absolutely insane, but now we know. I would be curious if you showed anybody these results and asked them, “Does this sound wrong to you?” I think everybody would say it sounds great to them.

Exactly correct. And it’s just, we have been told one thing, the opposite has been happening and people have been profiting off of it. And so there’s something that is very sad about the fact that you never hear this in our politics at all. What are they doing? I mean, the left would have a very kind of materials perspective on this and say, “It’s because we’re not seeing a lot of wage growth. It’s because more and more income and resources is concentrated at the top.” But I bet actually this goes… There are similar levels across income and class on questions like these, and we’ve just reorganized our society in a way that is so anti-human and nobody seems to have any plan whatsoever. I mean, I agree that better economic conditions would create generally better conditions for community and better conditions for friendship and relationships. I agree with that in some sense, and that’s an important debate to have. But I also think clearly something is going very, very wrong with our technologies and nobody seems to want to talk about it.

Inez Stepman:

Well, yes, it’s a particular irony that the technologies that were designed to connect the world seem to be atomizing us even further. But it’s also a huge failure of the promises, I think, of social leftism or even liberalism, which has always promised that if essentially if we dissolve all of these structures, if we get away from the oppressive structures of family, of churches, we can be our more true and authentic selves. This is very much even in Gen X, right? Like a theme. I’m not part of an organization, I’m an individual. And the theme was always, you can be your truest self this way if we strip away all of these oppressive influences on you. And what it turns out, what turns out to be the case is is all of these supposedly oppressive structures actually provided a platform or a kind of connective tissue that made people become friends with each other, meet, have sex, to get married, and that without those things, we don’t know who our authentic selves are. And not only do we not know the answer to that question, we don’t even know how to connect with another person in a way that would share anything authentic about ourselves. And which is, I think, a pretty good working definition for friendship. And it is ironic that we were told that getting away from all of this is what would make us our truest selves. When in reality, Aristotle would’ve said, right, “The human is a political animal, a social animal.” We exist in communities, and actually these structures give us what we need to form those kind of individual connections with other people in a way that’s not possible when we’re all just sort of actualized selves like atomistically bouncing off each other with no kind of platforms or structures or I think the internet term going around was third things that this is actually a very lonely way to live.

Emily Jashinsky:

Well, and to Democrats who purport to be horrified about January 6th and Trumpism every single day, if people are miserable and lonely, how do you think they’re going to vote? And to Republicans who purport to be horrified by wokeness every single day, if people are miserable, unhealthy, and lonely, how do you think they’re going to vote both politically and culturally? How do you think they’re going to live their lives? Where do you think they’re going to look for meaning? And so yes, there are absolutely material and policy choices that are creating, enabling and fueling national sort of misery of, which again, is odd in this dichotomy of material. TVs have gotten much cheaper over the past 30 years, so we can now have massive TVs and we can have a lot of them.

Inez Stepman:

And no one to watch them with.

Emily Jashinsky:

Right. Yes, exactly. Or you can put your Oculus on and watch Netflix with someone on the other side of the world, which is not the same experience if you try to substitute it. But all that is to say, there are serious implications of this malaise and Democrats should be terrified of them. Republicans should be terrified of them. It does create more sort of bad religion, and it creates that on the left and on the right. And so if they really want to do something about it, they should go talk to their friends at these crony institutions that are so eager to get them to rubber stamp this bill and that bill and not do anything about higher ed because people give a lot of money to the Democratic Party from big education. And you’re going to have to start thinking about those things and making hard choices if you actually want to do something about it. But whether they actually want to do something about it is a very different question.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, I can’t think of a better note to end this on, even though it’s depressing. Emily, thank you so much for once again coming on High Noon After Dark. We do this every month, as a reminder. So thanks again for coming back on.

Emily Jashinsky:

Thank you, Inez.

Inez Stepman:

And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. By the way, we have other productions of the Independent Women’s Forum, including At The Bar, which is a discussion of issues at the center of law, politics, and culture. In fact, we’re going to do a Supreme Court review and preview coming up in the next couple weeks here. And that’s with me and my colleague, Jennifer Braceras. We also have another podcast, She Thinks, which is more of a download on a wide variety of political and policy topics with all kinds of great guests. So you should check that out. As always, you can send comments and questions to me at [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcast, Acast, Google Play YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.