Opinion | Our Writers Are Also Stuck at Home, So Let’s Chat

“And it’s just an acknowledgment, a recognition that many of you, like us, are at home most of the time. You’re either sheltering in place or in some cases self quarantining. It’s a tough time when a lot of us aren’t having the sorts of interactions we normally do, and maybe we’re looking for a little bit more communication. Maybe we’re looking for something simple simply to do for an hour. And so I’m here today for about an hour to take questions from you, to talk about the situation, just talk about anything you want. You’ll probably hear me a couple of times admonish my dog. And you’re welcome to tell me about your pets and how they’re making this time more or less difficult. I’m doing this today at 1:00 PM Eastern, or we began at 1:00 PM Eastern. There’s a great lineup coming up tomorrow. Nick Kristof is going to be doing this at 1:00 PM Eastern. The day after him, Elizabeth Bruenig will be doing it, then Jennifer Senior, Jamelle Bouie, Kara Swisher, Michelle Cottle, and Farhad Manjoo. After that, we may begin the rotation again. We may bring in some other people. We’ll just see how it goes. I’m, meanwhile, going to be monitoring my screen to try to see questions from you all to come in so I can answer them. I say try because, again, I am not the world’s deftest person when it comes to social media or technology. Those of you follow me on social media have probably came to that conclusion a while ago. I apologize for any background noise you’re going to hear. We mean for these to be a sort of candid and informal. And as I said, you may hear me yell at my dog. You may hear me talk to my dad. Let me tell you a little bit about where I am in terms of all of us are in different places and have made different adjustments during this pandemic. I am more or less sheltering in place. I’m in the suburbs of New York because I have a father who lives here. He lives alone. He’s 84, which makes him one of those people who needs to be especially careful given whom tends to be hit hardest if infected by the coronavirus. So my siblings and I are making sure he stays home and stays as far away from people as possible. We, obviously, are in contact with him. I’m here so I can run to the grocery store when he needs something. I’m here so I can help him in some of the ways I would normally help him. But now in addition to that, we needs someone to run all sorts of errands for him and just to kind of make sure he stays safe. And I have to be honest with you. Like all of you, I’m very nervous not so much for myself, but I want to make sure I’m behaving responsibly so that my actions don’t impact in a negative or disastrous way on anybody else. And when I say nobody else, I’m thinking in particular of my dad. Forgive me for repeating myself here, but we have people who are joining all the time. This is the first of weekday 1:00 PM Eastern Twitter chats that opinion columnists and opinion writers at ‘the Times’ are going to do during this strange and challenging chapter of the pandemic. I’m Frank Bruni, an opinion writer— opinion columnist for ‘the Times.’ You probably know that if you’ve joined. And I’m going to be here to answer questions and to talk a little bit about recent columns I’ve written, or really, I’m going to take my cues from those of you who have joined. I noticed someone asked not the most important question during all of this, but it deserves an answer. Why am I wearing a Denver Broncos hat? Since I was a little kid, I have been a Denver Broncos fan in a way that often tears at me because I feel ambivalent about it. I’m a big consumer, watcher, a fan of professional football for all its flaws, which I’ve written about at some length. And when I was young, to be ornery in the context of my family, all of my siblings and my dad were rooting for the Dallas Cowboys during the Super Bowl when they were playing against the Denver Broncos. So I decided in my way, which is not a flattering way, to root for the Broncos. And I am a loyalist. And so from that moment on, I stuck with the team through some pretty terrific seasons and through some pretty miserable recent ones. Someone asked the question since I’ve been talking about being here at my dad’s house. And he just appeared. Hey, dad. I’m on a Twitter chat. So you got breakfast covered? O.K. Love you.” “Love you.” – [LAUGHS] “Take care.” “I just made a fresh pot of coffee.” “Thank you. Thank you.” “I think there’s enough, but let me know if you need more.” “I’ll take care of it.” “All right.” “No, hang there. You’re going to end up on camera if you keep walking here. Turn around.” “Sorry.” ”[LAUGHS] Turn around.” “Sorry.” “I’m doing you a favor. Trust me.” “Thank you.” ””[LAUGHS] The dog is out in the back. If you can just take a look and make sure she’s not— I don’t know— chomping on a squirrel, that’d be great. Someone asked, since I was talking about my being here to take care of my 84-year-old dad, is my mom still alive? She is not. She died young at the age of 61 after a many-year battle with cancer. He did subsequently remarry. But right now, he and his wife were caught apart when the pandemic struck because they live in two different places: where she lived when they met and where he has lived here in the suburbs of New York. And they’re sort of stuck in two different places now because nonessential travel is not advised. They’re both over the age of 70. And travel isn’t really essential for either one of them since each of them in their different places has children, siblings, friends who can help out. I am missing some of these questions. So you’ll have to forgive me. Two people are asking if this is their first day or my first day on Periscope. Yes. That probably means I’m doing something wrong, in which case I apologize. Looking through the window, my father is now out in the side yard. And it makes me wonder if the dog has gone far away. I don’t know how concerned to be about this. But at some point, I may stand up, walk outside, and try to find the dog. Hmm. This is concerning. I’m sitting in a room facing a window in a side yard, and my father is walking around looking for the dog. As we go along, in terms of any questions you want to ask— [LAUGHS] O.K., these aren’t questions. These are commands. Get the dog. Do it. O.K. Hang with me. I’m going to just make sure— you can meet the dog. I hope you can meet the dog, unless the dog has completely flown the coop. But she usually doesn’t move much. You can’t see her? Hold on a second, folks. Regan! Usually when this happens, she has actually snuck back inside, and she’s sleeping somewhere, which may be the case. So— Regan! Regan! This is not how I expected this Twitter chat to go. And I do hope we can move on to more substantive things. Regan! Ah, she came inside. O.K. Meet the dog. Hey. Can people see you? There you are.” “You want me to close the door?” “Yeah, close the door. O.K. So my dog Regan, whom— I have this on selfie mode, so forgive me. Regan. Here. It’s on selfie mode. Say hello to people. There she is. O.K. She’s actually a very, very obedient creature. And to that point, this is the third time in the last couple of days when I have freaked out because I put her out in the backyard where she usually doesn’t move, and she seemed to be gone, and I screamed and screamed, and it turned out she’d come inside and had gone to [LAUGHS] her doggy bed or somewhere else. You are writing in that, yay, she’s safe. Regan wants a treat. Regan always, always wants a treat. That we both follow directions well. I don’t know how I follow directions well. I think that’s sarcastic. [LAUGHS] Someone asked— O.K. This is a substantive question. Hey, Regan. Yes, sweetie. Yes. Lay down. Good girl. Good girl. Daddy loves you— if I think Trump’s Easter proclamation is a distraction. Interesting question because Trump, of course, is all distraction all the time. And I don’t think in this case it is meant as a distraction per se, although you put in that category. I would put it more in the category of wishful thinking and his own brand of cheerleading through all of this. He seems to me— and I wrote about this in a column over the last 24 hours. He seems to me to be unable to accept what this pandemic is doing and will do to the country and, in particular, what this pandemic is doing and will do to the economy. He is so invested in this economy, as you know. If you listen to him, he constantly is saying it’s the best economy in history ever. (LAUGHING) And there’s a hell of a lot of debate around that. But it chills me because we are facing decisions as a country, our leaders are facing decisions about how to balance various things. And it is absolutely important that economic damage be limited as much as possible, that economic catastrophe be averted if possible. But we also have to weigh that against the preservation and the saving of lives. Governor Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo here in New York, the state I’m in right now— I’m in the suburbs of New York City— has talked about this very, very bluntly and very, very eloquently. The president over recent days does not talk about it in the same sort of kind of measured and intelligent and thoughtful way. He seems so totally fixated on the economy that I worry that he won’t give ample weight to people’s lives. I worry that he’s so dazzled by dollar signs he can’t look at vital signs, is the way I put it in a column I wrote. Someone’s asking me what do I think may happen in November when we try to go out and vote? I have no more insight into that than you do as to whether this pandemic will be at a place where people are going to feel they can’t go out to vote or simply can’t go out to vote. That is so far off I don’t think any public health expert, any responsible doctor could tell you that. I’m going to start write— these questions are now coming so fast and furious I’m going to write some down so I don’t forget them. I think the pandemic though may well have an effect on the election in terms of the outcome of it. I think the way people see the federal government handling or mishandling this over the coming months could mean everything. And it should mean everything because what we’re seeing right now, the confidence, the vision, the responsibility of our leaders is being tested in the most pressing way and in a way that we have to consider. Because I think one of the things this shows you— and you’d learn the same thing when you see hostilities break out with a foreign country or something. We should vote for our presidents not based on the circumstances of that exact day if we’re in good times, if we’re not in crisis as a country. I don’t think we should extract— we should never extrapolate that forward and vote for a president that way because you never know what’s going to happen. Nobody saw that at this particular juncture, we’d be living with this pandemic. And you want to choose a president— whoever you choose— a person you think he or she will be able to handle the most dire circumstances that might come along. Because if those come along, you are going to want to have made your choice that way. One of the many questions that came in— and I’m going to pause for a second for people who’ve joined us late and again explain what we’re doing. I’m Frank Bruni. I’m an opinion columnist at ‘the Times.’ Every weekday at 1:00 PM Eastern, for a little while— for a little while, maybe for a longer while— one of us columnists or writers with the opinion section is going to be here having a live Twitter chat, taking your questions, just reflecting on the events of the day. I’m doing it today. Tomorrow, Nick Kristof will be doing it. The day after, Elizabeth Bruenig will be doing it. And it’ll go on from there. The lineup includes Jennifer Senior, Jamelle Bouie, Kara Swisher, Michelle Cottle, and Farhad Manjoo. All of those people will be doing this in coming days. And I think more of us will be doing it beyond that. One of the questions that came in as I was babbling or maybe as I was looking around for Regan, my dog, who is safely at my feet now, why did Andrew Cuomo not run for president? It is a question that a lot of people are asking right now because his profile is so suddenly high and because he has done, I think, on balance quite a remarkable job over those last week. And he’s performing a function for a lot of Americans that, in my view, the president is simply unable to perform based on his abilities or rather his lack of abilities. There are news stations all over the country, there are people all over the country who are tuning in to Andrew Cuomo’s briefings as if they were truly national briefings. And you could argue that they are because New York state is being hit so much harder by this thus far than other states, that it is sort of the— it is the siren. It’s the alarm for the whole country. And so in that sense, I think Andrew Cuomo is inevitably playing a role that’s larger than the governor of just one state. He did not run for president because this isn’t where he was in his public profile or his career when he had to make that decision and when, if you’ll recall, two dozen Democrats in all— a big, big crowd were running. He looked at that crowd, and he didn’t see a certain space for himself. And there’s a good chance he would have gotten lost in the crowd the way many, many very able current and former governors did. John Hickenlooper from Colorado, former Governor Jay Inslee from Washington, Bullock from Montana. These are candidates who in a less crowded moment in time, at a different moment in time might have been formidable presidential candidates, but they just couldn’t find oxygen in what was a very, very crowded space. Someone asked, ‘Can I write Cuomo’s name on the ballot in November?’ Yeah, I think you can. I’m not sure it’ll be consequential. But I’m sure he appreciates that vote of confidence. And in my view, he deserves that vote of confidence right now. Someone writes in, ‘Florida’s pandemic will make New York’s look like a walk in the park.’ We don’t know that. Let’s be really careful about what our conjecture is, what our speculation is. But I understand where that comment comes from. I’m guessing the person who wrote it, like me and like a lot of you, has been absolutely horrified by some of those images of spring breakers in Florida and by the heedless of that. And I sure hope that’s a kind of image that’s going to belong to the past and that we’re not going to see more of. Someone writes, ‘Cuomo has to feign deference so as not to jeopardize federal help.’ Yeah, at times he does. And at times, he gets so frustrated and exasperated that he does not feign deference, and he instead tries defiance or aggression. And I think that’s a useful tool at times, too. I think the Cuomo/Trump dance, for lack of a better word, has been pretty fascinating. I think both of them, each of them is in the other’s head to a certain degree. I think Trump’s evasions and his happy talk move Andrew Cuomo ever further toward his tendency to be blunt and to tell hard truths. And I think his very, very straightforward grappling with reality and some of the very, very hard truths and grim prognosises— I don’t know. Prognoses? I realize as I say it, I’m not sure how to pronounce the plural. I think those are moving the president ever further toward his brand of economic happy talk. I’ve missed a lot of the questions that have scrolled in. Someone writes, ‘Trump hates Cuomo’s popularity and current celebrity.’ Yeah. I think part of the problem— a lot is being written right now about the fraught relationship between Tony Fauci and President Trump. And well, probably the majority of the difficulty they’re having is that Fauci is forced, compelled to correct the president over and over again. And that is pointed out. I think another part of the problem is Trump reveres you for your celebrity until your celebrity starts to eclipse his own. I think the absence of Fauci at some of these recent briefings are directly related to his risen altitude. And I think the president is one of those people who does not want anyone on the stage or anyone in his orbit to have a larger or more vivid profile than he does. Someone writes, [LAUGHS] ‘Absolutely need unity to get this dangerous man out of office.’ Well, you are not going to get that unity in a country that’s partisan. But I think certainly those people who are critical of Trump feel more urgency than ever before, although I think we were at peak urgency quite a while back. Someone said, ‘I bet you are cooking up a storm.’ Let me get that back. Someone said, ‘Are you going to cook up a storm with Melissa Clarke in a separate kitchen?’ Melissa Clarke, as you all know, is a fantastic food writer, recipe writer, food personality with ‘the New York Times.’ And whoever wrote that obviously knows that Melissa and I are longtime close friends. I used to be ‘the Times’’ restaurant critic for 5 and 1/2 years. Even before I took that job, I happened to meet Melissa, who is really one of the world’s great people and just absolutely exceptional at what she does. She has a new book on French cooking out. And I’m just going to be— as a friend, I’m going to give her a shameless plug and say take a look at Melissa Clark’s new book on French cooking. All her books are terrific, and they’re accessible, and they’re full of fail safe recipes. I once— I don’t know if I should be proud or abashed about this. But I once with my colleague and friend, Jennifer Steinhauer, wrote a meatloaf cookbook, just meatloaf recipes. And Melissa was one of the many extremely, extremely generous people who devised and donated a recipe for the book. I have not seen Melissa since the pandemic dawned. I think that means I’m not going to see her for a while. But I appreciate that you asked am I cooking up a storm with her in a separate kitchen? I like that acknowledgment that whatever we’re doing or trying to do with friends, we need to do it at a safe distance. Someone asks, ‘How is it possible that half of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of this crisis?’ Thank you for that question. I think that’s a really important question for a couple of reasons. First of all, you can look at Trump’s slightly improved approval ratings. And I say slightly because it’s not like he’s suddenly at 60% approval. It’s like he’s gone in many surveys from low 40s or mid 40s to high 40s. You can look at those as wow, that’s good for him, and how did he do that? Or you can look at those as wow, how is he only doing that? And here’s what I mean. The history— he’s called himself a wartime president. And there’s debate about that locution. But it is true that he is a president governing right now through a moment of extraordinary national crisis when people are very afraid. People use the analogy to George W. Bush after 9/11. People use similar analogies. And if you look at what happened to the approval ratings for those presidents at those times, their approval ratings shot up. The fact that President Trump’s approval ratings have not shot up more than they have— because they’ve shot up only incrementally— the fact that only, say, 50% or 55% of the people approve of his handling of this crisis, that is not necessarily a feather in his cap as it is a set of ankles around his weights. In normal times, you would expect people to so desperately want to believe that the right leader was at the helm, that we were being steered by the right person, that you would see even better rate approval ratings for his handling of this crisis, that you’d see even more of an uptick in his general approval numbers. So to your question how is it possible that half of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis, I think it’s possible because the people who already loved Trump really don’t want to abandon him and re-evaluate him in a moment when doing that says to them wow, we’re in danger. And some of the wavering people want to give him the benefit of the doubt because they’re so psychologically invested in not thinking he’s the absolute wrong person and then dealing with the fear that results from that. I don’t think Trump’s approval numbers are impressive and encouraging for him. I think it’s quite the opposite. Maybe I’m evaluating that through the prism of my own disapproval of and distaste for this president. But I think there’s probably something to what I’m saying. I’m going to look at some more questions. They’re sort of coming across the screen in a really helter-skelter way. And I’m new at this, so please bear with me. Thank you. And give me a second to look. ‘Why don’t US networks fact check on screen in real time with White House COVID briefings?’ That’s an interesting suggestion. And I think it gets at a quandary that the media has faced ever since Trump came into office. How do you keep him utterly honest? Forgive the phrase. It’s just one that’s handy. How do you make sure you are forever pointing out when he is tweaking and distorting reality without being perceived by a substantial number of people as taking an utterly partisan tack? I think the media has tried. They’ve done more and more using the word ‘lie’ when the word ‘lie’ is appropriate. They’ve done that sort of real time fact checking on websites and that sort of thing. I think the determination is if you actually had to scroll across the bottom of the screen, that was essentially undercutting everything he was saying. While there might be cause for it, I think it is believed— and I understand this— that it would come across as not just so disrespectful but as so undermining, that it would be a situation where you had not even given the President of the United States a chance. You’ll say he doesn’t deserve that chance. I certainly think he’s done nothing to compel us to treat him with as much respect as we do other presidents. But I do think we have to be careful about setting certain precedents when it comes to the office. And I think you see and you hear the news media struggling with that in a very earnest and difficult way. [LAUGHS] I’m sorry. Someone who has obviously read some of the personal stuff I’ve written and perhaps even read my memoir— I wrote a memoir years ago called ‘Born Round,’ which was about my strange eating life. And in that memoir, I talked extensively or I wrote extensively about my mother’s cooking and my grandmother’s cooking. And in fact, while it was an eating memoir in some ways and even an eating disorder memoir in some ways, it was the joy of doing it. And a lot of the engine for doing it was the ability to memorialize two women who were at that point both long gone— my mother Leslie Fryer Bruni and my grandmother— I’m going to get misty here— my grandmother Adelina Mazzone Bruni. They were both extraordinary. And more than extraordinary, they were exuberant cooks. And both of them saw food as— the currency of food was food was love. And both of them poured so much of their personalities into their cooking. You know, it’s funny. I want to pause for a second. I say all of this, and I feel like, oof, god, that’s terribly gendered and even sounds sexist. But I’m talking about a different time. And I’m talking about two people for whom— whether it would have always been the case in a more just world or not— two people for whom cooking was a sort of art. It was the way each of those women expressed themselves. And my memory of those meals— which are really more metaphors for so much else— my memories of those meals are so fond. And I tried to capture them in that book ‘Born Round.’ And someone obviously read it. Thank you for reading it. Thank you for meeting and getting to know Adelina and Leslie. And yeah, I would love to have them around right now. And I say that— ooh. I’d love to have them around right now. But I say that, and I simultaneously think it would be terrifying, terrifying to have them around right now. Because as I mentioned to some of you who tuned in earlier, I’m sitting just maybe a couple dozen feet from my 84-year-old father, who’s in the kitchen. I’m in the dining room next door. I’m here in the suburbs of New York with him for the express purpose of taking care of him during this pandemic, for the purpose of being able to go out into the world and bring stuff back so he can stay safe here. And when I think about departed relatives long gone, as much as I miss them and constantly wish under all circumstances there were around, I think to myself, boy, it would just exponentially multiply my fears right now that someone I love might be terribly, terribly affected by this. And I want to take this opportunity say if someone you love has been affected by this, or to anybody who’s been affected by this in their own family or among their friend group, my heart goes out to you. And I hope I hope you’re getting through this as best possible. This is just— this is crazy time. Back to questions. Enough sentimentality. For those of you who are just joining or just joined a few minutes ago, again, this is the beginning the series of 1:00 PM Eastern time live Twitter chats by opinion columnists and writers at ‘the New York Times.’ I’m Frank Bruni, an opinion columnist at ‘the Time.’ I’m doing this first one. And there will be more of my colleagues coming in the next days. Just to give you that lineup once again, tomorrow, if you want to tune in, so to speak, at 1:00 PM Eastern, on his Twitter page, Nicholas Kristof will be doing one of these. Elizabeth Bruenig will be doing one the day after that. My screen just went dark. Jennifer Senior, Jamelle Bouie, Kara Swisher, Michelle Cottle, Farhad Manjoo. In that order, all of those people are lined up to do these. And then we may just repeat the cycle. We may mix it up. Perhaps some more of our colleagues will join. And that’s how this is going to go. I have missed a lot of your questions. So— ah. Someone asks a terrific question. All these questions are terrific. ‘Does this remind you of HIV in the ‘80s?’ I actually wrote about that in my newsletter last week. I do a weekly newsletter for ‘the Times.’ It comes out to those who are subscribed for it. It’s free. It comes into your inbox every Wednesday at noon. So those who subscribe just got one at noon today. If you go to the newsletter pages at ‘the Times,’ you can you can subscribe to it just by hitting a button. And then you can ignore it when it comes in your inbox if it comes at a time or is about a topic that you don’t want to think about. Last week, I talked a little bit about how this could cause certain flashbacks to the ‘80s and AIDS, particularly because one of the main figures in public health, one of the main government figures battling the AIDS epidemic was Tony Fauci. He’s been around for many, many decades. He is that senior. He’s that experienced. And this does remind me of HIV in the ‘80s. I was in my late teens and my early 20s in the ‘80s. I was just out as a gay man. So I was in a population that was particularly vulnerable and that was trying in an especially forceful way to change its behavior and be responsible. I had friends and acquaintances who were infected with HIV and who died of AIDS, no small number of them. It was a terrible time. And I think— this is going to be a banal observation. But I think right now reminds me most of them because we’re in such a period of uncertainty, where what we don’t know or what we can’t solidly predict is much greater than what we do know and what we can solidly predict. I’m struck by the following, too, which is we were best served then and were best served now by accurate information and by blunt, blunt talk. It is why I value Dr. Fauci, who is a holdover from that era. He is being as blunt and as accurate as he can be. Well, he’s in a sort of structure— the federal government, the White House— that doesn’t always promote that to the extent that he seems to walk on eggshells around President Trump. I thank him for walking on eggshells around President Trump because it’s by walking on eggshells that he gets to continue walking there. And we need people as knowledgeable and as responsible as [DOG BARKS] Tony Fauci. Regan. Regan. Those of you who joined from the beginning know that my dog is nearby. And you know that because we had a whole long episode where I went outside to look for her because I thought she’d run away. And in fact, she had just trotted inside and gone to take a nap. She sometimes mistakes herself for a watchdog. And so you just heard her— went out a little bark, which probably means a male person was coming up to the front stoop. Stop that. Good girl, bad girl. Yeah. You wonder why she’s confused. Anyway, those are some of the ways in which this reminds me of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s. Let me look at some of the other questions I’m missing. [LAUGHS] Trump can only— someone as I was talking about Dr. Fauci, Tony Fauci and Donald Trump, someone wrote, ‘Trump can only work with yes people. And he’s going to soon show Dr. Fauci the door.’ I hope not. I have that same fear. We would be silly not to have that fear when you look at how hollowed out federal agencies and departments are during this administration, how many people who have independent minds and are willing to deliver news that is other than good news to the president, when you look at how many of them have left government or been squeezed out of government. It’s a scary, scary thing. But, again, that’s why I am so appreciative of and sensitive to the adjustments that someone like Tony Fauci needs to make in order to stay around. There’s been a lot of talk over time about whether people are selling out or doing something good by entering or remaining in the administration. And I think the answer is different for different people under different circumstances. But we should always consider that we do want some people to go in there, knowledgeable people who have real expertise to go in there and do their best to inform this president. Because yes, you can think of them as propping up the president, but you can also think of them as trying to contain the damage that he does, trying to fill in the ignorance that he has. And I certainly put Dr. Fauci in that category. I’m sorry. I’m catching up. [LAUGHS] Someone asked— I love these questions of going back and forth between very weighty public matters and private ones. Someone asks— someone who knows both me and Gail Collins well enough. I don’t know if he knows us personally but follows us well enough. Someone asks if Regan ever hangs out with Gail Collins’ dog. They met once. And we took a picture of them. And sorry. I’m fiddling with the screen. The image has gone away on my screen. I don’t know if it’s gone away on yours. Let me look and see if I’m getting any notes— one second please, people— if I’m getting any notes from the producer. Do we still have— are we still in good technological shape? Liriel. I left selfie mode. No, I didn’t leave selfie mode. Are we back? We’re back. I’m sorry. I didn’t intentionally leave selfie mode. Liriel, one of my colleagues, and I are in a Google Doc so she can tell me if things are going off the rails. I hope things haven’t gone too far off the rails. Someone says, ‘Your home is nice. Now we see your table. I see a table. Nice table.’ Not my table, not my home. It’s my dad’s. So if you like the table— actually, the complement would go to my mother, who chose it probably four decades ago. She bought her furniture, and she stuck with it. If the home is nice, that compliment also goes to my long departed mother, who chose this place and lived here a few years before she died. Do I need to go back to that incredibly vital at the core of the pandemic question of whether Gail Collins’ dog— Amelia is Gail’s dog’s name— and my dog Regan ever play together. They are of vastly different sizes and of vastly different exercise appetites. I walk Regan between 8 and 10 miles a day. And Gail tells me that Amelia basically does half a block away and half a block back home. So their energy levels and their discrepant sizes aren’t great recommendations for playing together. But they have met. We once took a picture of them together on my couch in my apartment. They’re both primarily black, though, and they sort of looked like an indistinguishable blur. But they got along just fine. Regan was a gracious host. She did not mind the intrusion of another dog in her domicile. And Amelia was a lovely guest who had to be coaxed up onto the couch and was a perfect, perfect lady. Going back to your questions, someone writes in, ‘I’m a big Buttigieg fan. Where do you see him in the next administration?’ Interesting question, but I’ve wondered about that. It’s my belief— I know Pete Buttigieg a little bit. I don’t want to overstate it. But I met him back in 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. He had just begun his second term as mayor. He had not long ago come out as an openly gay man and then won re-election as mayor, election to a second term. His national profile didn’t really exist then, but you could kind of sense he was going to have one. I spent two days hanging out with him, interviewing him. I wrote a column about it in 2016, the headline on which was, ‘the first gay president,’ question mark. When I wrote that headline, honestly, It was a headline meant to be catchy. But to the extent that it was serious, I did not mean 2020. I was thinking, if anything, of 2024, maybe 2028. I really didn’t put a date on it. I was surprised and impressed to see Pete Buttigieg do as well as he did in 2020, which is a real credit to him. I think he got into that race not thinking he was going to be the nominee and not thinking he was going to be the president, but wanting to keep his political career alive for good reason, not seeing a clear path in Indiana, and perhaps feeling this was something that would put and keep him on the radar for, say, a cabinet position. I would think— let’s say Joe Biden gets the nomination. That seems to be where things are headed. Let’s say that happens. I firmly believe that Joe Biden and his people will certainly look at Pete Buttigieg for some sort of cabinet position. Whether there is a cabinet position that makes sense in terms of his stature at this point, in terms of his expertise and what his life experience has been, whether those two things match up, that’s always a little bit of a crap shoot in politics. And so much of politics is not just talent and message but pure serendipity. And I think Pete Buttigieg is seeing that and will continue to see that. What impact do I believe universal distant learning will have on higher ed? I’m fascinated that you asked that question. Who ever asked that question, thank you for it. Again, it’s what impact do I believe universal distant learning will have on higher ed? Because I’ve actually been talking to people in and around higher ed about that. It is quite possibly going to be the subject of my column this coming weekend because I’ve been doing some reporting on it. But not just higher ed. I think this period of enforced distance learning— distant learning or distance learning. I think it’s going to have an impact on all education from the lowest ages on up because I think it’s going to be a trial and error period in which we are going to learn because we’ve had to learn what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to learning online, when it comes to learning through a computer. And there are going to be some things we’re going to discover inevitably work really, really well, work much better than the argument against them suggested. And it’s going to be hard to turn our backs on those things when those are mechanisms, methods, whatever you want to call them, that might be more easily and economically delivered online than face to face. We’re going to have real evidence very soon as to whether some of those things work. And when they work, I think it’s going to be hard to make them go away. So I think the adjustments, the adaptations, the enforced adaptations of this pandemic are going to have a very profound effect on higher ed and on all of education. I think it’s going to have an effect on high school, middle school. Any education that happens at an age where you can use online resources, participate online. But it’s not going to be just education. Telemedicine I think will be entirely different in the aftermath. And I hope that aftermath as soon with this pandemic because it’s another one of those things that there has been a robust chorus of no, it can never be as good. It’s completely flawed. It’s so imperfect. We should never go too far down that road. We’ve had to go down that road because of the pandemic. And we will find that, in some ways, if you go down that road in a certain fashion, it’s really quite a promising road. And once we learn that, once we’ve seen that, we’re not going to be able to unlearn or unsee it. ‘Will COVID drive a further wedge in the inequality gap?’ Yes, I think it will. I think you’re seeing it right now. And in fact, I wrote two columns in the middle of this week. The first one was about how Donald Trump’s fixation on and fetishization of the economy makes me wonder if he can give non-economic factors, non-financial factors— that makes me wonder— convinces me he won’t be able to give non-economic, non-financial factors the weight they deserve as we make some of these really, really tough decisions about the extent to which a lock down can grind on and how soon it must be lifted. The other column I wrote has a cheeky headline on it called ‘Let Them Eat $70 Veal Parm.’ That headline alludes to a tweet that I mentioned in the column. That tweet shows— it was put out by a BuzzFeed news editor. If you go to my Twitter feed, which you’re on right now, you can see that I linked to the column or to the newsletter that also has that material. And you can find this tweet. And it was a tweet that I thought spoke volumes. It showed a scrum, a tightly packed scrum of delivery people outside the restaurant Carbone where they were picking up— [COUGHS] excuse me— where they were picking up such things as $69 entrees of veal parm for people who were safely socially distancing by not leaving home and getting such food delivered to them. Nothing wrong with being able to afford that. But I think images like that, reminders of the incredible gap, are plentiful and stark during this pandemic. That tweet got— if you look at the number of followers the account had, and then you look at the number of likes and retweets, people really— that tweet, that image, that idea of delivery people who are inches apart delivering expensive gourmet food to people who are able to keep many, many, many feet from the nearest person. I think that resonated very strongly with a great many Americans. And I think we have been having an intensifying discussion about income inequality in America over the recent years, a discussion that has in many ways now been accelerated by the candidacies and the messages of, say, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren. I think in the aftermath of this pandemic— and, again, I hope that aftermath is really, really soon. I think that discussion is going to be more heated still because I think we have gotten many, many illustrations that you can’t look away from at the different degrees of vulnerability of people at a time like this. And those different degrees often track exactly with wealth. Please forgive me. I’m looking. Oh. I like this toggle. Thank you for these questions. I like the fact that they toggle back and forth from the very serious to the less serious. And they allow me to toggle back and forth so that none of this becomes too grim. @KathyGA— Kathy with a K— asks, ‘Why is your dog named Regan?’ Kathy, I would like to know that myself. Regan is a little over six years old. And when she was turning five, I adopted her, so to speak, from my younger brother, whose kids have all fled the nest. He was becoming an empty-nester. And he and his wife were traveling more because they didn’t have their four kids at home. And Regan was spending more and more time not in their home but with friends or boarders or whatever. And I had known Regan since she was a little puppy. And I saw an opportunity, and I swooped in, and I said, how about you let me have Regan? And Regan was moved from the suburbs of LA to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she lives now. Right now, she’s in the suburbs of New York with me because, as I’ve told you before during this live Twitter chat, we’re taking care of my dad. Well, she’s not really doing much to take care of him. Well, she’s letting him pet her. And I think there’s some emotional good done there. My little brother and his family named her Regan, and no one can remember why. But that’s the true answer. What I like to say, though, if you ever have the good fortune to meet Regan and to see her play, she makes the scariest— and this is totally contrary to her personality— the scariest, most sinister sounding not quite growl is. But I don’t know what to call them when she plays. They sound otherworldly, and they sound diabolical. And so what I tell people— I’m going with this— is Regan is named after the little girl in ‘The Exorcist,’ who made sounds not unlike hers. ‘Is Jared Kushner on the board of his brother’s company, the website that surveys COVID-19 testing?’ I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head. And if it wasn’t going to be too weird, I would start clicking away. And maybe if Liriel, whom I work with at ‘The Times,’ is still listening and still on the Google Doc that I’m looking to to my right, maybe she can quickly tell us if Kushner is on the board of his brother’s company. What I can say is that (LAUGHING) it was both— I found it both inevitable and deeply disturbing to read that once again— we read this as soon as the— not as soon as we read this, soon after the pandemic dawned— that Jared Kushner was one of the officials around Trump who was most closely managing his response and the response to this epidemic. It seems that Jared Kushner’s portfolio knows no bounds. It seems that the boundlessness of that portfolio corresponds not at all to his proven track record or his actual capabilities. And he continues to be treated like some sort of superhero within the White House or treated by his father in law like some sort of superhero. And I don’t mean to sound snarky, but I’m still waiting for the evidence of his ability to take flight and see through buildings and move skyscrapers and all those things that a superhero or a Superman can do. I read accounts, as I’m sure some of you did, that he actually had a hand along with Stephen Miller in that absolutely terrible prime time address of Trump’s. So I’m not sure what the utility was there. And I do worry— I mean, that’s all— I’m saying all of that in a somewhat snarky vein, and I don’t mean to sound unkind. But there’s a serious larger issue there in that discussion about Jared, which is how many people does the president trust enough to get advice from? How many people who have advice worth getting are still there to give him advice? Does he listen to the right people? I think the answer often is no. And Jared Kushner’s sort of a symbol of that, someone who is constantly coloring outside the lines of what he knows simply because that’s good enough for this president because real expertise and real professionalism are utterly devalued by this president. And those are dynamics that are of special concern right now because what we need to fight this pandemic to get through this with as little damage and as few casualties as possible, what we need is professionalism and expertise in a kind of abundance that no longer exists in the federal government thanks to Donald Trump, in large measure. Liriel does not have an immediate answer to the Jared Kushner question that was asked. So I apologize. I’m going to scroll through some of the other questions that have come in. ‘Is there a case for using the 25th Amendment now that lives are at stake?’ Well, we’ve heard a lot of— [LAUGHS] the case for not using it doesn’t change whether it will or won’t be used. And so I’m not sure that’s something to put much hope in. Someone writes, ‘We need social interaction.’ We sure do. And that is one of the— please forgive me. I seem to be having a technical difficulty. Hang in there. My screen has gone fuzzy again. And I’m not sure if that means that— I can no longer see the image of this. I’m not sure if that means you can no longer see it. Maybe Liriel, who’s communicating with me by a Google Doc can tell me if the image has gone away and if there’s a way I can bring it back. She says I’ve left selfie mode again. I don’t think I have. Well, now I see the image again. But no, I think it’s some sort of timed out thing. We’re all good, Liriel? All good? I think so. Looks to me like that. Someone wrote in, ‘We need social interaction.’ We absolutely do. And I think the toll of being alone is going to be felt keenly and very heavy on many Americans, or being nearly alone, or having a social circle that has collapsed to a very small, tight one. I don’t think that is an argument against doing what we’re doing in terms of sheltering in place in those places that are especially hard hit, in terms of social distancing. I don’t think at this point it’s an argument against it because we are taking measures now that are about saving lives— saving our lives, saving the lives of people we care about, saving the lives of strangers. And we should care equally about that. We’re taking those measures. And yes, that is absolutely dragging down, disrupting the quality of life, which includes social interactions. But this is something I think for a time that we can bear and we need to bear in order simply to survive this in the greatest numbers, in order to save as many lives as we can. Rather than focusing on what we’re no longer able to do, and rather than dwelling on what we lose when we lose social interaction, face to face social interaction, in-person social interaction, I think we can look at just how nimble and creative, how ingenious enterprising people have been in using online tools and using social media. We’re doing it right now to replace as best possible what we’ve lost in terms of in-person contact. It doesn’t replace being able to read someone’s face at a close distance. It certainly doesn’t replace the comfort of touch. But I know many friends who downloaded Zoom for the first time and are having Zoom happy hour, Zoom cocktails. I know people who are taking their yoga classes through Zoom. They’re really trying and succeeding and adapting as best possible. And it’s one of those things if you’re looking not for silver linings, but if you’re looking for reassurances, it’s one of those things you can look to. We are an astonishingly and impressively adaptable species. And we are seeing that. And I say that, and I feel like I’m the first several minutes of a Trump news briefing in which, for my taste, there’s way too much happy talk, way too much belief that Americans simply need to be told everything’s going to be O.K., everything is O.K., it’s almost O.K., it’s soon to be O.K. No. That message is dangerous because it tells people not to make the effort that they need to make. It is important, though— and the president does do some of this, and I salute him for it— to highlight the acts of kindness that we see, the acts of generosity, and the acts of adaptation, including doing things we wouldn’t normally do so we feel less alone like, I hope, the Twitter chat that I’m doing right now and the live Twitter chats that will come in the coming days the colleagues of mine on the opinion section will do. And I guess I’ll end there because we’re almost at the hour mark. And I want to remind you of what’s coming up so that if you want to do this again with another columnist, you want to do it for the first time, whatever. Tomorrow, 1:00 PM Eastern on his Twitter page, Nick Kristof will be doing a live Twitter chat. The order of people after that on weekdays at 1:00 PM Eastern: Elizabeth Bruenig, Jennifer Senior, Jamelle Bouie, Kara Swisher, Michelle Cottle, Farhad Manjoo. I started this off today. I’m Frank Bruni with ‘the New York Times.’ And I want to thank you very much for joining me. I hope you’re getting through this as best possible. I hope you’re taking good care of yourself, of the people you care about. And if anyone who is in your orbit, I hope you are swerving around them as you walk so that we can all respect social distancing as a way of being kind to each other. And I’m going to sign off now. And if I don’t sign off correctly, just bear with me while you watch me fumble because I’m just not the deftest person with this stuff. Thank you.”


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