The Doorstep: The World Waits for the Next U.S. President, with Professor Tom Nichols

Nov 5, 2020

As America waits for counts to come in from the last handful of swing states and the Trump campaign files lawsuits, leaders around the world are anxiously watching. What do rivals like China and Russia expect? What do allies hope for from a potential Biden presidency? In this episode of the "The Doorstep," U.S. Naval War College's Professor Tom Nichols joins the hosts to discuss the election from a historical and international perspective and the ways that Gen Z can be more influential in foreign affairs.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Welcome to The Doorstep. It's Election Day, day two or day 2,002; I can't tell anymore. But we are here today with special guest Tom Nichols, author, professor, and advisor to The Lincoln Project, to help walk us through what this all means, what the world is saying about America, and what's next for America and the world. We bring this to you to help you understand how international news affects your day-to-day life.

Welcome again to Tom Nichols and Nick. Let's talk. What are people saying? What's the world saying? I have been looking at some headlines from around the world, some concerned allies in Europe, China ignoring us a little bit and instead focusing on the fact that we left the climate agreement yesterday, which nobody is talking about, kind of a big deal.

What is the world saying? What is on your radar, Nick and Tom?

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Tom, let me pass it over to you because I think you have been one of the great observers of what's happening in our body politic but also moving beyond the generic and trying to get an understanding at what's motivating people. As we say, this is the doorstep. This is one of the few times in which the American doorstep reverses direction, and instead of the world impacting the average American, this is where the average American, by choosing to cast a ballot, by choosing not to cast a ballot, has an impact on what happens in the United States and the world.

Now that we are two days past Election Day, any initial observations or thoughts about what this says about what America is saying to the world?

TOM NICHOLS: A few, and I should start by saying obviously I don't represent any of the organizations I'm affiliated with, even The Lincoln Project, where I am just a senior advisor, and all of the other places I teach and work at, so these are just my own views.

I think what the world is doing now on day 2,000 of the election is holding their breath. The climate change issue, for example, I don't think anybody is thinking about us leaving the climate accord because the assumption is that if Joe Biden is elected, all of that stuff goes away, that we somehow start getting back on track, that these unilateral actions that Donald Trump took will mostly be reversed.

Something that those of us who were Trump critics and opponents were actually glad to see was that Trump had a real predilection for doing things by executive order, because those are the easiest things to reverse on day one, simply with a stroke of your pen say, "These executive orders are no longer operative." Trump did not have the patience or the competence to plod his way through making any of his changes lasting other than being able to get out of treaties, which I think is a big deal, but that was also again what happens when you have John Bolton around.

Internationally our friends are holding their breath and hoping that what happened over the past four years was a freak accident, a perfect storm. I will say that my personal evaluation of the 2016 election was that it was a perfect storm, that it was a freak outcome. For two years I referred to the president as "His Accidency:" The Democrats ran Hillary Clinton, the economy was good, a TV star with high visibility.

I am one of the people who think Donald Trump never intended to win the election and that he was as surprised as everybody else when 60 million people turned out to not be in on the joke. I think in some ways if he loses, which I think is now practically assured, he is going to be relieved. He didn't want the job, and he doesn't like it.

Internationally I think the Chinese are hunkering down because they want an end to this ridiculous trade war. I don't think they are looking for a warmer relationship with us. I think they and the Russians both would like a more predictable relationship with us. They would like to know who to talk to, who is authoritative, who speaks for the administration. If we're going to be enemies, can we at least be enemies in some way that is clearly understood, rather than these, "Oh, you know President Xi's a great guy, but the Chinese screwed us, but China is responsible for the virus and they're going to pay, but I love the Chinese."

Sometimes I think it must be that our opponents look at us the way we looked at China during the Cultural Revolution or something, saying, "Something terrible is going on there, and we can't figure it out." But of course, as the Canadians always say, "It's like sleeping next to an elephant." We roll over, and people get crushed.

Of our opponents in particular, I think the Russians have been interesting. Two really positive things have happened that have surprised me: One is that the Russians seem to have taken seriously the idea that a full-on assault against our electoral system two times in a row was not a good idea. I am surprised at how smoothly the election went.

Maybe I'm being too optimistic. This could be credit to the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency and a lot of other people, who may have forestalled some terrible attacks. But I think if the Russians had really wanted to put on a full-court press, we would have seen more of it.

I also think that the initial reactions from people like Putin—I think our enemies couldn't believe that Donald Trump was president either, and they are almost now prepping themselves for returning to a more normal competitor-frenemy relationship with the United States. I think that's actually a good thing.

I have been worried for four years not so much that Donald Trump would make a policy decision that I would disagree with as much as I was concerned that our enemies would finally give up on trying to figure out what American policy is and start doing things that then we would end up having to react to, and we would be in a kind of 1914 situation rather than a Cold War or 1962 situation.

So far I think everybody is getting used to the idea—knock on wood; this is partly my partisan inclinations talking—that this past 48 months was just a bizarre interregnum in American life. I think even our enemies want to get back to something more like a cooperative and predictable relationship, even if we don't agree about things.

TATIANA SERAFIN: That's so interesting, although I do think there has been as a result of the last four years a decrease in our authority.

TOM NICHOLS: No question.

TATIANA SERAFIN: The world has moved on and has been making decisions. In Europe we see them looking at us and shrugging because they have been almost left on their own to deal with the coronavirus and with Brexit—which nobody really is talking about, but it's happening. They have moved on. Are we going to get left behind, no matter who is in charge?

TOM NICHOLS: It's hard to leave behind the biggest economy and the most powerful nation in the world. But part of our soft power has always been to tell the rest of the world: "You cannot do without us. You would miss us if we are gone." And the world has gotten a look at what it's like to have the United States absent without leave, to have the United States basically vanish from the world stage.

As you say, it's almost like: "Okay, we lived with it. We can get by." But I'm not sure that anybody wanted to see if we could do that for eight years rather than four. I do think there is a difference between one presidential term.

Although I am a political scientist, I am an amateur historian of the Cold War, as Nick knows. I don't have those same history chops, but I wrote a book on the Cold War some years ago, and it is always important to remember that in 1975 Gerald Ford had to go to Brussels to plead with the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) to stay together. He literally gives a speech in Brussels that says: "America still cares. America is still here. We still matter. Guys, guys!" You had a prime minister of Great Britain at the time, James Callaghan, who said, "My job is to help manage the British decline."

I started college in the fall of 1979, when it was routine to tell young students—I ended up majoring in Russian studies and stuff like that; I took a comparative economics course: "Our economy and the Soviet economy will converge. The Soviet model works. The American model doesn't work."

Nick, I'm almost going to start doing the speech from Red Dawn: "Your forefathers have been betrayed."

It's important to remember how strong the narrative of American decline was 45 years ago this month. Remember that in 1975—I feel the need, especially for younger listeners, to point this out—as America went into the 1976 presidential election, we had a president and a vice president who had been elected by nobody. Think of that. Think of all the conspiracy theories in the social media age that would happen if Ford and Rockefeller were the president and vice president. You had a president and vice president who had been totally appointed by Congress.

We had just been defeated in a major war with communist tanks rolling through Vietnam and into Saigon after 55,000 American deaths. The Soviets were publishing crowing articles about the correlation of forces turning in the Soviet favor and that America was through, that America was done.

It's hard to remember that by 1985, within nine years, Ronald Reagan won 49 states, NATO had a complete nuclear rearmament, defense budgets were through the roof, and instead of Callaghan and Carter and Schmidt, you had Thatcher and Reagan and Mulroney. We have a tendency to believe that the current moment is all moments, and I think on this, yes, we have proven to the world that we are not indispensable, that Madeleine Albright is wrong; we are not the "indispensable nation," and things can happen without us. On the other hand, I think that has also shaken some people, and they want to see us come back. I don't think we could sustain eight years of that.

I think the period from let's say 1973, from the oil crisis, to the end of the Carter administration, was a low point in American power. That could not have gone on for another four or five years, and I don't think this situation could have gone on for another four or five years without some kind of major conflict or major collapse of American power.

We have weathered worse than this. We have actually come back from worse than this with our own allies, against our own opponents. But if you had told somebody—and then I will get off this historical soapbox—in 1975 that my prediction is that in 15 years, by 1990, the Soviet Union will have collapsed and that the United States would be the strongest economic power in the world, that there would be no serious challenger to the capitalist model, that NATO would be on the verge of heading from 15 to 30 nations, etc., you would have been laughed out of the room as an insane optimist. I just want to make sure that we are not throwing too many inferences about the permanent damage that has been done to us over four years.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Tom, if I can take your historical soapbox and bring it to the present moment with what we have seen with voters, both voters who cast ballots for Donald Trump and voters who cast ballots for Joe Biden, and the mood of the country.

In some of the polling data that Carnegie Council has done over the past year, people say: "We believe we are living in the most dangerous times we have ever lived in; we are fearful for the future." There is a theme some people have of growing resentments, and this isn't the America that I remember or that I think I remember, that no one has ever lived in as bad economic straits as today—is there a sense that we are in a kind of 1975–1976 moment that was reflected in some of what we have seen in the polls in 2020, that when people are casting ballots they are casting from more a sense, say, of fear and that they are transmitting that fear to the rest of the world rather than a sense of confidence?

TOM NICHOLS: Absolutely. One of the things that I find so frustrating about the current American political situation is that people are talking the same way they talked as if it were 1975, except that it's not 1975, "Oh, it's never been so dangerous," and this terrible sense of threat and things are awful, and my god, globalization and the economy. These are the things that you can only say if you haven't lived through 1975.

I find it astonishing—"America is now the country I didn't grow up in." I just wrote that article in The Atlantic 24 hours ago, that this election does not say anything good about the American people unfortunately. I think in that sense I would go back to the same things that people like Christopher Lasch or other social critics were saying in the late 1970s, that America has become decadent, narcissistic, and inward-looking.

With that said, other than maybe 1980 or 1984, when has foreign policy and America's position in the world ever mattered in a presidential election? People just don't vote on that unfortunately. People like us might vote on that because we work for national security and foreign policy-related institutions, but people in Indiana and Texas and New Hampshire are not voting on NATO and what they think our position in the world is, and that has always been a problem.

I think what the Trump Era did was that nativism and isolationism and pessimism, Trump was the first time we ever externalized that into a president. I think that was the thing that shook a lot of the world's confidence.

To go back to our earlier conversation about the lasting damage, the thing that I worry about more than anything is not that America is permanently knocked out of the box as a great power, it's that we have proven we are capable of doing something this crazy. The rest of the world could always look at the America Firsters or the Taft isolationists and they could say: "Yes, there's a streak of crazy in America, but"—like Churchill—"the Americans are always going to do the right thing after they have exhausted all the other possibilities. They are a sturdy sensible people."

Hannah Arendt I think sometime in the 1950s—I can't remember the provenance of this quote—said something like, "The Americans have a political maturity not found anywhere else in the world with the possible exception of Scandinavia." There was once a time when you could talk about the remarkable stoicism and political maturity of the American people.

I think that is gone, and I don't know whether it will come back. I am writing a book right now where I argue for this, and I say that American stoicism is a virtue that we need to rediscover. But we had never shown the rest of the world that we are capable of doing something so stupid and crazy as electing a complete nativist ignoramus to the presidency. Our institutions of government had always somehow managed to screen that out.

During the four years of the Trump administration I always likened it to being in a relationship with a significant other that may have been stormy, but they had never hit you. And the first time they hit you, you can't ever un-ring that bell. Even if they never do it again, it happened once. It's out there now. I think for our allies around the world we are the spouse that has finally hit them, and now they're looking at us and saying, "Boy, I hope that was like a really stupid emotional moment and that you're not actually that kind of a partner." I'm worried about that. I'm worried that we broke our political vow here never to do something this crazy.

With that said, we are on the verge of electing one of the most solidly liberal, internationalist, institutionalist, alliance-oriented, old-school Democrats, former head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, so if we were going to ever try to soothe that wound, Joe Biden is the most obvious choice for that.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Speaking of Joe Biden, since you bring him up, I have been refreshing my browser every two minutes to see if Nevada is coming in.

TOM NICHOLS: Do you know something?

TATIANA SERAFIN: I haven't seen anything.

Who do you think for secretary of state? He put up his transition website yesterday, so now we're all talking in the news biz, who, who, throwing out names. Anybody come to mind and any particular next-day changes in policy that we might see?

TOM NICHOLS: Yes and no. One of the things that has really impressed me about the Biden campaign was the immense amount of discipline in the Biden campaign, including message discipline. Insofar as Biden is having trouble in this election and that Democrats are being beaten for House and Senate seats, it's that Biden had a huge amount of message discipline and that the Democratic Party didn't.

Part of that message discipline was that Biden absolutely refused to entertain any of these speculations about future cabinets, like the Susan Rice "bubble" for vice-president. That drove me absolutely crazy. You have to be not only within the Beltway, but you have to literally be within Route 50 in Washington to even think of that. Biden, to his credit, just waved it all away. I wasn't crazy about Kamala Harris as a pick. I figured it was a "do no harm" kind of, keep-the-ship-stable kind of pick.

The flip side of that is, we don't know a lot about Biden's future team. I have no idea who Joe Biden is going to pick as his national security advisor. Nick and I have talked about this offline many times. My only guess is that I don't think Joe Biden will be able to pass up the merit badge or the honor of choosing the first female secretary of defense. So my smart money is on Michèle Flournoy. This is not an "Oh, great, it's a woman." This is a perfectly qualified human being, male or female, and I think that makes her an obvious pick, to be able to say, "I picked a highly competent, centrist, defense intellectual, who also is a glass ceiling breaker in the Defense Department." Beyond that, I think it has been a tribute to the message discipline of the Biden campaign that they have not let themselves get freighted down by arguments over the next secretary of state, which is always a stupid mistake that campaigns make.

My guess is it will be perfectly sensible institutionalists in the Biden mold. I cannot think of anybody in the Biden foreign policy orbit. I imagine they are going to find a place for Jake Sullivan. Fine by me. I was an opponent of the Iran deal, but I also am not a Democrat, and I don't get to pick the staff, and if you're going to be a Democrat picking staff, Jake Sullivan is a perfectly sensible pick. But I have no idea where they are going to go with that, and I think it was really wise of Biden to deprive all of us of the ability to talk about this until all the votes were counted.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Can I just interject something? There was a report in Axios earlier today by Mike Allen [and Hans Nichols], suggesting that there has already been some messaging from Mitch McConnell's office, assuming that the Republicans retain their majority in the Senate, essentially saying that they will be happy to work with the Biden team on centrist appointments. The two names that were floated were Tony Blinken as secretary of state and Lael Brainard as secretary of the treasury.

Does this also raise a question looking forward—and also back to you, Tatiana, given the work that you do with Gen Z and Millennial voters—the extent to which people were hoping that Joe Biden would open the door to more progressives, more generational shifts, and so on? Is there going to be disappointment among some of the electorate that cast votes for Joe Biden that some of the people that he is likely to get through are going to be people that both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders ran against in 2016, more of the pre-2016 approach to foreign policy? Do you see this as having much of an impact, disappointment? Will this lead Gen Z and Millennial voters to say: "It was useless to turn out; Who cares?"

Is there anything that you're seeing, Tatiana, from your position but also Tom from yours given that you have been very interested in questions of turnout, of who votes, not only who votes but who do you keep from voting, off-ramps for voting, and things like that, what is it that you're taking from all of this about what this is saying about the American electorate?

TATIANA SERAFIN: I do want to say that I think this voting cycle was very much for-and-against personality versus for-and-against policy. I can't tell you the number of times I heard—this is all local New York City, so I'm talking in the bubble of New York City—"I am going to vote for Donald Trump. I don't like his character, but I appreciate the pro-life policies that he espouses." Or: "I am voting for Biden even though I was for Buttigieg or Klobuchar or Kamala"—well, Kamala's already in there, but you know what I'm saying.

It was a vote very much for or against a person, not so much thinking forward to policy. I say this even with all my research into how climate change and social justice leads people to going into the streets, for example. Yesterday we had a lot of protests in New York City, for example. But I don't think that is what this particular vote was for or against, not policy.

That's my perspective. I don't know what you think, Tom.

TOM NICHOLS: I am going to be the skunk at the garden party and the grumpy old curmudgeon about Gen Z and Millennial voters.

Nick, you were talking about whether they going are to be sorry they turned out. My question is: Did they turn out?

I am 59—I can still say that because I don't turn 60 until next month—I am a former Republican who for years when I was a Republican, when I worked in the Senate back in the 1990s for John Heinz, I used to tease my Democratic friends saying, "Oh, yes, so I know you care about all these things and you will do anything to get them except show up and vote."

Going into the streets—I saw that yesterday, Tatiana—for what? What is this protest the day after Election Day in New York for? To reaffirm to voters who were concerned about protests that they are going to get exactly the thing that they voted against? This is political theater, it is self-actualization, it is activism in place of—I worked in state government in Massachusetts, so I know about one-party states, for over two years. You know what wins things? Showing up and grinding out the boring work of making sure—if you want social justice, make sure that the guy you want is the head of the Commerce or Labor Committee in the statehouse in Boise or Augusta and not whoever the president is. The president does not control most of these things.

This frustrates the hell out of me because someone sent me a tweet the other day with some data—and I have not been able to run down the data because we have all been a little busy—that said, "Hey, youth turnout was smashing records, and it got to almost 50 percent." We're all celebrating youth turnout rocketing to 48 or 49 percent?

Compare that with where middle-aged and old people vote. I have told younger voters: "If you just show up, you increase your turn out by 10 points, you will run the country tomorrow. You could make the voting age 15 if you wanted."

But I don't see where Joe Biden needs to spend a lot of time agonizing about what 20-year-old college students, whose main issue is climate change, think about the next secretary of state. If you're advising a major politician, you say: "Look, these people are either going to vote for your or they're going to not turn out. They are not persuadable. They wouldn't know the difference between Secretary of State Jane Smith and Secretary of State John Jones. They just don't pay that close attention consistently."

Tatiana, you're the expert on Gen Z and how they pay attention, but what we see in the electoral process is they focus intensely and then they fall back, and then they focus intensely. The people that politicians love are the people who are constantly there, election after election, donating, donating time, and showing up.

So my attitude about how will the younger generation feel about Joe Biden's picks, I don't think Joe Biden has to care about that. I certainly don't.

I'm old school. I'm about winning elections. I'm the guy that for four years has been hammering the table, especially during the Democratic primaries, "Two-seven-zero, two-seven-zero." And it looks like now we will be happy if Joe Biden gets to 290. Joe Biden might win this election at exactly 270.

One of the mistakes—and now I am talking to younger and more liberal voters who are all yelling at me already—I think that younger and more liberal voters made is they assumed that the national loathing of Donald Trump was so uniform and complete that this election was not only going to herald the end of Donald Trump; it was going to be the beginning of a progressive golden age. So they didn't have any problem with the idea of "Why shouldn't I vote for Pete Buttigieg? Why wouldn't anybody in Georgia want to vote against a gay, married, 40-year-old, small-town mayor from Indiana from a college town?" It doesn't occur to them that people vote on these ascriptive characteristics, as you said, Tatiana, about: "I just don't like this guy. I don't like his character."

Leave Pete Buttigieg out of it. Look at Bernie Sanders. "I'm going to win by turning out the youth vote and by energizing the left and running on social justice and social equity." None of it happened. Not only did it not happen, those voters didn't turn out. They didn't even turn out in their own primary.

I think one of the smartest things that Joe Biden did was Biden ignored Twitter, which I think actually is what sank the Harris campaign early on. Harris and Warren were way too online, way too Twitter-focused. Twitter is a bubble within a bubble within a bubble. Biden focused on Trump and character and decency rather than wonky piles of policy recommendations. He kept a low profile while Trump was hurting himself.

These were all excellent decisions that I think frustrated other Democrats not just online but people who were doing things like running fundraisers and who were supporting other candidates: "I want Elizabeth Warren because she's going to get out there, and she's going to punch Trump in the face during the debates."

What did we learn from the debates? The job of a Democratic candidate when you're debating Donald Trump is to be quiet and let Donald Trump hang himself. That worked beautifully.

What's the memorable line that we're going to take away from 2020? "Will you shut up, man?" That's it.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Mine is, "I'm speaking, actually." That's my favorite.

TOM NICHOLS: That "I'm speaking" thing went over well with people who like Democrats and who like Kamala Harris, and it did not go over well with a lot of centrist voters, who felt like that came across as in your face. You can call it misogynist, you can call it racist. You're trying to win that segment of voters, and the fact that we are sweating out the counts in Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania tells me that those things matter.

Personally, I wouldn't have done that. I would have sat back, tented my fingers, pointed at him and said: "Let him go. Let him talk." Every time he interrupted Biden and Biden tried to talk, I was yelling at the TV, "Shh, shh."

I'm going to be curious to see the data on whether Harris energized anyone that wasn't already in the Biden camp. I'm very curious about that data. Because Harris was definitely not my pick, but I don't know who would have been better. I can think of all the candidates that would have been worse, but I can't think of who would have been better.

But Nick, to go back to your point about international relations. Unless there is a draft, what people under 25 think about international relations almost never plays. They are not informed enough about it. It's not something that holds their interest. The American public doesn't vote on it, and until we see more evidence that younger—I think if young people turn out in large numbers, yes, climate change goes to the top of the agenda. But until then, I don't see it.

I think Biden's priorities are not going to be my priorities. My priorities are going to be reversing every executive order Trump made in the first hour he's in office, but I think it's going to be the pandemic and the economy.

Going back to your point about McConnell, McConnell loves being the Senate majority leader. That's what he likes more than anything in the world. McConnell has no ideology. He doesn't care about abortion, he doesn't care about race. He cares about those things because they make him powerful in the short term. If Biden comes forward and says, "Here's a whole bunch of things I can do that are going to not hurt you and that help the country," McConnell's going to go, "As long as I'm running my caucus, I don't care what you do."

Because McConnell's not running for reelection again. That's the end of it. McConnell is not going to be running for reelection at 96 years old or whatever the hell he is going to be.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Well, you never know, because this election has certainly taught us that you can be whatever age you want apparently.

But I do respectfully disagree, and I do believe that the youth vote will be more important. When I see young people teaching themselves Korean to sing along with K-pop, when I see people coming out for Greta Thunberg last year when we could organize in crowds and strikes, and I was down there with them.

TOM NICHOLS: Greta Thunberg—a sudden shooting pain in my temples.

TATIANA SERAFIN: We will maybe table that to our next discussion.

TOM NICHOLS: Again, let me be the voice of annoying hardball politics. This is all very romantic and sounds great, and they're learning Korean, and they're coming out for Greta Thunberg. I only have one question: Did they vote? If the answer is yes, great. Now I care more about what they thought.

Personally, I think Greta Thunberg probably cost more votes than she generated because I think the Greta Thunberg phenomenon was—frankly if I had been a Republican donor, I might have been funding that, because again in an election where you are trying to turn people off to Donald Trump, you don't want to have somebody who irritates those same centrist voters, and the fact that this election was so close tells me that the Democrats made a lot of these mistakes.

But take Thunberg off the table. All I have is a question for you. These young people that are so engaged and so interested in doing all this stuff, all I care about is whether they voted. If they voted, great; if they didn't, they don't exist in the electoral process. They just don't.

I have had this argument about youth turnout for—but I have to tell you, I was a college student who thought the voting age should be 21 because I knew my fellow college students. Having people vote at 18 years old is probably not a great idea, but I don't think it matters that much because the turnout numbers, particularly in off-year elections—and let me just foot-stomp this again. Turning out every four years at about 40–50 percent of the vote is not that important. It is turning out every two years in local and state elections, and young people resolutely refuse to do this.

When you have primaries in Seattle where—or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, what was the turnout in New York 14 that year? Seventeen percent? In a primary? Seventeen percent, really? At that point, when you're telling me about the importance of the youth vote, my answer is the same about any other vote in America: If they show up, politicians will pay attention to them; if they don't show up, then it's just a lot of noise and banners and TV and marching.

In the real world of politics, those guys don't care because they don't have to. I don't say that normatively or as a good thing. I'm saying that as an empirical matter, if you don't show up, you don't get to play.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I'm going to love to see these numbers because I think they might inspire you.

TOM NICHOLS: I hope so. I want to believe. I have been going on Twitter, which mostly skews young and liberal, and I'm saying: "I dare you. Prove me wrong. Make a fool of me." I was telling young people, "Vote just to spite Tom, the curmudgeonly old guy."

I haven't missed an election since I was 18 years old. I just haven't, and that includes primaries. I vote in everything, and I have always been shocked that young people don't bother because it's not interesting and it's not fun and it doesn't feel like it's having an immediate impact.

I went to work in state government in Massachusetts while I was in college. I went from being an intern to a salaried legislative aide for the chairman of a committee. I then came back to graduate school for a while and wrote a major report that got all kinds of "change things in Massachusetts," all that stuff, and I was all done with that experience by the time I was 24 years old. So that had a huge impact on me to realize how much gets done at that level of government and how much that level of government is controlled by old people who care and who show up.

Do it to spite me, young people.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I am actually inspired by the changes that I have seen in my local neighborhood, and I hope that New York is not a bubble, and I hope that we are going to hear some news soon from Nevada, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Tom.

TOM NICHOLS: My pleasure.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Nick, any last thoughts?

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Just to echo what we have been discussing here, which is that politics is a long hard slog, and getting involved and not tuning out the day after, and this is why we hope podcasts like The Doorstep are part of that process of making sure that people are informed and take their obligation to vote and be a part of the process seriously because that is what makes the change happen.

TOM NICHOLS: Can I add a point about that, Nick, because it is something you and I have said so many times?

To people who are listening to this and wondering why I am railing about this, when students in particular ask me about this, I tell them: "Politics as public service is a noble vocation"—not elected politics because that's an acquired taste for a very few people—"but it's boring." Politics is boring, and it ought to be. Even working in national security and international relations is like police work. My dad and my brother were both cops, and the old story about police work is, "hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror."

That's what politics should be like, boring and routine, and if you really want to have an impact, you have to commit to just the slog of stuff that isn't fun. You have to pay attention to it when everybody else has stopped paying attention to it. That's when you have a really outsized impact on politics, when you are still the person paying attention to what's going on when everyone else has gone on with their lives three days after the election.

I really want to encourage people who want to have a politic impact. You have to stay with it. You have to understand that it's going to be a grind and that in the end the cumulative effect is that you can have a tremendous impact on politics, but you got to keep showing up.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I think that is a great way to end Episode Four, and I'm going to go back to my nail biting and eating doughnuts.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thank you, Tom. We really appreciate it.

TOM NICHOLS: Thank you both for having me.

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