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Fareed Zakaria GPS

President Trump Hospitalized With COVID-19; All The Presidents' Ailments; How World Leaders Navigate COVID-19 In Their Own Lives. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired October 04, 2020 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you live from New York.


ZAKARIA: Today on the show COVID hits the White House. The president, first lady, and staffers are infected. How is it that the most powerful man in the most powerful country got ill? I'll talk to top doctor, Zeke Emanuel.

Also, Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro are among the other world leaders who were already infected by the coronavirus. What can we learn from their experiences?

And one leader has kept himself in a veritable bubble. Guess who?

And 30 days from the American election with one contender currently in the hospital, what is the state of the race right now? Nate Cohen of "The New York Times" will tell us.


ZAKARIA: But first, here is my take. Let me begin by saying I wish President Trump and the first lady a safe and speedy recovery. I also hope that others who have been infected along the way who either work with the president or attended an event with him have a mild case of the disease and a return to normalcy as soon as possible.

The news out of the White House is sad, but perhaps it can remind us of all of the sad news around. We might have COVID fatigue, but the virus does not. The number of people known to have died from COVID-19 has crossed one million worldwide, and that is probably a low figure. An analysis by the "Economist" magazine indicates there may be as many as a million more uncounted deaths.

It finds that the true count in America is probably not 200,000 dead, but more like 300,000, which means that the country has lost as many people to COVID in the last eight months as it did in the four years of combat during World War II.

And we are not done. Egged on by advisers and conservative pundits, the president keeps saying things like this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're rounding the corner with or without a vaccine. They hate it when I say that but that's the way it is. We're rounding the corner.


ZAKARIA: The reality is the virus is still coursing through country after country. India now has more than half a million new cases every week and is on track to overtake the U.S. for most cumulative cases on the planet. Latin America has seen sharp spikes in some places. New waves have hit parts of Europe and the United States.

Tragic as the deaths are, the broader and more long lasting effects are likely to be economic. The world economy is in the worst condition it has been since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And the effects of this downturn have been particularly tough on the most vulnerable sectors of society.

Take a look at these charts showing the last three recessions in America. The green lines show the top 25 percent of income earners and the purple show the bottom 25. You will notice that in most recessions they lose a similar share of jobs. In the current recession, a chasm has opened up. The bottom 25 percent, the poorest among us, have seen their jobs evaporate.

The jobs report released this week shows 36 percent of unemployed workers are now classified as permanently unemployed. A Pew survey found that 42 percent of Americans have had someone in their household lose a job or wages because of COVID-19. Around 10 percent of adults, 23 million, say their households sometimes or often does not have enough food to eat according to the Census Bureau.

And that's in America. Imagine the situation in countries like India. But the point is simple. We are in the midst of the worst global pandemic in 100 years. We are still not handling it well. We do not have good mass testing and tracing. We are not providing nearly enough economic relief to the tens of millions whose lives have been devastated not because they ran their businesses poorly, not because they acted irresponsibly, but because of a pandemic.

Donald Trump's unfortunate diagnosis could serve a useful purpose to remind us that we need to get our act together because we are all in this together.


And let's get started.

Let us get right to get right to President Trump and COVID-19. Joining me is Zeke Emanuel, one of America's most important doctors and medical experts. He was an Obama White House advisor for health policy. He now advises the Biden campaign. Emanuel is the author of a terrific new book "Which Country Has the World's Best Health Care?" Welcome, Zeke. You've really -- in your book you scan the world. And

so you really have a broader perspective. And what I want to ask you is, when you look at Donald Trump and you look at what we know about how ill he is or the information we're getting, what does it tell you that he has been given these two drugs, the Remdesivir and the Regeneron cocktail?

Would that be something you'd give anyone out of abundant caution particularly somebody like President Trump, or does that tell you he is sicker than we think?

DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, AUTHOR, "WHICH COUNTRY HAS THE WORLD'S BEST HEALTH CARE?": He is definitely sicker than they have let on. All day on Friday they were underplaying resting comfortably when he was actually feverish, fatigued, his oxygen saturation was going on. You don't jump to Remdesivir, which isn't yet indicated for the supposed condition he had, and you don't add in an experimental cocktail which hasn't been given an emergency use authorization unless you are really, really worried and things are much worse.

Reading between the lines, he was very severely ill. And I might say he was very severely ill very rapidly in the course of events here. Assuming he got infected at the Amy Coney Barrett super-spreader event last Saturday, you know, he got really sick beginning Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. That is very rapid situation in getting sick. And so I think the concern --

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you -- let me ask you about that event, Zeke, because one of the things that puzzles me, because so much of our weakness here has been testing, and it appears to me, you know, they say that everyone is tested at the White House, they are tested before these events. Do you believe that? Because it does seem as though something is going wrong here if everyone is being tested all the time and you have the super-spreader event.

EMANUEL: All right. Well, let's break it down. They're using the rapid test. Rapid tests are not perfect. They're about -- their sensitivity, that is. If you've got the disease, how often they're going to picks you up is 97 percent. That means three people who have the disease aren't going to be picked up and that's the Achilles heel here. They claim that at the Amy Coney Barrett super-spreader event that no one test -- everyone was tested and no one tested negative.

There were at least 150 people there by my scan. That's just impossible by the sheer math. There should have been some false positives in that group. You know, three or four or five false positives. There were none. And that they clearly missed some people. We're all looking at the outdoor event, but probably the superspreading event was the indoor event where people were close to each other. They were indoor.

The air was not being circulated as well as it is outside. People are talking up because there is a lot of ambient noise. That is classic superspreading moments. I might add that this event tells me something we have to reemphasize to the American public. We are talking about the importance of wearing masks and that's absolutely important. But all the modeling on superspreading events is if we keep groups to less than 20 people, that's the max you can have is 20 people.

We could actually get rid of almost all superspreading events and that would make a major difference in limiting the spread of this disease. That hasn't been emphasized enough, and this Amy Coney Barrett superspreading event should emphasize that fact. Don't have 140 people. 20 people max and no more whether it's a restaurant, indoors, in any other event.

ZAKARIA: And let me ask you, again in your book you have looked at the whole world. You've seen other systems handling COVID. If Donald Trump, you know, has a conversion like Paul, what would you like to see him do? Because it does feel like we are still in danger of another spike. We still do not have the testing in place. So you get one wish, if Donald Trump got out of the hospital and said, Zeke, what should I do?

EMANUEL: First of all, Fareed, I want thank you for selecting my book for the book of the week and for reading it so carefully.


So the most important thing I think if Donald Trump has a conversion experience, is that he adopts the public health measures and adopt them vigorously and urge everyone in the country to adopt them. As we can see from not just Taiwan and New Zealand and South Korea but from Italy and France and Germany, that actually adopting the public health measures seriously.

So, you know, wearing a facemask, staying six feet apart, hand hygiene and no groups more than 20 and not opening up indoor places unnecessarily like restaurants and bars, you can actually get a hold of this and you can bring the number of cases, new cases down dramatically each day, and we can actually then ease up and have more liberties if everyone keeps doing those things.

That is the key here because we know even without a vaccine, many other countries have been able to get their arms around this and diminish the number of cases, diminish the number of deaths, and lead a much more normal life than we can lead in the United States.

ZAKARIA: Zeke Emanuel, always a pleasure to have you on.

EMANUEL: Thank you, Fareed. Really appreciate it.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, what can history tell us about presidents who have fallen ill? Tim Neftali tells us the stories when we come back.



ZAKARIA: Presidents as we all know are not invincible. They suffer from illness just like everyone else. Colds, flus, heart attacks and strokes and surely many undisclosed maladies. What can we learn from past presidents who've taken ill?

Joining me now is Tim Naftali, the former director of the Nixon Library, now a CNN presidential historian who teaches at NYU.

Tim, welcome. It's -- I was thinking about it, you know, the last great global pandemic, the Spanish influenza. We again had a president who got ill. And it was fairly consequential, Woodrow Wilson.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: He got ill. And the public wasn't even told that he got the flu. The public was told that he got the cold, got a cold. The president was in Paris. He was one of the -- part of the group of great power leaders who were negotiating what would become the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I. He became delirious. He had a fever of 103. His physician, Admiral Grayson, told the press that he had a cold.

They did not know that he had a fever. He in fact was delirious for four days. He began to become very paranoid about the possibility that he was surrounded by spies. He was convinced that the French had sent spies to figure out what his position would be in the negotiations to come. He started to complaining about the pattern of the colors of the furniture around him. He got better after four days, but never regained his strength and by the end of the month he suffered a small stroke.

That would be the first stroke that he would suffer that year. He'd suffer another one six months later, which would be a massive stroke. Now his doctor, Admiral Grayson, never shared with the American people the fact that he had the flu nor the severity of the massive stroke that hit him and disabled him in October of 1919.

This was a precedent for a tradition of White House doctors not sharing with the American people the severity of the health or health crisis of the chief executive.

ZAKARIA: So the one guess I think of where they did share a fair amount was Ronald Reagan. Reagan twice was in the hospital seriously. Once he was shot and once he had a small cancerous tumor removed, and his popularity seemed to go up, right? I mean, did the Reagan people handle it right?

NAFTALI: Well, there's no question that the Reagan people handled the question of presidential health better than any of their predecessors. The White House doctors, the White House team did not share with the American people the difficulty of the president's recovery after the assassination attempt in 1981. It took the president a lot longer. He was much more short of breath than the public knew.

In 1985, when the president suffered a bout with colon cancer, the doctors were more upfront about the nature of the cancer. In fact, discussed the whole question of the possibility of spread. Fortunately, the news was very good. The president's cancer had not spread. But there was sort of more detailed discussion of the extent of his possible disability. That was helpful to the president and to the presidency.

The public is always prepared to show compassion for an ailing president. What the public needs to know is the extent of the challenge to the president's health, and thus, when the public hears good news after an operation, let's say in the case of cancer, the public then is confident that the chief executive is well on the way to recovery. If you don't set a standard of honesty, if the baseline is low of truth, then it's much harder for the public to really sense that the president is getting better and therefore the country is getting better.


ZAKARIA: One quick thought about Eisenhower, who had a heart attack, also gained in popularity, was much loved. Even though he went through a pretty tough period, he never transferred power, did he, to his vice president?

NAFTALI: Well, the reason we have the 25th Amendment which is the amendment people are discussing right now in the unfortunate event that President Trump is severely disabled by his illness, and there will be a discussion of the possibility of transferring power to Vice President Pence, the reason we have that constitutional procedure is the Eisenhower period.

Dwight Eisenhower suffered a very significant heart attack in September of 1955. He was out of action for 3 1/2 months. He did some work, but for the most part the country was -- the business of the government was carried on by a group, a committee of four people. Now it's interesting that not one of those people was Vice President Nixon. Dwight Eisenhower didn't trust Richard Nixon, and there was no real process by which anyone could take over if the president were ill.

If the president died, there was a some (ph) system. But if the president was ill, there was no such system. In 1957, Eisenhower suffered a small stroke. At that point he realized that it was irresponsible of him not to have set up some kind of system and at that point he signed a letter which said that in the case of his incapacity, all of his power would flow directly to Vice President Nixon.

It was as a result of that experience that Eisenhower became a proponent that there be a constitutional amendment so that this wouldn't be a matter of a letter from a president to a vice president, but there'd actually be a system in place so that Congress understood and the American people understood that there was the chance that a president would not be up to his duties or her duties someday and that power to be constitutionally transferred to the vice president as acting president.

ZAKARIA: Tim, thank you very much. I'd only add about Trump, of course, the one difference is a heart attack is not infectious. In the case of Donald Trump, this is all colored by the fact that the president perhaps, because of his own irresponsibility, may have exposed himself in a way that he, that other presidents, it's not quite comparable.

Anyway, as always, Tim, pleasure to have you on.

NAFTALI: Thank you, Fareed. ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, other world leaders and how they dealt with

COVID-19. Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro, and one more.



ZAKARIA: The United States, Brazil, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom. Those are the five nations with the highest coronavirus death counts. And three of them, the U.S., Brazil and the U.K. are led by men who have been cavalier about the disease and now have gotten it. After being discharged from the hospital, Boris Johnson said the disease could have killed him, but prior to his illness he was shaking hands and in close contact with others as if there was no pandemic.

Jair Bolsonaro was so lax about the rules in the early months of the pandemic that a federal judge ordered him to wear a mask in public. Two weeks later Bolsonaro got a positive diagnosis. On the flip side of the coin is Vladimir Putin. As a recent "New York Times" story reported, Russia, 12th on the list of COVID deaths, has a rather relaxed approach for most of its citizens, but President Putin has tried to build a COVID-free fortress for himself.

Let us dig into all of this. Joining me now is the reporter of that "New York Times" story on Putin, Anton Troianovski in London, Anne McElvoy is a senior editor of "The Economist," and CNN's Shasta Darlington joins us from Sao Paulo.

And tell us about the transformation of Boris Johnson because just at the level of optics, he came across as a buoyant, carefree, you know, a kind of -- a figure full of life, larger than life before he got COVID, and he now seems, I mean, maybe it would be too strong, but he seems a shadow of his former self.

ANNE MCELVOY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ECONOMIST: Yes, his personality but also his political brand was this larger-than-life, as you say, about the faux stuffy character who lived large and was also very funny. He, of course, could get some people's backs up. He had a great amount of energy and there was something very special about the kind of Boris pizzaz.

I think what happened was that he did then contract coronavirus and quite seriously, and he was very, very ill indeed in hospital because he went late to hospital. I think he'd rather hoped that he could deal with it and carry on with the day job. But of course it's very often not like that. So yes, it is, of course, a transformation. He's certainly much more conscientious about preserving himself and others from the risk.

But yet he is also not the stuffing out of him. We've seen that this weekend. He's on an interview tour at the moment. He really does not look like his former self. His wattage feels very dimmed.

ZAKARIA: And you've known him since college. You went to college with him. Is he a different person from the one you knew?

MCELVOY: Gosh, this would have been different a few decades on, but I think he is not thinking as fast as he was able to do before.


The rumor is that he has a sort of long COVID. I don't think he was able to recover properly. He was very stressed afterwards. He tried to come back to work within a week to two weeks. He needed more of a holiday.

And we don't cut our leaders much slack, do we, on that sort of thing?

But if you're, the back of your mind, or front of your mind, in America, is what is going to -- likely to happen, we don't know how serious Donald Trump's bout of the virus is. But in Boris Johnson's case, I've definitely seen the impact on someone who seemed to have a fantastically strong constitution of an ox, I would have said, and it has really knocked him for six. And it reminds all of us how serious it can be.

ZAKARIA: What about Bolsonaro, Shasta?

He -- he seemed to -- he ridiculed it beforehand and then ended up with a fairly mild case of COVID, right?

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right, Fareed. And in some ways that just played into his narrative. So for months we'd seen him shrugging it off, calling it a, quote/unquote, "little flu," and even attacking governors and mayors who tried to impose social distancing, who closed schools and closed businesses. And then all of a sudden, in early July, Bolsonaro himself tested positive.

He went into isolation in the presidential residence. But from the start, he said he had a very mild case and he didn't appear to present any serious symptoms.

And then he just spent much of his time on social media boasting about hydroxychloroquine. He said he was taking it. He actually posted videos of himself taking the pills and boasted that that was what was keeping him safe and strong. And he really projected this image of resilience, of vigor -- and something that he had said all along, "Well, if I were to get it, with my athletic history, I'm sure I wouldn't have a very strong case."

So after all these months of saying we shouldn't close down the economy; hunger and unemployment will kill more people than the virus itself, he now had his own personal experience, to a certain degree, to rely on to justify this attitude that he'd all along.

ZAKARIA: I think the -- he had his own health minister, or his former health minister, whom he fired, who said Bolsonaro, despite getting the -- getting the illness, has not -- has not gotten the lessons?

DARLINGTON: That's exactly right. And again, in part because he had this mild case. During it, supporters would gather outside of the presidential residence, across this kind of moat, this little water canal, and he would go out there and greet them, sometimes with a mask, sometimes without a mask.

And even though the numbers really haven't come down, and Brazil is one of the hardest hit countries, with more than 4.9 million cases of COVID-19 -- more than 145,000 people have died from it -- he has been saying, you know, the more important thing here is the economy.

And in fact, we've seen, more and more, governments, kind of, responding to that, as the unemployment numbers have gone up. Businesses have reopened. Schools are talking about reopening. So this -- this double discourse is really beginning to take its toll.

ZAKARIA: And, Anton, tell us about Russia, where everybody is back to normal, including bars and everything, except for one man?

ANTON TROIANOVSKI, MOSCOW CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That's right. There was a really strict lockdown here in Russia in April and May, and then starting in June, things really went back to normal very fast, with the government's encouragement.

People went back to work; restaurants, bars opened up. You rarely saw masks worn indoors. Kids went back to school on September 1st. And as you say, the one person who did not get back to normal was Vladimir Putin. He continues to do all of his Cabinet meetings, his Security Council meetings, by video link. He rarely sees people in person. The people he does see in person generally have to quarantine before seeing him for as much as two weeks.

And the Kremlin has even gone to the length of setting up these disinfectant tunnels that douse people in clouds of disinfectant before they enter to see Putin, both at the Kremlin and at his private residence.

ZAKARIA: And you point out, you know, if you think about Trump and his Cabinet meetings, which we see, and, frankly, almost all other leaders, Putin has none of that. And members of his own Cabinet have not seen him. He is -- he conducts all his official business on -- on computer, right?

TROIANOVSKI: Yeah, I mean, the way one journalist who's covered the Kremlin for 20 years explained it to me, people who want to see Putin in person and are on the agenda, they have to quarantine.

And, you know, it's even to the extent that journalists who cover the Kremlin, journalists who used to see Putin every day and cover his every move, they have not seen him up close since March. Putin has really cut himself off entirely.


ZAKARIA: So you have somebody who is in any case isolated from the country becoming more isolated. And -- and this is well known. You point out that Russian TV did a story on his electronic setup at his desk on the Kremlin, which is all people can see.

TROIANOVSKI: Yeah. Yeah. It's -- it's really remarkable. You know, there aren't photographers around him anymore from various news agencies. There is just the one video feed, the official video feed that we have from the Kremlin. That's all we can see.

And there is even -- there was even a Russian report last week that there were two hotels in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea set up specifically for people to quarantine in before they went to see Putin.


ZAKARIA: Well, it sounds like he's not getting COVID anytime soon.

Thank you all. This is a fascinating, fascinating panel, really learned a lot. Thank you.


MCELVOY: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," with 30 days away from the 2020 presidential election, about 3 million votes have already been cast. So who is going to be the next president?

While nobody knows, but my next guest probably knows more about it than the rest of us. Nate Cohn, when we come back.



ZAKARIA: On Election Day 2016 the New York Times said Hillary Clinton had an 85 percent chance of being America's next president. That judgment was of course based on polling.

So I was struck by an article by the Times' Nate Cohn this week that said Joe Biden's current lead in the polls was so large it could withstand a polling error like the one in 2016 and he would still be elected.

I wanted to understand more about that and more about what effect, positive or negative, the president's bout with COVID may have.

So, Nate Cohn, welcome back to the show.

Let me first ask you about the most recent polls, where Biden's lead does seem to have expanded. Is that largely about the debate? People often say debates don't matter. Did this one matter?

NATE COHN, DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT FOR 'THE UPSHOT,' THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, there is a long history of debates having at least a short-term effect on the polls. And it's possible this debate will ultimately be seen in a similar light.

When we take a look at all of the polls that have been conducted since the first debate and take them in totality, I do think it suggests that Joe Biden's lead has maybe grown by a point or so compared to the polls that were taken immediately before the debate. Whether that lasts and whether that's overtaken by events is of course an entirely separate question at this point.

ZAKARIA: The interesting thing about your article is you point out the stability of Biden's lead. It makes me think that Trump actually was on to something when he realized Biden was his most fearsome opponent. I mean, that's why he -- he went -- that was why the Ukraine gambit happened.

And if you have the chart in the New York Times where you show, since 1996, the -- the lead that every candidate has had, and basically, if you look at the graph, the higher you are, the better. Biden's lead is higher than really anybody since Clinton's lead over Bob Dole. What does that tell you?

COHN: Well, we've had a deeply polarized era in American politics since 2000. And during that time elections have been close and they have been relatively stable, with really only a few fleeting moments when either party has been able to claim a relatively significant lead.

COHN: In this election we have seen something very different in one important respect. Joe Biden has been ahead by at least six points and probably more than that since June 1st. And at times he's flirted with even more significant leads than that, like the nine-point leads he held after the death of George Floyd in June.

The stability of the race is fairly typical of this more recent era of polarized elections in American politics. So the fact that we have both the stability of polarization but a wide Biden lead is really interesting and really important. And it may bode well for Joe Biden's ability to withstand any late surprises of the sort we've already had in just the first few days of this month.

ZAKARIA: So, in a sense, what you -- what you're saying is, if you take that and couple it with Trump's disapproval rating, which has also been fairly steady, that one way to read this poll is, ever since Trump was elected a majority of Americans did not approve of his performance, and while, for whatever reasons, they had not been willing to support Hillary Clinton, once they realized that Joe Biden was the alternative, a majority -- you know, a plurality said, "No, we'd rather have Biden than him."

And that's really -- you take all the noise out, that's the story?

COHN: It is totally possible that, when all of the votes are in and counted, Joe Biden will win this election decisively. And we'll look back over the last five years of polling, all the way from when Donald Trump first announced his presidential bid in June of 2015, and we'll say, "Donald Trump was never popular.

He was never even close to popular, in fact. He wasn't popular in 2016 and he was never popular as president. And he happened to win in a very unusual set of circumstances in 2016 in no small part because he faced the second least popular presidential candidate in history, only more popular than himself."

And of course that's in national polls where, you know, he did fail to win the most votes overall. And when the Democrats nominated a fairly boring generic candidate who called the lid at 9:00 a.m. every day and allowed his unpopular opponent to define the race, the Democrats were able to cruise to an easy victory.

That may not happen. But I think that's an entirely possible way that this will all play out at this point.

ZAKARIA: So as you point out, the national polls were right in 2016, roughly, right? But the state polls were not. State polls generally are not as sophisticated.

What gives you -- in order for you to have the -- the -- the thesis you have, do you have greater confidence in the state polls, particularly in the swing states, this time?

COHN: I do, on balance. I mean, it's important to note that, I mean, the polls can always be wrong. But in terms of what went wrong last time, I think there are good reasons to think that another polling misfire is less likely.


One reason is that the pollsters are taking more steps to represent less educated voters. The president fares really well among lest educated voters. And they have always been less likely to respond to telephone surveys.

In 2016 the national polls did adjust to make sure that they had the right number of less educated voters. For some arcane reasons the state polls generally didn't do that. This time the state polls are significantly less educated than last time, but they still show Joe Biden with a lead.

Second reason is that there are fewer undecided voters than last time. And I think the race really did change at the end of October in 2016 after the Jim Comey letter, after the presidential debate. And I think that that meant that there was a real shift that maybe we wouldn't expect to happen this time, given the stability of the race.

And the third reason is the national polls, though they do show Hillary Clinton -- rather, they do show Joe Biden leading this time, as they did at many points in 2016, Joe Biden's lead is bigger. And they also show him doing much better than Hillary Clinton among white voters without a degree. That's the voting bloc that got Donald Trump over the hump last time in the critical Midwestern battleground states where white voters without a degree represent nearly half or in some cases more than half of the electorate.

This time the national polls, which did have it right last time, they do not show Donald Trump running up the historic margin among that group that they showed last time.

ZAKARIA: All right. We have 30 seconds, Nate. Is there an October surprise that could change your mind?

COHN: I mean, I -- look, this election has been wild. We have had an unprecedented pandemic. The nation was shook by unrest. The president is in the hospital right now, and through it all, the race has been extremely stable.

So, you know, at this point, if the race changes, that -- you know, there is no way I can rule out the possibility that the race will still change at this stage. But based on what we've seen to this point, I'm taking a, you know, "I'll sort of believe it when I see it" sort of attitude.

ZAKARIA: Nate Cohn, always a pleasure to have you on.

COHN: Thanks for having me.

ZAKARIA: When we come back, COVID-19 and cities. Will they stay empty or can they come back? When we come back.



ZAKARIA: This week's book of the week is my brand-new book, "Ten Lessons For a Post-Pandemic World.

I've talked about it before, but this is the week of its launch. It goes on sale this Tuesday, but you can pre-order it right now.

One of the most noticeable aspects of COVID-19 is that it has cast a huge shadow on the world's great urban centers, where many of us live.

The novel coronavirus transformed global cities, emptying normally bustling streets and halting formerly crowded subways. People shuttered in place are scattered to the suburbs. And professionals ditched their shared office spaces in favor of a laptop and Zoom.

As the energy of the world's most dazzling cities was replaced by an eerie quiet, many asked, "Will people ever come back?"

My bet in the book is, yes, the pattern we are watching is familiar. For centuries denizens of cities have abandoned their urban homes in times of trouble, but they always return. They return and reinvent their cities.

During the worst plague in human history, people emptied out of the cities of northern Italy like Florence, but soon after, Italy's city- states, chief among them Florence, launched the Renaissance.

Cities have burned and flooded. They have faced disease and war, and time and time again, they have built back better, increasing health, safety and sustainability standards with each rebirth.

In a smart essay in The Atlantic, Derek Thompson writes that "Natural and Man-made catastrophes have shaped the world's cities throughout history."

The relentless epidemics raging through British cities during the Industrial Revolution, for example, gave rise to new ideas about the role of the state in ensuring public health, particularly when it came to waste and water management.

New York City's world-renowned underground subway system was innovated following the worst blizzard in U.S. history in the late 1800s, around the same time a fire decimated three Chicago city square miles in just three days. Determined that Chicago would rise again, the city's buildings were rebuilt to be taller and stronger. In fact, "Their unprecedented height," Thompson writes, "earned these structures a new name, skyscraper."

Leadership matters. The world's major cities should have been better prepared for this disaster of a pandemic. New York and London both bungled COVID-19 early on despite their vast resources. Those cities will have to make long overdue changes to rebound with future threats to our health and mind. They could look at Taipei and Seoul and Berlin as models.

Cities are especially susceptible to pandemics, but good public policy can make life safe in an epidemic.

We will need urban innovation because, by 2050, the U.N. estimates that more than two-thirds of human beings will live in cities. After all, a 2018 Brookings study found the world's 300 biggest metropolitan areas produced two-thirds of all global GDP growth.

Cities have always been and will continue to be centers of innovation and ideas and diversity. Human connection, after all, is essential to all of this.

As I write in my book, "Humans create cities and cities make humans. These are two sides of the same coin. The reason our cities grow and endure even when faced with calamities is because most of us are naturally drawn to participation, collaboration and competition."

"Rationalizations for city living vary: work, companionship, entertainment, culture, or all of the above.


But beneath those outward reasons lie deep urges toward social interaction. COVID-19 will not short-circuit this hardwiring. In fact, the isolation of the lockdowns might have the opposite effect, reminding humans of that simple but profound insight, by nature we are social animals."

For more on this dynamic between humans and their environment and for nine other post-pandemic lessons, buy my book. Go to for more information.

And thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.