Steve Schmidt served as a political strategist for George W. Bush and the John McCain presidential campaign. He is a political analyst for MSNBC and NBC News.
Schmidt’s candid, full interview was conducted with FRONTLINE during the making of the two-part January 2020 documentary series “America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump.”
Watch Part One here: https://youtu.be/SnMBYMOTwEs
And Part Two here: https://youtu.be/l5vyDPN19ww
50:57And so when you see Donald Trump and you see the servility of the coequal branch of government,51:05the absolute unwillingness to confront him, to confront his excesses, his dishonesty, his degradations of the office,51:14his attacks on the institutions, is an utter, complete, total abdication of a responsibility and duty that’s historic.51:26… The “zero tolerance” policy, the family separation issue, you’ve written a little bit about this, I think.51:34What’s at stake here?51:37I think you sort of pointed to the fact that this was an important point to understand,51:42that Trump basically owned the GOP at this point.51:45Explain—explain what you’re thinking.51:46This is a question of national honor.51:49The United States of America should not separate mothers and children51:55and lock the children into cages, into detention facilities.52:00Should not.52:02And it recalls the worst excesses in American history: the separation of African American mothers and children52:11during slavery; the separation of mothers and children who were Native Americans.52:20We have had great injustice in the country,52:26but the greatness of the country is the ability to make great progress combating it.52:31It’s wrong.52:32When you see a government official with an American flag on their shoulder committing that act, it’s disgraceful,52:45it’s dishonorable, it’s cruel, and it’s inhumane.52:51But we have become desensitized in this era of Trump to cruelty, to inhumanity, to indecency, to dishonesty,53:03to all of our great detriment.53:06Why did you leave the party?53:08Because the Republican Party—well, I’ll say this.53:14I think the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are both broken institutions, the Republican Party more so.53:24But while broken, they also are two of the most important institutions in world history53:32for the advancement of human dignity and freedom despite all of their flaws.53:38For me, I could no longer be a member of a political party that was so corrupted by Donald Trump53:47that he consumed lock, stock and barrel, and the leadership of the political party fundamentally capitulated to him.53:59The Republican Party’s not a conservative party anymore.54:02It’s a party that’s populist, that’s nonsensical at times, that’s illiberal a lot of the time.54:12And all of the things that I’ve believed in and have steadily believed in, I still believe in,54:20but that institution is no longer the vessel for them.54:25… The 2018 midterm elections.54:28So Trump uses the [Brett] Kavanaugh story and immigration as a way to excite the voters.54:37The media, Fox, stokes it, supports it totally.54:46There are a lot of lies that are told about exactly what’s going on.54:50What’s—what’s the result?54:53As a man who believes in the system and in politics and the way it needs to—how campaigns are run,55:01what was your view of what was taking place?55:04Well, there was only one issue in the 2018 election.55:07It wasn’t immigration; it wasn’t Brett Kavanaugh.55:10It was Donald Trump.55:11And the question before the nation in 2018 was, are we going to put a check on Donald Trump and the party of Trump?55:19And the answer to that question was a decisive yes.55:23And part of that decisive yes were millions and millions of Republican voters55:28who voted Democratic for the first time in their lives.55:31Right.55:32This election was also fascinating in the Democratic Party because there was a split within the Democratic Party as well.55:37And you’ve got progressives like AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and others who are—55:44who rise up and are elected and become very important voices and define the divide within the Democratic Party.55:52What’s going on within the Democratic Party, and in the end, how does it—how does it play out from your perspective?56:00Well, you’re seeing a rising extreme in the Democratic Party that is the mirror opposite56:10And I think Democrats make a big mistake if they answer Trumpism with dishonest progressivism.56:16If you go out and say that we’re going to give everybody free health care, free education;56:22give everybody reparations; … we can go and spend hundreds and hundreds of trillions of dollars—this is all fantasy.56:30And in a political contest dominated by dishonesty and fantasy—56:35and I would suggest that competing against Donald Trump is the equivalent of running a foot race against Usain Bolt.56:42Not going to win a dishonesty contest with Donald Trump.56:45And so in this moment, what Democrats, in my view, should be focused on is the assemblage of a grand coalition56:55that is fidelitous to small “L” liberalism, to our democratic values,57:01that Americans of all different types of political persuasion can come into and feel at home in.57:09The progressive agenda represented by AOC, a, won’t pass; b, doesn’t have a national constituency;57:21and c, could well be the reason that we see a second term for President Donald Trump.57:27You think that’s a real possibility?57:29Sure do.57:29Trump’s rhetoric has been blamed for rising tensions, white supremacists sort of being more blatant in their demands57:41and their marches and such, and it is tied directly to the El Paso massacre.57:47What is your overview on the power of rhetoric and the repetition of that rhetoric, especially if it’s based on falsities?57:58Well, Trump has debased his office; he’s debased the culture; he’s debased our political conversation,58:06and he’s done it thousands and thousands and thousands of times over the last three years.58:11He’s a racist; he’s a race baiter; he has worsened racial divisions in this country.58:18He has energized the white supremacist movement in the country,58:22and we know that’s true because the white supremacists thank him openly for doing so.58:29Now, we see a president who divides, who stokes, who incites, who appeals in almost every instance58:40not to the better angels but to the worst impulses,58:43the worst instincts and the basest, darkest aspects of American history and American life.58:51And what does this mean long term for your GOP, your party that you used to belong to?58:58Well, the Republican Party will be completely transformed, probably fatally, by its contact with Donald Trump.59:08And that may play out over five years, over 10 years.59:13But when you look at the demographics in the country, there will always be a market for a conservative message.59:21But Trumpism is cancerous, and everything it touches will ultimately be consumed by it.59:30But far more important than the effect of the Republican Party is the effect on the country.59:38It weakens American democracy.59:42And I think it’s also important to understand that the Democratic Party will not remain untouched by Trumpism also.59:52How so?59:53Well, if crudity, if meanness, if vulgarity, if inhumanity become mainstreamed,60:02if the lesson of this generation of progressive politicians is to be like Trump but with different policies,60:11then the Democratic Party will be consumed by it as the Republican Party has.60:16The—both sides coming up to the upcoming elections warn about apocalypse.60:26The consequences if the other side wins are just unfathomable.60:32Is this the new norm?60:35Each election has always been the most important election in American history,60:41and the men and women running for president have always made it clear that their candidacy represents60:48the decisive moment and the last chance to avoid the apocalypse.60:56It may be true in this election.60:58This country will be changed in ways that will be difficult to unmake if Donald Trump gets a second term. …61:10Donald Trump is cruel, vile; he’s debased his office; he’s incompetent.61:17But it’s a mistake to dismiss him as inconsequential.61:21We are at the end of the long life spans of the people who stormed the beaches in Normandy,61:28who survived the death camps.61:30And what Franklin Roosevelt’s goal when he envisioned the world that we live in today,61:35when he architected the post-World War II U.S.-led liberal global order that was maintained61:43from President Truman through President Obama, his aspiration wasn’t that it would endure forever.61:51What he said is he wanted it to endure so long as every person61:57who was living in the country during the war was alive on the earth.62:04We’re at the end of that era.62:06And we see Donald Trump unraveling that U.S.-led liberal global order.62:13We see a regression of democracy all over the world.62:17We have an illiberal president who assaults our institutions, our values, our democracy, who debases our culture.62:29Another term for Donald Trump will validate his election; it will validate his behavior.62:36He will be unchecked, and the damage will be much, much harder to undo if it can ever be undone.62:44So we’ve talked about two presidents that were change candidates,62:51that the public turned to because they were so angry with the status quo in Washington and in the country.62:59What did we learn from that, and where do we go from here?63:07Another change candidate but in another direction?63:12I mean, as [David] Axelrod says, you always go to the opposite on the next election63:19because the people are tired of what the last guy did.63:22What’s your take on American politics and where we go from here?63:29The Democratic Party’s obligation in this election is to produce a political leader who can defeat Donald Trump63:40and to defeat Trumpism, not to defeat Trump by being a mirror of Trump, but to assemble a coalition63:49that can inspire the nation to move past this depraved era63:54and to face the challenges that the country has to face full-on, head-on.64:00And so when we look at the Democratic Party right now, it’s no accident that Trump is labeling Democrats,64:07and some of those Democratic politicians are making it easy for them when he calls them socialists,64:12because Trump understands this: In America, the socialist loses to a sociopath in every election,64:21every day of the week, and twice on Sunday.64:25I just have one question about Trump’s use of social media.64:30Some have said he’s the first politician to ever do that,64:34but it seems that Sarah Palin was really pretty instrumental in using Facebook as a way to reach her audience.64:39Can you just connect those two ideas?64:42Well, I don’t—look, I don’t think they’re analogous.64:51IPhones were invented in 2007, so the ubiquity of social media, the portability of social media, the instant nature65:03of social media is something that didn’t exist in 2008 but certainly does now, and he uses it to great effect.65:12… One other small thing is the use of divisive issues that he—that he falls back on, like the NFL.65:24How powerful is that, and why does he do it?65:30Well, Trump understands—Trump understands the power of symbols,65:38and he understands the emotional resonance of those symbols to millions and millions of Americans.65:46And so he is a—he is a very talented demagogue.65:55He is a very skilled liar.65:59He is an excellent communicator, and he speaks in a language that people can relate to and that people can understand.66:10That’s an important thing for his political opponents to understand also.66:14And this immigration issue, which is so central to—I mean, does it remain central in the upcoming elections?66:22I mean, why?66:24Does the potency wear off at some point?66:28Well, what you’re seeing now is a reciprocal extremism from a lot of the Democrats.66:34Now you watch the Democratic debates, it’s fair to ask, well, do you believe there should be a border at all?66:41And so most Americans, overwhelmingly, Republicans and Democrats, believe yes, there ought to be a sovereign border.66:50We should know who’s in the country.66:52And so there’s no constituency for the most extreme positions that you’re seeing on the Democratic side.66:59Trump understands that.67:01And so we have an immigration debate that’s not just venal; it’s completely detached from reality.67:08When the debate is we’re talking about Mexican-built walls,67:12we are sending military to the border in publicity-stunt exercises as if there was a Panzer division67:20about to break through the southern border en route to Washington.67:24It’s a theater of the absurd playing out as opposed to an issue that needs to be reckoned with67:31and dealt with in a humane, responsible and commonsensical way.
63:45which this with this Chetty study has63:47established which I won’t belabor63:49likewise lack of mobility as such is63:53strongly related to lack of social63:55mobility if you’re between 18 and 34 in63:56the United States you are you are most63:59likely living with your parents it’s64:02more likely than any other arrangement64:04which means that literally you have not64:06moved right lack of geographical64:08mobility like worsening health like64:11shortening lifespans like lack of social64:14mobility works against a sense of time64:17which allows you to think that time is64:19moving forward right and so the time64:22escapes start to change now how does64:24this work in politics in politics it can64:29be it can be you can be channeled moved64:31incorporated exploited however you64:34prefer by politicians who talk in terms64:37of a different time scape so for example64:40make America great again is a time scape64:42which doesn’t refer to a better future64:44it’s a time scape which loops back to an64:46unnamed and mythical past right so now64:49there are studies now about what make64:51America great again means for Americans64:53for example Taylor at all in the Journal64:55of applied research and memory cognition64:57finds not surprisingly that Americans65:00define the moment when America was great65:02in the past as the moment when they were65:03young right65:08which is funny but I think it’s also65:14politically very significant because it65:16refers us to a certain political style65:18which I’m going to call the politics of65:19eternity or the government as being65:21rather than than doing because one of65:24the things about youth is that65:26government can’t give it back to you65:28right I mean whether wherever we are on65:31the span of like how much government65:33should do not do can we will generally65:35agree that government cannot in fact65:37make you young again right so this is65:40funny but it’s also revealing because65:43the pot what I’m gonna call the politics65:45of eternity the politics of cycling back65:47to the past rather than imagining of65:49future is precisely about defining65:52political problems in fictional terms65:54and therefore in irresolvable terms so65:58if what you want out of politics is to66:00be young again you might keep voting for66:02that promise but government is not going66:05to give it for you and can’t I will nowgive you a more serious example one ofthe things which distinguishes whitetrump voters from white Clinton votersis that a significant majority of whiteTrump voters in a very small minority ofwhite Clinton voters it’s an interestingdifference a significant majority ofwhite Trump voters believe that White’sface greater racial discrimination inthe United States than blacks do nowthat is interesting but it’s alsointeresting politically because that’s afictional problem if you are white andyou believe that your problem is thatyou face Greater racism then blackpeople do again that is not a problemthat government can solve right it’s anin it’s an because it’s a fictionalproblem now I’m trying this is not meantto be funny it’s meant to define adifferent political style a Timescape inwhich government doesn’t promise you abetter future but instead regularly in acyclical way mentions the things whichirritate you which are important to youwhich cannot be solved the politics ofdoing rather than being if that seemsimaginary consider the first year of theTrump administration there is nolegislation which is going to make anyof these kinds of voters it’s not goingto speak to what we would regard astheir interests or even to an ideologyrightum the two major initiatives are takehealth insurance away from people whichis precisely interesting because it’speople who needed the health insurancemost who were the swing group whichbrought him into office right that’s thefirst one and the second one is taxregression rightthe second major policy initiative histax regression precisely taking incomeaway from poor people and giving it toricher people that’s it in the landscapeof the first year those are the only twothings neither of those things can bethought of as creating a future rightthose things if anything only makes onlymake matters only make matters as onemight see it worse so where does thiswhere does this lead us to the firstthing is I’m gonna referring to to wherereception Dvorsky ended up it may not bethat the thing we have to worry about iswhether mr. Trump will fail I mean Idon’t think he’s actually after successin the normal liberal sense of the wordI think he’s after failure I don’t thinkthey intend to make policy which makeslife better for their constituents Ithink they’re moving very consciouslytowards a different kind of policy um Ithink it’s a mistaketherefore to refer to this as populismbecause in American tradition anywaypopulism means you’re against the elitesbut you still imagine the government isgoing to do something for you I thinkwe’re in a different territory I thinkwe’re in something which is moreaccurately characterized as Sadopopulismwhere you you are against theelites right but you don’t expectgovernment to do anything for you infact you kind of want government not todo anything because that reinforces yourbeliefs about the way the world works sowhere does this lead us this is my finalword where does this lead us on thequestion of of comparison right so whatI worry with when when people say wellit’s it doesn’t line up well to theinterwar cases there are differencebetween US and Nazi Germany what I were69:06with is about that is the implicit69:08conclusion that therefore everything’s69:10a-okay right everything’s not a okay69:12just because it’s not February 1933 and69:15thoughts of Germany I think the way to69:17understand the comparisons is more as a69:20source of normative69:22action right I’m not gonna make that69:24case now because it’s the case I made in69:25the book on tyranny it’s not that where69:27we are now is going to inevitably lead69:29to czechoslovakia 1948 or you know69:32germany in 1933 it’s that those regime69:35changes or the witnesses to those regime69:37changes give us useful and timely advice69:39about how to head off regime changes in69:42in rule of law states I think the69:44comparisons are most useful in that way69:46most useful is a general guideline that69:49globalization’s can crash69:51most of our comparisons are about the69:53first globalization crash we’re now in69:54the middle we’re now in the middle of69:56number two what I think is that we can69:59move away from democracy we can learn70:02away we can learn from other people70:04while we’re doing didn’t try to resist70:06it even though where we’re going is70:08going to be somewhat different I mean as70:09for me where I think we’re going or70:11where we seem to be going is is70:12something like you know oligarchy with70:14just enough fascism to get by as a kind70:17of lubricant and and the and the way70:21this would look would be not so much the70:23creation of something new but just the70:25dissolution of what we have right and70:27not I completely agree with the point70:30not mobilization but demobilization are70:33only very occasional mobilization like70:36very occasional marches very occasional70:38violence but mostly the mobilization at70:40atomization and what’s worrying about70:42that is that then you know implicitly70:45the people who in some of these70:46presentations were counted on to come70:47save us right the economic elites70:49whoever they are that the economic70:52elites can be on the same side that you70:54you can be an economic elite and you can70:56think in you know environment Germany70:58you can be the economic or in Italy you70:59can be the economic elites and you can71:00think rightly or wrong you can think71:02wrongly we can outwit these guys maybe71:05in America you’re the economic elites71:07and you think correctly you can outwit71:10these guys but the outcome still isn’t71:12democracy right if you continue to have71:15the kinds of drift that we’re having71:16with the outcome still to democracy it71:18might not be anything that has another71:19dramatic name but it’s not necessarily71:21democracy so the the point that I’m71:24trying to make is that we’re at this71:26historical moment in the sense that not71:28just that great things are at stake and71:30that in that in the actions and71:31Institute71:32that we take now make a lot of71:33difference but also historical in the71:34sunset the way people are thinking about71:36time is changing I mean if that tips if71:41that if we tip from one way of thinking71:42about time to another if I’m right that71:44there is such a tipping point then we’re71:46closer to dramatic change than other71:48kinds of indicators might suggest okay71:51thanks thank you for those amazing72:02presentations I think that probably we72:05could re title this whole conference how72:07scared should we be and this panel in72:11particular you know sort of how72:12terrified should we be and I think the72:14reason we’re seeing a lot of answers to72:17that question that kind of vary across72:18the spectrum from you know completely72:20terrified to only mildly concerned is72:23that we really don’t know I mean who72:25knows you know that’s sort of the point72:27no one knows how history is going to72:29unfold we’ve certainly been surprised by72:31it in the last year and not just in the72:34last year so the answer to the question72:37is not is not no and I like to tell my72:39students you know I asked them a72:40question I say that’s a real question72:42not a professor question you know we we72:45really don’t know and so if you’re like72:47me at all you you go back and forth in72:49your own mind over even over the course72:51of the day I wake up in the morning and72:52I think oh you know it’s gonna be okay72:54and then by you know 3:00 in the72:56afternoon I want to crawl under a pillow72:57and just you know be one of these actors73:00who’s stayed away from Rome for the73:02whole whistling period so so we have we73:07do have kind of a range of responses and73:10one of the inspirations for bright-line73:12watch is that you know you look for73:14signs of what is going to happen and the73:16last thing you want to do is see the73:18sign in the rear view mirror we don’t73:20want to be treating in retrospect at the73:23signs we don’t want to say well it73:24really was the moment when Judge Garland73:27didn’t get a chance to be confirmed or73:29it was the moment when you know fill in73:31the blank when things really became73:33irreversible and and democracy died or73:36became severely eroded in the United73:39States in a way that would be very very73:40difficult to recuperate over any73:43meaningful time period so73:46I have some some questions I remember73:49that you folks are writing down73:51questions and filtering them to headman73:53who’s standing over to the side we have73:55a few questions I like a two-door I’m73:57going to take some moderator prerogative74:01enact ask a few questions but I’m74:03mindful of not taking too much time74:05because I know that there will be more74:06questions from the audience and that74:07these were highly provocative and74:09interesting presentations so just just a74:12few questions for Nancy you and there74:19the concept of distancing which which I74:23took to mean and I’ve taken from your74:24early earlier work to mean that even if74:27my ally even if the person who I’m a74:30elite political actor and someone who74:33I’m in alliance with violates a critical74:36norm or constitutional feature I will74:42join the effort to punish that actor but74:46I’m thinking about another kind of not74:48distancing but let’s call it74:49constitutional action and I’ve I’m74:52thinking about this in part because74:54seeing our tutor this morning thinking74:56about his fascinating retrospective74:58considerations of what happened in Chile75:00there were moments in the sort of75:02slow-moving debacle of Chilean politics75:06where it went from being a long-standing75:07democracy to being a coup and a military75:11dictatorship that lasted for 17 years75:13and was extremely repressive and harsh75:16there there’s the sense of you know75:19moments when say the Christian Democrats75:21might have said it’s good for us if this75:24happens but it’s really it’s a it’s a75:26danger for Chilean democracy so that’s a75:29slightly different concept I think75:30that’s putting the long-term health and75:34viability of the constitutional order75:36ahead of immediate partisan advantage75:40and I wonder whether in the cases you75:43examined and more to the point in75:47American politics today you see room for75:49those kinds of moments of constitutional75:51action on it your presentation makes me75:56think that Trump is Fidesz and piece75:58right that we’re sort of we you walk76:02through the actions that those76:05governments amazingly parallel kind of76:07template’s as you described them and it76:10makes me think that we’re sort of only76:11halfway there so the courts are76:14politicized well you know Melania is not76:17making judicial appointments yes or I76:19guess it the real equivalent would be76:21mrs. pence so the media in the United76:26States is harassed but there aren’t76:28really formal constraints that have been76:30imposed for the most part yet76:33and the question then is again this this76:36issue of what are the signposts and when76:38do you see them in in Hungary and Poland76:422010-2015 was it predictable were there76:45you know forward-looking intellectuals76:48journalists concerned citizens who saw76:50these things coming or or were they76:53really surprises questions for sort of76:58this is sort of Susan and Tim but well77:02Susan mostly I it’s it’s you both raised77:07in your presentations the very important77:09point that what we are observing is77:11taking is unfolding in an international77:13context and what we do influence is what77:16other democracies do and likewise what77:19they do influence is what we do and I77:21guess I’m looking for any hope in that77:26so instances in which we might learn or77:29be or be forewarned or take actions77:34drawing on international contemporary77:36international events that that might77:39help with the situation here there were77:41I recall with the French election there77:43was some speculation that it didn’t help77:45lepen to have a Trump out there that77:48perhaps that gave that gave some french77:50voters pause Daniel you it was77:55interested in the so the the sort of77:59problems of lines being crossed of norms78:02being violated and the examples you gave78:05were pretty much on the Republican side78:07and I so our colleague Jacob hacker has78:12written a lot about asymmetric78:13polarization I wonder if you think this78:16is an asymmetric problem or if they’re78:18symmetric more along the lines of what78:20team or Quran was talking about this78:22morning if there’s a kind of symmetrical78:24equilibrium that we’ve that was sort of78:26a bad equilibrium that we’ve entered78:28into Tim I am it’s mind-blowing to think78:35about the you know the sort of social78:38construction of our sense of time and78:41and and how that influences politics on78:44the other hand I’m very struck by you78:46know the make America great again78:48narrative so that means he you know the78:52the the the slogan is collectively sort78:54of doing what you say we do as78:56individuals thinking that there’s a you78:58know there’s an adolescence or a teenage78:59period of early 20s sort of in in our in79:02our national so I’m equivalent to that79:04in our national history that is a moment79:06we want to get back to and that strikes79:09me as setting up setting the government79:13up for the setting Trump up for you know79:16greatly disappointing his constituents79:18for some of the reasons act reasons you79:20gave and although I take what you say79:23that perhaps you know the the the goal79:26is not success on the Ute and the usual79:29metrics that politicians use such as79:32high popularity when the next election79:34comes around in re-election so those are79:38some questions maybe we could just get79:39to them while while people in the79:41audience are filtering out any other79:43written questions that you want to have79:44a so yeah I I’m delighted that you asked79:49this question about distancing in the US79:52and whether there could possibly be a79:55different kind of distancing here79:57because I I was struggling with that way79:59myself as I was writing this the kind of80:02distancing that we saw in interwar80:04Europe where political elites were80:07facing fascist parties were engaging in80:09violence gave them a less ambiguous80:12signal than we’re getting80:14here you know if mobs are killing people80:17you know that wrong has been done if80:20you’re talking about violations of80:23constitutional principles or norms that80:26fight is is much much more ambiguous and80:30so distancing under those circumstances80:32is much harder and so frankly I’m still80:37grappling with the idea that how that80:40concept can be transferred to this kind80:44of system but there’s no doubt that80:47battles over the constitutional norms in80:50the courts would be a place to start80:53that would be an arena for distancing80:55but it’s going to be much harder here80:57except that I am assuming that money81:02still has a huge amount of importance81:07universe politics and that if you if if81:11the most dynamic sectors of our economy81:13can get behind some sort of distancing81:16and realize that they don’t need the81:18nationalism especially or the xenophobia81:21that’s embodied in the particular kind81:23of challenge we have which doesn’t81:25involve actual killing yeah81:27then I think that that it is still81:30possible but that the battles may take81:33place in the court and that’s part of a81:38historical continuity but not completely81:42so it was was what happened in Poland81:45and Hungary predictable um it was I mean81:47this is you know – this is basically the81:48death of a democratic there’s a81:51chronicle the Democratic Death Foretold81:53um and it was predictable because you81:55know the leaders were very clear on this81:56right they wanted not just to remake81:57policies but to remake the institutions81:59of polish and Hungarian democracy to82:01better serve national interests right82:03this was very much you know making82:04Poland and Hungary great again secondly82:06there was precedent right the82:08institution’s had not been impervious to82:10this before there’s been put the82:11polarization of the judiciary in the82:12past there was a previous attacks on the82:15media this was just a much more82:16concerted effort um and third I think82:18will response important was that these82:19are parliamentary systems and in times82:22past these fairly fragile governing82:24coalition’s I will kept these parties82:25from fully exercising their Prague82:27and now in the absence of either in82:29opposition or coalition partners they82:31were able to do exactly what he said82:33they would so serious question for me82:41was what basically what’s the hope from82:43thinking about this isn’t international82:45events both u.s. you deserve in other82:49countries in that other countries are82:50affecting the US and that was a very82:52difficult question I have lots of things82:54that I might say I mean one thing to82:56just note is part something that I don’t82:58think isn’t a viewpoint that’s it’s82:59going to be presented much at the83:00conference which is sort of Mia culpa83:03from some of the IR scholars with who83:05are really promoting open economy83:08politics Pro globalization stuff which83:11is just that you know the the embedded83:13liberal liberal liberal compromise that83:15we knew about and we have known about83:16for a very long time was not83:18successfully implemented in the US and83:20that that both economically and83:22culturally maybe maybe a fault and is83:25maybe something that policies83:26prescriptions could deal with right83:28their policy that others have have83:31potentially thought about I guess the83:33other thing that is not really hopeful83:35but I think something that I skipped83:37over in my remarks because I was 1083:39which has just said when I very much83:42interested in how countries react to83:45international pressure to look and act a83:47certain way right and so some autocratic83:49posturing that I think we are seeing now83:51might be for short term sort of applause83:55and political gain rather than like it83:57might some of it might sound worse than83:59it actually is which is not really that84:01hopeful but I do think that there are84:04incentives that that some leaders that84:06we see throughout the world to act you84:10know more more totalitarian more fascist84:13more you know they sort of take these84:15these dances that are that are quite84:16extreme because they know they will get84:18attention for taking those those dance84:21which is not entirely good news but I84:23think can be interpreted as something84:25that is maybe slightly less nefarious84:28and the extremely clever long-term long84:31game autocrats that it’s referencing who84:32are able to abide by the rules of the84:35game up right up until the moment in84:37which they they break with them right so84:39I think that that is a long term in the84:41long term I’m more worried about that84:42sort of strategy rather than the sort of84:45splashy head like grab bean you know84:47attacks in the media and that’s not sort84:50of thing which are consequential but I84:51think not quite as nefarious as some of84:53the other strategies that one could84:54imagine and that are harder to observe84:56unhappy yeah so two thoughts one85:00directly on your question on the85:01asymmetric polarization no I I mean I85:03think that the record shows that it85:04began on the right you know and you know85:07people often date this the Gingrich85:09revolution and kind of change tactics in85:11Congress and Orrin Mann and Ornstein and85:13the work on the US Congress have kind of85:16shown this but it you know it’s not it’s85:18not only Republicans who are vulnerable85:20to this I mean Harry Reid’s use of the85:21filibuster in the early 2000s against85:24Bush I mean this is clearly another85:25instance of this and that I guess that’s85:27what’s dangerous is that is that it mate85:29you know it doesn’t at some level you85:30know begins on one side but then when it85:32escalates and it becomes a kind of85:34spiral that’s exactly exactly the85:36dangerous scenario even the dilemma of85:38course is you know we should stay85:40high-minded and continue act with four85:42born before Barents in the face of85:43somebody who’s not I mean it’s like85:45going into a box you mean with one one85:47hand tied behind your back does that85:48really make sense and I guess my thought85:50on that is that as long as there are85:52Democratic channels still available85:53that’s the way to go I mean you know85:55this is the right answer but that’s85:57that’s that’s kind of how I think about85:59it I just wanted to say something also86:00on the distancing and learning because I86:02think there is actually something that86:03can be learned about other cases of dis86:05distancing and just you know just86:06recently in the last two years I mean86:08what’s striking about the Austrian86:10elections last year of presidential86:11elections and the French presidential86:12elections in both cases in the Austrian86:15case the Catholics didn’t make it to the86:17second round and they and a lot of86:19Catholic politicians endorsed the Green86:21Party candidate for president in France86:23fiown and endorsed that you know the86:26right86:26– right candidate endorsed McCrone86:28rather than lepen and so both cases86:30there’s instances of distancing kind of86:33on the right – against the far right and86:37so we can learn from that and I think86:38one of the interesting things is why in86:40these countries this has happened the86:41waters in the US this hasn’t happened86:43and I think part of the reason is in a86:45in a multi-party system in Austria and a86:48two tiers you know with a runoff system86:50and in France there’s a history of this86:51and in both instances people were in86:53Austria they refer back to Kurt Waldheim86:55and say well you know we have learned86:56from this in France there’s the86:58experience of father lepen and dealing87:00with father lepen and so I think you87:02know if the idea is that you know the87:03u.s. we just didn’t have we haven’t had87:04experience with this and there’s87:06possibility for learning and this is87:08kind of where you know human action87:09actually can make a difference so people87:10could learn from we can learn from our87:12mistakes and my guess is next time87:14around you know hopefully people learned87:17something right so there’s something I87:18learned from other cases as well okay so87:24there were the the question about any87:27hopeful things internationally and then87:29the idea of making America great again87:31it cannot lead to disappointment so87:33internationally I’m just gonna take a87:35step back and make the point that I87:36think the winning the Cold War both the87:40idea and the fact has turned out to be87:42very poison chalice for us so the idea87:45that therefore there were no87:46alternatives87:47I think stultified our political debate87:49precisely about alternatives and made87:51inequality much worse in this country in87:54the last quarter century and the reality87:56of the end of the Cold War was also bad87:57for us because one of the reasons we had87:59civil rights in the welfare state was to88:01compete with not so much with the88:03Soviets but to respond to their88:04propaganda and without that challenge we88:06drifted in another direction so that’s88:09just I mean that’s just by way of making88:11oneself conscious so that one can learn88:13things well could we have learned I mean88:15the book that I’m that I’m finishing now88:17is about this it’s about the last five88:19or six years not starting from us but88:21starting from Russia with the idea that88:23most of the things which happened here88:25which seem surprising to us are just88:27more sophisticated versions of things88:28which happened in other countries which88:30we didn’t recognize at the time so I88:33mean here I’m 5050 there are a lot of88:35things we could have learned for88:36Russia and Ukraine between 2011 and 201588:39but we didn’t learn any of them um88:42and the consequence was that in 2016 in88:44my world at least it was the Russians88:46and Ukrainians who were jumping up and88:48down saying you know Trump is possible88:50this is how it works in other people’s88:51worlds it would be the African Americans88:53but there are plenty of segments of the88:55pocket or the renegade Midwesterners88:57right there were various demographics88:58who said Trump was gonna win but the89:00Russians and Ukrainians said he was89:01gonna win and they had a reason89:02no um people there are people there are89:05positive exceptions like Peter89:06pomerantsev in his book nothing is true89:08but everything is possible which is you89:10know on its surface a book about the89:12media in Russia ends that book which89:15concludes in 2014 ends that book by89:17forecasting that that combination of89:20media unreality and political89:22authoritarianism is going to come to the89:24UK and to United States and then there’s89:27brexit and then there’s and then there’s89:28Trump so and then there are people like89:30pet rock Rocco in Hungary you know who89:32runs political capital who does who do89:34Studies on directed unreality right89:37foreign projections of unreality in the89:39Czech Republic and Slovakia and those89:41things are useful for us to read because89:43the things that were happening gotten89:46further in the Czech Republic and89:47Slovakia and Hungary then here89:50nevertheless started to turn up here in89:522050 so yeah I mean analytically we can89:54definitely learn from others and of89:55course civil resistance is something89:57that we can learn from other people89:58right we can swallow our pride and89:59realize that there’s been a lot of90:01successful civil resistance movements in90:03other countries and that the social90:05science on civil resistance is actually90:06very mature the second point on whethersome of these some of these voters willbe disappointed because they imagine abetter world in the past and they’re notgoing to get it I don’t think so andI’ll tell you why I think I mean therethere will be Republican voters will bedisappointed with Trump but that’s adifferent set of Republican voters thereare two sets of Republican voters thereare the ones who own house doesn’t havemoney in the stock market and are theones who don’t own houses that don’thave money in the stock market the oneswho own houses are gonna be disappointedwhen the stock market crashes and that’snot gonna have anything to do with thesenarratives that I’m talking aboutand I don’t treat them as the criticalbloc of voters because they went forRomney – right they did they didn’tchange anything but these folks the ninemillion people who voted for Obama andthenfor Trump or the people whose health isgetting worse but voted for Trump thepeople in Michigan Wisconsin WestVirginia Ohio Pennsylvania who swung theelectionthese folks I don’t think can bedisappointed in that way that that’s mypoint you know it’s you want to be youngagain but you know at some level you’renot going to be young again you’d likethe person who tells you look great butyou know at some level it’s not trueright and that’s how that no look foryou it’s true you’re like 15 but but Imean the general right you know it’s nottrue and that’s how this kind ofpolitics works it’s not by the deliveryof goods it’s by the regular delivery ofaffirmation as against someone elsewe’re where white Republicans become inpolitical science terms the slope theidentitarian subalterns who areexpecting to own the state but what theyonly expect from the state is that theyown itthat’s it they’re not expecting thatit’s going to do anything for them theother thing I want to say about makingAmerica great again that links back tothe other point is that the make Americagreat again does have a specifichistorical referent not for us for usit’s about being young again that formr. Trump it’s about the 1930s or the1920s it is a it’s a revision of the1930s as being a time where we didn’thave a welfare state and where we didn’tgo to war against Nazi Germany rightthat’s what America first means Americafirst is Deutschland uber alles inEnglish America first means we have morein common with Nazis than divides us andthere is you know the fact they did theycommemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day bysaying other people suffer besides theJews which is like commemorating thefourth of July by talking about Frenchindependence I mean it’s true that thereare like other possible references inhistory but like the holiday is for oneof them and there are a number of otherexamples of this how they’re trying toundo a certain American myth and what itcomes down to is that we used to thinkthe 1930s were a bad time to be learnedfrom and now we’re being instructed notjust in America this is international inRussia Poland Hungary and alsoimplicitly by the fullness and islandFrance said by the brexit movement inBritain we are we were being instructedthe 1930s were a good time to which towhich we should loop backI have some questions so this is aquestion for Susan Hyde and Anna G Bwhile the EU is powerless not able and93:01willing to move effectively against93:03democratic erosion how successful have93:06other regional organizations around the93:07world been to fight forms of democratic93:09erosion eg Mercosur a you just one93:19question at a time uh yeah I think so I93:21think we will see how far behind we get93:24on that yeah yeah I mean the so there93:26there’s some empirical work on this that93:28other people have done and and you know93:29it’s very hard to separate from the93:31international environment entirely right93:33so I don’t know who I should but93:36basically I I think that the the93:40European Union and other regional93:43organizations most of which in the world93:45have a stated preference to support93:47democracy have some ability to do93:50something right now right I mean there’s93:51no reason why the US needs to be the93:53only country that is willing to stand in93:56defense of democracy and and93:57increasingly I think others are stepping93:59into that role what can they do you know94:03not much but a little they can they can94:07sort of make clear that this is a value94:10that the groups of countries definitely94:12support I don’t know that they can do94:15anything for the u.s. specifically the94:17case that were most concerned with today94:19but in smaller countries they certainly94:20have made it clear that Jews are94:25unacceptable for example this is already94:27one of the biggest moments we’ve seen in94:28recent memory on this front is that most94:32countries that have coos many of them94:35have been pro-democracy coos right that94:37they’re not against democratically94:39elected leaders they’re against94:40basically authoritarian leaders we’ve94:42seen a few of these but even those have94:45been on pretty strict timelines for94:46democratic elections following those so94:48you know we’ll see I’m not super94:51optimistic that they’re the saviors of94:53us democracies certainly and I would say94:56that knew the EU shizuka-san was94:57familiar with isn’t captain some ways94:59responsible for the rights of the95:00populace right because and they run up95:02to you accession in 2004 there’s95:03basically this elite consensus among all95:05mainstream parties that the EU was this95:07fantastic good that premarket was95:09wonderful and free trade and everything95:10else have went together as a wonderful95:12package and the only parties that95:14criticizes consensus or the populist who95:16at the time we’re getting you know five95:18percent of the vote and it’s after the95:19accession when it becomes apparent that95:21neo maybe this there was some room more95:23for criticism95:24it’s the populace who make hay out of95:25every single95:27some deleterious effect of free trade of95:29the EU and so on and they’re the ones95:31who then come to power on the basis of95:33this elite consensus and now anytime95:34that the EU speaks against these parties95:36they point to it as this is further95:38severe negation of our national self95:39interests that the EU is prompting so we95:41now have to you know go to our loins and95:43defend against the EU okay this is a95:47question for the panel in general and95:50Nancy bur mayo in particular you say95:53that the tendency what can you say about95:55the tendency of citizens to vote along95:58personal political issues ie those95:59heavily influenced by cultural96:01predilection predilections such as gun96:04control or abortion rather than in the96:07interest of democratic norms96:13not much so what one thing I think that96:20we don’t fully appreciate that is that96:22at least going back to the 1930s96:23earliest opinion surveys thirty percent96:26of Americans are authoritarian I mean I96:28think you know if you look at who you96:29know father Coughlin had thirty percent96:31of the vote George Wallace had thirty96:35percent of the vote you know support in96:37opinion polls McCarthy had up to forty96:40percent support you know this is there’s96:42a kind of strand in the electorate that96:44I mean you know I this is a bit96:46provocative I you know I don’t have96:47details you know add an attitude data96:50but these they supported authoritarians96:52and so the issue is not what you know is96:54the American electorate becoming more96:56authoritarian the issue is how do you96:57prevent that portion of the electorate97:00and those tendencies from putting97:01somebody in leadership positions and so97:04until 2016 we had a presidential97:07selection system that kept that served97:09as a gatekeeping system and kept these97:11kinds of dynamics out of the top97:13leadership positions in the u.s. say a97:18few words about that but I think the97:20question is actually really important97:22whoever asked it all right because it’s97:26forcing us yeah I think you’re asking us97:31to to think about these small these97:35issues that seemed small in our abstract97:40discussion of democracy but actually97:42loom very large in the minds of97:43individual voters and gun control is a97:45wonderful example of that so political97:48elites to really have to do more97:52research on what makes certain issues97:55salient and what makes certain issues97:58Trump all of the other much more98:00important issues like health care at the98:03polls and motivate you know a trump vote98:06and but I just I think social science98:10can be an answer to that98:11first of all identifying those voters98:13and then targeting those voters and in98:16an alliance with moderate politicians98:18changing their minds and changing the98:21salience of issues in people’s heads I98:23think it can be done with the media98:25if we’re just not doing it so do you98:29disagree because I think you know gun98:30control or abortion our democratic98:32values right these are things that98:33political parties have traditionally98:35espoused I mean the Republican Party has98:36espoused it and there’s nothing you know98:38there’s nothing inherently wrong with98:39being pro-life or promotion or non98:43democratic about those stances right I98:45think you know what I’m more concerned98:47with is the the statistic that the98:48Daniell brought up which is that it’s98:50not just the United States if you look98:51at you know Poland or hungry or France98:53in the last elections there’s a steady98:5435 to 40 percent of the electorate that98:56is willing time and time again to plump98:58for authoritarian populist right-wing99:01nativist etc to parties and so the99:03question is how do you contain that yeah99:05I don’t think it’s I don’t think it’s a99:06question of persuading I think it’s a99:07question of containing well I certainly99:10don’t want to say that all of those99:11positions of the abortion position is99:13anti-democratic I’m just thinking about99:15the salience of99:17issues as someone approaches the polls99:20so they can say this candidate like99:23Trump for instance this candidate is99:29clearly anti-democratic and repulsive on99:32many issues but I really give priority99:35to anti-abortion and he appeals to be an99:38anti-abortion candidate so I’m going to99:39vote for him that’s the that’s the sort99:41of calculation that I think demands more99:43research and more thought on the part of99:45politicians but there’s certainly not99:46especially an issue like abortion that’s99:49not an anti-democratic issue I think so99:53this is a question for Daniel’s if lat99:56but Tim Snyder might also reflect on it99:59how and why were those norms of mutual100:02tolerance and forbearance built in the100:051880s through the 1900s what lessons100:08does that period have for for for us100:11today100:14ya know it’s it’s a it’s a tragic story100:17in fact and then and we dig into this in100:21our book and this is kind of more a100:23discovery after admit as somebody who100:24didn’t spend my life studying American100:26politics I think the norms of mutual100:28toleration and forbearance were built on100:31racial exclusion you know it’s the end100:35of Reconstruction 1890 the failure of a100:39voting rights bill the lodge act that100:43allowed Southern Democrats and northern100:46Republicans to get along so you know100:51what do we do about that I mean at some100:52level these so-mei I hesitate even to100:55call these Democratic columns these are100:56norms of stability100:57forbearance a mutual toleration so the101:00real dilemma I think we fit in at some101:02level one can think that you know the101:03post 1965 rule there’s one in which101:05racial inclusion of making our political101:08system finally democratic really after101:10only 1965 I would argue has generated a101:14backlash which now threatens those norms101:16and so the dilemma that Democrats face101:18you know with it with a small D is how101:21do you reconcile these things can’t can101:23a political system be built that is both101:25democratic inclusive as well as one that101:28sustains these norms because101:30historically they have not there’s a101:32tension that there’s really a tension101:37there’s a just following from Daniels101:40point we did the United States undertook101:42two experiments more or less101:44simultaneously and they were I don’t101:46think there were two experiments that go101:47well together the first was the101:49experiment which I think probably none101:52of us would call into question of101:54actually trying to make the country101:55democratic by allowing its citizens to101:57vote right 1965 is clearly an important102:00step towards American democracy which102:02again I would emphasize American102:04democracy is and remains an aspiration102:06but 1965 is an important step towards it102:09but not long after that about 15 years102:12after that we began the experiment of102:15inequality which we are still in the102:17midst of professorship gorski’s charge102:20of the gap which is from the economic102:24policy something it’s a102:25that this shows that the gap growing102:27from 1980 between productivity and wages102:30right and the experiment that we’ve102:32conducted on ourselves since 1989 about102:35what what it means when you say there102:36are no alternatives102:37those two experiments have been102:38happening simultaneously and so on the102:40American Left when I talk to people on102:42the American Left which I do know all102:44the time102:44there’s this constant disagreement about102:46whether it’s a race or whether it’s102:48inequality and I just I don’t see why we102:50have to choose between those two things102:52it’s both and the way they work together102:55is that if white people feel privileged102:58then they react to inequality laughs and103:01in a way which is louder and which might103:02be more disruptive of the system than103:04others but the inequality to the way to103:06which they react is nevertheless real103:09right so that the racism may be harder103:11to get a handle on and the inequality103:13may be more tractable by policy103:15instruments so we have lots of questions103:20unfortunately thing we’re gonna have to103:21do it just a couple of more so this is a103:25question for Susan Hyde you emphasized103:29the demand side of the information103:31problem but what about the supply side103:33how worried should we be about state103:36media like Tennant sorry I don’t think I103:40read that right media tendencies like103:41Fox and how do you compare to other103:44cases like Venezuela or Italy yes state103:48media tendencies media like tendencies I103:51guess yeah I mean there’s there’s an103:53abundant you know there’s an abundance103:56of information right now right it’s not103:58that people can’t access accurate104:00information it’s it their self-selecting104:01into inaccurate information and I think104:04one can talk about the supply side of104:06this issue as as a contributor to how we104:10got here but I’m not sure that it104:13matters in terms of where we go from104:16here if that makes sense so once you get104:20into a space in which people are just104:22unwilling to look at the same sources of104:24information and many people may be104:25unwilling to consider objective104:27information or know how to judge whether104:29any104:30piece of information is objective I feel104:34like the demand side is just something104:35we understand a lot less well than then104:38we understand the supply side so because104:40of the individual access to to the104:42Internet to lots of sources of104:44information and because of the lack of104:46trust in all institutions I think also104:49expert institutions right those104:50individuals that might be perceived as104:52providing expertise on any given topic104:55and I think that confidence in their104:57their opinions has also been undermined104:59already we don’t trust expertise we105:02don’t trust objectivity we don’t trust105:05science we don’t you know all of these105:06things are undermined that to me I mean105:08I feel like just the demand side is is105:11broken enough that fixing the supply105:13side at the moment is not going to105:15change that problem so I’m sort of105:17evading the question of it okay last105:21question and this is directed to Nancy105:23burr Mayo but others on the panel may105:25want to address it as well focus is on105:28importance of distancing by elites and105:30optimism is based on the idea that US105:32democracy does not present an immediate105:34threat via redistribution to elite105:36interests yet earlier presentations levy105:39she wore ski suggests that the lack of105:41progressive redistribution is105:42undermining confidence and democratic105:44institutions105:45is there an irreconcilable difference105:48here over weathered redistribution105:50counts as a threat or an asset to105:52American democracy I think there’s an105:55important distinction between105:57redistribution and actual property106:00seizure and revolution and we are106:03clearly in remedying the inequality that106:08we talked about in an earlier panel106:11would not require revolution if which106:14require redistribution of the old social106:18democratic component and I think that106:21folks in Silicon Valley are probably not106:23even worried about that I think they106:27could handle it and I think that I106:28haven’t seen survey research but maybe106:31some of you have done it I’d like very106:32much to look at the values of the young106:35entrepreneurs in the tech industry and106:37to see whether they would in fact halt106:40much more redistribution than we have106:43I’d love to see that data I sense that106:45there’s probably more room there than we106:48might anticipate and certainly more room106:50than there was in fascist Italy yeah106:54comments on that last yes there you go107:12no but it’s it’s just fall short of107:15revolution and it falls short of backing107:18anti-democratic action on the part of107:20truck so but it’s basically buying107:23social goodness sure well I want to107:28thank our panelists very much for a107:30fascinating session107:31[Applause]107:38[Music]
How Corporations Destroyed American Democracy – Chris Hedges.
Filmed at Socialism 2010 in Chicago by Paul Hubbard
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt discuss their book, “How Democracies Die”, on 1/25/18.
Levitsky and Ziblatt, professors of comparative politics at Harvard, have spent nearly twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies. Focusing on Latin America and Europe, respectively, the two didn’t expect to address the issue for the United States, but that changed when Trump was elected. Building on their December 2016 New York Times op-ed which asked “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” they emphatically answer “yes,” outline the specific risks he poses, and chart ways we can avert the threat of authoritarianism. Drawing on examples of troubled states from around the world since the 1930s, Levitsky and Ziblatt point out that warning signs of collapse include the weakening of institutions, such as the judiciary and the media, erosion of political norms, and the rise of incivility.