America’s Great Divide: Robert Reich Interview | FRONTLINE

Robert Reich is a former U.S. secretary of Labor and the author of many books, most recently Common Good. He is a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

Reich’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

“How Do Democracies Fall Apart (And Could it Happen Here)?” Session 2

63:45
which this with this Chetty study has
63:47
established which I won’t belabor
63:49
likewise lack of mobility as such is
63:53
strongly related to lack of social
63:55
mobility if you’re between 18 and 34 in
63:56
the United States you are you are most
63:59
likely living with your parents it’s
64:02
more likely than any other arrangement
64:04
which means that literally you have not
64:06
moved right lack of geographical
64:08
mobility like worsening health like
64:11
shortening lifespans like lack of social
64:14
mobility works against a sense of time
64:17
which allows you to think that time is
64:19
moving forward right and so the time
64:22
escapes start to change now how does
64:24
this work in politics in politics it can
64:29
be it can be you can be channeled moved
64:31
incorporated exploited however you
64:34
prefer by politicians who talk in terms
64:37
of a different time scape so for example
64:40
make America great again is a time scape
64:42
which doesn’t refer to a better future
64:44
it’s a time scape which loops back to an
64:46
unnamed and mythical past right so now
64:49
there are studies now about what make
64:51
America great again means for Americans
64:53
for example Taylor at all in the Journal
64:55
of applied research and memory cognition
64:57
finds not surprisingly that Americans
65:00
define the moment when America was great
65:02
in the past as the moment when they were
65:03
young right
65:08
which is funny but I think it’s also
65:14
politically very significant because it
65:16
refers us to a certain political style
65:18
which I’m going to call the politics of
65:19
eternity or the government as being
65:21
rather than than doing because one of
65:24
the things about youth is that
65:26
government can’t give it back to you
65:28
right I mean whether wherever we are on
65:31
the span of like how much government
65:33
should do not do can we will generally
65:35
agree that government cannot in fact
65:37
make you young again right so this is
65:40
funny but it’s also revealing because
65:43
the pot what I’m gonna call the politics
65:45
of eternity the politics of cycling back
65:47
to the past rather than imagining of
65:49
future is precisely about defining
65:52
political problems in fictional terms
65:54
and therefore in irresolvable terms so
65:58
if what you want out of politics is to
66:00
be young again you might keep voting for
66:02
that promise but government is not going
66:05
to give it for you and can’t I will now
give you a more serious example one of
the things which distinguishes white
trump voters from white Clinton voters
is that a significant majority of white
Trump voters in a very small minority of
white Clinton voters it’s an interesting
difference a significant majority of
white Trump voters believe that White’s
face greater racial discrimination in
the United States than blacks do now
that is interesting but it’s also
interesting politically because that’s a
fictional problem if you are white and
you believe that your problem is that
you face Greater racism then black
people do again that is not a problem
that government can solve right it’s an
in it’s an because it’s a fictional
problem now I’m trying this is not meant
to be funny it’s meant to define a
different political style a Timescape in
which government doesn’t promise you a
better future but instead regularly in a
cyclical way mentions the things which
irritate you which are important to you
which cannot be solved the politics of
doing rather than being if that seems
imaginary consider the first year of the
Trump administration there is no
legislation which is going to make any
of these kinds of voters it’s not going
to speak to what we would regard as
their interests or even to an ideology
right
um the two major initiatives are take
health insurance away from people which
is precisely interesting because it’s
people who needed the health insurance
most who were the swing group which
brought him into office right that’s the
first one and the second one is tax
regression right
the second major policy initiative his
tax regression precisely taking income
away from poor people and giving it to
richer people that’s it in the landscape
of the first year those are the only two
things neither of those things can be
thought of as creating a future right
those things if anything only makes only
make matters only make matters as one
might see it worse so where does this
where does this lead us to the first
thing is I’m gonna referring to to where
reception Dvorsky ended up it may not be
that the thing we have to worry about is
whether mr. Trump will fail I mean I
don’t think he’s actually after success
in the normal liberal sense of the word
I think he’s after failure I don’t think
they intend to make policy which makes
life better for their constituents I
think they’re moving very consciously
towards a different kind of policy um I
think it’s a mistake
therefore to refer to this as populism
because in American tradition anyway
populism means you’re against the elites
but you still imagine the government is
going to do something for you I think
we’re in a different territory I think
we’re in something which is more
accurately characterized as Sadopopulism
where you you are against the
elites right but you don’t expect
government to do anything for you in
fact you kind of want government not to
do anything because that reinforces your
beliefs about the way the world works so
where does this lead us this is my final
word where does this lead us on the
question of of comparison right so what
I worry with when when people say well
it’s it doesn’t line up well to the
interwar cases there are difference
between US and Nazi Germany what I were
69:06
with is about that is the implicit
69:08
conclusion that therefore everything’s
69:10
a-okay right everything’s not a okay
69:12
just because it’s not February 1933 and
69:15
thoughts of Germany I think the way to
69:17
understand the comparisons is more as a
69:20
source of normative
69:22
action right I’m not gonna make that
69:24
case now because it’s the case I made in
69:25
the book on tyranny it’s not that where
69:27
we are now is going to inevitably lead
69:29
to czechoslovakia 1948 or you know
69:32
germany in 1933 it’s that those regime
69:35
changes or the witnesses to those regime
69:37
changes give us useful and timely advice
69:39
about how to head off regime changes in
69:42
in rule of law states I think the
69:44
comparisons are most useful in that way
69:46
most useful is a general guideline that
69:49
globalization’s can crash
69:51
most of our comparisons are about the
69:53
first globalization crash we’re now in
69:54
the middle we’re now in the middle of
69:56
number two what I think is that we can
69:59
move away from democracy we can learn
70:02
away we can learn from other people
70:04
while we’re doing didn’t try to resist
70:06
it even though where we’re going is
70:08
going to be somewhat different I mean as
70:09
for me where I think we’re going or
70:11
where we seem to be going is is
70:12
something like you know oligarchy with
70:14
just enough fascism to get by as a kind
70:17
of lubricant and and the and the way
70:21
this would look would be not so much the
70:23
creation of something new but just the
70:25
dissolution of what we have right and
70:27
not I completely agree with the point
70:30
not mobilization but demobilization are
70:33
only very occasional mobilization like
70:36
very occasional marches very occasional
70:38
violence but mostly the mobilization at
70:40
atomization and what’s worrying about
70:42
that is that then you know implicitly
70:45
the people who in some of these
70:46
presentations were counted on to come
70:47
save us right the economic elites
70:49
whoever they are that the economic
70:52
elites can be on the same side that you
70:54
you can be an economic elite and you can
70:56
think in you know environment Germany
70:58
you can be the economic or in Italy you
70:59
can be the economic elites and you can
71:00
think rightly or wrong you can think
71:02
wrongly we can outwit these guys maybe
71:05
in America you’re the economic elites
71:07
and you think correctly you can outwit
71:10
these guys but the outcome still isn’t
71:12
democracy right if you continue to have
71:15
the kinds of drift that we’re having
71:16
with the outcome still to democracy it
71:18
might not be anything that has another
71:19
dramatic name but it’s not necessarily
71:21
democracy so the the point that I’m
71:24
trying to make is that we’re at this
71:26
historical moment in the sense that not
71:28
just that great things are at stake and
71:30
that in that in the actions and
71:31
Institute
71:32
that we take now make a lot of
71:33
difference but also historical in the
71:34
sunset the way people are thinking about
71:36
time is changing I mean if that tips if
71:41
that if we tip from one way of thinking
71:42
about time to another if I’m right that
71:44
there is such a tipping point then we’re
71:46
closer to dramatic change than other
71:48
kinds of indicators might suggest okay
71:51
thanks thank you for those amazing
72:02
presentations I think that probably we
72:05
could re title this whole conference how
72:07
scared should we be and this panel in
72:11
particular you know sort of how
72:12
terrified should we be and I think the
72:14
reason we’re seeing a lot of answers to
72:17
that question that kind of vary across
72:18
the spectrum from you know completely
72:20
terrified to only mildly concerned is
72:23
that we really don’t know I mean who
72:25
knows you know that’s sort of the point
72:27
no one knows how history is going to
72:29
unfold we’ve certainly been surprised by
72:31
it in the last year and not just in the
72:34
last year so the answer to the question
72:37
is not is not no and I like to tell my
72:39
students you know I asked them a
72:40
question I say that’s a real question
72:42
not a professor question you know we we
72:45
really don’t know and so if you’re like
72:47
me at all you you go back and forth in
72:49
your own mind over even over the course
72:51
of the day I wake up in the morning and
72:52
I think oh you know it’s gonna be okay
72:54
and then by you know 3:00 in the
72:56
afternoon I want to crawl under a pillow
72:57
and just you know be one of these actors
73:00
who’s stayed away from Rome for the
73:02
whole whistling period so so we have we
73:07
do have kind of a range of responses and
73:10
one of the inspirations for bright-line
73:12
watch is that you know you look for
73:14
signs of what is going to happen and the
73:16
last thing you want to do is see the
73:18
sign in the rear view mirror we don’t
73:20
want to be treating in retrospect at the
73:23
signs we don’t want to say well it
73:24
really was the moment when Judge Garland
73:27
didn’t get a chance to be confirmed or
73:29
it was the moment when you know fill in
73:31
the blank when things really became
73:33
irreversible and and democracy died or
73:36
became severely eroded in the United
73:39
States in a way that would be very very
73:40
difficult to recuperate over any
73:43
meaningful time period so
73:46
I have some some questions I remember
73:49
that you folks are writing down
73:51
questions and filtering them to headman
73:53
who’s standing over to the side we have
73:55
a few questions I like a two-door I’m
73:57
going to take some moderator prerogative
74:01
enact ask a few questions but I’m
74:03
mindful of not taking too much time
74:05
because I know that there will be more
74:06
questions from the audience and that
74:07
these were highly provocative and
74:09
interesting presentations so just just a
74:12
few questions for Nancy you and there
74:19
the concept of distancing which which I
74:23
took to mean and I’ve taken from your
74:24
early earlier work to mean that even if
74:27
my ally even if the person who I’m a
74:30
elite political actor and someone who
74:33
I’m in alliance with violates a critical
74:36
norm or constitutional feature I will
74:42
join the effort to punish that actor but
74:46
I’m thinking about another kind of not
74:48
distancing but let’s call it
74:49
constitutional action and I’ve I’m
74:52
thinking about this in part because
74:54
seeing our tutor this morning thinking
74:56
about his fascinating retrospective
74:58
considerations of what happened in Chile
75:00
there were moments in the sort of
75:02
slow-moving debacle of Chilean politics
75:06
where it went from being a long-standing
75:07
democracy to being a coup and a military
75:11
dictatorship that lasted for 17 years
75:13
and was extremely repressive and harsh
75:16
there there’s the sense of you know
75:19
moments when say the Christian Democrats
75:21
might have said it’s good for us if this
75:24
happens but it’s really it’s a it’s a
75:26
danger for Chilean democracy so that’s a
75:29
slightly different concept I think
75:30
that’s putting the long-term health and
75:34
viability of the constitutional order
75:36
ahead of immediate partisan advantage
75:40
and I wonder whether in the cases you
75:43
examined and more to the point in
75:47
American politics today you see room for
75:49
those kinds of moments of constitutional
75:51
action on it your presentation makes me
75:56
think that Trump is Fidesz and piece
75:58
right that we’re sort of we you walk
76:02
through the actions that those
76:05
governments amazingly parallel kind of
76:07
template’s as you described them and it
76:10
makes me think that we’re sort of only
76:11
halfway there so the courts are
76:14
politicized well you know Melania is not
76:17
making judicial appointments yes or I
76:19
guess it the real equivalent would be
76:21
mrs. pence so the media in the United
76:26
States is harassed but there aren’t
76:28
really formal constraints that have been
76:30
imposed for the most part yet
76:33
and the question then is again this this
76:36
issue of what are the signposts and when
76:38
do you see them in in Hungary and Poland
76:42
2010-2015 was it predictable were there
76:45
you know forward-looking intellectuals
76:48
journalists concerned citizens who saw
76:50
these things coming or or were they
76:53
really surprises questions for sort of
76:58
this is sort of Susan and Tim but well
77:02
Susan mostly I it’s it’s you both raised
77:07
in your presentations the very important
77:09
point that what we are observing is
77:11
taking is unfolding in an international
77:13
context and what we do influence is what
77:16
other democracies do and likewise what
77:19
they do influence is what we do and I
77:21
guess I’m looking for any hope in that
77:26
so instances in which we might learn or
77:29
be or be forewarned or take actions
77:34
drawing on international contemporary
77:36
international events that that might
77:39
help with the situation here there were
77:41
I recall with the French election there
77:43
was some speculation that it didn’t help
77:45
lepen to have a Trump out there that
77:48
perhaps that gave that gave some french
77:50
voters pause Daniel you it was
77:55
interested in the so the the sort of
77:59
problems of lines being crossed of norms
78:02
being violated and the examples you gave
78:05
were pretty much on the Republican side
78:07
and I so our colleague Jacob hacker has
78:12
written a lot about asymmetric
78:13
polarization I wonder if you think this
78:16
is an asymmetric problem or if they’re
78:18
symmetric more along the lines of what
78:20
team or Quran was talking about this
78:22
morning if there’s a kind of symmetrical
78:24
equilibrium that we’ve that was sort of
78:26
a bad equilibrium that we’ve entered
78:28
into Tim I am it’s mind-blowing to think
78:35
about the you know the sort of social
78:38
construction of our sense of time and
78:41
and and how that influences politics on
78:44
the other hand I’m very struck by you
78:46
know the make America great again
78:48
narrative so that means he you know the
78:52
the the the slogan is collectively sort
78:54
of doing what you say we do as
78:56
individuals thinking that there’s a you
78:58
know there’s an adolescence or a teenage
78:59
period of early 20s sort of in in our in
79:02
our national so I’m equivalent to that
79:04
in our national history that is a moment
79:06
we want to get back to and that strikes
79:09
me as setting up setting the government
79:13
up for the setting Trump up for you know
79:16
greatly disappointing his constituents
79:18
for some of the reasons act reasons you
79:20
gave and although I take what you say
79:23
that perhaps you know the the the goal
79:26
is not success on the Ute and the usual
79:29
metrics that politicians use such as
79:32
high popularity when the next election
79:34
comes around in re-election so those are
79:38
some questions maybe we could just get
79:39
to them while while people in the
79:41
audience are filtering out any other
79:43
written questions that you want to have
79:44
a so yeah I I’m delighted that you asked
79:49
this question about distancing in the US
79:52
and whether there could possibly be a
79:55
different kind of distancing here
79:57
because I I was struggling with that way
79:59
myself as I was writing this the kind of
80:02
distancing that we saw in interwar
80:04
Europe where political elites were
80:07
facing fascist parties were engaging in
80:09
violence gave them a less ambiguous
80:12
signal than we’re getting
80:14
here you know if mobs are killing people
80:17
you know that wrong has been done if
80:20
you’re talking about violations of
80:23
constitutional principles or norms that
80:26
fight is is much much more ambiguous and
80:30
so distancing under those circumstances
80:32
is much harder and so frankly I’m still
80:37
grappling with the idea that how that
80:40
concept can be transferred to this kind
80:44
of system but there’s no doubt that
80:47
battles over the constitutional norms in
80:50
the courts would be a place to start
80:53
that would be an arena for distancing
80:55
but it’s going to be much harder here
80:57
except that I am assuming that money
81:02
still has a huge amount of importance
81:07
universe politics and that if you if if
81:11
the most dynamic sectors of our economy
81:13
can get behind some sort of distancing
81:16
and realize that they don’t need the
81:18
nationalism especially or the xenophobia
81:21
that’s embodied in the particular kind
81:23
of challenge we have which doesn’t
81:25
involve actual killing yeah
81:27
then I think that that it is still
81:30
possible but that the battles may take
81:33
place in the court and that’s part of a
81:38
historical continuity but not completely
81:42
so it was was what happened in Poland
81:45
and Hungary predictable um it was I mean
81:47
this is you know – this is basically the
81:48
death of a democratic there’s a
81:51
chronicle the Democratic Death Foretold
81:53
um and it was predictable because you
81:55
know the leaders were very clear on this
81:56
right they wanted not just to remake
81:57
policies but to remake the institutions
81:59
of polish and Hungarian democracy to
82:01
better serve national interests right
82:03
this was very much you know making
82:04
Poland and Hungary great again secondly
82:06
there was precedent right the
82:08
institution’s had not been impervious to
82:10
this before there’s been put the
82:11
polarization of the judiciary in the
82:12
past there was a previous attacks on the
82:15
media this was just a much more
82:16
concerted effort um and third I think
82:18
will response important was that these
82:19
are parliamentary systems and in times
82:22
past these fairly fragile governing
82:24
coalition’s I will kept these parties
82:25
from fully exercising their Prague
82:27
and now in the absence of either in
82:29
opposition or coalition partners they
82:31
were able to do exactly what he said
82:33
they would so serious question for me
82:41
was what basically what’s the hope from
82:43
thinking about this isn’t international
82:45
events both u.s. you deserve in other
82:49
countries in that other countries are
82:50
affecting the US and that was a very
82:52
difficult question I have lots of things
82:54
that I might say I mean one thing to
82:56
just note is part something that I don’t
82:58
think isn’t a viewpoint that’s it’s
82:59
going to be presented much at the
83:00
conference which is sort of Mia culpa
83:03
from some of the IR scholars with who
83:05
are really promoting open economy
83:08
politics Pro globalization stuff which
83:11
is just that you know the the embedded
83:13
liberal liberal liberal compromise that
83:15
we knew about and we have known about
83:16
for a very long time was not
83:18
successfully implemented in the US and
83:20
that that both economically and
83:22
culturally maybe maybe a fault and is
83:25
maybe something that policies
83:26
prescriptions could deal with right
83:28
their policy that others have have
83:31
potentially thought about I guess the
83:33
other thing that is not really hopeful
83:35
but I think something that I skipped
83:37
over in my remarks because I was 10
83:39
which has just said when I very much
83:42
interested in how countries react to
83:45
international pressure to look and act a
83:47
certain way right and so some autocratic
83:49
posturing that I think we are seeing now
83:51
might be for short term sort of applause
83:55
and political gain rather than like it
83:57
might some of it might sound worse than
83:59
it actually is which is not really that
84:01
hopeful but I do think that there are
84:04
incentives that that some leaders that
84:06
we see throughout the world to act you
84:10
know more more totalitarian more fascist
84:13
more you know they sort of take these
84:15
these dances that are that are quite
84:16
extreme because they know they will get
84:18
attention for taking those those dance
84:21
which is not entirely good news but I
84:23
think can be interpreted as something
84:25
that is maybe slightly less nefarious
84:28
and the extremely clever long-term long
84:31
game autocrats that it’s referencing who
84:32
are able to abide by the rules of the
84:35
game up right up until the moment in
84:37
which they they break with them right so
84:39
I think that that is a long term in the
84:41
long term I’m more worried about that
84:42
sort of strategy rather than the sort of
84:45
splashy head like grab bean you know
84:47
attacks in the media and that’s not sort
84:50
of thing which are consequential but I
84:51
think not quite as nefarious as some of
84:53
the other strategies that one could
84:54
imagine and that are harder to observe
84:56
unhappy yeah so two thoughts one
85:00
directly on your question on the
85:01
asymmetric polarization no I I mean I
85:03
think that the record shows that it
85:04
began on the right you know and you know
85:07
people often date this the Gingrich
85:09
revolution and kind of change tactics in
85:11
Congress and Orrin Mann and Ornstein and
85:13
the work on the US Congress have kind of
85:16
shown this but it you know it’s not it’s
85:18
not only Republicans who are vulnerable
85:20
to this I mean Harry Reid’s use of the
85:21
filibuster in the early 2000s against
85:24
Bush I mean this is clearly another
85:25
instance of this and that I guess that’s
85:27
what’s dangerous is that is that it mate
85:29
you know it doesn’t at some level you
85:30
know begins on one side but then when it
85:32
escalates and it becomes a kind of
85:34
spiral that’s exactly exactly the
85:36
dangerous scenario even the dilemma of
85:38
course is you know we should stay
85:40
high-minded and continue act with four
85:42
born before Barents in the face of
85:43
somebody who’s not I mean it’s like
85:45
going into a box you mean with one one
85:47
hand tied behind your back does that
85:48
really make sense and I guess my thought
85:50
on that is that as long as there are
85:52
Democratic channels still available
85:53
that’s the way to go I mean you know
85:55
this is the right answer but that’s
85:57
that’s that’s kind of how I think about
85:59
it I just wanted to say something also
86:00
on the distancing and learning because I
86:02
think there is actually something that
86:03
can be learned about other cases of dis
86:05
distancing and just you know just
86:06
recently in the last two years I mean
86:08
what’s striking about the Austrian
86:10
elections last year of presidential
86:11
elections and the French presidential
86:12
elections in both cases in the Austrian
86:15
case the Catholics didn’t make it to the
86:17
second round and they and a lot of
86:19
Catholic politicians endorsed the Green
86:21
Party candidate for president in France
86:23
fiown and endorsed that you know the
86:26
right
86:26
– right candidate endorsed McCrone
86:28
rather than lepen and so both cases
86:30
there’s instances of distancing kind of
86:33
on the right – against the far right and
86:37
so we can learn from that and I think
86:38
one of the interesting things is why in
86:40
these countries this has happened the
86:41
waters in the US this hasn’t happened
86:43
and I think part of the reason is in a
86:45
in a multi-party system in Austria and a
86:48
two tiers you know with a runoff system
86:50
and in France there’s a history of this
86:51
and in both instances people were in
86:53
Austria they refer back to Kurt Waldheim
86:55
and say well you know we have learned
86:56
from this in France there’s the
86:58
experience of father lepen and dealing
87:00
with father lepen and so I think you
87:02
know if the idea is that you know the
87:03
u.s. we just didn’t have we haven’t had
87:04
experience with this and there’s
87:06
possibility for learning and this is
87:08
kind of where you know human action
87:09
actually can make a difference so people
87:10
could learn from we can learn from our
87:12
mistakes and my guess is next time
87:14
around you know hopefully people learned
87:17
something right so there’s something I
87:18
learned from other cases as well okay so
87:24
there were the the question about any
87:27
hopeful things internationally and then
87:29
the idea of making America great again
87:31
it cannot lead to disappointment so
87:33
internationally I’m just gonna take a
87:35
step back and make the point that I
87:36
think the winning the Cold War both the
87:40
idea and the fact has turned out to be
87:42
very poison chalice for us so the idea
87:45
that therefore there were no
87:46
alternatives
87:47
I think stultified our political debate
87:49
precisely about alternatives and made
87:51
inequality much worse in this country in
87:54
the last quarter century and the reality
87:56
of the end of the Cold War was also bad
87:57
for us because one of the reasons we had
87:59
civil rights in the welfare state was to
88:01
compete with not so much with the
88:03
Soviets but to respond to their
88:04
propaganda and without that challenge we
88:06
drifted in another direction so that’s
88:09
just I mean that’s just by way of making
88:11
oneself conscious so that one can learn
88:13
things well could we have learned I mean
88:15
the book that I’m that I’m finishing now
88:17
is about this it’s about the last five
88:19
or six years not starting from us but
88:21
starting from Russia with the idea that
88:23
most of the things which happened here
88:25
which seem surprising to us are just
88:27
more sophisticated versions of things
88:28
which happened in other countries which
88:30
we didn’t recognize at the time so I
88:33
mean here I’m 5050 there are a lot of
88:35
things we could have learned for
88:36
Russia and Ukraine between 2011 and 2015
88:39
but we didn’t learn any of them um
88:42
and the consequence was that in 2016 in
88:44
my world at least it was the Russians
88:46
and Ukrainians who were jumping up and
88:48
down saying you know Trump is possible
88:50
this is how it works in other people’s
88:51
worlds it would be the African Americans
88:53
but there are plenty of segments of the
88:55
pocket or the renegade Midwesterners
88:57
right there were various demographics
88:58
who said Trump was gonna win but the
89:00
Russians and Ukrainians said he was
89:01
gonna win and they had a reason
89:02
no um people there are people there are
89:05
positive exceptions like Peter
89:06
pomerantsev in his book nothing is true
89:08
but everything is possible which is you
89:10
know on its surface a book about the
89:12
media in Russia ends that book which
89:15
concludes in 2014 ends that book by
89:17
forecasting that that combination of
89:20
media unreality and political
89:22
authoritarianism is going to come to the
89:24
UK and to United States and then there’s
89:27
brexit and then there’s and then there’s
89:28
Trump so and then there are people like
89:30
pet rock Rocco in Hungary you know who
89:32
runs political capital who does who do
89:34
Studies on directed unreality right
89:37
foreign projections of unreality in the
89:39
Czech Republic and Slovakia and those
89:41
things are useful for us to read because
89:43
the things that were happening gotten
89:46
further in the Czech Republic and
89:47
Slovakia and Hungary then here
89:50
nevertheless started to turn up here in
89:52
2050 so yeah I mean analytically we can
89:54
definitely learn from others and of
89:55
course civil resistance is something
89:57
that we can learn from other people
89:58
right we can swallow our pride and
89:59
realize that there’s been a lot of
90:01
successful civil resistance movements in
90:03
other countries and that the social
90:05
science on civil resistance is actually
90:06
very mature the second point on whether
some of these some of these voters will
be disappointed because they imagine a
better world in the past and they’re not
going to get it I don’t think so and
I’ll tell you why I think I mean there
there will be Republican voters will be
disappointed with Trump but that’s a
different set of Republican voters there
are two sets of Republican voters there
are the ones who own house doesn’t have
money in the stock market and are the
ones who don’t own houses that don’t
have money in the stock market the ones
who own houses are gonna be disappointed
when the stock market crashes and that’s
not gonna have anything to do with these
narratives that I’m talking about
and I don’t treat them as the critical
bloc of voters because they went for
Romney – right they did they didn’t
change anything but these folks the nine
million people who voted for Obama and
then
for Trump or the people whose health is
getting worse but voted for Trump the
people in Michigan Wisconsin West
Virginia Ohio Pennsylvania who swung the
election
these folks I don’t think can be
disappointed in that way that that’s my
point you know it’s you want to be young
again but you know at some level you’re
not going to be young again you’d like
the person who tells you look great but
you know at some level it’s not true
right and that’s how that no look for
you it’s true you’re like 15 but but I
mean the general right you know it’s not
true and that’s how this kind of
politics works it’s not by the delivery
of goods it’s by the regular delivery of
affirmation as against someone else
we’re where white Republicans become in
political science terms the slope the
identitarian subalterns who are
expecting to own the state but what they
only expect from the state is that they
own it
that’s it they’re not expecting that
it’s going to do anything for them the
other thing I want to say about making
America great again that links back to
the other point is that the make America
great again does have a specific
historical referent not for us for us
it’s about being young again that for
mr. Trump it’s about the 1930s or the
1920s it is a it’s a revision of the
1930s as being a time where we didn’t
have a welfare state and where we didn’t
go to war against Nazi Germany right
that’s what America first means America
first is Deutschland uber alles in
English America first means we have more
in common with Nazis than divides us and
there is you know the fact they did they
commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day by
saying other people suffer besides the
Jews which is like commemorating the
fourth of July by talking about French
independence I mean it’s true that there
are like other possible references in
history but like the holiday is for one
of them and there are a number of other
examples of this how they’re trying to
undo a certain American myth and what it
comes down to is that we used to think
the 1930s were a bad time to be learned
from and now we’re being instructed not
just in America this is international in
Russia Poland Hungary and also
implicitly by the fullness and island
France said by the brexit movement in
Britain we are we were being instructed
the 1930s were a good time to which to
which we should loop back
I have some questions so this is a
question for Susan Hyde and Anna G B
while the EU is powerless not able and
93:01
willing to move effectively against
93:03
democratic erosion how successful have
93:06
other regional organizations around the
93:07
world been to fight forms of democratic
93:09
erosion eg Mercosur a you just one
93:19
question at a time uh yeah I think so I
93:21
think we will see how far behind we get
93:24
on that yeah yeah I mean the so there
93:26
there’s some empirical work on this that
93:28
other people have done and and you know
93:29
it’s very hard to separate from the
93:31
international environment entirely right
93:33
so I don’t know who I should but
93:36
basically I I think that the the
93:40
European Union and other regional
93:43
organizations most of which in the world
93:45
have a stated preference to support
93:47
democracy have some ability to do
93:50
something right now right I mean there’s
93:51
no reason why the US needs to be the
93:53
only country that is willing to stand in
93:56
defense of democracy and and
93:57
increasingly I think others are stepping
93:59
into that role what can they do you know
94:03
not much but a little they can they can
94:07
sort of make clear that this is a value
94:10
that the groups of countries definitely
94:12
support I don’t know that they can do
94:15
anything for the u.s. specifically the
94:17
case that were most concerned with today
94:19
but in smaller countries they certainly
94:20
have made it clear that Jews are
94:25
unacceptable for example this is already
94:27
one of the biggest moments we’ve seen in
94:28
recent memory on this front is that most
94:32
countries that have coos many of them
94:35
have been pro-democracy coos right that
94:37
they’re not against democratically
94:39
elected leaders they’re against
94:40
basically authoritarian leaders we’ve
94:42
seen a few of these but even those have
94:45
been on pretty strict timelines for
94:46
democratic elections following those so
94:48
you know we’ll see I’m not super
94:51
optimistic that they’re the saviors of
94:53
us democracies certainly and I would say
94:56
that knew the EU shizuka-san was
94:57
familiar with isn’t captain some ways
94:59
responsible for the rights of the
95:00
populace right because and they run up
95:02
to you accession in 2004 there’s
95:03
basically this elite consensus among all
95:05
mainstream parties that the EU was this
95:07
fantastic good that premarket was
95:09
wonderful and free trade and everything
95:10
else have went together as a wonderful
95:12
package and the only parties that
95:14
criticizes consensus or the populist who
95:16
at the time we’re getting you know five
95:18
percent of the vote and it’s after the
95:19
accession when it becomes apparent that
95:21
neo maybe this there was some room more
95:23
for criticism
95:24
it’s the populace who make hay out of
95:25
every single
95:27
some deleterious effect of free trade of
95:29
the EU and so on and they’re the ones
95:31
who then come to power on the basis of
95:33
this elite consensus and now anytime
95:34
that the EU speaks against these parties
95:36
they point to it as this is further
95:38
severe negation of our national self
95:39
interests that the EU is prompting so we
95:41
now have to you know go to our loins and
95:43
defend against the EU okay this is a
95:47
question for the panel in general and
95:50
Nancy bur mayo in particular you say
95:53
that the tendency what can you say about
95:55
the tendency of citizens to vote along
95:58
personal political issues ie those
95:59
heavily influenced by cultural
96:01
predilection predilections such as gun
96:04
control or abortion rather than in the
96:07
interest of democratic norms
96:13
not much so what one thing I think that
96:20
we don’t fully appreciate that is that
96:22
at least going back to the 1930s
96:23
earliest opinion surveys thirty percent
96:26
of Americans are authoritarian I mean I
96:28
think you know if you look at who you
96:29
know father Coughlin had thirty percent
96:31
of the vote George Wallace had thirty
96:35
percent of the vote you know support in
96:37
opinion polls McCarthy had up to forty
96:40
percent support you know this is there’s
96:42
a kind of strand in the electorate that
96:44
I mean you know I this is a bit
96:46
provocative I you know I don’t have
96:47
details you know add an attitude data
96:50
but these they supported authoritarians
96:52
and so the issue is not what you know is
96:54
the American electorate becoming more
96:56
authoritarian the issue is how do you
96:57
prevent that portion of the electorate
97:00
and those tendencies from putting
97:01
somebody in leadership positions and so
97:04
until 2016 we had a presidential
97:07
selection system that kept that served
97:09
as a gatekeeping system and kept these
97:11
kinds of dynamics out of the top
97:13
leadership positions in the u.s. say a
97:18
few words about that but I think the
97:20
question is actually really important
97:22
whoever asked it all right because it’s
97:26
forcing us yeah I think you’re asking us
97:31
to to think about these small these
97:35
issues that seemed small in our abstract
97:40
discussion of democracy but actually
97:42
loom very large in the minds of
97:43
individual voters and gun control is a
97:45
wonderful example of that so political
97:48
elites to really have to do more
97:52
research on what makes certain issues
97:55
salient and what makes certain issues
97:58
Trump all of the other much more
98:00
important issues like health care at the
98:03
polls and motivate you know a trump vote
98:06
and but I just I think social science
98:10
can be an answer to that
98:11
first of all identifying those voters
98:13
and then targeting those voters and in
98:16
an alliance with moderate politicians
98:18
changing their minds and changing the
98:21
salience of issues in people’s heads I
98:23
think it can be done with the media
98:25
if we’re just not doing it so do you
98:29
disagree because I think you know gun
98:30
control or abortion our democratic
98:32
values right these are things that
98:33
political parties have traditionally
98:35
espoused I mean the Republican Party has
98:36
espoused it and there’s nothing you know
98:38
there’s nothing inherently wrong with
98:39
being pro-life or promotion or non
98:43
democratic about those stances right I
98:45
think you know what I’m more concerned
98:47
with is the the statistic that the
98:48
Daniell brought up which is that it’s
98:50
not just the United States if you look
98:51
at you know Poland or hungry or France
98:53
in the last elections there’s a steady
98:54
35 to 40 percent of the electorate that
98:56
is willing time and time again to plump
98:58
for authoritarian populist right-wing
99:01
nativist etc to parties and so the
99:03
question is how do you contain that yeah
99:05
I don’t think it’s I don’t think it’s a
99:06
question of persuading I think it’s a
99:07
question of containing well I certainly
99:10
don’t want to say that all of those
99:11
positions of the abortion position is
99:13
anti-democratic I’m just thinking about
99:15
the salience of
99:17
issues as someone approaches the polls
99:20
so they can say this candidate like
99:23
Trump for instance this candidate is
99:29
clearly anti-democratic and repulsive on
99:32
many issues but I really give priority
99:35
to anti-abortion and he appeals to be an
99:38
anti-abortion candidate so I’m going to
99:39
vote for him that’s the that’s the sort
99:41
of calculation that I think demands more
99:43
research and more thought on the part of
99:45
politicians but there’s certainly not
99:46
especially an issue like abortion that’s
99:49
not an anti-democratic issue I think so
99:53
this is a question for Daniel’s if lat
99:56
but Tim Snyder might also reflect on it
99:59
how and why were those norms of mutual
100:02
tolerance and forbearance built in the
100:05
1880s through the 1900s what lessons
100:08
does that period have for for for us
100:11
today
100:14
ya know it’s it’s a it’s a tragic story
100:17
in fact and then and we dig into this in
100:21
our book and this is kind of more a
100:23
discovery after admit as somebody who
100:24
didn’t spend my life studying American
100:26
politics I think the norms of mutual
100:28
toleration and forbearance were built on
100:31
racial exclusion you know it’s the end
100:35
of Reconstruction 1890 the failure of a
100:39
voting rights bill the lodge act that
100:43
allowed Southern Democrats and northern
100:46
Republicans to get along so you know
100:51
what do we do about that I mean at some
100:52
level these so-mei I hesitate even to
100:55
call these Democratic columns these are
100:56
norms of stability
100:57
forbearance a mutual toleration so the
101:00
real dilemma I think we fit in at some
101:02
level one can think that you know the
101:03
post 1965 rule there’s one in which
101:05
racial inclusion of making our political
101:08
system finally democratic really after
101:10
only 1965 I would argue has generated a
101:14
backlash which now threatens those norms
101:16
and so the dilemma that Democrats face
101:18
you know with it with a small D is how
101:21
do you reconcile these things can’t can
101:23
a political system be built that is both
101:25
democratic inclusive as well as one that
101:28
sustains these norms because
101:30
historically they have not there’s a
101:32
tension that there’s really a tension
101:37
there’s a just following from Daniels
101:40
point we did the United States undertook
101:42
two experiments more or less
101:44
simultaneously and they were I don’t
101:46
think there were two experiments that go
101:47
well together the first was the
101:49
experiment which I think probably none
101:52
of us would call into question of
101:54
actually trying to make the country
101:55
democratic by allowing its citizens to
101:57
vote right 1965 is clearly an important
102:00
step towards American democracy which
102:02
again I would emphasize American
102:04
democracy is and remains an aspiration
102:06
but 1965 is an important step towards it
102:09
but not long after that about 15 years
102:12
after that we began the experiment of
102:15
inequality which we are still in the
102:17
midst of professorship gorski’s charge
102:20
of the gap which is from the economic
102:24
policy something it’s a
102:25
that this shows that the gap growing
102:27
from 1980 between productivity and wages
102:30
right and the experiment that we’ve
102:32
conducted on ourselves since 1989 about
102:35
what what it means when you say there
102:36
are no alternatives
102:37
those two experiments have been
102:38
happening simultaneously and so on the
102:40
American Left when I talk to people on
102:42
the American Left which I do know all
102:44
the time
102:44
there’s this constant disagreement about
102:46
whether it’s a race or whether it’s
102:48
inequality and I just I don’t see why we
102:50
have to choose between those two things
102:52
it’s both and the way they work together
102:55
is that if white people feel privileged
102:58
then they react to inequality laughs and
103:01
in a way which is louder and which might
103:02
be more disruptive of the system than
103:04
others but the inequality to the way to
103:06
which they react is nevertheless real
103:09
right so that the racism may be harder
103:11
to get a handle on and the inequality
103:13
may be more tractable by policy
103:15
instruments so we have lots of questions
103:20
unfortunately thing we’re gonna have to
103:21
do it just a couple of more so this is a
103:25
question for Susan Hyde you emphasized
103:29
the demand side of the information
103:31
problem but what about the supply side
103:33
how worried should we be about state
103:36
media like Tennant sorry I don’t think I
103:40
read that right media tendencies like
103:41
Fox and how do you compare to other
103:44
cases like Venezuela or Italy yes state
103:48
media tendencies media like tendencies I
103:51
guess yeah I mean there’s there’s an
103:53
abundant you know there’s an abundance
103:56
of information right now right it’s not
103:58
that people can’t access accurate
104:00
information it’s it their self-selecting
104:01
into inaccurate information and I think
104:04
one can talk about the supply side of
104:06
this issue as as a contributor to how we
104:10
got here but I’m not sure that it
104:13
matters in terms of where we go from
104:16
here if that makes sense so once you get
104:20
into a space in which people are just
104:22
unwilling to look at the same sources of
104:24
information and many people may be
104:25
unwilling to consider objective
104:27
information or know how to judge whether
104:29
any
104:30
piece of information is objective I feel
104:34
like the demand side is just something
104:35
we understand a lot less well than then
104:38
we understand the supply side so because
104:40
of the individual access to to the
104:42
Internet to lots of sources of
104:44
information and because of the lack of
104:46
trust in all institutions I think also
104:49
expert institutions right those
104:50
individuals that might be perceived as
104:52
providing expertise on any given topic
104:55
and I think that confidence in their
104:57
their opinions has also been undermined
104:59
already we don’t trust expertise we
105:02
don’t trust objectivity we don’t trust
105:05
science we don’t you know all of these
105:06
things are undermined that to me I mean
105:08
I feel like just the demand side is is
105:11
broken enough that fixing the supply
105:13
side at the moment is not going to
105:15
change that problem so I’m sort of
105:17
evading the question of it okay last
105:21
question and this is directed to Nancy
105:23
burr Mayo but others on the panel may
105:25
want to address it as well focus is on
105:28
importance of distancing by elites and
105:30
optimism is based on the idea that US
105:32
democracy does not present an immediate
105:34
threat via redistribution to elite
105:36
interests yet earlier presentations levy
105:39
she wore ski suggests that the lack of
105:41
progressive redistribution is
105:42
undermining confidence and democratic
105:44
institutions
105:45
is there an irreconcilable difference
105:48
here over weathered redistribution
105:50
counts as a threat or an asset to
105:52
American democracy I think there’s an
105:55
important distinction between
105:57
redistribution and actual property
106:00
seizure and revolution and we are
106:03
clearly in remedying the inequality that
106:08
we talked about in an earlier panel
106:11
would not require revolution if which
106:14
require redistribution of the old social
106:18
democratic component and I think that
106:21
folks in Silicon Valley are probably not
106:23
even worried about that I think they
106:27
could handle it and I think that I
106:28
haven’t seen survey research but maybe
106:31
some of you have done it I’d like very
106:32
much to look at the values of the young
106:35
entrepreneurs in the tech industry and
106:37
to see whether they would in fact halt
106:40
much more redistribution than we have
106:43
I’d love to see that data I sense that
106:45
there’s probably more room there than we
106:48
might anticipate and certainly more room
106:50
than there was in fascist Italy yeah
106:54
comments on that last yes there you go
107:12
no but it’s it’s just fall short of
107:15
revolution and it falls short of backing
107:18
anti-democratic action on the part of
107:20
truck so but it’s basically buying
107:23
social goodness sure well I want to
107:28
thank our panelists very much for a
107:30
fascinating session
107:31
[Applause]
107:38
[Music]

The Failure of Liberal Politics

“The rise of right wing populism represents the failure of liberal and progressive politics,” says Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel. He joins The Agenda to diagnose the failure of liberal politics, the decline of civic life, and what liberals need to know in the age of anger and populism.