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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
Michael Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to the FBI; North Korea Says New Missile Can Hit Anywhere in the U.S.; Global Lessons on How to Really Fix Taxes; The Trump Effect in Tehran; Feeling Like an Outsider in Your Own Country; Aired 10-11a ET
Aired December 3, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:08] FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you live from New York.
ZAKARIA: On today's show, former National Security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleads guilty to a felony. What's next?
And North Korea launches a missile capable of hitting New York, D.C., L.A. or any part of the continental United States. How will the U.S. respond?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is a situation that we will handle.
ZAKARIA: Are preemptive strikes actually on the table?
Meanwhile, turmoil at foggy bottom. Just what is going on at the United States State Department?
Also, the Republicans say they are simplifying the tax code. Really? We'll show you some countries where taxes are as easy as 1, 2, 3. Global lessons on taxes.
TRUMP: We will give the American people a big, beautiful Christmas present.
ZAKARIA: And Muslims and Mexicans. Trump has repeatedly demeaned both groups, but now other Americans are feeling uncomfortable.
Conservative foreign policy scholar, Max Booth, tells us why he feels he doesn't belong any more.
MAX BOOT, AUTHOR, "THE ROAD NOT TAKEN": Donald Trump is making me feel like a foreigner for the first time in my life.
ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. Watching the Republican tax plan race through Congress, one is reminded of a big apparent difference between Donald Trump's program and other populist movements in the Western world. In America, Trump is leading something that is best described as plutocratic populism. A mixture of traditional populist causes with extreme libertarian ones.
Congress' own think tanks, the Joint Committee on Taxation and Congressional Budget Office calculate that in 10 years people making between $50,000 and $75,000 a year around the median income in America would effectively pay a whopping $4 billion more in taxes. While people making $1 million or more would pay $5.8 billion less, according to an analysis of the Senate bill before its last-minute changes.
And that doesn't take into account the massive cuts in services, health care and other benefits that would likely result.
Martin Wolf, the sober and fact-based chief economics commentator for "The Financial Times," concludes, "This is a determined effort to shift resources from the bottom, middle and even upper middle of the U.S. income distribution toward the very top. Combined with big increases in economic insecurity for the great majority."
Wolf says the real puzzle is why this is a politically successful strategy. The Republican Party is pursuing an economic agenda for the 0.1 percent, but it needs to win the votes of the majority. In a recent essay Berkeley political scientist, Paul Pearson, argues that Trump entered office with a set of incurred ideas and no real organization. Thus his administration was ripe for takeover by the most ardent, organized and well-funded elements of the Republican Party, which is its libertarian wing.
Nurtured and built up over the years, this group of conservatives decided to ally with the Trump administration to enact its long- standing agenda.
So is it that the Republican Party is cleverly and successfully hood- winking its supporters, promising them populism and then enacting plutocratic capitalism? Many have argued that Republicans have been able to work this magic trick by tangling social issues in front of working-class voters who fall for the bait and lose sight of the fact that they are voting against their own interests.
But what if people are not being fooled? What if people are actually motivated far more deeply by issues surrounding religion, race and culture than they are by economics?
There's increasing evidence that Trump's base supports him because it feels a deep, emotional, cultural and class affinity for him. And while the tax bill is being analyzed by economists, Trump picks fights with black athletes, retweets misleading anti-Muslim videos and promises never to yield on immigration. Perhaps he knows his base better than we do.
In fact, Trump's populism might not be as unique as it's made out to be. Polling from Europe now suggests that the core issues motivating people to support Brexit or the far-right parties in France and Germany and even the populist parties of eastern Europe are cultural and social.
The most important revolution in economics in the last generation has been the rise of the behavioral scientists trained in psychology who are finding that people systematically make decisions that are against their own interests.
[10:05:05] This might be the tip of the iceberg in understanding human motivation. The real story might be that people see their own interests in much more emotional and tribal way than scholars understand.
What if in the eyes of a large group of Americans, these other issues are the ones for which they will stand up, protest, support politicians, vote and even pay an economic price? What if, for many people in America and around the world, these are their true interests?
For more, go to CNN.com/fareed and read my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
From Michael Flynn's guilty plea to North Korea's missile, from a potential move of the U.S. embassy to Israel, to big question marks at the State Department, lots to talk about this morning here on GPS. We'll get right to it.
David Sanger joins us from Washington. He is the national security correspondent for "New York Times" and a CNN contributor. Here in New York Ian Bremmer is the president of the Eurasia Group and a columnist at "TIME" magazine, and Julia Ioffe is the staff writer at "The Atlantic."
David, let me ask you, just step back for a minute and tell us, where do we stand now? Because if you looked in February, the White House said basically we had no contact with the Russians. Where are we now?
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Fareed, since February, we've discovered at least nine members of the Trump transition team, or their -- the campaign who did have contact with the Russians. We found probably more than 30 contacts. So the initial story has sort of fallen apart.
The early story about Michael Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who then moved into the inner circle of the Trump campaign and became national security adviser for 25 days, his contacts are particularly fascinating. We were told initially that his conversations with Ambassador Kislyak, the Russian ambassador at the time to the United States, amounted to holiday greetings.
That seemed improbable since they took place the day of and the day after President Obama put sanctions on Russia for the election meddling. We now know from the guilty plea that, in fact, they discussed the sanctions and the suggestion seems to be, though we don't know the details of that discussion yet, that what he was doing was essentially saying, hold on. Don't retaliate. We'll take care of this once we come into office.
Now the question is, why would he lie about this? And why would you actually make promises to a foreign government before you are in office? The right answer would have been, we hear your concerns, Mr. Ambassador, and we're happy to take it up with you at 12:30 p.m. on January 20th, but we can't until that time.
And so now the question is, who else knows, and as we reported in the "Times" today, my colleagues reported that, in fact, there were many others who were consulted about these interactions with Ambassador Kislyak.
ZAKARIA: And as you said, you know, why does everybody keep lying about this if it's all very harmless?
Julia, again, big picture. Remind us, why is it that the Trump administration seems to have been trying to be nice to the Russians? Isn't that sort of -- the question is, all these moves seem to be moves to tell the Russians, you know, hold off, we're going to try and relax sanctions on you, we're going to try and have a different relationship with you. And presumably, at least, many people have said, this is all because Trump was in some way being assisted by the Russians. Is that -- we don't have any proof yet on that first piece of the story.
JULIA IOFFE, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: That's right. I think that is the -- however, you know, $100 million question, $64,000 question. That is the question. And there is still a lot we don't know. We know why the Russians were reaching out to the Trump campaign repeatedly and in many different ways, which is also very classic, right? You have lots of different kind of efforts going out, lots of tentacles reaching toward the Trump campaign, which is totally understandable because you had Trump talking about how he wanted to respect Russia and get along with Russia, how he thought Putin was a great and strong leader.
That he wanted to pull the U.S. back off the world stage, which is great for Russia because Russia wants to expand its presence on the world stage. So the more of a vacuum the U.S. creates for it in places like the Middle East, the better. So it's -- it's understandable why the Russians were reaching out.
The question we don't know the answer to yet is why the Trump campaign seems so eager to -- or the Trump transition team seems so eager to reach back out.
[10:10:06] What were the Russians offering to them? And, you know, other things we have no explanation for yet is, why Jared Kushner, for example, was asking the Russian ambassador to set up a secret secure channel from the Russian embassy in Washington to Moscow? And it was the Russian ambassador that said no, you know, these are -- our equipment is a little too sensitive.
ZAKARIA: What is your reaction to the Flynn business?
IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: Well, first of all, we know one reason why the Trump administration -- the Trump campaign, was so interested in trying to work with the Russians. That's because Paul Manafort, who was running the campaign was actually on the payroll of the oligarchs close to the Kremlin. Leaving that aside, I think Jared is in real trouble here because at the time that these conversations were happening between Flynn and the Russian ambassador, Jared was in charge of foreign policy for the Trump administration -- for the Trump team.
He was the one that was approving every meeting that Trump would or would not have with a head of state. He was the one that was determining foreign policy direction. So it begs credulity that he would not have been aware of exactly what Flynn was discussing with Kislyak. And if Flynn was saying, hey, we're going to make sure these sanctions come off, I think Jared was absolutely a part of that.
There's no way we're not going to find that out. Now I don't think that's collusion. For me, you know, collusion implies that Trump and Putin were actually in some way working together to try to swing the election an illegitimate way. I don't see that. But I do see breathtaking, staggering incompetence. I think that Jared had no idea that what he was doing was potentially problematic for what an administration would look like and I think that there were no adults around them in the room.
I mean, the Carter Pages, the Papadopouloses. The people that were advising Donald Trump were not just the B list, they were the D list, because nobody thought they had a chance. So as a consequence, a whole bunch of things that would have raised the antennas of people like Richard Haass, or others that you have actually frequently on this show and say, wait a second, this just isn't done. Those people weren't around Trump. And then you see -- his lying about it, the cover-up, is what's going to get them in an enormous amount of trouble.
ZAKARIA: All right. We've got to take a break. Stay right here. We will be back to talk about everything else, Secretary Tillerson, North Korea, everything we can fit in.
[10:16:39] ZAKARIA: And we are back with David Sanger, Ian Bremmer and Julia Ioffe.
David, we could talk about Flynn forever, but let's get to real substance by which I mean North Korea, foreign policy substance. Tell me what the significance of this missile test was? Because what I -- I looked at it and it seemed like an old Soviet SS-18 and it's not entirely clear that the rocket was able to reenter. You know, these things often burn out in reentry. So given all that, and given that the Soviet -- the SS-18 is, what is it, 35, 40 years old?
SANGER: That's right.
ZAKARIA: Why is this a big deal?
SANGER: Well, the first thing, Fareed, is we didn't really see this big almost SS-18 coming. The pace of the North Korean missile capability has been so rapid over the past year that it raises the question, why didn't we see more of this, why wasn't there more warning? But also, are they getting help or are they doing this entirely indigenously?
(CROSSTALK) ZAKARIA: Getting help presumably it has to be from the Russians, right? There's nobody else could do this.
SANGER: Well, certainly, the design of the engine that we saw there appeared to be a Russian design. Came initially from a Ukrainian factory that was active when -- when the Soviet Union was still around. Hasn't made those in a long time. There are a lot of questions about how the North Koreans got that engine. And so the rocket itself went off in a relatively successful test. There are a lot of questions about whether or not the warhead burned up on reentry.
That wouldn't be strange because the United States had a lot of warheads burn up on reentry when we were first getting into this business in the 1950s. But what it does tell you, Fareed, is they'll figure this out. You know, we often say, this isn't rocket science. This is rocket science. But it's well-known rocket science. So I think that they'll get there.
SANGER: The bigger significance, though, I think is this, Fareed. Their nuclear capability and their ability to reach the United States, it's just about there. So this game is pretty much over. And that really changes and limits the choices the president has, including whether or not he wants to try to shoot one of these down, if it's approaching American territory, whether he wants to go do a preemptive strike, or whether, as I suspect, we'll just end up living with it.
ZAKARIA: Julia, at a time like this where you have this huge crisis, it seems an odd thing to have a changeover at State, to sideline or fire Rex Tillerson, and in any case, Tillerson doesn't seem to be very effective at State in -- in order to function.
IOFFE: And he doesn't have a point man for East Asia, I mean, or a point woman for East Asia. So many positions are still unstaffed. He is -- seems intent on gutting the State Department, driving out the most senior, most experienced diplomats, who will take decades to replace to get people up to snuff, if we ever get another chance to re-staff these positions. But I think also it's a weird time to keep knocking the Iran nuclear agreement. Because if you're North Korea and you see that, OK, one country decided to put a halt on its nuclear capabilities or developing their nuclear capabilities, to what end? To constantly have that agreement undermined, to have it rattled.
[10:20:06] If you look at Libya and what happened with Moammar Gadhafi, he gave up his nukes and then he was, you know, essentially lynched. So if I'm North Korea, I'm not going to come to the table. I'm not going to reach -- not going to agree to give up anything because I have no guarantees because this administration is completely untrustworthy.
ZAKARIA: Tillerson at State. Do you think -- he's out? What happens next?
BREMMER: I think he will be out. I think perhaps he would have been out already if it wasn't for the Flynn revelations. But after that occurred, I think Trump wanted to in a fit of pique, say no, no, you guys are fake news. Yes, I'm telling you, I'm with him for now, but clearly, he doesn't have a functional relationship. Not only with President Trump himself, but at this point even Secretary of Defense Mattis, even National Security adviser McMaster have been calling for his ouster.
But I do think on the North Korea issue, the fact is that, you know, we can't take Trump seriously or literally at this point. He said that the North Koreans would be stopped before they had the opportunity to develop a ballistic missile that could hit the continental United States. They now have one that clearly could hit Washington, D.C. Not credible. And that's OK. He used to say that the Mexicans were going to pay for a wall. He said it every day before he won. He doesn't say that any more.
I think we should take comfort in the fact that he says stuff, but the reality is that there are now engaged diplomacy between the Chinese that are relatively high-level in the North Koreans. That the South Koreans on the ground don't want a fight and are looking for a way to perhaps support this freeze for freeze that the Chinese have said, freeze of test for the freeze for -- exercise with the United States. And I think --
ZAKARIA: Which would be a complete reversal of Trump's rhetoric, as you say, which was unyielding, denuclearization of North Korea or nothing.
BREMMER: If there is any president that we have seen in modern times that can do a 180 on national security, it's President Trump. And by the way, he may not have much of a choice if the Chinese, South Koreans and North Koreans are all moving ahead without him.
IOFFE: And then do another 180 to start -- to end up right where he started.
ZAKARIA: David Sanger, we have 30 seconds. And I just want to ask you about the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. For now what we have is -- from splitting the difference, he's going to recognize Jerusalem, but not move the embassy. Does it change anything?
SANGER: Well, it won't change much on the ground, Fareed. But it could end up being another huge provocation. And one in a region that has seen a lot of those and a lot of instability. And the question is, what do you buy from making this statement, other than making your base happy? If, in fact, it does lead to protests, attacks, or even the resumption of an Intifada.
ZAKARIA: So here we have, you know, a base only policy that has now extended into foreign policy where you have a -- you know, a piece of foreign policy that seems to have no practical effect other than a kind of symbolic reassurance to the base. Thank you all very much. Fascinating conversation. We will have to
do it again soon.
Next on GPS another big thing in Washington this week. The Senate passed a tax bill. Instead of simplifying things in many ways it complexifies the tax code. We will get global lessons on how to really simplify taxes. There is a lot for America to learn from many countries, which have much simpler tax codes.
[10:28:04] ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment. In the early 1980s, the United States dispatched two officials to New Zealand on a crucial information-gathering mission. What they learned there paved the way for one of Ronald Reagan's crowning achievements. Tax reform.
But as Republicans strive for tax reform once again, they are missing most of the key tax lessons from that reform and other countries. So we at GPS thought we would do our own information-gathering mission, but then we found someone who had already done it and just wrote a fun, terrific book on the subject, if you can believe it. So we decided to bring him on instead.
T.R. Reid is the author of "A Fine Mess" and it is in fact about taxes around the world.
So the big take-away that I got from your book is, in most countries, or in many, many countries in the advanced industrial world, paying your taxes is very simple, easy and does not take a lot of time.
T.R. REID, AUTHOR, "A FINE MESS": Absolutely. So the IRS says an average family in America spends about 30 hours gathering the data and filling out the forms. They pay on average 260 bucks to somebody to do their tax return.
Get this, in the Netherlands, 15 minutes to do both your federal and state taxes. In Britain and Japan, it takes one minute. The government sends you a card, says we think you owe this much, if it looks right, you're done.
My friend Togo -- I went to Japan to research this book, and Togo -- I said, geez, Togo, in America, people spend hours gathering data and filling out forms. And he said to me, why would anybody want to do that?
ZAKARIA: And what was it you noticed about these places? For one thing, their versions of the IRS are respected, very competent, right?
REID: Absolutely. You know, the IRS tells its employees, don't tell people where you work at a cocktail party. Just say I'm a government employee. In other countries, the IRS, they have blazers with badges. They have baseball caps.
[10:30:04] In Chile, the IRS has a mascot. His name is Evo, which means value-added tax in Spanish. And Evo goes around to schools and shopping malls, and he says, they're awesome, these taxes. They build hospitals. They build schools.
In Japan, the best movie, best director, best actress, was won by a film called "Audit Bureau Woman" in which this very cute woman, Miyamoto Nobuko, she's kind of a Meg Ryan of Japan, plays an audit bureau tax auditor who chases a famous tax evader and nails him. And when she nails him, everybody cheers.
ZAKARIA: Now the key to being able to do this kind of very simple taxes, it seems to me, looking at these places and looking at your book, is you have simple rates, not too many.
ZAKARIA: Very few deductions, credits. Very little of the kind of -- the special gizmos, give-aways to special interests. And you can see that in the fact that the tax code in most of these countries is much shorter than in the United States. The United States tax code, with IRS rulings, is 75,000 pages long.
ZAKARIA: I mean, I've seen European tax codes that are a few hundred pages.
REID: Yes. I asked the commissioner of Internal Revenue if anybody at the IRS has read the whole tax code. He laughed at me. The very idea.
Yes, in other countries, here's what they say. They say, hey, you want to get a mortgage on your house, that's fine. But we're not giving you a tax break for it. You want to give a contribution to charity, great, we're all for it. We're not giving you a tax break. You want to put a solar array on your roof, go for it. But you don't get a tax break.
If you do that, Fareed, you get a much simpler return and you can make the rates much lower. You can collect the same revenue with much lower rates if the rates are lower, two things happen. Compliance goes up. People are more willing to pay. And it's not in your interest to hire a lawyer and an accountant to dodge the tax. Just pay it.
ZAKARIA: I've always thought one of the reasons our tax code is so complicated is that Congress raises money for its re-election. Congressmen. And what they have -- they have to sell something. And what they're giving their contributors are special favors in the tax code. You know, it feels like so many of these are so specific. For example, commercial real estate has this bonanza of specific tax breaks designed only for commercial real estate.
REID: Yes. And you know, they never tell you who really gets it. There is a -- there is a give-away in the tax code for any manufacturing company incorporated in Delaware on June 16th of 1913. Well, that would be General Motors. But they don't tell you who got the benefit. And of course the congressman from Michigan put that one in. ZAKARIA: When I look at this tax reform bill, though, it seems to
violate almost all the lessons in your book because it actually complexifies the code. There are so many complicated distinctions between partnerships and pass-through entities. And it doesn't really get rid of many deductions. It doesn't seem to move us toward that kind of simpler, fairer system.
REID: Well, that's true. But there is some good stuff in this bill. They do get rid of some really -- some of the really stupid exemptions and credits. I make fun of in my book. For example, if you buy $138,000 BMW, a hybrid, made in Germany, the government gives you $7500 tax credit. That seems stupid to me. They got rid of that one.
Doubling the standard deduction for ordinary tax-paying families, that's a good thing. That will simplify the taxes. So I think there is some good stuff in this bill.
ZAKARIA: But if you buy an office building, then --
REID: Then you really --
ZAKARIA: You can deduct 90 percent -- of the interest. You can depreciate it. When you sell it, you never have to pay taxes. And since the state taxes go away, your children never pay. So the main take-away I get from this tax bill is go into commercial real estate like Donald Trump.
REID: Yes. Donald Trump is going to make out great on this bill. Just eliminating the estate tax will save the Trump family about $1 billion. Not bad deal.
ZAKARIA: T.R., pleasure to have you on.
REID: Great to be on, Fareed. Thanks.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, President Trump's anti-Iran rhetoric and actions have united the Islamic Republic in a way not seen in many years. That is according to a striking report by the "New York Times'" Thomas Erdbrink. He joins us from Tehran when we come back.
[10:37:27] ZAKARIA: Senior European diplomats spent time in the American capital this week working to convince Congress and the State Department that the U.S. should not try to alter the nuclear deal with Iran. Meanwhile, at the White House, President Trump has fully endorsed a Saudi-led strategy to oppose Iran at every turn, supporting Riyadh's war in Yemen and its isolation of Qatar for that country's ties with Iran.
But what has been the effect of Trump's strategy in Iran? The "New York Times'" Thomas Erdbrink joins us with some startling reporting.
Thomas, pleasure to have you on. You talked to people in Iran to try to understand what the mood is like and describe what you found.
THOMAS ERDBRINK, TEHRAN BUREAU CHIEF, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, Fareed, thanks for having me. I've been reporting from Iran for the last 16 years. And in that period, Iran and Iranians have always been cynical about their leaders, if you will. A lot of people will remember the Green Revolution here in 2009, when millions of people took to the streets and this has left their mark on Iranians. But this has all changed in the last months and this has particularly changed because of President Trump and also because of the Saudi crown prince and his moves against Iran.
Iranians are feeling increasingly nationalistic. They are suddenly viewing the hard liners that they saw as a destabilizing force for a long time in almost as protectors of the country. Then the other thing what is happening is, of course, President Trump's remarks about the nuclear agreement. A lot of middle class Iranians have supported the United States, have supported Iran in making this nuclear compromise because they want what all people across the world want. Peace, stability and prosperity.
Now they see President Trump talking about cancelling this agreement. And they listen to their hard liners. And their hard liners say, we've always told you, America cannot be trusted. And a lot of people are now saying, hmmm, maybe these hard liners are right.
ZAKARIA: Do you -- when you look at this scenario, do you think that there is a danger of some kind of hot war between Iran and Saudi Arabia? Can this all spiral out of control, or are the Iranians being fairly cautious?
ERDBRINK: Well, the Iranian leaders have been really cautious. You might have noticed it. While there have been missile tests from North Korea, in Iran in the recent months, there hasn't been a single missile test. So it's clearly -- decisions have been taken not to put more fuel on the fire.
[10:40:12] At the same time, the Iranians are seeing the Saudis spending a lot of money in -- towards loving groups in the United States, working on media, making reforms back home even, in order to also improve their image abroad, if you will, and also make Iran look bad in some cases. So there is a growing worry that there might be an escalation with the Saudis. At the same time, a lot of people are saying, well, the Saudis, yes, they buy a lot of American weapons. But they haven't been able to achieve very much with those weapons in Yemen.
So people aren't very impressed with the Saudi military machine. But at the same time, this could lead to more sanctions, especially if the United States and Saudi continue to grow more closer to each other. And more sanctions will, of course, mean more economic problems for Iran and more problems for Iran's leaders.
ZAKARIA: Thomas, how do -- how does the Iranian media and in your conversations with Iranians, how do they respond to Donald Trump?
ERDBRINK: Well, overall, many people view President Trump as an instable person, someone who is out there to destabilize the United States. But also as someone who is potentially very dangerous because he is very erratic. And that is another characteristic, the difference -- the current U.S. president from Iran's leaders, the way Iranians view it because for a long time Iran was the unpredictable country in the region.
Now Iranians, at least, feel as if the United States is the unpredictable country. And you never know what an unpredictable country and an unpredictable leader might do. So they -- they make jokes of Donald Trump as you will see in many places. Also in the United States. But at the same time they are afraid of what he can do.
ZAKARIA: Thomas Erdbrink, pleasure to have you on, as always.
ERDBRINK: Thanks, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Up next from ending protections for DREAMERS to this week's retweets of virulently anti-Muslim videos, Donald Trump is clearly trying to make Muslims and Mexicans uncomfortable. But he's making others quite nervous, as well. A fascinating human story, up next.
[10:47:16] ZAKARIA: President Trump's retweets this week, certainly instill fear in the hearts of Muslims in America. His anti-Mexican rhetoric surely is troubling to those born south of the border. His decision to terminate the Obama era DACA program, which protected as many as 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as minors is disturbing to those so-called DREAMERS who now face deportation.
But of course those affected are far from the only ones who are chilled by the president's language and actions. For instance, Americans like my next guest, Max Boot. He's one of today's most celebrated scholars of military affairs. He has a forthcoming book about the Vietnam War called "The Road Not Taken." A staunch conservative, he advised John McCain during his 2008 presidential campaign and David Petraeus during the surge in Iraq.
But it was a personal essay that Boot wrote recently that inspired me to ask him to come on GPS again and talk about it.
ZAKARIA: So, Max, I listed your very impressive credentials.
BOOT: Thanks for the nice buildup.
ZAKARIA: And your very American-sounding name.
ZAKARIA: Because you began that essay by saying, you know, people who know you professionally and know your books, know your writing, know your appearances, they think of you as a regular all-American guy. But, in fact, you came to America when you were 6 years old as a Russian immigrant who couldn't speak a word of English.
BOOT: Correct. And I thought I had done a reasonably good job of assimilating. I don't have an accent. There's no obvious tip-off that I wasn't born around these parts. But the essay that I wrote was really about the fact that Donald Trump is making me feel like a foreigner for the first time in my life. And what I have always thought of as my very own country.
But he's making me feel like an outsider, a Russian, a Jew, an immigrant, anything but kind of a normal mainstream American because of the way that he is dividing us and balkanizing us and seems to be catering to this white nationalist agenda.
ZAKARIA: I don't think I've ever seen a sentence of yours that started by saying, as a Russian Jew. Here are my views on the Iraq surge.
ZAKARIA: You've never used your identity to advance yourself or in some way color your commentary. But now you feel like -- you know, you feel that identity more acutely because you're suddenly being told. That's how I wanted to find you.
BOOT: Well, that's very much the message I'm getting from Trump. You know, when he is refusing to unequivocally condemn the white supremacists in Charlottesville. When he's pardoning the racist former sheriff Joe Arpaio. And when he's deporting potentially 800,000 DREAMERS from this country, it feels like there is an us and a them.
[10:50:08] And I'm -- I'm not a part of the us anymore somehow even though I always thought I was. You know, it's -- I think that is one of the most pernicious consequences of these Trump policies. Just to give you one data point. I mean, I've lived in this country for more than 40 years now and I have never really been exposed to any kind of sustained anti-Semitism until last year when all of a sudden simply because I'm opposing Donald Trump, I'm getting deluged with anti- Semitic filth online and in Twitter and e-mail and so forth.
And of course I was hardly alone in this. Almost anybody who had any kind of vaguely Jewish-sounding name was all of a sudden being on the receiving end of all this hatred, which presumably has been out there in the past, but it just feels like Trump has given a license for these people to come out of the woodwork and to express their views more openly in a way that they did not do before.
ZAKARIA: When you came here, you didn't speak English. Do you have memories of -- at that very young age -- trying to assimilate what it felt like?
BOOT: I was somebody who was eager to assimilate. I, you know, wanted to shed my foreign identity and become an American. And as a result of that, you know, for better or for worse, I don't speak Russian today. I mean, I don't have any real ties to Russia. I mean, I feel very American. I feel this is the only country I've ever known. And yet at the same time, I'm just taken aback by understanding that there's 800,000 DREAMERS out there, and for them it's also the only country they have ever known.
And it just -- you know, it's very chilling for me to try to put myself into their shoes and to think about what would happen in my case. I mean, I'm 48 years old. What happens if I get deported to Russia, a land I don't know, a language I don't speak, people I have never met and forced to survive there? And especially with the threat, presumably, of political persecution, since I have been less than a fan of Vladimir Putin and his government.
But that's -- for me, that's a theoretical concern because most of, you know, my parents received refugee status and I became a citizen. So I'm not worried in my case that I'm actually going to get kicked out of this country. But, you know, for 800,000 individuals, I mean, it's just -- it's a terrifying prospect. And now they have to wait and see if Republicans in Congress will somehow resist the nativist sentiments in their own party to give some protection, which I certainly hope would happen. But, you know, it's something that they would have to be extremely worried about right now.
ZAKARIA: And I think we should all be worried about the larger point that you're making. What does it do to the character of the country, to not just the 800,000, but to the other 300 odd million of us?
BOOT: Exactly. And it's especially chilling to hear people like Steve Bannon and Steve Miller, with Bannon having been one of the most influential people in the White House, and Miller still there, and they're saying, we're not a nation of immigrants. I mean, Miller is saying -- repudiating the (INAUDIBLE) poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty about giving me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.
They're saying, no, that's not what we're about. I beg to differ. This is the country that I've known, this is the country I think most of us have known, and it's in fact is what America has been about for well over 200 years. And it seems to me that these guys, with Donald Trump's acquiescence and sometimes act of support, are bent on this very radical project of redefining American identity in these white nationalist terms, which I think are very threatening to everybody.
It should be threatening to everybody, even if you're actually a wasp, you should be threatened by this but I think it's doubly threatening if you're not a wasp.
ZAKARIA: Max Boot, pleasure to have you on.
BOOT: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: And we will be back.
[10:58:30] ZAKARIA: After feasting on turkey during Thanksgiving last week, millions of Americans feasted on steep discounts at stores and online. And it brings me to my question. Which shopping holiday has the highest online sales worldwide in 2017? Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Amazon Prime Day or Singles Day?
Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.
This week's "Book of the Week" is Tina Brown's "Vanity Fair Diaries." This is the greatest guilty pleasure I have had all year as far as reading is concerned. We all know that Tina Brown is a great editor. It turns out she is also a great writer. Vividly describing what it was like to live at the center of the roaring '80s. She writes honestly about her ambitions, fears, hopes, loves and losses. I found these diaries compulsively readable.
The answer to my GPS challenge question this week is, D, Singles Day. That is the unusual holiday that China celebrates every November. It is China's version of Black Friday. And on that day, a single Chinese online retailer, Alibaba, blew its competition away with $25 billion in sales. Compare that to these figures from all online retailers on other capitalist holidays. $6.6 billion on Cyber Monday, for example, and $5 billion on Black Friday in 2017.
Singles Day is celebrated on November 11th. 11/11 or 1111. And it took on special significance in 2011. That was, of course, 11/11/11. Lots of singles.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.