Return to Transcripts main page
FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
A Look at India's Election; Adam Gopnik Talks about His New Book and Liberalism. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired May 19, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:19] 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.
ZAKARIA: Today on the show, are we on the road to war? Has the Trump administration been setting things up for a military confrontation with Iran?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If they do anything, they will suffer greatly.
ZAKARIA: Then the trade war with China. It has roiled markets and it's costing Americans cash. Who will blink, Trump or Xi?
TRUMP: You want to know something? We always win.
ZAKARIA: I'll talk to experts on each hot spot.
And India's elections are done. And no matter what party wins, we know one thing. Accused crooks will be elected. I'll bring you the stunning findings and the implications for America.
Plus, Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Urban, Duterte? We know the face of right-wing populism, what is its opposite? Can liberalism put up a fight? The "New Yorker's" Adam Gopnik defends the tweet.
ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. Donald Trump has seemed largely uninterested in foreign policy. He got excited briefly when he thought he could win a Nobel Peace Prize and hype the danger of an imminent North Korean attack so he could then play the peacemaker. When it became clear that a deal was not to be had easily, Trump lost interest and scarcely mentions the subject any more.
Beyond North Korea, his foreign policy has largely been one of subcontracting, a familiar style for a real estate developer. Middle East policy is farmed out to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Policy toward left-wing regimes and Latin America -- Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua - have been delegated to saber rattlers like John Bolton and Marco Rubio. The rest of Latin America is dealt with solely through the lens of immigration. In other words, subcontracted to Stephen Miller. The one common aspect of Trump's foreign policy, however, has been
that abroad it has provoked a vigorous nationalist response. Take China, where the government has gone on the offensive and denounced what it sees as America's aggressive trade demands. Beijing's state controlled television network recently featured a commentary tying American tactics to previous foreign efforts to subjugate China.
After 5,000 years of wind and rain, what hasn't the Chinese nation weathered, the anchor said. If you want a trade war, we'll fight you until the end. In Iran, the Islamic Republic has been able to withstand the economic storms caused by U.S. sanctions so far, because it has been able to pin the blame on Trump's anti-Iran strategy, not the regime's economic mismanagement.
Washington has always underestimated nationalism, especially in Iran. Many of Iran's foreign policy moves stem from its geopolitical position. Not some fundamentalist Shiite ideology. Even allies are becoming more assertive and anti-American. In 2015 before Trump's election, 66 percent of Mexicans had a favorable view of America. By 2018 that number had dropped to 32 percent.
Confidence in the U.S. president plummeted in that same period from 49 percent to 6 percent. The pattern recurs almost everywhere. In Canada confidence in the U.S. president went from 76 percent in 2015 to 25 percent in 2018. In France, it's worse. From 83 percent under Obama to single digits under Trump. In fact in a recent Pew survey of 25 countries, only two places express greater confidence in Trump than they did in his predecessor, Russia and Israel.
Yet other countries are simply following Trump's advice. In his 2017 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Donald Trump called for a great reawakening of nations, urging countries to use patriotism and self- interest as their sole guides in foreign policy. Trump's North Star has been to celebrate a narrow conception of national interest, reject the idea that there are larger international interests, and by implication, to denigrate the idea of cooperative win-win solutions.
The Chinese, the Iranians and so many others are simply doing what Trump urged. And since the U.S. is still the world's leading power and Trump's style has been aggressive and undiplomatic, the easiest response abroad is a nationalist, anti-American one.
[10:05:05] Feeding public anger, stoking bad historical memories and locking countries into a win-lose mindset. It's a world with more instability, less cooperation and fewer opportunities for America. And it is the direct logical consequence of Donald Trump's philosophy of America first.
For more go to CNN.com/fareed and read my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
Will the heightened tensions between the United States and Iran lead to war? And what would it mean if there were actual hostilities? These questions are on people's minds all around the world?
Let's try to get answers from today's guests, both of whom have reported extensively on and in Iran. Robin Wright is a contributing writer to the "New Yorker." Her book on Iran is "The Last Great Revolution." Jim Sciutto is CNN's chief national security correspondent and the author of a terrific new book, "The Shadow War: Inside Russia and China's Secret Operation to Defeat America."
We will get to that, Jim, but first let me ask you. What is going on? It seemed as though the administration, John Bolton, the National Security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, was setting up a kind of aggressive series of moves that were essentially designed to provoke the Iranians or confront the Iranians. And then the president said, but wait a minute, I don't -- I don't want war?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Whiplash, right? I mean, think of the span of those two weeks, a clear and present danger, requiring the deployment of an additional carrier group. I mean, this is the most powerful weapon in America's military arsenal, when you think about it. The aircraft carrier holds the ships and submarines that come with it.
Great alarm, and now the president in the span of that time now saying, I don't want war, let's find a way to talk. As happens with so many things in this administration with foreign policy or national security issues or threats, was there any discussion of a broader policy here? Was there a consensus built within the administration over this? Doesn't appear to be because the fissures have been playing out very much in the public eye.
The president's comments versus the comments of his secretary of State as his National Security adviser. It leaves the American public with legitimate questions as to what the policy is, but also, America's allies and adversaries, which of course increases the risk of misunderstanding, and we're seeing this play out in front of us in real time.
ZAKARIA: Robin, it seems as though President Trump was not aware that Mike Pompeo has had a longstanding, very hardlined view on Iran that has essentially been about regime change. But that John Bolton, in particular, has had these very longstanding and very hardlined views on Iran.
ROBIN WRIGHT, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, there's clearly a split within the administration over what their end goal is. John Bolton has had a longstanding relationship with the Iranian opposition. He's talked about regime change. He wrote an op-ed in the "New York Times" saying it was time to bomb Iran, this is before taking his current job. So he has talked about a counter revolution basically, whereas Mike Pompeo who had talked about regime change has kind of modified that view at the State Department, more in line with President Trump's view that you want to see a change in behavior, but he's issued 12 demands that often amount to regime change.
The president on the other hand has talked about -- he's willing to talk to the supreme leader. They've reached out to the Iranians since President Trump took office almost a dozen times. So I think that they all agree on what they don't want to see in Iran, but the question is, what do they ultimately want to see proactively or creatively in terms of happening in Tehran itself. And that I think has led to a real gap, and that's why you've seen this breathtaking buildup suddenly to the potential of war.
And now this beginning of a kind of pullback. How do we avoid a war. The danger of course is, how do you de-escalate once you've reached this point, and that is the challenge for both sides today.
ZAKARIA: Jim, it seems to me that the way you de-escalate is -- in the Trump administration is Trump just changes the subject. I mean, he did this with North Korea, where he hyped up the threat, then realized he wasn't going to get the Nobel Peace Prize. So all of a sudden the situation is the same. Venezuela, you know, they drew a red line saying Maduro had to go. Maduro didn't go so he just suddenly stopped talking about Venezuela. It's that likely that will just -- this will just go away?
SCIUTTO: The president frequently declares victory where there is no victory and where the facts don't support it. And it does get to fundamental questions to the president's foreign policy here because he has tried the same tactic, as you noted, but also on China, right. Maximum economic pressure to get the North Koreans to abandon nukes. To get to China, to fundamentally change its economic model, an unfair one but one that appears to be, from its perspective and China's national security interest.
[10:10:01] Now to get Iran back to renegotiate a nuclear deal that it's showing no intention of renegotiating. At least today Trump's approach to all those issues as well as Venezuela appears to have failed. So what is the plan B? They've certainly articulated no alternative to Trump's policy, so the president may claim victory or success where there isn't, but the world is left with the consequences of that just not being supported by the facts.
ZAKARIA: Robin, what do the Iranians do? They are feeling the pressure. The Iranian economy is reeling, it's going to contract 6 percent this year. Can they make trouble or are they too weak at this point?
WRIGHT: I don't think Iran is weak at all. It clearly has very strong presence across the Middle East. It has proxies who have been operating in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, you know, they still are major players, even if they are feeling the economic pinch. They're -- and they do feel the economic pinch. Oil has gone down from $3.2 million barrels a day, to under one million barrels a day, and they are going to feel this long term.
But the challenge now is they have issued a deadline for the Europeans to help bail them out of the sanctions squeeze of 60 days or they may -- they threatened pull back even more from the steps promised in the Iran nuclear deal. Iran is still complying. And of course five of the six major powers engaged in the deal still believe in it, still support it. The question is, are we setting up some benchmarks down the road that will lead to further escalation? Even if there is a pull back at the moment on the kind of military steps? So this is still very much alive -- a live situation. ZAKARIA: One of the things Iran could do is get active on the
cyberspace. And this is the subject of your new book. I want to ask you, leave Iran aside, just tell us what is the main thing -- this terrific book about cyber war, how the Chinese and the Russians are both very actively engaged in it. What do you think is the principal message you want to get out of the book?
SCIUTTO: My principal message is this. So I think that Americans are generally aware of one front of what is a much broader war. They're aware of, for instance, Russian interference in the election or Chinese theft of state secrets which has been so central to the president's trade war with China today. But the fact is, there are many other fronts on which China and Russia are attacking the U.S. and the West on a daily basis and with great effect.
Their illegal land acquisition. Occupation of territory in Ukraine, annexation. China creating whole new territory in the South China Sea, in areas claimed by other powers. Americans, I don't think, by and large are aware that both Russia and China have deployed weapons in space, designed to take away essential space assets that the U.S. military, but also civilian world depends on because they know we have such great dependence.
And I should note that Iran and North Korea, watch China and Russia as well, they don't have the same resources but they use similar tactics in cyberspace, they use it in space, they use it on the ground. And this is part of a strategy. It is not by accident. It's an explicit strategy that both Russia and China are using. They call them by different names. The Rosomoff Doctrine by the Russians, winning without fighting is how the Chinese refer to it. And when you look at the results of this war so far, they have made gains. And the fact is the U.S. has only recently recognized this shadow war, as I call it, but is still trying to discern a strategy to effectively respond to it.
ZAKARIA: So it's a kind of asymmetrical war that we are much less aware of than they are.
SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And also designed to attack the U.S. and the West just below the threshold of sparking a kinetic reaction, a military reaction from the U.S. And they've been very smart in their sort of Spidey sense as it were, in detecting how far they can go without the U.S. reacting. And look, Russia is occupying a European country. A sovereign state, Ukraine. China has, you know, in the face of repeated American protest, created new territories, taking away territory in effect from U.S. allies.
They've interfered in election, Russia has. They've deployed space assets. What has the American response been? Some sanctions here, some sanctions there. Have not fundamentally changed either country's behavior. That's a failure by any other definition.
ZAKARIA: Jim, fascinating book, thank you. Robin Wright, always a pleasure.
WRIGHT: Thank you. ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, the United States is already in a war -- a
trade war with China. But what is the end game? I'll be back in a moment to discuss.
[10:18:03] ZAKARIA: On Tuesday President Trump diminished the seriousness of the trade war with China, calling it a little squabble. But despite his attempts to downplay it, the two sides are at an impasse. And in the meantime, American consumers are paying a price, as White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow admitted last weekend contradicting and reportedly upsetting his boss.
So how does the trade war end? We have a terrific panel to discuss. Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister of Australia, and current president of the Asia Society Policy Institute. He joins us from Beijing. Michael Pillsbury has been described by President Trump as the leading authority on China. He's director for China strategy at the Hudson Institute. And Rana Faroohar is a CNN global economic analyst and a global business columnist for the "Financial Times."
Mike, let me start with you.
MICHAEL PILLSBURY, DIRECTOR FOR CHINA STRATEGY AT THE HUDSON INSTITUTE: Sure.
ZAKARIA: You have influenced the president a great deal. In fact you wrote a piece arguing that one of the core demands of the U.S. position -- you I think originated the idea which is that the tariffs stay in place until you see Chinese compliance with the -- with the trade deal because in the past they have cheated. So from your point of view, is the U.S. position tenable and is it the right one?
PILLSBURY: Well, don't forget the president's goal for the long term is zero tariffs, increased trade between the U.S. and China. Increased investment by the U.S. in China and China in the U.S. That's the grand strategy here. To improve overall relations with China. Not to have a new cold war and not to have a trade war. But to get to that overall goal there's been a number of steps taken to get China's attention because as President Trump sort of joked, President Obama let them get away with murder.
President Trump has also, Fareed, on -- has some pressure from his own Democrats, from the left.
[10:20:02] Bernie, as we call him, wants to have currency manipulation label for China. Seven senators wrote a letter to President Trump, warning him not to be tough. Chuck Schumer, the Senate leader of the Democrats, March 2nd, did a tweet chastising President Trump for not raising the tariffs that day to 25 percent. So we have a complicated political situation here, and in many ways.
ZAKARIA: Kevin, what Michael described as the complicated political situation in the United States, which is keeping President Trump on a pretty tough line with China. Seems to be mirrored in China where you are right now. The "New York Times" has superb reporting out that suggests that when the Chinese side finally translated the document, the trade deal into Chinese and circulated among the leadership, Xi Ping, the president of China, found that there was more pushback than there were more -- there was more opposition to it.
And so changed instructions of the last minute, he had essentially had approved the deal and vetoed it. That seems like Chinese -- you know, Chinese politics at work, is that right?
KEVIN RUDD, FORMER AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Well, Fareed, here in Beijing, I don't get a daily briefing of what the politburo is doing. So ultimately we don't know the details of China's international processes. But the key question is this, going to China's own politics on the question of trade negotiations with the U.S., there's a particular provision in the U.S. negotiating position as at least as reported which the Chinese have found obnoxious, not acceptable.
And that is a provision which says that if in the future the United States judges that China is not honoring the terms of the agreement, then the United States can unilaterally impose punitive tariffs against China. But also in the same agreement, requiring that China would under no circumstances then retaliate. Now all I'd say in response to that is, if the United States was in a trade negotiation with me, as the prime minister of Australia, I would find that absolutely unacceptable.
And I'm not surprised the Chinese find it unacceptable. I still think there's a way through these negotiations, but the United States has to think through its own position on this as well.
ZAKARIA: Rana, what's striking to me looking at it from the U.S. domestic point of view is President Trump is putting tariffs, the Chinese are retaliating, those tariffs are hurting Trump supporters much more than anyone else. Farmers in the Midwest.
RANA FAROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: That's right.
ZAKARIA: Small manufacturers. But they are staying with him. The "New York Times" again has terrific reporting that says.
ZAKARIA: These people say we're willing to take this price because we're taking the long view, the Chinese have been stealing our intellectual property. It seems like there is nationalism at play here that is supporting president Trump's position.
FAROOHAR: I think that's absolutely right. It's interesting, because of the 10 states that are going to be most effective, eight of them voted for Trump. So the president is playing a pretty high stakes game. But as you point out, farmers are with him It's interesting, I spent some time looking at a supply chain in the Carolinas. And I spoke to a cotton farmer that had calculated down to the penny what it was costing him. But he said he was still with the president.
And he pointed out as did many small businesses, manufacturers in that state that look, they're just happy someone is pointing out the flaws and in some cases the hypocrisies of the last 20 years of trade where America said all right, as long as you let us export Coke and banking services, you can send us all the cheap clothes from China that you want. And that's created concentrated areas of pain in the U.S. Those are the places that voted for President Trump. And it's interesting because as Michael pointed out, there's an interesting far right-far left overlap in these policies.
FAROOHAR: I hear a lot of people on the far left saying, actually, maybe we do need more of a local ecosystem. I would also say, I don't think we're going to reset, no matter who's in the White House in 2020. I don't think we're going to reset to business as usual. China itself is like the U.S. post-World War II. It is a really big single language market with plenty of room to grow. They're building their own ecosystem. They have their own smart phones that sell better than Apple. So you may see more of a bipolar or even a tripolar world depending on how Europe plays out.
ZAKARIA: We will get to exactly this point when we come back, beyond the specifics of the trade war, what is the world going to look like, a new cold war with China? A bipolar world? What? When we return.
[10:23:03] ZAKARIA: And we are back with Kevin Rudd in Beijing, Michael Pillsbury in Washington and Rana Faroohar here in New York.
Kevin, I wanted to ask you about again what the Chinese reaction to the Trump strategy has been because it strikes me that Donald Trump is approaching it from the point of view of what he often calls kind of America first strategy, a kind of nationalist strategy. There's a lot of patriotic support for him among his base. The support of the far left. But the Chinese are also reacting it seems to me from their nationalist point of view. Their reaction has been very much a kind of, don't tread on me nationalism, has it not?
RUDD: Well, I think, Fareed, there's often an assumption in the U.S. that it's just America that's going to deal with its domestic politics on trade policy. But guess what, the Chinese have politics, too. It's called party politics. 86 million members of the Chinese Communist Party, and they do have internal debates.
Now the cool point here is in the politics of China right now, which is just celebrating the 100th anniversary of something called the Fourth Movement which Mr. Pillsbury would know all about. It's a highly nationalist period to do with the rise of Chinese nationalism a hundred years ago in response to external pressure from foreign powers.
I find it highly significant the China response to this latest twist in the Trump administration's trade policy is now itself going down the nationalist road and saying, here we are drawing a line in the sand. It's going to make an agreement harder rather than easier. And I go back to the overall purpose of the strategy on the part of the U.S. or anybody else which is to bring about a change in the other side's negotiating behavior. I'm not sure that's being achieved.
ZAKARIA: Is that not a fair point? I find myself --
ZAKARIA: -- quite sympathetic to some of the things President Trump says about China, even the strategy in terms of getting their attention. But in all his negotiations with foreign countries, he doesn't give them a win-win option. He -- it seems like he, you know, if you think about NAFTA, he wants to humiliate the other side, and it's very hard for the other side to take that, because they have domestic politics as well.
You know, is that not a fair criticism, that, fine, you've got their attention; you've got some tough demands; now tell them, "Here's this wonderful win-win; it's not that you're losing and I'm winning, and that -- and that's what will get us to the deal"?
PILLSBURY: I think that's right. President Trump's been very careful to underline his good relationship with President Xi. I don't think he's gloated or in any way said something that would inflame the hardliners in Beijing.
On the contrary, President Trump and his team have kept a 150-page agreement completely secret. There has not been a single leak of any of the text at all. But we can see our top negotiator comes to Washington, Liu He, has written a lot himself. He's a famous economic reformer. He signed up to a very important report with the World Bank about 10 years ago called China 2030, Fareed.
This is a plan for -- to reduce subsidies, to open the free market, open up China to much better financial conditions. They want to maintain the commanding heights of socialism, but the debate has been over how much to let the market really open up. And Liu He and his side have been disadvantaged because, as President Xi fought to take over China in 2011 and 2012, he courted the hawks, especially on the economy and the military.
So that -- I agree with Kevin. Politics in Beijing are very, very important. I think President Trump frankly knows all about this.
ZAKARIA: Rana, so at the end of the day, you have this stand-off. Both sides are inflicting pain on each other. There are people who argue China is hurting more because it is more trade-dependent. On the other hand, it's a dictatorship, where the United States is a democracy; it feels the pain more viscerally. Who's going to blink?
FOROOHAR: You know, I think, in the short term, China has more pain to take. But they're also taking a long view. I was really struck by Xi's latest speech talking about the plans for One Belt, One Road, how it's going to link up through Europe. You already see, by the way, parts of Italy, Greece, coming into the Chinese orbit.
So that economic diplomacy that China is rolling out is, I think, pretty sophisticated.
ZAKARIA: And maybe Trump's mistake here was not to bring the Europeans in...
FOROOHAR: Exact -- I was just going to say that, and particularly the Germans. I mean, you know, to be fair, as you said, Trump has some legitimate beefs with China, but so do the Europeans. And that was our big strategic mistake.
What I'm watching now is where Europe's going to go, particularly as 5G and new technologies roll out. Are they going to buy from Huawei? Are they going to buy from Qualcomm? This is going to be big stakes, economic diplomacy, in the year ahead.
ZAKARIA: Thank you, a fascinating conversation.
Next on "GPS," India's six-week-long election is finally over. When the results are out, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that accused crooks are among the winners. What in the world? I will explain when we get back.
ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment. The final polls just closed on the Indian election, the last stage of the largest democratic exercise in the world.
Indian elections always feature dazzling statistics about size and scale, but here's an unusual one. According to data released this week, almost 20 percent of the candidates running are facing criminal prosecution. That's right, nearly one-fifth of India's potential parliamentarians are accused of a crime, according to the accountability watchdog the Association of Democratic Reforms.
Now, many of these are not jaywalking or parking violations. They include murder, attempted murder, kidnapping. The proportion of candidates who are embroiled in criminal cases in India has steadily increased since 2009. But what is really shocking is not that such candidates are emboldened to run for office; it's that historically, these suspected criminals tend to win. Almost one-third of the lower house's current parliamentarians are accused in criminal cases.
In the last three national elections, on average, candidates accused of crimes have been almost three times more likely to win. Those are the findings of the recent book "When Crime Pays" by the Carnegie Endowment's Milan Vaishnav.
Now, I should be clear, criminal prosecution is not conviction. But Indian courts are so backlogged, trials can drag on for a decade or more. Justice in India is slow-moving and convictions are perennially deferred.
The larger message is that India has long had a tradition of mixing crime and politics. Now, why does this happen?
India is fragmented by its caste system. And in the past few decades, long-oppressed members of the lower castes have been gaining some power and voice. That's brought with it fresh ethnic tension. Vaishnav and his peers did a survey of 68,000 randomly selected
Indians in 24 states and territories in late 2013. They measured Indians' ethnic bias against how likely they were to support candidates facing serious criminal cases.
They found that, in places with a high degree of ethnic tension, people were much more likely to support the accused in politics. You see, it seems that, the more threatened Indians felt by the power of other groups, the more likely they would be to vote in a strong man from their side who might have run afoul of the law.
This is a clear case of tribalism trumping the rule of law. Voters may know a politician breaks the rules, breaks the law, but there's a perception that he does this for their side. Does this sound familiar?
A majority of Americans believe that President Donald Trump committed crimes before his presidency, according to a Quinnipiac poll released this month. That includes almost all Democrats, but also 17 percent of Republicans, a group which still overwhelmingly supports Trump.
In March, one-third of Republicans thought Trump was probably guilty of a crime before he became president. Perhaps some of those voters look at Trump the way Indian voters look at their leaders. He may be capable of doing bad things, but he'll fight for them.
Groupthink and tribalism can undermine the rule of law, in a poor country like India or even in the richest land in the world.
Next on "GPS," from tribalism to liberalism. The liberal ideal is under attack from both of its flanks. You'll hear a full-throated defense from The New Yorker's great writer and thinker Adam Gopnik.
ZAKARIA: Almost 18 million people from around the world visit the United States every year. But there were two particularly notable arrivals this past week. On Monday, Hungary's far-right nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban was at the White House, where the president called him "a highly respected leader who had done a tremendous job."
And on Thursday, Brazil's far-right nationalist president Jair Bolsonaro spoke at an event in Dallas. These two men and fellow travelers like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin represent the growing global threat to the ideas of liberalism. But my next guest offered a full-throated defense of liberalism and says we need it now more than ever.
Adam Gopnik's new book is "A Thousand Small Sanities."
GOPNIK: Thank you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: The book began, you say, after the election of Donald Trump, when you went with your daughter for a walk?
GOPNIK: On the night of the election of Donald Trump. She was shaken, not because there had been a change in parties in power. I would not have sympathized or endured that for very long. Changing parties in power is a crucial part of liberal democratic values, left to right, right to left, back again.
No, she was concerned about the specter of a kind of new authoritarianism, even a predatory authoritarianism that she hadn't been prepared for. So I took her out, Fareed, and we walked round and round our New York block for two or three hours, and I did her absolutely no good. She was texting all the time, hearing from her friends.
But I made a mental memorandum to myself, I'm going to write a letter to my daughter about liberalism, trying to explain why the values that I had brought her up with and that I had inherited from my own father, who had taught them to me, weren't just a family tradition, but that represented real, enduring, important values that had helped make the world a much better place than it had ever been before.
ZAKARIA: So, first, to explain, when you talk about liberalism, you're not talking about it in quite the left-right party sense; what do you mean?
GOPNIK: No, I don't mean it in the sense of something that's owned by the Democratic Party here or by any one political party.
I'm talking about the set of ideas, of principles, the whole temperament that's motivated liberal democracy and inspired liberal democracy at least since the 18th century, and particularly since the American civil war and the end of slavery and the beginning of all those great programs of emancipation for African-Americans, for women, for sexual minorities now, that whole great program of reform and self-correction that inspires liberal democracy and its institutions, belief in free speech, a belief in an oscillation of parties in power, a belief in education, in open education and having dissident ideas, not just allowed but welcomed and encouraged.
All of that set of ideas is what I mean by liberal democracy and what I mean by liberalism, and it doesn't belong to any one party.
ZAKARIA: So why do you think it's now under threat?
Just again, to explain, what is the rise of illiberalism that you see around the world?
GOPNIK: Illiberalism has always existed and it's always threatened liberalism. Liberalism -- it's an interesting thing, Fareed -- almost always looks extremely weak at any historical moment, the 1930s, with the rise of fascism and communism, everyone said liberal institutions and liberal democracy will be too weak to counter it. And many great intellectuals went either to the extreme left or to the extreme right. And they were wrong. Liberal institutions proved much stronger.
ZAKARIA: And then, in the 1950s, people said the same thing vis-a-vis communism.
GOPNIK: And then in our own time, in the 2000s with the -- after 9/11, you heard many people saying the same thing, "We don't have the discipline, the rigor, the ideological convictions." At every one of those crucial moments, it turns out that liberal democracy and liberal institutions, even if they looked squishy, even if because they welcome all views, they look disorganized, turn out to be extraordinary strong. And that's very much what this book is about, why they're so strong.
ZAKARIA: You describe, as one of the shining lights of liberalism, John McCain's concession speech to Obama. Explain why?
GOPNIK: Yes, because it's terribly important that we remember that liberalism and liberal traditions belong to no one party. One of the crucial and, if you think about it, Fareed, astonishing, miraculous things in the liberal tradition, totally unknown to the rest of human history, is the idea that we can surrender power without vengeance and without feeling embattled.
When John McCain stood up there on the night of 2008 and said, "I honor the new president; I respect the people's voice, and I wish him nothing but well, and I will stand beside him," we take that somewhat for granted. He did it with particular eloquence that night and in a particularly embattled time. But that's a miraculous thing. That doesn't happen in human history. That sin't something that we should ever take for granted. And in that sense, John McCain's concession speech was a great moment in the history of liberalism.
ZAKARIA: And you think that Trump does represent a threat to this?
GOPNIK: How can we deny that he represents a threat to it? Every day he tweets something -- and it's not a question of where you stand on abortion; it's not a question of where you stand on what the Federal Reserve should do about interest rates. It's a question of every day someone, the president, tweeting something to cast doubt on the legitimacy of an election, to cast doubt on the basic legitimacy of his political rivals.
You know, when Trump calls Hillary "Crooked Hillary," it's fine for him to oppose her, but to imply that his political rivals are criminals, are themselves illegitimate, you know perfectly well, Fareed, that's what happens in autocratic countries. That's what happens in Third World dicatatorships. That's where opposing the party in power risks your livelihood and your life, very often.
We see that -- that's the large history of mankind, is a history of autocrats imposing penalties on people who oppose them. That's not the liberal tradition. And when it comes under assault in that way, we can say, "Well, it's just rhetorical; it's just another tweet," but it's a very toxic and poisonous thing.
ZAKARIA: Adam Gopnik, always a pleasure.
GOPNIK: Pleasure talking, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: And we will be right back.
ZAKARIA: Last week, South Africa concluded its sixth national elections, 25 years after its first free elections. Seventeen million people cast their votes. And it brings me to my question. What percent of registered voters came out to participate in this year's election, 87 percent, 72 percent, 66 percent or 58 percent? Stay tuned and I'll tell you the correct answer.
My book of the week is the one you just heard about, Adam Gopnik's "A Thousand Small Sanities," written as a letter to his daughter in the wake of Trump's election. The brilliant New Yorker writer has mounted a defense of liberalism, the philosophy of slow, incremental progress opening up doors, fighting discrimination, all to secure individual liberty and dignity. Thought it does not have the fire-and-brimstone appeal of radicalism, right and left, Gopnik rightly points out that liberalism has changed the world.
The answer to my "GPS" challenge this week is C. Only 66 percent of the nearly 27 million people registered to vote in South Africa's election actually exercised that hard-won right. Turnout has been declining since democratization, when 87 percent of the people turned out and overwhelmingly supported the party behind South Africa's liberation, the African National Congress.
But recently, support for that party has also dropped. Historically, the ANC was South Africa's hopeful party, the one that promised change and equality, a better life for all, as their slogan goes. But the party hasn't delivered on that promise. The ANC's 25-year reign over South Africa has been awash with corruption scandals. Economic growth now hovers near 1 percent. And South Africa is the world's most economically unequal country, according to the World Bank, with that disparity cementing racial divisions.
It's worse for young South Africans. Unemployment, already high at 27 percent nationally, is over 50 percent for workers under 25.
While the ANC garnered the majority of votes again this year, it did so by its smallest margin yet. This is partly because the party has failed to truly overcome apartheid's legacy, making space for radicals on its flank. Just look at the rise of the Economic Freedom Fighters, a party that encourages anti-white sentiments and land re-distribution without any compensation.
I wish the best of luck to the ANC's leader, President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his quest to finally deliver on his party's original promises. After all, as Mandela is often quoted as saying, "It always seems impossible until it's done."
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.