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CNN Special Reports

CNN Special Report, The Divided States Of America: What Is Tearing Us Apart? Aired 10-11a ET

Aired March 28, 2021 - 10:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: The following is a CNN Special Report.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST (voice-over): George Washington, in his farewell address, he told us, beware of political parties. They could bring us, and these are his words, to riot and insurrection. We can't say he didn't warn us. The great American divide exposed.

JON MEACHAM, HISTORIAN: It felt like an invasion.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: People climbing the walls, breaking windows, breaking into doors.


ZAKARIA: How did it get this bad?

JANE MAYER, THE NEW YORKER: They legitimately believe the election was a fraud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Protect the Constitution of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You honor the flag. You should be ashamed of yourself.

MEACHAM: It's a sense of broken trust.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one is helping us.

ZAKARIA: A president plays the divider-in-chief.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: This is a con game being played by the Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a man of resentments and his voters have resentments.

TRUMP: We will not take it anymore.

ZAKARIA: True believers become a radical mob.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're taking this country back. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're jihadists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't get to steal it from us.

ZAKARIA: Television and the internet tear us apart.

ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Social media is a brainwashing machine.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: We cannot agree on what is true.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: The people in charge rigged the game.

ZAKARIA: But it all began long before Donald Trump.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: They will do anything to stop us.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: You know they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull -- lipstick.

ZAKARIA: As a new day begins, will we find some way --

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And come together as one nation.

ZAKARIA: -- to breach the great divide.

MEACHAM: This perennial struggle between our worst impulses and what Lincoln called our better angels.


ZAKARIA: Good evening. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

"We, the people." Those first three words of the Constitution are the definition of American democracy. But not now. Not in 2021. It is us versus them. The vast and bitter divide between Democrats and Republicans just keeps getting worse.

How bad is it now? Even after the storming of the Capitol, after Joe Biden's inauguration, 75 percent of Republicans still believe that Donald Trump actually won last November's election. And Republican leaders will still not say what they know to be true, that this claim is simply false, a lie.

We don't face a clash over political differences, we're watching something much deeper. A cultural divide that is turning partisans into radicals, and radicals into insurgents. The divisions in this country have been growing deeper and uglier for decades. But we simply ignored the flashing red lights. We just kept going. Now, it is crucial that we stop and try to understand how we got here.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): A defeated president.

TRUMP: You're sworn to uphold our Constitution.

ZAKARIA: A president who lost an election. Unwilling to leave office, Donald Trump concocts fantasies instead.

TRUMP: Tens of thousands of votes. They came in duffle bags. Where the hell did they come from?

ZAKARIA: This is his final chance to sell the big lie.

TRUMP: It's so crazy. That people don't even believe it. It can't be true.


ZAKARIA: Stunningly, millions do believe it. And now many of the faithful have an ominous plan to save their president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's take the Capitol.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take the Capitol.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take the Capitol.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take the Capitol right now.

ZAKARIA: At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Let's go. Let's just start.

ZAKARIA: A bizarre debate questioning the validity of an election already certified by all 50 states.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Americans instinctively know there was something wrong with this election.

REP. TED CRUZ (R-TX): What does it say to the nearly half the country that believes this election was rigged?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): What message will we send today? To the world that has so looked up to us for centuries?

ZAKARIA: Few in Congress realized that at that very moment the president is putting a target on them.

TRUMP: After this, we're going to walk down, and I'll be there with you, we're going to walk down to the Capitol. You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.


ZAKARIA: The crowd begins to move.


ZAKARIA: Inside of the Capitol, anger is rising.

REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): You cannot change the rules of an election while it is underway and expect the American people to trust it.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): It has never been our place to overturn an election. And if we hope to remain a democracy, it never will be.

ZAKARIA: Outside, the Trump army is now at the gates.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We're seeing protesters overcome the police. The police are now running back into the Capitol building. This is incredible.

ZAKARIA: Thousands of rioters are storming the Capitol building. These people are convinced that Trump's big lie is the truth. They think they have no option but to act using any means necessary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to say that what we're doing is right. I'm probably going to lose my job as a pastor after this, but what is it going to take?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We respect the law. We were good people. The government did this to us. We were normal, good, law-abiding citizens and you guys did this to us. We want our country back.

ZAKARIA: Some members run for their lives. Others are still inside the House chamber. Terrified, hiding behind any barrier they can find.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They broke the glass? Everybody, stay down. Get down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're coming for you, Nancy.

ZAKARIA: Trump's followers are hunting down the most powerful Democrat in America.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Protester actually in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We love you. We thank you. In Christ's holy name we pray.

ZAKARIA: At the end of all of this horror.

JONES: Where is the president of the United States? Where is Donald Trump?

ZAKARIA: We were left with just one question. How? How could this happen in the United States of America?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: When the president of the United States says again and again and again the election was fraudulent, they're stealing it from you, we know how it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a traitor.

ZAKARIA: The divide between red and blue didn't start with Donald Trump. But now it is an existential crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will die for my country.

ZAKARIA: Because a swath of Republicans have become radicals, even insurgents.

JONES: There is the clean right and there's a dirty right, and they're not the same. The dirty right traffics in conspiracy theory, white nationalism and as you can see even violence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't even think it's the Republican Party any more. I think this is just Trump. Just call it the patriot party, the Trump party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They use the fake news. They want to lie to us.

ZAKARIA: The Trump party. How large is it? Remember, 75 percent of Republicans say Trump won the election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're taking back our country and it's going to be biblical.

MEACHAM: They're jihadists.

ZAKARIA: Jihadists, says the historian Jon Meacham, like ISIS or al Qaeda.

MEACHAM: It is a total war where your whole identity, your whole fortune, your whole way of life is under perpetual assault.


ZAKARIA: Reality now comes in two colors -- red and blue.

FRIEDMAN: When we cannot agree on what is true, when we cannot agree on the basic facts that politics should be about, you cannot have a functioning democracy.

ZAKARIA: The two different worlds we live in extend to the news we watch and read. On FOX News, the Capitol rioters were just a few troublemakers.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: An overwhelming majority of them, 99 -- more than 99 percent had to be -- were peaceful because of a small contingent of loons, these patriots have been unfairly maligned.

ZAKARIA: On planet far-right, the storming of the Capitol was actually the work of Antifa and black people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard those reports, too, about possible Antifa infiltration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have seen Antifa, we have seen Black Lives Matter, we have seen others -- we've seen leftist groups that have tried to stir up violence.

ZAKARIA: Black Lives Matter. Even though the mob was overwhelmingly white.

Race has been a key flash point in the Trump era. But, in fact, it has been the strongest force driving polarization for decades. It is really what got us here.

JONES: The tip of the spear, the edge of the blade is racial division, racial rhetoric. Sometimes muted, sometimes loud, always there.

ZAKARIA: To understand the role of race, we need to go back to the middle of the 20th century. 1950. Post-World War II America, bursting with optimism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The past is only an inkling of the future.

ZAKARIA: Factories were humming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More opportunities for us all.

ZAKARIA: The middle-class were surging.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The realization of the American dream.

ZAKARIA: Into this idyllic picture came word of a hidden crisis. Scholars warned there was too much unity in American politics.

MEACHAM: We were not polarized enough. That stark enough choices were not being presented to the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They conduct their business in about the same manner. And well, quite truthfully a lot of the speeches sound very much alike.

ZAKARIA: The problem, it sounds bizarre now, but the parties were too mixed up. There were too many liberals in the Republican Party and too many conservatives in the Democratic Party.

MEACHAM: The Democratic Party was an alliance of New England liberals and southern segregationist Democrats.

ZAKARIA: The Southern Democrats were called dixie-crats. Many dixie- crats are unabashed racists.

GEORGE WALLACE, FORMER ALABAMA GOVERNOR: And I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever. ZAKARIA: These Democratic conservatives made up a powerful voting bloc

in the Senate.

EZRA KLEIN, AUTHOR, "WHY WE'RE POLARIZED": If you want to work with anybody on anything and get your bills done, you have to be in good relationships with the southern bloc of the Democratic Party.

ZAKARIA: The Republicans had their own uneasy alliance. The liberal New Yorker Nelson Rockefeller coexisting with the far-right Westerner Barry Goldwater. It all worked. But then came the first stirrings of the Civil Rights Movement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not a Texan if you're not for segregation.

ZAKARIA: In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled that segregating schools was unconstitutional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The white children went to school and we stood outside.

ZAKARIA: For the next 10 years, there was a new civil war in the south. To bring black children into lily white schools.

Then came an earthquake. The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Just months after John Kennedy's assassination, the new Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson, famous for bending Congress to his will, got the bill through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is signed at the White House by President Johnson.

MEACHAM: And when he signed it, he said to an aide, I just handed the South to the Republicans for a generation. Johnson was wrong about that. It's been about three. You begin to have a Democratic Party that was in the main more liberal and a Republican Party that was in the main far more reactionary.

ZAKARIA: It would indeed be several generations. Until it seemed the two parties might finally heal the rift of race.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is truly an incredible moment of American history.

ZAKARIA: When Barack Obama became America's first black president, we saw an explosion of national pride.


Black and white, Democratic and Republican, but it turned out that the country began to have a deeply divided reaction to its young new president and his family.

JONES: It seemed to bring out a sense of jealousy or resentment or fear of loss of status. Well, hold on a second, I've been working my butt off all the time, and I look around and here's this black guy who's so far ahead of me he's in the White House. ZAKARIA: One man understood this unease with Obama better than many

Republican leaders. He found a way to tap into it with his birther conspiracy theory.

TRUMP: The fact is, if he wasn't born in this country, he shouldn't be the president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is his birth certificate? He's a U.S. citizen show it, shut it down and prove it.

ZAKARIA: When scholars spent time with Tea Party activists, they found that behind the talk of taxes and big government were people mostly motivated by fears about race and immigration.

MEACHAM: The people who have been most radicalized by the Trump years believe that diversity was an idea, not a vivid reality.

ZAKARIA: In 1950, the year our political parties were said to be too similar, the country was about 90 percent white. Now, in 2021, as we face an existential crisis of political division, America is about 59 percent white.

MEACHAM: We are living in the most vivid manifestation of the politics of fear in our history. That's where we are now.



ZAKARIA: In an alternate universe --

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP LAWYER: Trump people were not scaling the wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump supporters don't do that. We're not liberals.


ZAKARIA: A pro-Trump mob could have never stormed the Capitol.

PALIN: A lot of it is the Antifa folks.

ZAKARIA: COVID-19 is nothing to worry about.

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: It's a virus like the flu.

JESSE WATERS, FOX NEWS HOST: If I get it, I'll beat it.

ZAKARIA: And Donald Trump won the election.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: This is a decisive victory for Trump.

ZAKARIA: In a landslide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This election has been stolen from the American people.

ZAKARIA: Millions of Americans are being brain washed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a planned-demic.

ZAKARIA: On the airwaves and online.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They stole it. They're thieves.

ZAKARIA: They live in a completely different reality. That is the greatest threat to our democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are not alone. You're not crazy. You have every right to be suspicious. It is your birth right as Americans.

ZAKARIA: How did what we read, what we watch, and what we share become a dystopia of disinformation.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Direct from our newsroom in New York --

ZAKARIA: At the dawn of the television age.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Network television's first daily half hour news program.

ZAKARIA: Things were a lot simpler.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the Huntly-Brinkley Report.

ZAKARIA: The big three network news cast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On ABC you get the news fast and you get it straight.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The United States is serious about its commitments.


ZAKARIA: Would tell us similar middle-of-the-road story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Special report, the confrontation in Washington.

ZAKARIA: But for many on the right --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A growing minority is raising its voice in protest.

ZAKARIA: The mainstream media leaned liberal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Nixon heard today the voice of the campus.

JULIAN E. ZELIZER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: It really became an animating theme for a lot of conservatives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like them or not, these are --

ZAKARIA: Few Republicans hated the networks more --

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Don't get the impression that you aroused my anger.

ZAKARIA: -- than Richard Nixon.

NIXON: One can only be angry with those he respects.

ZAKARIA: He hired a kindred spirit to help with his 1968 campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger Ailes was that producer.

ZAKARIA: The future founder of FOX News, Roger Ailes.

ZELIZER: They bring him on to the team for a media strategy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The candidates need no introduction.

ZAKARIA: For his famously awkward candidate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Nixon, would you like to comment on that statement?

NIXON: I have no comment.

ZAKARIA: Ailes engineered a miraculous makeover. Producing highly staged town halls.

NIXON: This is a great country.

ZAKARIA: It was a brilliant end run around the press.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next president of the United States, Richard Nixon.

ZAKARIA: And it helped Nixon win the presidency. But there was nothing Ailes could do to stop Watergate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Political sabotage, espionage unparalleled in American history.

MAYER: He felt that the networks didn't treat Nixon with enough respect.

NIXON: I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.

MAYER: He wanted to create a media vehicle that would be protection for the next Nixon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger Ailes, former TV man for Nixon.

ZAKARIA: Ailes became the go-to right-wing media strategist of the 1980s. Infamous for his vicious attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As Governor Michael Dukakis gave weekend furloughs to first-degree murderers. ZAKARIA: In 1986 --

RUPERT MURDOCH, NEWS CORP: We've been very lucky we've been able to obtain the services of Roger Ailes.

ZAKARIA: -- Ailes found his destiny.

ROGER AILES, FORMER FOX NEWS EXECUTIVE: Our job is to be objective.

ZAKARIA: When billionaire Rupert Murdoch came calling. The right- wing's favorite hatchet man.

AILES: We do not believe that it's up to the media to make up the public's mind.

ZAKARIA: Was now creating a new news network.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS HOST: These days people think TV news is about as unbiased as the commercials.

ZAKARIA: On cable. Every channel needed to find its own slice of the audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dedicated to getting the story right.

ZAKARIA: Ailes turned his channel into a right-wing bull horn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The terrorists.

ZAKARIA: Blaring facts and opinion like never before.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Democrats have not politicized our national security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are watching FOX News Channel.

ZAKARIA: Big ratings and profits soon followed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The power of FOX News Channel.

ZAKARIA: Ailes reshaped his competitors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That bastard Bill O'Reilly lying again.

ZAKARIA: As anchors on the other side of the aisle --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The battle for truth, the battle for justice.

ZAKARIA: -- delivered their own partisan jabs.

KEITH OLBERMANN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Having frightened us, having bullied us. You are a liar, Mr. Bush. Shut the hell up.

[10:25:03] ZAKARIA: But no one did things quite like FOX.

BILL O'REILLY, FORMER FOX NEWS HOST: You are part of a loud group of people.

MAYER: There is big money in polarization.

O'REILLY: You are clueless --

MAYER: If you could stir people up you could keep them watching and when you have their eyeballs, you've got their pocket books.

ZAKARIA: After the cable revolution, came the digital revolution. Facebook began with lofty intentions.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Facebook's 1.1 billion users.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Worth between $75 billion and $100 billion.

ZAKARIA: But as the company doubled down on growth, it kept creating masterful algorithms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People who join say it can be addictive.

ZAKARIA: Designed to keep people engaged, clicking and scrolling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just sort of creates its own world that you get sucked into.

ZAKARIA: The algorithms encouraged content that was sensational and extreme.

ROGER MCNAMEE, EARLY FACEBOOK INVESTOR: Polarization was the key to the model. This idea of appealing to people's lower-level emotions, things like fear and anger, to create greater engagement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The largest IPO in tech history.

ZAKARIA: It was a spectacularly successful business strategy. But it produced political disaster. The algorithms kept providing content that was more and more outrageous and often untrue.

MARK ZUCKERBERG, FACEBOOK FOUNDER: We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility and that was a big mistake.

TRUMP: This guy either has a birth certificate or he doesn't.

ZAKARIA: Meanwhile on cable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think he was born in this country?

TRUMP: I am concerned.

ZAKARIA: Egged on by Trump.

TRUMP: Ballots are missing. There is fraud. ZAKARIA: FOX News peddled its own conspiracy theories. And new


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the OAN Evening News.

ZAKARIA: That were even more extreme.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some are questioning the nature of the virus.

ZAKARIA: Trying to outdo FOX at its own game.

MICHELLE MALKIN, NEWSMAX: America first or America.

ZAKARIA: Chasing the profits of polarization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is about government control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden is not the president-elect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a massive lie.

ZAKARIA: On January 6th, America's dystopia of disinformation came alive for all to see. Now conspiracy theorists weren't living on the fringes of society. They were in the United States Capitol.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our country, this is our house.

REEVE: January 6th is like the internet come alive. It is surreal.

ZAKARIA: Chilling proof that our nation's cancer of lies is spreading fast and that no one in America is immune.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guess what, America showed up.



ZAKARIA: Rage on Capitol Hill.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fury was fueled by Trump's lies about a fraudulent election.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They work for us.

ZAKARIA: But it was also about something deeper. About one of the driving issues at the heart of America's divide, something Americans find difficult to talk about, class and social status. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We the people, not you the (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we should gangs our senators now by the hair or the head and (INAUDIBLE).

ZAKARIA: At the root of this angle is a deep resentment towards the country's elite class.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They turned their back on us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one's helping us. Only us can help us.

JON MEACHAM, HISTORIAN: Once politics becomes that envelop you are battling these existential foes of your way of life.

ZAKARIA: For many, their way of life their very identity is under attack, their beliefs and values.



ZAKARIA: It is all part of a new classroom, but class is now defined in complicated ways. It's not simply about economics anymore, a battle between the rich and working class.

The new war in America is about a way of life, kinds of work, social values, cultural choices. Sometimes called identity politics.

EZRA KLEIN, AUTHOR, "WHY WE'RE POLARIZED": We all have identities, we have tons of them. And this just goes all the way down the line what kind of PV we like. What kind of places we shop.

ZAKARIA: To better understand how the country has become so polarized, so divided by class.


ZAKARIA: You need only to look at this map. In the 2020 presidential election, the counties that voted for Joe Biden taking up a small part of the country's geography were responsible for 71% of the nation's economy. That vast sea of red the counties that Donald Trump won contributed a meager 29% of American GDP.

It illustrates that the United States may be one country but two very different worlds divided by two things above all where you live and whether you went to college.

KLEIN: People call it the diploma divide more educated Americans are overwhelmingly becoming Democratic. Less educated Americans moving much more into the Republican column. This particularly true among white voters.

ZAKARIA: Just look at the breakdown blue America is mostly urban densely populated diverse with a large share of college educated workers in professional and creative jobs. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When people talk about the degree divide, that's really the class divide having a college degree that's actually the strongest proxy for who is in the professional managerial elite.

ZAKARIA: On the other hand red America is home to the country's beautiful heartlands and vast farms that feed most Americans. It's not nearly as crowded, it's whiter with more Americans who work with their hands, fewer here attend college and they don't like the urban professional elite. This divide has only been sharpened by the pandemic.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college educated workers were far more likely to telework and maintain their standard of living than those without education.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think people who didn't go through those four years see the rules being broken all the time.


JONES: By bankers, by economic elites and they feel like, hey, if somebody's going to break the rules and be on my side as a rule breaker, I'll accept that.


ZAKARIA: For many white working class voters Donald Trump seemed a messiah.


TRUMP: The forgotten men and women of the United States are forgotten no more. You work hard, you pay your taxes, you do all these things that you were forgotten, they forgot about you.

JANE MAYER, THE NEW YORKER: And Trump did nothing for them, but he knew how to exploit them.

TRUMP: The elite, the elite.

ZAKARIA: Trump used resentment of elites and hammered home cultural issues, immigration.

TRUMP: This is an invasion.


TRUMP: In America we don't worship government, we worship God.


TRUMP: The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. ZAKARIA: Abortion.

TRUMP: Unborn children we have never had a stronger defender in the White House.

GEORGE PACKER, AUTHOR, "THE UNWINDING": White working class politics is cultural now. It's become an identity politics.


ZAKARIA: Donald Trump had a role model for his exploitation of the class divide.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.

ZAKARIA: Sarah Palin, who did it first. When America's hockey mom became John McCain's running mate in 2008.

SARAH PALIN, FMR GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: They say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull, lipstick.

ZAKARIA: She leaned heavily on identity politics, on American values and culture to rile up her base.

PALIN: I'm not a member of the permanent political establishments.

ZAKARIA: Her brand of America

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah is totally awesome. She speaks to the people like a regular person. You got to love her.

ZAKARIA: Talking about the real America, saying I'm one of you, was the precursor of Trump's war on elites.

PACKER: Sarah Palin who I think of is John the Baptist to Trump. She was the one who came first.

TRUMP: Governor Sarah Palin.

ZAKARIA: But before Palin or Trump, there was another Republican who paved the way for our partisan war. When we come back.



ZAKARIA: It's tempting to say that Donald Trump is the reason for America's great divide.

TRUMP: We're going to walk down to the Capitol.


ZAKARIA: But before there was a Donald Trump, there was a Republican pioneer who paved the way for the Trump brand of destructive politics. NEWT GINGRICH, FMR SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I am a genuine revolutionary, they are the genuine reactionaries. We are going to change their world.

ZAKARIA: This is the story of Newt Gingrich, the man who wrote the playbook for the modern conservative movement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newt Gingrich, a Republican has taken over a congressional seat. It's been a Democratic stronghold for a quarter of a century.

GINGRICH: I also put together a one page proposal --

ZAKARIA: In 1979, when Gingrich arrived in Washington, he had a singular goal, to blow up the political establishment, including the Republican Party. Democrats had been in control of Congress for so long, it was called a permanent Democratic majority. It was a very different time in politics, when civility and compromise mattered. House Republican leader Bob Michael was widely known as Mr. Nice Guy. Imagine that.

JONES: Newt Gingrich comes in with a buzzsaw.

GINGRICH: What we are living through is a fundamental civil struggle, a civil war fought in public speeches, rather than with armies.

ZAKARIA: The Gingrich philosophy, the only way for Republicans to win back power was to be nasty, really nasty.

GINGRICH: For the Democrats to basically say, not only we're going to rape you, but you have to pay for the motel room, is a bit much.

ZAKARIA: To treat Democrats not as opponents, but the enemy.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Newt Gingrich saw politics like war.

ZAKARIA: At first, the Republican old guard shunned him. They thought his tactics were toxic.

MAYER: Gingrich was kind of a nobody. He wasn't a great legislator, but what he had was a knack for stirring controversy and getting attention.

ZAKARIA: Long before Trump used Twitter and Fox to get around media filters. Gingrich had C-Span.

GINGRICH: I'm going to speak this evening on the loonie left, the machine which controls the U.S. House of Representatives.

ZAKARIA: Late at night, Gingrich and his allies would head to the House floor to let America know that radical Democrats were a dangerous threat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The radical wing of the Democratic Party has taken over the foreign policy of that party. GINGRICH: A view of the modern world that is rigid, unyielding and skewed.

ZELIZER: It looks like the Democrats had no response.

ZAKARIA: What the C-Span cameras didn't show was that the House chamber was almost empty.

TIP O'NEILL (D), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: You deliberately stood in that well before an empty House and challenged these people and you challenged their Americanism. And it's the lowest thing that I've ever seen in my 32 years in Congress.

GINGRICH: I yield, Mr. Speaker. I yield --

ZAKARIA: It was exactly what Newt Gingrich wanted.


ZAKARIA: He made national news and damaged the Democrats' reputation.

ZELIZER: They elevated him and it made him a serious player in the eyes of Republicans.


GINGRICH: I was a college teacher.

ZAKARIA: Gingrich had the greatest impact by teaching other Republicans how to use his partisan tactics. He took over GOPAC, a fledging Republican grassroots group in 1986 and turned it into a powerhouse.

JONES: He got car salesmen, he got football coaches. And he spent a lot of time educating them through satellite television, audio cassettes, and he built up his own army.

ZAKARIA: They were taught how to campaign and how to use extreme rhetoric to attack their opponents. It was called Newt Speak.

ZELIZER: They have to use words like sick and traitorous and corrupt in order to really get their message across.

TRUMP: These are sick people.

ZAKARIA: Sound familiar?

TRUMP: They are crazy.

They're sick.

ZAKARIA: By the 1990s, Newt Gingrich catapulted from the fringes of the GOP to a position of power in the party.

GINGRICH: This is a war between the political class of the left and the rest of the nation. ZAKARIA: Gingrich built a Republican coalition made up of Christian conservatives and anti-big government and anti-tax voters.

ZELIZER: They could all agree on their enemies.

ZAKARIA: In 1994, Gingrich's campaign to radicalize the Republican Party finally paid off. Republicans took the House, Senate, and the majority of governors' races.

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Good evening. There is a seismic shift to the right in the political landscape of America tonight.

GINGRICH: This is truly a wildly historic night.

ZAKARIA: Gingrich was hailed as a visionary and elected speaker of the House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hereby end 40 years of Democratic rule of this House.

ZAKARIA: As speaker, Gingrich weaponized the government shutdown. Give us what we want or we're closing you down.

BILL CLINTON, FMR PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: It is deeply wrong to shut the government down while we negotiate.

ZAKARIA: Gingrich also led the House Republican campaign to impeach President Clinton.

CLINTON: These allegations are false.

ZAKARIA: For lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. It back fired. Most Americans thought impeachment was an overreach. And Republicans lost seats in the 1998 elections.

Facing plunging popularity and his own ethics problems --

GINGRICH: Thank you very much.

ZAKARIA: -- Newt Gingrich decided to resign.

His legacy has been both dark and far reaching, a permanent state of war between the parties.



ZAKARIA: Almost 20 years ago, after the horrifying attack on the United States on September 11th, 2001. I began trying to understand who were these young men who flew airplanes into buildings, and what could be the reasons for their radicalization.

I discovered that they were almost all people who believed or had been made to believe that the world was being destroyed by an ever growing westernization. To them, their way of life, their values were under siege as America and its ideas and interests swept the globe.

Osama bin Laden and other Islamist radicals preached to them that their job was to fight and resist this broad trend and to help usher in a return to the better older ways when the Muslim world was governed by its own values and traditions. It was a call to make Islam great again.

Let me be clear, I am not equating those who stormed the capitol with Al-Qaeda and ISIS. There are vast differences, and there's also a huge gulf between those who believe certain ideas vaguely and those small bans of fanatics who act on these ideas, willing to use violence to accomplish their vision.

But the mechanism of radicalization is often the same. It centers on fear, fear of losing what you have, fear of an ongoing march of history that is changing your country, fear of the replacement of your people and their way of life. That fear makes the stakes seem high enough for you to support anyone on your side, oppose anyone on the other side, and look at politics as war.

America may have a mild version of Middle Eastern polarization, but it does have the disease. Politics in America has become deeply rooted in identity. We may talk about budgets and programs, but they're really just the outward manifestations of a much deeper divide, rooted in geography, class, and culture.

One of the earliest writers to recognize this was Bill Bishop, who in a 2008 book "The Big Sort" pointed out that Republicans were increasingly living amongst Republicans and Democrats amongst Democrats.

One simple measure, in 1976, only a quarter of Americans lived in a county that went for one presidential candidate or another in a landslide. The other three quarters lived in counties that were less overwhelmingly partisans. By 2020, 58% of Americans lived in landslide counties.

Therein might lie a set of solutions to the problem of extreme polarization, ones I've outlined before in a commencement address at Ohio State University, I believe that a program of national service in which young Americans from all over the country can spend a year working together in the army or in schools or parks or homeless shelters, could create a shared experience that would bind us closer together.


Above all, government needs to show that it can work for people. A generation of polarization has also produced a generation of gridlock, government so divided that it is unable to act. We have to find a way to free government from this death grip. Politics has to function. Those who win must be allowed to act and translate their ideas into policies. If the public likes it, they have the power to vote, but constant paralysis only feeds the feeling that government does nothing and is to be mocked and despised. We often talk about plans and policies, but ultimately, this may be a personal challenge, up to all of us to imagine ourselves and other people's shoes, to see the world for a moment through those different lenses, and above all, to remember that ancient piece of wisdom contained in the Bible and so many books, to treat others as we would like them to treat us.

It won't end polarization tomorrow, but it could begin to heal some of the wounds we see all around us.

There is, however, another personal challenge. It's for all of us, but chiefly for our leaders, please lead.

Republicans for years now have been silent as extreme and intolerant voices have grown in their midst. They've catered to their base no matter where it took them. They must once again become leaders and not panderers.

And for them and for all of us, finally, we must stand up for the truth and against lies, no matter who tells them. We cannot repair our broken politics if we all cannot agree that reason is better than unreason, fact privileged over fantasy, and truth superior to lies. No healing can happen without that simple unyielding commitment.

Thank you for taking the time to hear me out on this crucial subject. I'm Fareed Zakaria. Good night.