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CNN Special Reports

CNN Special Report: The Fight To Save American Democracy. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired January 14, 2022 - 23:00   ET




FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Do you remember Ronald Reagan's description of American democracy? A shining city on a hill.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow is held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom.

ZAKARIA: Good evening. I'm Fareed Zakaria. The light of American democracy shining into the darkest corners of the world. It wasn't just rhetoric. It was real. The Cold War ended. The Soviet Union collapsed. Democracy flowered. Now, 30 years later, American democracy is in trouble.

Abraham Lincoln warned us this country's destruction will not come from abroad but instead will spring up amongst us. He was right, of course. The danger is here at home. Republican versus Democrat. American versus American.

CROWD: Jews will not replace us!

ZAKARIA: The ascendance of old fears and ugly prejudice. Across the world, we see the same divisions. Democracy everywhere is under attack. But remember, America has been here before. America has vanquished demagogues before. So, how do we do it now?

For answers, I turn to the smartest experts I could find. Our story begins with two of them. A former Republican, an adviser to presidents on foreign policy, and a Harvard professor, who has studied democracy for decades. Listen closely as they describe what could happen in 2024, the next presidential election.

ROBERT KAGAN, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT ADVISOR: I am having a hard time seeing how we avoid the train wreck that is now visibly before us.

STEVEN LEVITSKY, HARVARD PROFESSOR OF GOVERNMENT: I think most of us still have not gotten our heads around the very real prospect that we could have a stolen election.

KAGAN: I think Trump will easily take the nomination. I don't think any Republican who has any chance would dare to run against him.

LEVITSKY: We know it's going to be a very close election. It's an election that almost certainly a small handful of states, very closely contested states, will decide.

KAGAN: Trump doesn't win, at least according to whatever objective count of the vote you may have, a contested 2024 election, which is not settled.

LEVITSKY: Republicans declare that they think the election was stolen or that something was wrong.

KAGAN: The state legislatures in various states challenge the vote in the state as it was counted.

LEVITSKY: And there's intense protest, maybe violence, contestation over the election because we don't know for sure who won.

KAGAN: Everybody is accusing everybody else of lying and subverting the election. There will be calls for the military to deal with insurrections.

LEVITSKY: At that point, it's possible that no candidate would win a majority. The election would be thrown into the House.

KAGAN: The Supreme Court could make a decision one way or the other, but I doubt that either side will accept the decision. The possibility of violence is very high. Does President Biden declare a national emergency and send in the troops? Do the states use their national guard?

LEVITSKY: You could plausibly, constitutionally, have a stolen election.

KAGAN: We're at that point in a situation of chaos and it's hard to know how we get out of it, actually.

ZAKARIA: This is not a crazy scare scenario. There's a good chance this could happen. From the moment Donald Trump came down that escalator, he made a seemingly endless number of bizarre and provocative statements. But perhaps the most dangerous was this.


We're competing in a rigged election. This is a rigged election.

ZAKARIA: Constantly repeating. It became just another Trump punchline.


TRUMP: It's a rigged election.

ZAKARIA: In reality, it was a shot at the heart of democracy, the free and fair election.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I want to ask you here on the stage tonight, do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely -- sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?

TRUMP: I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking at anything now. I'll look at it at the time.

WALLACE: Are you saying you're not prepared now to commit to that principle?

TRUMP: What I'm saying is that I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense.

LEVITSKY: The repeated statements that he might not accept the results of an election if he lost is really unthinkable in the United States.

ZAKARIA: Professor Steven Levitsky was worried.

LEVITSKY: That's something that proceeds democratic breakdown in our lifetime we really have not seen in American democracy.

UNKNOWN: An astounding upset victory.

ZAKARIA: Levitsky and fellow professor, Daniel Ziblatt, began writing a book called "How Democracies Die." And when Trump won, they published their concerns in "The New York Times."

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: We're a month after the election and "The New York Times" is seriously going to put on the front of "Sunday Review" that the future of democracy is threatened?

ZAKARIA: The warnings met with skepticism.

SCARBOROUGH: Does anybody around this table or is anybody at "The New York Times" really believe that our constitutional republic's future survival is now at risk because a reality T.V. show guy got elected?

LEVITSKY: There were a lot of people who viewed our book as overly alarmist. And I think in retrospect, we were actually insufficiently alarmist.

ZAKARIA: In fact, the alarms began going off just four days into the Trump presidency.

UNKNOWN: If true, this would be the biggest presidential election story in history.

ZAKARIA: Trump alleged that three million people had voted illegally in 2016.

TRUMP: You have people that are registered who are dead, who are illegals.

UNKNOWN: You're now (ph) president of the United States. When you say -- TRUMP: Of course, I want the voting process to be legitimate.

UNKNOWN: What I'm asking, what I'm asking --

TRUMP: The people that --

UNKNOWN: -- when you say in your opinion, millions of illegal votes, that is something that is extremely fundamental to our functioning democracy, a fair and free election. What you have presented so far has been debunked. It's been called false.

TRUMP: Take a look at the Pew reports.

UNKNOWN: I called the author of the Pew report last night, and he told me that they found no evidence of fraud.

TRUMP: Really? Then why did he write the report?

ZAKARIA: And so, began the dangerous erosion of faith in the American election process.

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He believes what he believes based on the information he's provided. Yes, ma'am?

UNKNOWN: What does that mean for democracy, though, Sean?

SPICER: Thanks, Jeff (ph). Ma'am?

UNKNOWN: What does that mean for democracy?

SPICER: It means that -- I've answered your question.

UNKNOWN: Have you?

ZAKARIA: It would become the defining question of the Trump presidency.

UNKNOWN: Is the president a threat to our democracy?

UNKNOWN: Mr. President, is this still a democracy?

ZAKARIA: That growing fear did not exist for the many who watched pro-Trump news channels.

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

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: The media has been lying to you.

ZAKARIA: Most Trump loyalists believe only what Trump tells them.

TRUMP: Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.

ZAKARIA: Even when the facts overwhelmingly contradict those views.

KAGAN: Trump has captured the Republican Party.

ZAKARIA: So much so that for Trump's people, the party itself is no longer important.

UNKNOWN: I don't even think it's the Republican Party anymore. I think this is just Trump.

ZAKARIA: This fanatical loyalty, says Robert Kagan, may actually be destroying the system the founding fathers created to protect democracy.

KAGAN: The checks and balances they set up were really checks and balances between and among the different branches. They didn't anticipate that people in Congress, for instance, would be more loyal to the Republican Party than to the interests, the institutional interests of Congress.

ZAKARIA: This is very important. What you're saying is that party partisanship has become so great that basically it broken the checks and balances system?

KAGAN: I would say that there was let's say a flaw or a trap door in the system that the founders didn't anticipate, that they didn't prepare for. I really do think it took a unique kind of individual with particular personal qualities to really exploit this gap or this weakness in our constitutional protections.

ZAKARIA: The damage done became starkly clear on January 6th, 2021.

UNKNOWN: It's anarchy. It really is anarchy.

UNKNOWN: This is the United States of America?


DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: I am in tears today to see this scene. This is not an American scene.

CROWD: We love Trump!

ZAKARIA: Now, loyalty to Trump remains for many stronger than truth. Seventy-one percent of Republicans still say Trump won the 2020 election. But the heart of the crisis goes still deeper. Tens of millions of Americans no longer have faith in democracy itself.

UNKNOWN: Pretty much everybody knows the government is corrupt.

UNKNOWN: I don't trust the government. I don't trust the CDC. I don't trust none of them.

ANNE APPLEBAUM, AUTHOR: The tragedy of America is not Trump. Trump is a side story, really. The tragedy is that 70 million people voted for Trump.

ZAKARIA: It is all hauntingly familiar to Anne Applebaum. She reports on autocratic leaders from Hungary to Turkey to Poland.

APPLEBAUM: One of the strangest things for me in my career has been the sudden realization that these are exactly the kinds of things that you see very often in other parts of the world.

ZAKARIA: The number of countries where democracy is failing or autocracy growing is now the highest it has been since the end of the Cold War. One reason why?

APPLEBAUM: During the Cold War, the United States presented itself as the leader of the democratic camp.

REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.

APPLEBAUM: And that was something that bound together Democrats and Republicans. It was something that a lot of Americans felt proud of.

ZAKARIA: The global superpower promoted democracy abroad and proudly embraced it at home. But can America still be Ronald Reagan's shining city on a hill?

JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR AND PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: There's nothing inevitable about American democracy. This is a fragile, fallible, complicated experiment.

ZAKARIA: That experiment has faltered before. It's almost failed, only to return triumphant. To understand how that happened, we need to go back almost a century ago.

MEACHAM: It was an existential crisis.

ZAKARIA: The early 1930s. The great depression is battering a nearly broken country.

UNKNOWN: Depression, fear and failure stalk the nation.

ZAKARIA: The jobs are gone. Farms are foreclosing. There are riots in the streets, fights over scraps of food. Franklin Delano Roosevelt has just been elected.

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This great nation will endure as it has endured.

ZAKARIA: But few can see any hope. A desperate America is fertile ground for a demagogue.

CHARLES COUGHLIN, PRIEST: We're through with the sham battle of politicians, and now we're on our own.

ZAKARIA: Father Charles Coughlin was the brightest political star in the darkness of the depression.

UNKNOWN: He had such a soothing voice that you forgot you were poor, you forgot there was a depression.

UNKNOWN: Father Coughlin became the full-pledge national character. MEACHAM: Some of this may sound familiar, but imagine a populist divisive figure with renewed (ph) mass medium to broadcast a message of fear and tribalism and anxiety.

COUGHLIN: You have paid the price, democratic America.

UNKNOWN: Every handshake that adds another individual to his colossal following.

ZAKARIA: Every Sunday night, he broadcast to 30 million people.

COUGHLIN: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

MEACHAM: Coughlin's audience is vast.

UNKNOWN: He was ready to answer a million letters in a single week.

MEACHAM: It was about this anxiety that the other was coming to take what you had.

ZAKARIA: Coughlin told his followers exactly who the other was. An ugly message.

COUGHLIN: We are Christian insofar as we believe in Christ's principle of love your neighbor as yourself. And with that principle, I challenge every Jew in this nation to tell me that he does not believe in it.

ZAKARIA: Even as Hitler began his march of terror, the same brand of hate became a potent weapon for Charles Coughlin.

COUGHLIN: Drive the money changers from the temple!

ZAKARIA: His political power surged.


UNKNOWN: Amazed by his influence, uneasily watch the newspapers.

LEVITSKY: There were people calling on him to run for president.

ZAKARIA: But he did not. Instead, he made the president his favorite target.

COUGHLIN: The president of the United States, one step towards dictatorship.

ZAKARIA: There were other would-be demagogues grasping for power: Charles Lindbergh, Huey Long. But Coughlin had the greatest platform.

MEACHAM: Radio was one of the great revolutionary forces. It brought this distant world into people's living rooms. Suddenly these people that you only read about were in your house.

ZAKARIA: Over time, the Catholic church tried to rein in this dangerous priest.

UNKNOWN: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

ZAKARIA: Then, President Roosevelt found a way to turn the tables, using Coughlin's most potent weapon, the radio. FDR's fireside chats became a key part of American life.

ROOSEVELT: I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days and why it was done and what the next steps are going to be.

ZAKARIA: He used them to sell the program that would turn the country around: The new deal.

ROOSEVELT: We are definitely rebuilding our political and economic systems on the lines laid down by the new deal.

MEACHAM: There was the civilian conservation corps. There was the workers progress administration.

UNKNOWN: Many thousands of such jobs as these dots the map of the United States.

ZAKARIA: Dozens of programs that put people back to work and put food back on American dinner tables.

ROOSEVELT: Today, depression is a fading memory.

MEACHAM: Roosevelt's insistence was that the only way to save democracy was to save the people who formed that democracy.

ZAKARIA: Finally, with the ramp-up to World War II, the depression was over. The hate and demagoguery that tore at democracy in the 1930s gradually faded. And so did Father Coughlin.

A threat from abroad revived patriotism and national unity. And so did Franklin Roosevelt's new deal. He used the tools of democracy to help save democracy.

Just ahead, while America was rising from the ashes of the depression, in Germany, democracy was losing to a fanatical madman. How did it win here but lose there?

UNKNOWN: The German republic was dead.

ZAKARIA: A story with a twist that has haunting echoes to the current American crisis.




ZAKARIA: A film industry that rivaled Hollywood. Groundbreaking expressionist art. And more Nobel Prize winners than any other nation, including a physicist named Albert Einstein. This was Germany in the 1920s. The thriving and sophisticated Weimar Republic. It was a proud and advanced democracy with a state-of-the- art constitution, women's suffrage, and a hundred years ago, a strong gay rights movement. But in a few short years, all of it was gone. Adolf Hitler came to power.

UNKNOWN: In a crucial presidential campaign, every vote counts.

ZAKARIA: By killing democracy from within.

UNKNOWN: Hitler is leaving for his first cabinet speech.

ZAKARIA: He was enabled, crucially, by Germany's conservative establishment.

UNKNOWN: Von Hindenburg installed Hitler as its leader.

ZAKARIA: That tried to use him, underestimated him.

UNKNOWN: Hitler assumed dictatorial powers.

ZAKARIA: And eventually was destroyed by him.

BENJAMIN CARTER HETT, AUTHOR: The responsibility of the conservative leaders was massive.

UNKNOWN: The German republic was dead.

ZAKARIA: Hitler's rise is the most deadly example of a chilling pattern.

UNKNOWN: Mussolini, hailed by his compatriots as a genius of Italy.

ZAKARIA: Political insiders willingly giving power. To a charismatic strongman. And the scholars who wrote "How Democracies Die" worry.

TRUMP: The time for action has come.

ZAKARIA: That this pattern may be repeating itself in America.

TRUMP: I alone can fix it.


TRUMP: I'm pleased to be here with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

ZIBLATT: Thought that they saw an opportunity in Donald Trump and decided they need to form an unholy alliance with him. We see this dynamic of conservative elites aligning themselves with demagogic outsiders throughout history.

TRUMP: It was all an illegal attempt to overturn the results of the election.

ZAKARIA: Let's be very clear. Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. But Weimar's death highlights a danger for all democracies, specifically the way conservative elites determined to keep the left out of power, align themselves with an anti-democratic demagogue.

The story in Germany began with a big lie. After the nation was defeated in World War I, a baseless right-wing conspiracy theory was born, that the military had not lost in battle.

UNKNOWN: Statesmen assembled to draw up the peace treaty.

ZAKARIA: But was forced to surrender by treacherous left-wing politicians.


UNKNOWN: The peace made at Versailles (ph) was a dictated peace.

LISA PINE, AUTHOR: It was called (INAUDIBLE) or the stab in the back.

ZAKARIA: A young Adolf Hitler eagerly embraced this conspiracy theory.

UNKNOWN: He blamed the men who had signed the peace.

ZAKARIA: And used it to come to national attention.

UNKNOWN: Nazi leader Adolf Hitler calls for action.

ZAKARIA: He tried to seize power by force in a coup.

UNKNOWN: In this Munich beer hall, he proclaims a national revolution.

ZAKARIA: But his beer hall putsch was a spectacular failure. Hitler went to prison, wrote "Mein Kampf," and learned a valuable lesson.

LEVITSKY: It is much, much less likely that an authoritarian will come to power by seizing it militarily. It is far more likely in fact that the numbers overwhelming show this, that democracies die at the hands of elected prime ministers and elected presidents.

ZAKARIA: So, Hitler and the Nazis hit the campaign trail. At first, they were a laughingstock, getting less than 10 percent of the vote through 1928.

UNKNOWN: It is 1929.

ZAKARIA: But then came the great depression.

UNKNOWN: Shadows over Germany and unemployment grows.

ZAKARIA: Unemployment reached 40 percent.

UNKNOWN: Hunger was added to resentment, bitterness.

LEVITSKY: Severe economic crises kill democracies.

ZAKARIA: On top of a cratering economy, there was a crisis at the border.

UNKNOWN: Streams of refugees.

ZAKARIA: More than a million refugees.

UNKNOWN: There began the greatest mass exodus of modern times.

ZAKARIA: Including thousands and thousands of Jews from eastern Europe, came to Germany.

BENJAMIN CARTER HETT, PROFESSOR, HUNTER COLLEGE: The border became a very loaded political issue.

ZAKARIA: As the historian Benjamin Hett points out in his recent account of Weimar, the Nazis were fundamentally opposed to globalization before it was a catch phrase.

HETT: Hitler says something which really seems to jump out at us all these years later. He talks about German companies outsourcing manufacturing operations to China.

ZAKARIA: By 1930, the Nazis won the second most seats in the legislature. That was still less than 20 percent of the Reichstag (ph).

UNKNOWN: One man represents the age-old virtues of Germany.

ZAKARIA: But there was one man who could still make Hitler Germany's leader.

UNKNOWN: Aging symbol of the ruling Weimar republic.

ZAKARIA: The nation's right-wing president, Paul von Hindenburg.

UNKNOWN: He is the only man who can keep Germany from being splintered.

ZAKARIA: A revered, aristocratic war hero. He had the power to appoint a chancellor. He disdained Hitler's humble origins, but he hated Germany's left-wing parties even more.

ZIBLATT: He thought this is a figure we can use to keep the socialists out of power.

ZAKARIA: Hindenburg wanted to control Hitler, offering him a cabinet post but not the chancellorship. But the Fuhrer was holding out for the top job.

UNKNOWN: Nazi (INAUDIBLE) campaign.

ZAKARIA: By the end of 1932.

UNKNOWN: Now, there is a new sense of urgency.

ZAKARIA: Hitler's all or nothing strategy was failing.

UNKNOWN: Hitler knows that his Nazi party is in danger.

ZAKARIA: Nazi votes were declining.

UNKNOWN: The Nazis are running out of money.

ZAKARIA: Campaign coffers were dwindling. And the party was in chaos.

HETT: One of the real tragic ironies of history actually is that Hitler was put into power right at the moment where his movement looked like it was going to fall apart.

ZAKARIA: A right-wing insider brought the Fuhrer back to life.

UNKNOWN: One man emerges with a dangerous idea.

ZAKARIA: Former Chancellor Franz von Papen was trying to get back into power.

UNKNOWN: Convinced that he can put Hitler in his pocket.

ZAKARIA: So, he set out to convince his friend, President Hindenburg, to make Hitler chancellor if Hitler would make Papen vice chancellor, seeing this as the best way to keep the left out of power. Hindenburg fatefully agreed.


And on January 30th, 1933, a hate-filled demagogue --

UNKNOWN: The Third Reich of Adolf Hitler is born.

ZAKARIA: -- became Germany's chancellor.

UNKNOWN: Hitler did not seized power. It was given to him.

ZAKARIA: Everything was under control, Papen said.

HETT: Famously, at this moment, Papen says to a friend, we have hired him. He says, in six weeks, we will have pushed him so far into a corner, he will squeak.

ZAKARIA: But within weeks, Adolf Hitler made himself a dictator. And soon, he was killing off enemies and rivals, including many of the right-wing insiders who had enabled his rise. Democracy in Germany was dead.

TRUMP: You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.

ZAKARIA: Its lessons for America --

TRUMP: We will not take it anymore.

ZAKARIA: -- are sobering.

TRUMP: Stop the steal.

LEVITSKY: The willingness of mainstream conservatives to back a potentially authoritarian option, because of fear of their rivals, is something that I think we're seeing playing out in the United States today.

UNKNOWN: It's over!




ZAKARIA: Since November of 2020 --

UNKNOWN: We are coming after you and every mother (bleep) that stole this election with our Second Amendment.

ZAKARIA: These are the kind of threatening phone calls local election officials have received.

UNKNOWN: You rigged my (bleep) election, you (bleep) piece of (bleep).

ZAKARIA: The callers are Trump loyalists who believe in his big lie.

CROWD: Fight for Trump!

CROWD: We want Trump!

TRUMP: We won this election and we won it by a landslide.

UNKNOWN: We won in a landslide.

ZAKARIA: A year into Joe Biden's presidency --

UNKNOWN: He cheated!

UNKNOWN: There was fraud! You got to revisit.

UNKNOWN: Trump won.

ZAKARIA: Across the country, Donald Trump's allies are still at war to overturn the last election, forcing local election officials to revisit the 2020 vote count again and again and again.

CROWD: Count the legal votes!

ZAKARIA: In Wisconsin, local Republicans have conducted three separate partisan audits in an attempt to prove that Joe Biden should not be president. No widespread fraud has ever been found. The third review is still ongoing behind closed doors.

MICHAEL GABLEMAN, WISCONSIN FORMER JUSTICE: The purpose of this investigation --

ZAKARIA: The man Republicans have put in charge is Michael Gableman.

GABLEMAN: The Office of Special Counsel is conducting a full investigation.

ZAKARIA: He dodged questions from CNN crews.

GABLEMAN: Thank you.

UNKNOWN: Can we talk to you about your investigation?

GABLEMAN: Have a good night.

ZAKARIA: And even called for the arrest of Madison's Democratic mayor who refuses to testify in private.

MAYOR SATYA RHODES-CONWAY, MADISON, WISCONSIN: If it comes down to it and I have to go to jail for democracy, I certainly won't be the first person to have done so.

ZAKARIA: The audit is likely to cost taxpayers close to $700,000.

JOSH KAUL, WISCONSIN ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think this is really about 2022 and 2024. I mean, this is an effort to reduce people's confidence in our election results.

ZAKARIA: Efforts like the one in Wisconsin are taking place across the country. In Maricopa County in Arizona --

KIM WYMAN, WASHINTONG SECRETARY OF STATE: We've never seen a private company be able to come in and take command and control of live ballots.

ZAKARIA: In Idaho, where the secretary of state's office recently hand recounted ballots to refute claims of vote flipping.

UNKNOWN: After reviewing almost 10,000 ballots over three different counties, officials found a margin of error of less than one percent.

ZAKARIA: And in Oklahoma, state officials there opened an investigation to counter-allegations of hacked voting machines. Similar claims of fronts from governors and state legislatures have gone on and continue to go on in nearly 40 states.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): The fact is election fraud has occurred.

ZAKARIA: Charges of widespread fraud have all been proven false.

CROWD: Count the legal votes!

ZAKARIA: But the claims have succeeded in one critical way.

CROWD: Count our vote!

ZAKARIA: They have shattered trust in the election system. A poll published in November found that only 33 percent of Republicans said that they would trust the results of the 2024 election if their candidate didn't win. That compares to 82 percent of Democrats.

KAGAN: There will be no faith whatsoever in election results.

UNKNOWN: There is suddenly million people who do not believe this.

KAGAN: So, I think it is much more likely that we have a full-blown national crisis in 2024.


ZAKARIA: The crisis is unfolding right now. With Republicans passing new laws --

UNKNOWN: Shall the bill passes (ph).

ZAKARIA: That tighten their grip on how elections are run and who counts the votes. They have also been removing, replacing or demoting election officials who would not endorse Donald Trump's false allegations of fraud.

A dozen states enacted 17 laws last year that paved the way for future election subversion. At least 19 have passed laws that simply make it harder to vote. Republicans argue that the bills are necessary to restore what they call election integrity and will make future elections more secure.

UNKNOWN: I urge your favorable vote for the Election Integrity Act.

ZAKARIA: But the most worrying laws give Republican state officials even more power to control local elections. Remember Georgia's Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who bravely refused to give in to Trump?

TRUMP: I just want to find 11,780 votes.

ZAKARIA: Georgia Republicans stripped Raffensperger of his role as chief election officer and purged other local election officials.

SETH CLARK: A body of unelected officials in Atlanta appointed by the state legislature and not us can fire our employees without a lick of input from us.

ZAKARIA: Georgia is just one target in a carefully-planned effort by the GOP that could enable them to steal the next election perfectly legally. Some new laws promise harsh punishments for election officials and poll workers for simple mistakes.

BENJAMIN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION LAWYER: There are a series of laws in states that are put in to criminalize election officials for doing their jobs. That has a really corrosive effect on the general public's belief in the accuracy of our election results.

ZAKARIA: In Texas, an election official can now go to jail for sending citizens unrequested vote by mail applications.

UNKNOWN: We're going to have to educate our own volunteers to make sure they don't make a mistake.

ZAKARIA: In Florida, officials can be fined up to $25,000 if they allow voters to deposit ballots in drop boxes outside of official hours. In addition to the intimidation tactics --

UNKNOWN: Rigged the 2020 election.

UNKNOWN: Widespread fraud.

ZAKARIA: A wave of Trump-supporting "stop the steal" candidates are running for office across the country. Some with direct oversight of elections. All of it paints a grim picture of what could happen in 2024.

JENA GRISWOLD, COLORADO SECRETARY OF STATE: It is incredibly alarming. In fact, in every swing state where we have a secretary of state race, there is someone who has either spread the big lie or was at the insurrection running to oversee elections.

ZAKARIA: To understand how it could play out, just look at the razor- thin margins in these battleground states from 2020. Narrow everywhere. Three-tenths of one percent in Georgia. The fear now is that having passed new legislation, Republican-dominated state boards could intervene and override local election authorities.

LEVITSKY: And so, we could plausibly constitutionally have a stolen election.

ZAKARIA: For many, in 2020, democracy was saved at the state level about heroic officials and election workers who stood up to Trump's demands.

KAGAN: The Republican Party at every level has engaged in a full- scale purge of anyone who looks like they're not completely on board with the Trump agenda.

ZAKARIA: As these officials disappear, who will be left to stand up to defend democracy in 2024?




ZAKARIA: Let me conclude this program about American democracy by looking at Germany again. After its hellish descent into tyranny, the country recreated itself. And today, Germany appears to be an almost (INAUDIBLE) naturally stable democracy.

Angela Merkel served solidly for 16 years as chancellor and she has been succeeded by her former finance minister, another moderate. The country's policies seem to have shifted in only marginal ways.

But behind that calm lie more turbulent currents. As the scholar, Richard Pildes (ph), notes, for decades, Germany's two main political parties on the left and right taken together usually got about 90 percent of the vote. But they got just under 50 percent in the 2021 federal election.


ZAKARIA: Pildes (ph) calls this political fragmentation and it is happening across the western world.

France's socialist party, one of Europe's most successful, is now a shadow of its former self. Spain has had to hold four elections in four years to arrive at a workable coalition. In Italy, ever since 2018, ushered in right-wing populists, politics has been in turmoil, saved now by a technocratic government headed by Mario Draghi. Even the Netherlands took a record 225 days to form a coalition government in 2017.

Why is this happening? Some of the reasons are familiar. An age of rapid technological change, accelerating globalization, and increasing ethnic diversity have created great anxiety. These anxieties then lead to distrust in traditional institutions and established parties.

New figures crash on to the political scene, some of whom peddle fear and offer simple solutions to get rid of all of this new complexity and take the country back, back to when times were more stable, back to when the country was great in the misty, often mistaken memory of some.

But why does American democracy feel more threatened than, say, French or Spanish democracy? America does feel especially under stress as it approaches its next presidential election. If this scenario as outlined here come true, Donald Trump runs, wins the nomination, and it is a close election, we will almost certainly face a constitutional crisis.

More worrying, given the changes to election procedures, we will likely face this contestation after every close election in America. The basic legitimacy of the American electoral system has been eroded. Republicans in particular have embraced a big lie that American elections are filled with fraud.

It may be that we have exposed a flaw in the founding fathers' constitution. They believed that to create a political system, you did not need to ensure that people acted virtuously.

If men were angels, James Madison famously wrote, no government would be necessary, ambition would be made to counteract ambition, and this system of checks and balances would preserve liberty and democracy.

But can a system really work without human beings acting responsibly, even virtuously? One branch of government, Congress, is supposed to check the other. But today, for Republicans, party politics Trump's institutional loyalty.

The real scandal of January 6th is not what happened outside of the Capitol alone. It is what happened inside when a majority of House Republicans voted to overturn the valid results of a presidential election simply to curry favor with Donald Trump. It is that vote, not the violence, that almost broke the American system.

We often hear, unlike in fledgling democracies, America 's institutions are strong. But, as Emerson said, an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man. If people abuse them, attacked them, disregard them, these storied institutions will slowly collapse.

And so, all of our efforts must be devoted to making people act responsibly, even virtuously. In particular, Republicans must come to realize they can and should disagree with Democrats vigorously on taxes, regulation, inflation, the environment, whatever they want. But now, they must come together with these same Democrats to preserve a credible and legitimate political system.

For all of us, this is the most important political issue right now, not your views on Iran or inflation or green subsidies. Those can wait. Let us first save American democracy.

I'm Fareed Zakaria. Thanks for watching.




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. When we left you last night, 11 so-called Oath Keepers have been charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with January 6. Here they are. Today, their leader and founder, a guy named Stewart Rhodes, made his first court appearance in Plano, Texas and entered a plea.

In a moment, we'll have more on exactly who he is and how his group came to spearhead right-wing extremism's eruption on to the national stage a little more than a year ago and its flirtation before and since with members of one of this country's two mainstream political parties.

First, all we've learned since last night, which is a lot, some false notions about the insurrection that we've all been hearing literally since day one.