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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Interview With Retired Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster; Interview With John Bolton, Former National Security Adviser; Trump's Legal Challenges To Election Have Been Encountering Major Problems, What Is President's Refusal To Accept Truth Doing To Already Deeply Divided America? Aired 10-11a ET

Aired November 15, 2020 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you live.


ZAKARIA: Today a special show. All the guests have held high positions in Republican administrations from Reagan to Bush to Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They are trying to steal an election. They're trying to rig an election.

ZAKARIA: We will spend the entire hour with them examining this unprecedented moment in America, as Donald Trump continues to delegitimize the American election.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.

ZAKARIA: First, what are America's friends and foes around the globe supposed to think? And just why won't Trump admit he lost? I'll talk to two men who served as Trump's National Security advisers, John Bolton and H.R. McMaster.

Also, before Michael Chertoff was the secretary of Homeland Security, he was a U.S. attorney and a federal judge. I'll get his take on Trump's legal challenges to the election.

Finally, what has Trump's obfuscation of the truth done to an already deeply divided American public? "The Wall Street Journal" opinion writer and former Reagan speechwriter, Peggy Noonan gives me her perspective.


ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. The predictions most people make about the outcome of this election are probably right. Donald Trump's refusal to concede to Joe Biden won't change reality. His lawsuits appear to be going nowhere with one judge describing the Trump campaign legal brief as inadmissible hearsay within hearsay. Republican state legislatures are not going to designate their own slates of electors in defiance of the duly recorded vote totals.

So once all the ranting and suing is over, Biden will almost certainly be inaugurated as the president of the United States on January 20th, 2021. But Trump is attacking, defaming and delegitimizing American elections in a manner unprecedented in the country's history. His obstructionism won't keep him in power, but it will deeply wound America's democratic culture. He is whipping his base into a frenzy about a stolen election and few of them are going to change their minds because of court decisions and recounts.

The conspiracy theory of the stolen election of 2020 is here to stay. A reminder. Whatever one may say about Democratic anger and resistance after 2016, Hillary Clinton conceded to Trump the night of the election and made her formal concession speech the next day.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans.


ZAKARIA: The following day, President Obama invited Trump to the White House, spent an hour and a half talking with him, and promised full cooperation for a successful transition.

The historical parallel that seems most appropriate today is a very dark one. After Germany surrendered at the end of World War I, ultra right-wing groups concocted the myth that Germany was actually on the verge of winning the war in November 1918 but surrendered because of a conspiracy to destroy the country plotted by certain communists and Jews.

In his book the "Death of Democracy," Benjamin Carter Hett explains why this stab in the back theory endured. Quote, "The trauma of defeat left millions of Germans believing a particular narrative about the war, not because it was demonstrably true, but because it was emotionally necessary."

Hitler often raised the topic during his rise to power. In a 1922 speech he said, "We must call to account the November criminals of 1918. It cannot be that two million Germans should have fallen in vain and afterwards one should sit down as friends at the same table with traitors. No, we do not pardon. We demand vengeance."

Today, Newt Gingrich says this about Biden.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I think he would have to do a lot to convince Republicans that this is anything except a left-wing power grab financed by people like George Soros, deeply laid in at the local level. It's very hard to understand how we are going to work together.



ZAKARIA: President Trump re-tweeted this incendiary video of the actor Jon Voigt.


JON VOIGHT, ACTOR: This is now our greatest fight since the civil war. The battle of righteousness versus Satan. Yes, Satan. Because these leftists are evil. Let us fight this fight as if it is our last fight on earth.


ZAKARIA: The historian Timothy Snyder points to the danger of such rhetoric. "If you've been stabbed in the back, then everything is permitted. Claiming that a fair election was foul is preparation for an election that is foul. If you convince your voters that the other side has cheated, you are promising them that you yourself will cheat next time. Having bent the rules, you will then have to break them."

A political system is not simply a collection of laws and rules. It is also an accumulation of norms and behavior. When Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says Trump is 100 percent within his rights to behave as he is, McConnell is missing this crucial distinction. There is a reason past presidents have conceded defeat when it was statistically clear that they had lost without waiting for the last vote to be counted.

And Trump's defeat is decisive. Biden is on track to win as many electoral votes as Trump did in 2016. 306. Biden's margin in Georgia is over 25 times larger than the difference in Florida between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000. Biden enjoys a larger margin in Pennsylvania than Trump got in 2016.

It's a cliche to say this, but it is true. Democracy is above all about the peaceful transfer of power. Trump is shredding that norm for his own egotistical needs. But his actions today will have a large and lasting effect on this country's politics and culture for decades creating a cancer that will metastasize in gruesome ways.

Go to for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.

Mike Pompeo promised on Tuesday that there would be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration. The secretary of State woke up this morning in Paris where his schedule is full of meetings with top officials, including the French president tomorrow. Emmanuel Macron himself has declared that Biden's victory is an opportunity to make our planet great again. So that should be an interesting meeting.

What is the international effect of Trump's unwillingness to concede? Joining me now is General H.R. McMaster, who is a lieutenant general in the U.S. Army and one of its great thinker soldiers and he was named National Security adviser a month into Donald Trump's term. General McMaster, welcome. Let me first ask you a simple question. The

president of the United States has just tweeted that this election was rigged. What is your response?

LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER (RET.), FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Fareed, it's great to be with you. Hey, first of all, I mean, that was pretty depressing lead-in, Fareed. I'll tell you, I think I'm a lot more optimistic than you are. Record numbers of Americans voted. Our democracy works. And what the president says and this tweet is just wrong, it's regrettable, it's counterproductive.

I think our democracy is -- could be stronger than ever. Right? I mean, people are making a lot about hey, that we're divided. But if we weren't divided we'd be a one-party system. So I think we should be more confident. And, you know, Fareed, what I read about in battlegrounds is that the only thing worse than the ignorance of history is the misuse of it.

And I'll tell you, Fareed, you know, we didn't go through World War I and we're not the Wie Mar Republic. So I just think that we have to be more confident, recognize that our founders, they did a brilliant job, Fareed. You know, they thought about, hey, what could go wrong? And they designed a system to can compensate for the worst-case scenario.

A president that's acting irresponsibly like President Trump is, well, guess what, our founders set it up so that the executive branch doesn't even have a say in the transition. So, Fareed, I think we should be a lot more confident.

ZAKARIA: What do you think of how Joe Biden is behaving?

MCMASTER: I think it's a great example. I mean, I think that his message of, hey, you know, I am going to be president for all Americans, it's exactly what you want to hear from a president-elect. And, you know, I hope that President Trump in the coming weeks can rise to the occasion. Of course, I don't think that's in his nature. But I think all Americans should expect more from their elected leaders, right?


Hey, you know, this kind of demagoguery and vitriolic partisan discourse, it's nothing new for us. I mean, look at some of the elections in the early 19th century. But we should do is demand that our leaders not undermine our confidence and our democratic principles and institutions and processes.

And Fareed, what's paradoxical about this is President Trump's administration did a great job at securing our election, especially after we saw what the threat was from Russia in sowing dissention, raising doubts about the legitimacy of the results in 2016. I mean, 2018 went off without a hitch and 2020 was a very secure election, and Americans should have absolute confidence in the result.

And we can let these -- you know, we can let these legal actions go forward and that's fine, but these -- you know, these allegations of the election being rigged or there being fraud, I mean, it's not only counterproductive, as you mentioned, it's dangerous. But I'll tell you, Fareed, I don't think we need to worry about it. You know, we are not a monarchy, right? Our founders learned the lessons of the bloody wars of the 17th century in England and they set up a very strong system and strong institutions.

ZAKARIA: You write, General McMaster, in your book about how the central goal of Vladimir Putin is to sow doubt about the strength of American democracy. And you imply that same thing about the Chinese Communist Party. So don't you think they are looking at this and pointing to it and saying, you see? We were right.

MCMASTER: That's exactly what they're doing. And we know that. I mean, I have been reading a lot of their efforts to undermine our democracy these days. And what they're trying to do is amplify kind of the message you had at the beginning. And this is why, Fareed, I think we can either get dragged down into this or we can transcend it as Americans. So I think all of us have a role in bringing Americans together.

We don't have to agree on policy but we should have civil discussions because we share the same goals. Right? We all want a better future for generations to come. And I think now is the moment to do that, Fareed. And, you know, you're right. What Russia wants to do more than anything is they want to polarize us, pit us against each other, and reduce our confidence in our common identity as Americans and in our democratic principles and institutions and processes. And we should not be participants in that, whether it's our political leadership or the media or any of us who have the opportunity to convene Americans and to foster the kind of respectful wide-ranging discussions of the challenges that we face.

ZAKARIA: General, I first came across you when you were a younger general who wrote a brilliant book called "Dereliction of Duty" about why the Joint Chiefs of Staff should have been much more assertive and pushed back against the president during the Vietnam War.

Do you think there has been a dereliction of duty at the highest levels of the American political system? I mean people like Jim Mattis, Jim Kelly, Republican leaders in not pushing back against a president, who by your own accounts, is unprecedented in his behavior?

MCMASTER: I think what you owe any elected president is your best advice, right? And recognition that only the president and maybe the vice president got elected. So I think, Fareed, there are three types of people in any administration. There are those who serve under the Constitution and know it's their role to give that elected president options and that to assist in the sensible implementation of his or her policy decisions and strategies.

And then a second group of people, they come in to kind of manipulation decisions based on their own agenda. And then a third type -- a third group, and I think this is the case in any administration, they think it's their job maybe to save the country or the world from the president. Now the problem with that second and third group is they are under mining the Constitution, right, because sovereignty in our country lies with the people.

Now if a president is going to do something illegal, I think it's your duty to oppose that, to resign. But if you just disagree, it's not your job to make policy as a member of the administration.

ZAKARIA: All right. We will have to leave it at that. Pleasure to have you on, General. I hope we can talk again.

MCMASTER: Thank you, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Coming up next, McMaster's successor, John Bolton.



ZAKARIA: This week saw CNN and other major news organizations called both Arizona and Georgia for Joe Biden.


DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: This is your new map of American politics.


ZAKARIA: This brings the total to 306 electoral votes for Biden, well over the 270 needed to be the next president and the same as Donald Trump in 2016.

Let me bring in John Bolton who served as National Security adviser to Trump after many high-level positions in Republican administrations dating back to Ronald Reagan. Bolton wrote "The Room Where It Happened," about his time in the Trump White House.

Welcome, John. Let me ask you a question about Donald Trump's tweet in which he seems to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the election, though, because in his view, in his allegation of all kinds of fraud. Is the fact that, you know, what is it, the seven stages of grief? He is going through denial. Is he now at the point where you think he is accepting it finally?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, it may well be. I think now he is in the course of developing his theory of how it was rigged, who betrayed him, the stab in the back allegations, which is why I have always felt he would leave the Oval Office, but he won't leave graciously and he will do a lot of damage in the meantime.


Damage to his own administration, which has already begun with high- level firings, damage to the incoming Biden administration by delaying the transition and, frankly, damage to the Republican Party for these baseless claims that the election was stolen from him.

ZAKARIA: You say that the Republicans need to stop coddling him, and you argue that they wouldn't pay a political price. Explain what you mean.

BOLTON: Well, I have trust in the Republican voters. I believe that if their leaders explain to them that Trump lost fair and square and that the facts do not support his claims that the election was stolen, that they will come to accept it. But if they only hear from Donald Trump, it's not unnatural for them to think, since nobody else on our side of the aisle is disagreeing, that what he is saying is accurate.

And I think that lays the basis for real distrust in the system, casting doubt on the integrity of our electoral system, the constitutional process. The Russians and the Chinese couldn't ask for any more. This is dangerous to the Republican Party, obviously, of paramount importance, what Trump's doing. It's potentially dangerous for the country.

ZAKARIA: You are a rock red Republican. You are an old-fashioned Burkean conservative. How do you react to what Trump is doing? I mean, how much does it damage the democratic fabric of the country and the constitutional system?

BOLTON: Well, I think he's done a lot of damage in four years, and it's one reason that, for the first time in my adult life, I didn't vote for the Republican presidential nominee. I didn't vote for Biden either because I don't think that's the policy answer for the country. But that's why it's also important for Republican leaders to speak up, to begin the process of explaining that Trump doesn't represent the Republican Party.

Much of what he said has been distorted, that we can have faith in our electoral system. Just take the two states you mentioned a moment ago, Georgia and Arizona. Both carried by Biden at the presidential. Both have Republican governors. Both have Republicans in many leadership positions. Really were they all asleep on election day and the weeks before election day? They need to say we believe that the election process was conducted in a free and fair fashion.

We've already had the Homeland Security Department say that all of these stories about computer hacking and algorithms that are corrupting the vote are untrue. I think the facts speak tore themselves, but we need Republican leaders to validate them. And I think that's important not just for the Democrats to do it. We know what they're going to say. We need Republicans to tell the truth, too. It's not that hard.

ZAKARIA: You said in your memoirs that you believe that every single foreign policy decision of any substance that Trump made was geared towards helping him win re-election. So this must be a huge disappointment for him?

BOLTON: Yes, I think he's stunned by it. I think that's why he's been silent really for so long. He's lived in his own dream world and been successful at it these last four years. The coronavirus was one tragic reality that he couldn't deal with. His own election loss is, in his mind, another tragic reality now. So I think he's now trying to calibrate, if in fact I've lost, how do I maximize my brand in the days after the coming inauguration of Joe Biden. And I think that's what's at stake now.

Will he buy a TV network? Will he continue to tweet? What exactly is he going to do? So he's trying to set himself up for the Donald Trump chapter post-January 20.

ZAKARIA: Do you believe that he will pardon himself and his family?

BOLTON: It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. I personally do think the president has that constitutional authority, and since Trump doesn't think he is bound by norms or questions of prudence, I think it's entirely possible that he will. And I guess my only comment there is that even Richard Nixon didn't pardon himself.

ZAKARIA: How do you think Trump goes down in history?

BOLTON: As a failed president. Look, he doesn't -- he has never thought in philosophical terms or strategic terms or even policy terms. The decisions that he's made, and I think he made a lot of correct decisions, were based on political calculations.


Nominations to the judicial system. Low taxes and deregulation economically, classic Republican policy decisions. And even in the international space, they were on an ad hoc basis. I say in my book his decisions are like an archipelago of dots. They are not connected by anything. And the consequences, he missed a huge, huge range of opportunities internationally for the United States because he couldn't focus his attention long enough to develop coherent policies, or at least to adopt coherent policies that were offered to him.

And I think his erosion of faith in our common constitutional system is something I believe it can be corrected, but it sends a signal to others who are tempted to engage in that same kind of behavior that it can succeed and it tells our adversaries what their propaganda has to be directed to in future elections to have that kind of effect.

ZAKARIA: John Bolton, pleasure to have you on.

BOLTON: Thanks, Fareed. Glad to be with you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, what about the president's legal challenges? Do they have a chance of changing more than a few votes here and there? Former secretary of Homeland Security who was once a federal judge, Michael Chertoff, joins me next.



ZAKARIA: Trump's legal challenges to the election have been encountering major problems. Nine lawsuits in battleground states were withdrawn or denied on Friday alone, and a couple of the law firms handling his cases have dropped the president as a client.

Meanwhile, a sub-agency of the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement calling the 2020 election the most secure in American history and stating, "There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised."

Joining me now is the former secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff.

Welcome. You, before you were the secretary of homeland security, were a federal judge. Before that you were a U.S. Attorney. So you have a good perspective. Give us a simple explanation. Why are all of Trump's lawsuits failing?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, FORMER SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, it's a good-news story. I mean, we had a record turnout. There were no episodes of interference with the voters or any violence. The counting proceeding deliberately but skillfully and properly.

As DHS has announced, there was no compromise of machines or to any of the I.T. infrastructure.

So essentially there is no evidence of fraud or disruption. And every time they go to court and the judge says, "Show me your evidence," they have to say, "Well, we really have no evidence," or "There really is no fraud."

And, plus, the margin of victory in the battleground states is sufficient that even some very trivial discrepancies would not have an effect on the outcome. So it's a good-news story for American democracy.

ZAKARIA: What do you make of the -- the case that is being made regarding Pennsylvania?

To just remind people, this is -- the argument is the Pennsylvania state legislature said you should only count ballots that were -- that were delivered on Election Day. The state supreme court said, "No, you get three days more, as long as they were postmarked on Election Day, if they get delivered three days later."

This -- this is being taken to court. Do you think this will get to the Supreme Court? Do you think that this has -- this lawsuit has a chance to succeed?

CHERTOFF: Well, the first thing is, according to what's been reported, the number of ballots that came in after November 3rd were 10,000. The margin of victory for Joe Biden is now five times that. So essentially it will not have an affect on the outcome.

That leads me to believe that it's unlikely this case will get to the Supreme Court because generally the court doesn't take cases to decide abstract issues with no concrete result.

But the bottom line is, I don't see how this case changes the fact that Joe Biden is going to be the next president of the United States.

ZAKARIA: Do you know that 10 state attorneys general have filed amicus briefs, sort of, friend of the court briefs. Do you think that they see a legal claim here that is -- that is powerful and important, or are they just playing politics?

CHERTOFF: Well, I have to say the Republican attorneys general, I think it's largely a political or performative step. I don't think they actually believe they're going to have an impact on the election.

There might be some technical issues that get resolved ultimately for future elections, but again the number of ballots seems to be well below what would affect the outcome in any of the battleground states. And given the fact that Joe Biden has -- has now got a course set to get 300-plus electoral votes, it's very hard to see this having any impact at all.

ZAKARIA: I saw an interview of yours from some weeks ago in which you correctly predicted that the period of transition, that the single most important issue would be -- the wild card, you said, is Donald Trump, how the president will behave.

Do you still think there is some element of a wild card here, or, at the end of the day, are you confident he will, in fact, leave?

CHERTOFF: Well, I have no doubt he's going to leave. He's not going to have a choice. On January 20th, a new president will be sworn in, and that president will have the power and the authority of the presidency.

I actually doubt that Donald Trump will be in the White House at that point. My guess is he's going to go down to his place in Florida and -- maybe over Christmas -- and not come back. But the bottom line is the government will move forward.

However, having a smooth transition (inaudible) is necessary for the safety of the country. We've got a pandemic. We have adversaries around the world looking to make hay or to exploit any delay in our transition process. And as a matter of obligation to the American people, the Trump administration should begin the process of briefing the Biden people on intelligence and also turning over the reins of power.

ZAKARIA: You understand both the legal issues, the national security issues involved here. What do you think is going on with Trump's decapitating of the Defense Department, firing four top people, including the secretary of defense? Does that worry you?

CHERTOFF: Of course it worries me. We're in a period, again, where our adversaries are looking to see if we drop our guard, and any disruption of the security apparatus invites mischief by foreign actors or terrorists.

That being said, and of course I'm not a mind reader, it strikes me this may be an act of vindictiveness against people that Donald Trump perceives as having been insufficiently loyal.

There is also speculation that Donald Trump is going to try to initiate a precipitous withdrawal of our forces in places like Afghanistan and is afraid that the Defense Department would resist. Of course, a withdrawal would be disastrous, would open the door to

having terrorists take a more prominent role in Afghanistan, and again is part of playing Russian roulette with the safety and the security of the American people.

ZAKARIA: Michael Chertoff, pleasure to have you on, sir.

CHERTOFF: Good to be on, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Next, Peggy Noonan on what effect the president's behavior is having on the culture of this country.


ZAKARIA: Just what is the president's refusal to accept the truth doing to an already deeply divided America?

The great Peggy Noonan joins me now. She was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist for The Wall Street Journal.

Peggy, let me ask you, I mean, I get that the system is -- will work and there will be a transition. But what I want to talk -- talk to you about is what does it do to our culture, particularly to the political culture on the right, to sow the seeds of these conspiracy theories?

I mean, as Richard Hofstadter said, we have a paranoid streak running through this country. We have had McCarthyism. Do you worry that this will become the new, you know, kind of conspiracy theory on the right that lingers?

PEGGY NOONAN, PULITZER-PRIZE-WINNING COLUMNIST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I do. I think the president's throwing around words like "steal," the election was "stolen;" "It was all rigged;" "It's a fiction of the fake news media that I lost and Joe Biden won," there will always be an audience for an angry, accusing, paranoid vision in America. And there will always be some audience for that among some of the Trump base.

I'm a little bit worried about the rise of this, sort of, stabbed-in- the-back theory, that the president was -- was not well-represented by official Washington, that they were his enemies, that they tried to do him in, that they rigged the election and unfairly arranged this whole thing.

So I am worried about it, but I also feel, Fareed, a certain sort of indignant anger. I think the president must know that he lost the White House, must understand there are no legal avenues that are fruitful at this point. The recount avenues are very likely not fruitful.

If you know that, and yet you ask your most passionate and sincere and ingenuous and trusting believers to believe something that isn't true, which is that you won, it is a kind of abuse of them. It -- it is -- it is cynical and it is wrong, and it makes me feel indignant that he is taking advantage of good people in this way. ZAKARIA: You know, I'd often thought that one of the great

regularities of American politics was that the more optimistic candidate tended to win. And that was best seen in your president, Reagan.

What does it tell you that Trump, who is very pessimistic and dark about America and, you know, sees it as a bad and rigged system and -- what does it say that there's such a market for this kind of dour, grim, pessimistic view of America?

NOONAN: Well, I think there's a lot of anger in America, understandably. Certainly, it is a polarized country. I was taking notes this morning and writing "polarized, polarized, polarized."

And then it occurred to me that's the only thing we agree on, that we are, in fact, not united.

There is a lot of anger out there that -- and that's always fertile field for a political figure. But, yes, it is true. An American president whose inaugural address included the phrase "American carnage" -- do you know what I mean? That was so very grim.

You know, there was some -- there was some insights that Donald Trump did run on when he ran in 2016. He saw the frustration of a lot of Americans, Democrats and very much Republicans, who were frustrated by American establishments, American elites, two parties which seemed themselves rather cynical and not handling and resolving certain national problems.

So I -- I think we are at a point where a certain amount of anger can get you pretty far.

ZAKARIA: And do you think that there is a healing that words can do?

I mean, you believe preeminently in the idea that words have consequences. Do you think that Biden's effort to, you know, to at least rhetorically put a balm on some of these wounds will help, or does it need to be something more?

NOONAN: I -- I think Joe Biden becomes, when he becomes president, will have a heck of a lot to deal with within his party, without his party, in the country.

In general, Fareed, I don't -- somebody asked me the other day, "Can he heal the country?"

And I said, "No, no one can heal the country, but he can calm the country."

It would be wonderful to see him to come in and lower the temperature somewhat. It would be wonderful to see him come in and set himself to making government work again, working with the other party, working legislatively, maybe concentrating to start on one big thing, coronavirus relief, which is necessary and everybody wants it.

So -- so I think -- I think there's some promise there, and it would be very good and very calming and -- and ameliorating to some degree if we could see a government fully staffed, fully functioning, fully working, working in happily predictable ways. And it would be very good if the world saw that, too. I can't help but think of this two- month period ahead as a rather dangerous time.

ZAKARIA: On that note, always a pleasure, Peggy Noonan.

NOONAN: Thank you, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: And we will come back with a solution to America's electoral chaos -- really.


ZAKARIA: And now for the last look. We talk about the election that happened on November 3rd here in the United States, but it wasn't actually one election. It was 10,000 elections conducted in the cities and towns, counties and states around the country, with over 150 million ballots regulated by 52 separate legal codes and run through at least 70 different models of voting machine.

But such a messy patchwork is actually intentional. the United States, as the term implies, is a collection of states that have considerable autonomy. The Constitution directs states to conduct elections, and most of those delegate the task to counties and cities in turn.

Proponents of this decentralized system note that election tampering in all of these thousands of different places would be near impossible, but on the other hand, there are no uniform national standards.

So a felon can vote in Vermont, but not in Virginia. Absentee ballots must be received on Election Day in Idaho but two weeks later in Illinois.

The lack of a centralized electoral authority is reflected in the Trump campaign's scattershot lawsuits in different states.

According to the Electoral Integrity Project, the U.S. elections are among the least trusted of all liberal democracies. Only Albania's fare worse.

America's elections need an overhaul, and they should start with an independent and nonpartisan election commission.

Harvard's Pippa Norris writes in her recent book "Why American Elections are Flawed" that two-thirds of all democratic countries have an independent agency, one removed from the partisan machinery of government, that runs their elections.

In India, for example, a three-person independent election commission regulates and administers the world's largest democratic system, sending 11 million poll workers to almost 700 districts.

Canada, Australia and Mexico are all federal nations like the U.S. And those nations also rely on a central commission to establish electoral standards and then on local administrations to enforce them.

In fact, the U.S. already has an electoral commission, the Election Assistance Commission, or the EAC, but it has little power. Congress should strengthen that body to do more than just advise and empower it to set uniform standards on poll hours, absentee voting and poll worker training. It could have this body look into allegations of fraud. Doing this in an independent and non-partisan framework could depoliticize the system and restore credibility to it.

America may have been the birthplace of constitutional democracy, but it is lagging behind the rest of the democratic world in properly conducting that crucial aspect of democracy that is elections.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.

Don't forget, if you miss a show, go to for a link to my iTunes podcast.