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Fareed Zakaria GPS
Interview with Colin Powell About the Capitol Hill Riot; Republicans Face Backlash for Challenging Biden Win. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired January 10, 2021 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria, coming to you live from New York.
ZAKARIA (voice-over): Today on this show, insurrection in America as a Trump-supported mob breaches the U.S. Capitol. Is this a new low for the world's oldest constitutional republic?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to the Capitol.
ZAKARIA: Will America be able to remove this stain from its global reputation? We'll devote the whole hour to talking about the issues swirling around the storming of the Capitol, the future of Donald Trump.
TRUMP: Our incredible journey is only just beginning.
ZAKARIA: The future of the Republican Party and the future of the republic itself. First with former secretary of state Colin Powell, then columnists Ezra Klein and Anne Applebaum. And finally the great historian Eric Foner.
ZAKARIA: But first here's my take. The bad news about America is all around us. But there is good news hidden within it or at least the chance for a renewal of America's promise. I don't want to sugarcoat the reality. We have lived through the most serious threat to the republic in 150 years, and it's not over yet. For all those who doubted that Donald Trump is a danger to American democracy, words I used in 2016, this week finally provided the smoking gun.
In fact, the evidence was long in plain view. "The Wall Street Journal's" editorial page, the guardian of American conservatism, consistently ridiculed worries about Trump's autocratic tendencies. A year into his presidency, it will find that his tenure must be terribly disappointing to the progressive elites who a year ago predicted an authoritarian America because Mr. Trump posed a unique threat to democratic norms.
It claimed that all Trump could really be accused of was excessive rhetorical attacks on the media. Senior Republicans refused to even make some tepid objections. Critics like Lindsey Graham quickly morphed into sycophants, eager to encourage Trump's worst impulses. Now some of them are shocked, shocked to discover that Donald Trump was an autocrat after all.
During the pandemic many conservatives pointed out that Trump did not use the crisis to expand executive authority, which proved that he had no authoritarian tendencies, but this misunderstands authoritarianism. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt both used souped up authority to save the nation from dire emergencies. That did not make them tyrants.
You see, autocrat seeks power for himself to strengthen his own hold on the office and destroy his enemies. Putin accumulated power not so that he could provide Social Security so Russians, but to ensure that no one could ever challenge him.
After the 2020 election, most Republican leaders remained silent as Trump spread cancerous lies and conspiracy theories. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell like most Republicans refused to acknowledge that Joe Biden had won the election for weeks and declared that Trump was 100 percent within his rights to mount all his court challenges.
But the fact that one can use certain legal mechanisms does not mean that one should. Norms are as important as laws. The erosion of democracy in other countries from Hungary to Turkey to India has taken placed for the most part through entirely legal means. Senators like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley both well-trained constitutional experts use clever reasoning and legal mechanics to subvert democracy itself, proving that a fancy education does not ensure that you will act ethically.
And just hours after the attempted insurrection on Capitol Hill, they, along with six other Republican senators and 139 members of the House, voted to support the demands of those insurrectionists. Those demands, the overturning of a certified free election, are every bit as seditious as was the run on the Capitol.
So why after all this do I see some hidden good news? Well, first, the insurrection ultimately failed. Order was restored and within hours the results of the November election were certified. In fact, this week's chaos has put the rebels on the defensive. Most prominently the leader of the insurrection Trump who two months after the election finally pledged an orderly transition.
It's also finally led some Republicans to stop coddling Trump. Perhaps they've come to recognize that tax cuts and judges are not worth the shredding of democracy. More likely, they have seen that under Trump's watch, the party has lost control of the House, the Senate and the presidency. For four years, I have wonders when the Trump fever would break. When,
I wondered, would people see that he was not some comical figure but a narcissist and a demagogue, stoking racism and hate deeply at odds with the democratic character of this country.
Well, this week it might have happened. You don't need the whole country to snap awake. When Nixon resigned, a quarter of Americans still supported him. But you need enough that it resets the norm. Perhaps we have to go over the edge to climb back.
When I was growing up far away from America in the 1970s, I find myself following events there with intense interest. Those years were filled with turmoil. The United States suffered its first major military defeat. The president resigned in disgrace. And the Soviet Union was poised to take advantage of its rival superpower's weakness.
Yet, despite it all, I still felt a deep attraction to America. The chaos and disruption were evidence of an open society in the midst of great change, a place that showcased all the anger and turmoil that came with wrenching dislocations and transformations. But these things were also the signs of a country airing its problems and facing up to its challenges, a place that having weathered that storm would find new resilience, energy and strength.
It's then that I decided to come to America. I would do it again today.
Go to CNN.com/fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
It is my great pleasure to bring in Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, former National Security adviser who served 35 years in the U.S. Army and retired as a four-star general.
Secretary Powell, General Powell, Secretary Powell, Your Excellency, let me ask you.
Is this a moment for accountability or is this a moment for healing? Because the two can't really happen simultaneously.
GEN. COLIN POWELL (RET), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a moment for accountability, to place blame on people who have done things that are wrong. And at the same time, I think it is something for accountability because there are a lot of people who did not demonstrate using the accountability they have. But I have no fear for our country. We'll come out of this. We now have three bodies that are all in the same party. We have a guy who's going to be the president of the United States who I have known for many, many years, and will do a completely different rational to what a president does, and so we'll come out of this OK.
But we've got to get Mr. Trump clearly out of this entirely. He's got to be gone one way or the other by next week. And the sooner the better, whether it is just a relief he takes for himself or it's an impeachment or just leave, resign, retire. And, so, he's going to be gone. And then we will start again. The big challenge we're going to have is how do we convince all of our citizens and not just those of us who, you know, might be called progressive? How do we convince all of our citizens that we have to start changing our society again?
We cannot have people that are running around with guns the way they're running around now. I saw in one of the statehouses, a whole line of guys with machine guns. Why are they allowed to do that? Why is that acceptable? I've also seen some things that from the very beginning of the Trump administration that convinced me that this is not the kind of guy for me. And that was when he launched his tirade against Mr. Obama who he said was born in another country.
We knew he wasn't born in another country. It was obvious. It was provable. But it took us, I think it was a year and a half or two years before Trump finally agreed to it. Why? Because he was using it.
He was using it as a way of saying this guy is a black guy, so let's keep talking against him. And we've got to change all that. We've got to get back on a track where Americans feel strongly about our society. We are all democracies, all the people, Democrats. And we'll get back. I have such confidence in our country, so confident in our ability to come through this crisis as we have come through many other crises in the past. But I'm concerned that we don't bring -- that we do bring, make sure we bring along all of our citizens.
So this gives us a challenge. How do we talk to that portion of our society that voted, you know, a huge percentage went for Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump isn't there anymore, and so we've got to help them come back and join the rest of us. Let's argue with each other. Let's debate each other, but let's remember we have to love each other. That's who we are. We're Americans and we have something to be proud of. We've got to make the rest of the world proud of us as well as they have been for so many years before.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, just pick up on what you said at the start, Colin, which is, you know Donald Trump is not going to resign so would you support impeachment and if there were an impeachment, you know, the House is likely to do it. If you were a senator, would you vote to convict?
POWELL: Of course I would. I would vote to convict. I would have done it, you know, last time if I had the opportunity. But I'd be surprised if we can get an impeachment through or, you know, a relief on his part or anything else, 25th Amendment. It's only about, you know, a little over a week left. And so all I know is that next -- toward the middle of next week, he's going to be gone.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about something. You've been critical of Trump from the start, from the campaign, and for all in my view the right reasons. You've watched your fellow Republicans, people you knew, people you'd worked with, cozy up to him, refuse to condemn him, thinking, you know, they'd get away with it. They'd get his support.
Do you feel like that dynamic has broken? Do they realize that in a sense they caused -- they encouraged at least this wildness to grow and grow?
POWELL: They did. And that's why I can no longer call myself a fellow Republican. You know, I'm not a fellow of anything right now. I'm just a citizen who has voted Republican, voted Democrat throughout my entire career. And right now I'm just watching my country and not concerned with the parties. And so I do not know how he was able to attract all these people. They should have known better, but they were so taken by their political standing and how no one wanted to put themselves at political risk, they would not stand up and tell the truth or stand up and criticize him or criticize others.
And that's what we need, we need people who will speak the truth, who will remember that they are here for our fellow citizens. They are here for our country. They are not here simply to be re-elected again.
Come on, guys. You can make it in private life if you don't get re- elected. But right now we need you to be real Americans, who we can trust, who will tell the truth, who will argue on the basis of facts and not just argue on the basis of what their primary looked like.
ZAKARIA: Stay with me, Secretary Powell.
When we come back, I will ask Secretary Powell about how the world is reacting to what happened and what we can do about it.
ZAKARIA: Reaction from world leaders was swift and tough. Boris Johnson called the scenes at the Capitol disgraceful. Germany's Angela Merkel said they made her furious and sad and she regrets that Trump didn't admit defeat in November. A foreign minister tweeter, "The enemies of democracy will be delighted at these terrible images." Justin Trudeau said America's neighbor to the North was deeply disturbed and saddened. Iran's president Hassan Rouhani took the opportunity to criticize Trump personally, saying, "When a sick person takes office, we see how he disgraces his country."
Joining me again is former secretary of state Colin Powell.
Ever since you were Ronald Reagan's National Security adviser, you have been involved in the process by which the United States would go to other countries and say, shore up your democracy. Shore up your democratic institutions. This has crossed the line.
Do we have the moral authority to tell other countries to strengthen their democracy now?
POWELL: I think we are very weakened in that regard now, but I think we can get it back. I always tried, even as a junior officer, to reach out to our allies and our friends, and strengthen that friendship and let them know we are still the same America that brought them to where they are. You have to remember where we came out of World War II, where the enemies we had become democracies and allies. And those allies still existed when I became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or secretary of State.
We have to show courtesy. We have to show respect. We have to show strength. Our strength can be tied to strength. It can be tied to friendship. It can be tied to friendship. There is no conflict there. But all we've been doing for the last four years is insulting people, insulting people, leaving treaties that we had entered into, doing all kinds of things that do not do justice to the alliances that we've had for all these many years. And the people you just ran through with the exception of Iran do not understand it and so they're walking away from it.
They can't figure it out. No, it can't be figured out. We need to get back on track, and I think this is something we can do under the leadership of the new president coming in. I think Joe Biden can help us with this and the people he's bringing with him. This we have to restore. This is where our strength comes from, not just our weapons, not just our politics. It's the friendships we have. It's the allies we have. It's the people who respect us and look to us for the right approach to democracy and how to become more democratic as a people and as a nation, and to demonstrate to the rest of the world we're still the America you fell in love with years ago. We're coming back.
ZAKARIA: You've said a number of positive things about Joe Biden. Tell us a little bit more. How well do you know him? What makes you as confident as you are about him and his character?
POWELL: Well, Joe and I have known each other for, I guess, maybe 30, 40 years, something like that. And we've always been able to talk to each other. We've also done a few interesting things together. I think it's about a year and a half ago that we raced our Corvettes out of the Secret Service lot. He had a Corvette that was an old one, his father's, that was rebuilt and it was terrific. And I had a newer one, only two or three years old that my children gave me. They made me pay for it, but my children gave it to me.
And so in racing, mine could go a little faster, and I hung back to give then Vice President-Biden a head start. And once he got his head start, made the turn to come back to the finish line. That's when I would hit the pedal and I'd catch up with him. It was one of those things, though, that when I caught up with him not everybody wanted to see me keep going and pass him. So that's where the video part chopped off. And I have always been a little bit disappointed that they didn't show my entire race.
But Joe and I had a great time that day. I chased him down streets in our Corvettes, and he's just an average guy. But he's more than average guy. He's a guy who's been a leader. He's a guy who knows our politics, knows our country and knows how to go after these challenges that we have as Americans.
We're still Americans. I'm still the American that I came into the Army 60, something years ago. I'm disappointed in what we've been doing in recent years because that's not the America I know and love. The America I love -- know and love is still there. We just have to scrape off some of the stuff that's been on for the last several years. And we also have to retell our fellow citizens that it is time to take another look at what you're doing. And the other thing we have to do is tell our Congress you've got to get on it. You've got to start doing your job.
We're counting on you to help us get back on track, to talk to your constituents about this. We need Congress to start doing what a Congress is supposed to do and not just worry about getting re-elected next semester.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you finally. We don't have a lot of time. Are you hopeful that the Republican Party will finally break for Trump?
POWELL: I think, yes, because he isn't going to be here. I would hope that the Republican Party as they're moving away from this fellow who's no longer the president, I hope they would not let him back into the camp so he can demonstrate and say, oh, I'm still here. I'm going to do it all. No, you're not. You're out. And act like you're out. Go to Florida, go wherever you want to go, but Joe Biden is the president of the United States and the party has to follow his lead, the lead of the vice president, and get moving on and restore ourselves and not go down a bad tube.
And what we have to do is persuade Mr. Trump and those who have followed him all these years that you need to take another look. You need to really start working in terms of what's best for our country, not what's best for Mr. Trump. He's been serving himself for all these years, these four years, and before that. And this is the time for us to move away and get back to being good Republicans, but more importantly just good Republicans.
Good citizens that work with other citizens of other presidential and other ambitions. But let's argue it out the way we're supposed to argue it out, the way it's been gone all these years and not have somebody who can actually stand up and claim that the election was a disaster and it was a lie. And now you've got to follow me and buy this story that's a lie. It wasn't a lie. It was a God honest truth, and we have the record for that, and we now have to follow that and not follow the lies that were put before us for the last several months.
ZAKARIA: Always an honor to have you on, sir. Thank you.
POWELL: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, two great thinkers who have written two great books that can help us understand what just happened, Anne Applebaum and Ezra Klein, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: My next two guests have written two of the most relevant books for helping us understand just what is happening to our country. Anne Applebaum's latest is "Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism." She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and a staff writer at the "Atlantic." Ezra Klein is the author of "Why We're Polarized." He's a columnist for the "New York Times" starting this week actually.
Ezra, let me ask you. Everyone is talking about how the people who rioted, the people who stormed the Capitol should be held accountable, should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. You wrote something interesting saying, well, that shouldn't really be our focus. Explain why.
Yes. So it is not they shouldn't be held accountable. They absolutely should. But we should remember that the real villains here are the people who fooled them. They are marks. They were conned. And they were not conned by random folks on the street. The president of the United States told them the election had been stolen, that electoral politics had failed, had made a mockery of, that a landslide had been taken from him, and he wasn't alone. He was joined by the House Minority Leader and more than a dozen Republican U.S. senators, more than 100 U.S. congressmen, by every major conservative talk radio host, by the prime time line up of Fox News.
So these people were told that a tremendous crime had been committed, and the only thing for patriots to do was to mass and to do something. Something was often left vague, although not always. President Trump saying, "come on January 6. It will be wild," isn't all that vague. So my concern or my argument here is not that we should not be prosecuting people who broke into the Capitol and potentially wanted to massacre U.S. members of Congress. Of course we should, but we can't only prosecute the weak and avoid accountability for the strong. We can't only prosecute those we can hit with the law while the powerful are protected by politics. And so, not just Donald Trump but Ted Cruz and John Hawley - and Hawley and all these other folks get off because it would be too divisive to do anything in terms of their accountability as well.
ZAKARIA: Yes, and as you point out or people often forget the Ranking Member - Republican Member in the United States Congress, Kevin McCarthy, was a fully paid up member of the wild conspiracy theories on this front. Anne, I want to ask you about that - this dynamic that Ezra just described where so many Republicans went along with Trump's crazy conspiracy theories and lies because they thought it was kid of a cost-free way for them to pander to his base.
What could come of it? They were humoring him, and of course what we've seen is that this kind of rhetoric does have a cost, that words are not empty, that you actually influenced a whole bunch of people, millions maybe, and certainly the tens of thousands who came to Washington. And you talk about exactly this phenomenon of the people who get seduced by authoritarianism not because they believe the ideology but because they are so covetous of the power or being close to power.
ANNE APPLEBAUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: One of the oddities of the modern Republican Party is that it is very divided, but the divide is not ideological in any traditional sense. It's not like there's a left wing and a right wing or a liberal and a conservative wing of the modern Republican Party. What we now have is a part of the party that's still dedicated to reality, to using politics to solve problems, and another part of the party that has exactly as you say done a deal with the devil and decided that politics is about lying and it's about creating an alternative reality for certain kinds of voters to live in, particularly gullible, particularly angry people to be attracted to and to live in, and that that - and those politicians are not interested anymore in politics.
They're interested in conspiracy theory. They're interested in culture wars. They're interested in whipping anger on social media and other forms of media and then leading people down that path. And the decision - the argument within the party now is a really strange one. As I said, who wins? Is it going to be reality? Is it return to politics not even as normal but just as functional, or is a part of the party going to go off in that direction in the interest of its own power and in pursuit of anti-democratic goals.
You know, democracy requires, as you yourself have written, not just elections and not just institutions but it requires norms and morality. It requires all kinds of rules, and it also requires a fact- based, evident-based reality that people can talk about and debate. And without that we can't have democracy. It just doesn't function.
ZAKARIA: Ezra, so if you take what Anne was describing and you - we confront the reality for the Republican Party that now the White House, the Senate, and Congress - and the House of Representatives all controlled by the Democrats, and their view elite cultural institutions are controlled by Democrats. They're going to feel more like they're world is slipping away, and I've always thought that understand America now or that part of America this wonderful book by a German historian called "The Politics of Cultural Despair: The Sense That Your World is Disappearing." Won't they become - isn't there a danger that they become more fanatical because they think that their world is slipping away?
KLEIN: There isn't just a danger. There's a near certainty, so I think you need to look at this moment as one of the most dangerous were facing. As Anne says, the Republican Party is divided. Most people are not going to storm the Capitol. Most people are not going to become violent, but for those who are truly committed to Trumpism as both an ideological and a fantastical project, right, as this fantasy that you could regain total control over the country.
To see it rupture, to see the conspiracies like QAnon rupture, to see simply Donald Trump's word rupture, to be told that Mike Pence could stop this great crime and then he doesn't.
It is in that moment of rupture, that epistemic break that people can go frankly a little bit nuts. And we are seeing it now, right? That is why this is happening now.
The storming of the capitol happened now because all these things that people are expecting what happened (ph) that there was some great plan behind it or Donald Trump wasn't really going to lose and the states were not going to send those Electoral College votes. It didn't happen.
So what you may get is a Republican Party where much of it is -- some of it is sort of normal, some of it is what I would call abnormal anti-system but it's not violent insurrectionists. But then there is a core that is millions of people that is on the border or is violent insurrectionists.
And the weaker they get the more dangerous they become. The more they feel is being taken from them the more is justified in response. The greater the crime the more it's demanded of patriots in reply.
And that is -- again, I continuously want to focus my commentary here on the Republicans who operate in that middle space, the Ted Cruz's, the Hawley's, etc cetera, because they're the ones creating the permission structure.
They may not themselves support violence or say they don't but so long as they're telling those folks over to even their right that what they believe has happened.
This has been taken -- this has been taken from them. This is a totalitarian society run by big tech and the left they are justifying the world view that leads quite logically to these kinds of acts.
ZAKARIA: All right. Stay with us. Next, so what should Joe Biden do? I will ask (inaudible).
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Anne Applebaum of "The Atlantic" and Ezra Klein of the "Times."
Anne, in you last piece in "The Atlantic," which is terrific, you point out, summarize it by saying this, America's moral authority comes not just from what it has done in the world but what it is, a -- a model of a constitutional democracy.
So that being tarnished, what can Joe Biden do to repair that? What would you advise him to do?
APPLEBAUM: I think there are two kinds of things that Biden can do. One is at home, you've asked several times on this program about the question of accountability versus moving on, which is interestingly the delima that many Democrats face after the fall of a didactical regime, and the answer is usually that you have to do both.
You have to hold accountable people who violated the law and at the same time you have to find a way to change the subject. You have to get Americans to talk about real issues that affect them, whether it's the economy or fixing the coronavirus or vaccines, you have to end the culture wars and end the hysteria and bring down the level of conversation.
And I think he intuitively understands that, that's what he did during the election campaign. But, focusing people on real issues, where there can be a real conversation about real things is very important.
And abroad what's also very important is that he -- not just that reaches out to our allies and reestablishes America as a leading democracy, which of course he will do, but also that he uses that moment to do something concrete. You know, let's -- let's talk to our allies about fixing the catastrophe of social media, you know, thinking about what do we want the Democratic internet to look like. Let's talk to them about kleptocracy and ending the dark money that distorts all of our politics.
Getting democracy's to focus on real issues and not just repeating slogans, you know, aren't we great, we have freedom and liberty. I think he can do that and I hope that he will.
ZAKARIA: Ezra, you know there's going to be a big debate in -- within the Democratic Party about what Biden should do, should you take this moment, which may be just two years where you have the Senate and House and do something big, should you do go and do something more incremental, should Joe Manchin be the -- the power broker in Washington? What's your advice?
KLEIN: I'm writing a piece on this and it's very simple, just help people fast. That's it. Everything you can do to help people fast, to reattach them to politics, to show them that it matters who is in charge, who is in government, it is notable that on the same day as the insurrection at the Capitol, what happened that reshaped politics that day was not that Trump had took back the Capitol, which they didn't, is that Democrats took back the Senate, which the actually did.
So, they are now going to have an opportunity to govern as a trifecta, as a governing trifecta and they need to help people, they need to make that matter, they need to make it matter in clear and visible ways.
They need to make it matter in a way where people know that government helped them, the Democrats helped them and that politics matters beyond these symbolic collisions, beyond what they see on Twitter, it actually matters for getting things like vaccine rollout right, but also getting checks into their hands, getting health insurance more secure, getting climate change under control and 100 other things that need to happen.
Democratic can't be too technocratic and clever, they can't wait too long to roll out their help, they can't get involved in gangs and negotiations forever, they just have to help people fast.
ZAKARIA: So you have, in the past, been in favor of, you know, Electoral College reform or ending the filibuster or Puerto Rico, D.C. statehood. You would say, let that all take a backseat, first just get -- get money out, fix problems fast?
KLEIN: I wouldn't say that necessarily takes a backseat, whether they can do it we'll see, but particularly filibuster reform, getting rid of the filibuster or deciding to open up budget reconciliation in a new way is going to be necessary to legislate quickly. Process is policy in -- in these regards. If you can't get anything through the Senate you can't help people.
So, the idea that you can separate process and policy just isn't true and I would say for the Joe Manchins of the world, if they think they're going to get re-elected, if people don't like how Joe Biden and the Democrats govern, they are wrong. That was a mistake Democrats made, red state Democrats made in 2009 and they got wiped out in 2010.
The way you get reelected if you're in a purple or red state is people think your party did a great job. They're not going to separate you from the president, they're going to judge you based on how they judge the president.
ZAKARIA: Ezra Klein, Anne Applebaum, always a pleasure to have you on. Thank you both.
APPLEBAUM: OK (ph).
KLEIN: Thank you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Next on GPS, the direct line that can be drawn from the days after the American Civil War to the mob's attack on the capitol on Wednesday. When we come back, Eric Foner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Our democracy is under unprecedented assault, unlike anything we've seen in modern times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: President-elect Biden was correct to add the time reference there, because in many ways this week's assault does precedence further back in American history. That's why I have my next guest here, Eric Foner.
He is one of the preeminent historians of America and particularly the reconstruction period, the time after the Civil War when the country was attempting to put itself back together and begin to deal with its racist legacy.
His most recent book is, "The Second Founding; How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution."
Professor, when you think about this issue of elections that then occasion a violent reaction, this is not the first time. There -- there are many presidents in American history.
ERIC FONER, AMERICAN HISTORIAN: I'm afraid that you're correct, of course, and particularly if you go back to the reconstruction era after the Civil War when African-American men in large numbers, for the first time, were granted the right to vote in American, you had elections which produced biracial governments, both the state level, local level and you had a violent racist backlash against that by the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups, the White Leagues, the Knights of the Camellia, things like that.
You had far more violent uprising than we saw the other day, shocking as those events were, in Colfax, Louisiana, armed whites literally murdered dozens of members of the local black militia in order to seize control of the government of that parish in 1873.
If you jump forward, 1898, Wilmington, North Carolina, had a biracial democratically elected government and a sort of armed Coup D'etat by white supremacists drove out the government and installed white Democrats in their place and that lead directly to the disenfranchisement, taking the right to vote away from black people in North Carolina.
So yes, the effort to overturn Democratic elections didn't begin under President Trump unfortunately in our history.
ZAKARIA: And, of course, there is the most famous violent reaction to an election, which was the election of Abraham Lincoln.
FONER: Well yes, that's at another level of course. But, you know, at that time the southern states eventually, you know, quite a few of them simply said we're not -- they didn't say that Lincoln hadn't won.
They said, yes, Lincoln won but we do not accept that. We will not live under the rule of a person who is opposed to slavery, and that of course produced the Civil War, the greatest crisis in American history.
It was quite a shock to me and to many other people to see the Confederate flag paraded around in the Capitol the other day, the flag of treason, the flag of slavery. I can't remember when the Confederate flag was prominently displayed in the Capitol.
Maybe it happened in some point or another, but it certainly shows you, as you had said a little while ago, you know, people who do that are promoting abject racism and, of course, President Trump has identified himself with the Confederate story many times during his presidency.
ZAKARIA: Somewhat obscured by all this is another truly historic event, the elections in Georgia. What do you make of them and as a historian what do you think it says about how far we've come?
FONER: Yes, I mean, I think a couple of days ago we saw the clash of two elements, you might say, of the American tradition and American politics. One was the violent attempt to overturn an election, but the other was an election of an African-American man and a Jewish man to the Senate from Georgia.
And anyone who knows the history of Georgia knows how remarkable that is. This was a state which had many lynching of black people, which didn't allow blacks to vote for many, many decades, that where the lynching of a Jewish factory superintendent Leo Frank took place.
Anti-Semitism and racism had been deeply embedded in Georgia's political culture, so that overcoming that was a remarkable thing. And I -- I agree with you, it is in all the darkness of what happened this week there is this sign of optimism, that people can change, they can overcome past prejudices. We're not just fixed forever in the prejudices of the past.
And, you know, it took a lot of work. This didn't happen naturally, it took a lot of work by people like Stacey Abrams and her group to register black voters, to insist that they come out to vote.
Tell their relatives and friends to come out to vote, but they succeeded in making Georgia - really it's unprecedented that they have two Democratic senators like of the background that the two are. So it shows that positive change is possible in this country despite the events that we saw in Washington.
ZAKARIA: Eric Foner, pleasure to have you, and for all those who like this, read Professor Foner's books. The one I mentioned at the start but also his magisterial work "Reconstruction. Thank you, Eric Foner.
FONER: Thank you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: And thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.