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Fareed Zakaria GPS
Federal Agencies Under Scrutiny Over Capitol Riot; Who Were The People In The Capitol Mob?; Secretary Pompeo Spent Better Part Of The Week Making Big Pronouncements And Bigger Moves On World Stage; Tim Snyder On How To Rescue American Democracy. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired January 17, 2021 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good news. I have the pleasure this morning of welcoming Dana Bash who will be starting next week as a co-anchor of the show. Dana has been of course a beloved part of the STATE OF THE UNION family for years, but we're thrilled to have her on as an official member of the team.
As always thanks for spending your Sunday morning with us. The news continues right now.
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 from New York.
ZAKARIA (voice-over): Today on the show, high crimes and misdemeanors. The House impeaches Donald Trump again. This time for inciting violence against the government of the United States.
Meanwhile, Washington is on high alert and under heavy guard as it prepares to swear in Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States.
I'll be joined by some great minds to discuss the big issue. Last week's attack and the threat of other ones. And what can all Americans do to try to restore robust democracy to their nation.
Plus, Pompeo's parting gifts for the Biden administration on China, Cuba, Yemen and more. Why is the secretary of State making a flurry of last-minute changes?
ZAKARIA: But first here's my take. The most remarkable thing about the tumultuous last few weeks in American politics has been the behavior not of Donald Trump but of the Republican Party.
Trump acted just as he said he would -- disputing the election result, refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and encouraging extremism and even violence. But even after the attack on the United States Congress, only 10 House Republicans voted to impeach Trump. Recall that just hours after the storming of the capital a majority of
House Republicans, including their leader, Kevin McCarthy, had voted in line with the demands of the mob, which was essentially to attempt to nullify a legitimate election and thus overthrow an elected government.
Will this slavish loyalty to the dear leader alienate some Republicans? Could it be that Donald Trump has finally pushed the party to a breaking point?
You know, people assume that political parties are immortal, but they can and do die. The Federalist Party was, in a sense, the United States first political party led by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, but the party veered into authoritarianism and lost any ideological consistency or integrity and it finally withered after its opposition to the war of 1812, the first time the Capitol was stormed, because it was seen as treasonous.
The collapse of the Whig Party has closer historical parallels with today. Founded in opposition to Andrew Jackson, the Whig Party contained pro-slavery and antislavery factions. In 1848, it tried to paper over its divides by nominating a celebrity, a general, Zachary Taylor. A slave holder who hadn't been involved in politics and was opposed by most of the Whig establishment.
Although he would go on to win the election, his nomination itself led antislavery Whigs to defect. Eventually they had to establish the Republican Party. And by the late 1850s, the Whigs had shrunk into oblivion.
Could these parallels hold today? Well, the modern Republican Party has long harbored several factions that lived together uncomfortably. Libertarians, evangelicals, state rights advocates and, let's be frank, racists. They have been able to paper over the divides for decades. But in recent years, two factors have propelled the party into crisis.
The first is that the Iraq war and the global financial crisis broke the back of the Republican establishment, opening the way for Donald Trump, who appealed not to discredit party elites but to the base with the help of war, cultural and racial rhetoric. The second factor has been the increasing awareness of its leaders that the Republicans are not really a majority party anymore.
In a trend unprecedented in American history, the Republican candidate for president has won the popular vote only once in the last eight presidential elections. In 2004 in the wake of 9/11 and in the early days of the Iraq war. Nevertheless, the electoral college and the Senate, along with gerrymandering and voter suppression have enabled the party to win and hold power without actually winning majorities.
That has made it less responsive to the demands of the majority, to national elites, to the mainstream media. You see, it has found a way to thrive by cultivating its own smaller, intense ecosystem, creating its own facts, theories and heroes. But that ecosystem is splintering.
FOX News, central to the party's ability to indoctrinate its base with myths, half-truths and falsehoods, is losing market share. The newcomers, Newsmax and One American News, are willing to enter a fantasy world where even FOX would not go.
Perhaps most important, the Republican base is shrinking. Not by a huge amount but significantly. Partly this is a matter of long-term demographics, partly it is Trump. Trump's approval rating has now descended into the 30s, with about 50 percent of independents supporting his removal from office.
So Republicans in swing districts across the country might find themselves in an impossible situation, unable to get nominated unless they embrace Trump but unable to get elected if they do embrace him. If these trends persist, a big if in a country where party loyalties remain very strong, we might see a dangerous dynamic.
Some Republicans vote at the elite level as well as ordinary voters will defect from the party unwilling to sign on to the Trump family cult. The remaining rump Republican Party will become a minority party in more of the country, but it will be dominated by people who reject American democracy, who are enamored of conspiracy theories, enraged by their powerlessness, and increasingly willing to support extreme, even violent means to achieve their ends.
In other words, the future Republicans in Congress may look a lot like the mob that stormed it last week.
Go to CNN.com/fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column. And let's get started.
It's been 11 days since the attack on the Capitol shook Washington, the country and the world. Since then, around 100 criminal cases related to the incident have been charged by the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C. and dozens more in the D.C. Superior Court. And now Washington and state capitols around the nation have been turned into veritable fortresses in an attempt to thwart the next attack.
Will it work? Joining me now is Jeh Johnson. During the Obama administration, he was Pentagon general counsel and secretary of Homeland Security.
Welcome, Jeh. Let me start by asking you, obviously, this was a failure. It was a failure to prevent a mob that attacked the Capitol. But where do you think that failure lay? Was it -- you know, we knew this was coming. We knew that there were people, including the president, inciting the mob. That was all in plain view.
What do you think broke down that allowed the breach of the barricades?
JEH JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Fareed, I don't believe it's complicated. It was a failure to see something that was in plain sight. We know how to provide ample security to prevent a breach of the capital. It's called an NSSE, National Special Security Event. The inauguration is an NSSE, the State of the Union, the U.N. General Assembly session with heads of state in Manhattan, the presidential conventions every four years or three years as DHS secretary had the responsibility for overall security of these events.
Once something is considered an NSSE at that level, it's simply a matter of going through a checklist to make sure that the Secret Service, which is put in charge, works in coordination with the local law enforcement, the National Guard, FEMA, the TSA, FBI, Homeland Security investigations. And once all of that is in place, it makes something like the U.S. Capitol grounds impenetrable from land, sea and air.
This was an obvious failure to anticipate that what was coming on January 6th required that type of security, that level of security. There will be all sorts of investigations and commissions and hearings, I'm sure, but it seems obvious that at this point that this was a failure to anticipate the obvious. We saw it coming, as you pointed out.
ZAKARIA: But do you think part of it was that the administration did not want to restrain this crowd or take those kinds of actions?
JOHNSON: Well, it's due in large part to the fact that -- you know, as you know, Fareed, over the last four years, we've had many actings in critical positions. On January 6th we had an acting secretary of Homeland Security. We had many acting attorney general. We had an acting secretary of Defense. There are multiple positions in Homeland Security where an acting occupied the chair. They're focused on leaving. They're thinking about getting out.
And on top of that, you have a sitting incumbent president who literally incited this mob. He encouraged them to come to Washington. He stoked them. He stoked the violence. And those two things in tandem very much contributed to the violence we saw two weeks ago.
ZAKARIA: What do you make of this movement, of this group of people? Obviously disparate elements, but what struck you as worrying and dangerous going forward? Because, as I said, their focus has to be now on continuing attacks and threats.
JOHNSON: Correct. Fareed, as a nation, we have to confront the reality that there exists in the dark shadows of our society a strand of America that is prone to violence, intolerance, racism. We have seen this now for decades that largely exist under a rock.
When you have a president who is willing to peel that lid off, encourage this group to come out in the open, tell them they're special people, he loves them, then you see things like Charlottesville in 2017. You see the boiling over of this violence at the U.S. Capitol a week and a half ago.
I have to say that of the many horrible images we saw, the violence, the injury to law enforcement and others, the one that I will never forget is the Confederate flag being paraded through the U.S. Capitol. All during the civil war we never saw such a thing. But this is a permanent phenomenon that I'm afraid is going to continue to exist. My hope is that we never again have a sitting president who is willing to encourage them to come out and stoke them to violence.
ZAKARIA: When you were the director of Homeland Security, were you seeing that this group -- these groups had become a much greater threat, the statistics bear this out.
ZAKARIA: A much more violence than any kind of Islamic or international terror?
JOHNSON: Yes. That's where we are now in our domestic security situation. In the last several administrations post 9/11, we were obviously focused on foreign inspired, foreign directed acts of terrorism here on the homeland, but that's evolved. And this has been tracked by numerous organizations like the Antidefamation League. The principal terrorist threat now to our country is domestic-based, domestic inspired violence, extremism that we saw vividly at the U.S. Capitol a week before last.
That's where we are. It requires a very different type of focus. I fear that my old department, Homeland Security, is now outdated in its structure, which was meant to deal with extraterritorial threats by securing the borders, land, sea and air. This requires a whole new different approach from law enforcement and Homeland Security.
ZAKARIA: Stay with us. Stay with Secretary Johnson. When we come back, we'll talk about how the nation can move forward. What about the conviction of this impeachment charge?
ZAKARIA: We are back with Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of Homeland Security and the former general counsel of the Department of Defense.
Let me outline what I see as my concern about the impeachment trial. You need 17 Republicans to convict. It seems -- that seems like a tall order. The party is still very strongly pro-Trump. There was a great piece in "The New York Times" today that pointed out that Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader who said a few words against Trump after the riots, is now facing a backlash in his district for being too anti-Trump, not for being too pro-Trump.
So if he gets acquitted, he can present himself as twice having been acquitted. And in that circumstance, it doesn't seem to me that you achieved the objective -- that, you know, one achieves the objective one wants, which is to deter this kind of behavior. Do you hold out hope that the Republicans, 17, will convict?
JOHNSON: I believe that the eyes of history will be on those who have to vote in the Senate for conviction. I believe that history will not view the Trump presidency and those who supported it kindly. There is an obligation now to step up, try the case and vote at the end of the trial. I do hold out hope. But if all that fails, it is up to the American electorate if Donald Trump should run again to disqualify him from office.
You know, Fareed, four years ago, we engaged in a very dangerous experiment, by electing someone who was utterly unqualified for office who had no moral or legal compass and frankly had impulses toward fascism and autocracy.
My hope is that, as time passes, Americans will realize this was a failed experiment and we should never try it again and just look at the consequences of that over the last four years. There is a track record now on which Donald Trump and his presidency should be judged. So in our democracy, if Congress doesn't step up to this, the American public must do so.
ZAKARIA: What do you make of the fact that there still are -- and I saw the most recent CNN poll. It think 75 percent of Republicans believe that Joe Biden was illegitimately elected. I don't know, I mean, that -- that comes to probably 60 million Americans? What does one do about that phenomenon?
JOHNSON: We live in alternate universes right now where Americans are able to receive information on social media, on the internet highway, that does nothing more than play to their own prejudices, suspicions and conspiracy theories, which is how you end up with polls like that, three-quarters of Republicans believe that the next president was not legitimately elected.
I believe that there needs to be greater standards toward what is put out as so-called news, what is put out by the internet, by social media. This is largely a mission for social media itself. I don't believe that the government, particularly security agencies of our government, should be in the business of policing political content and speech.
But social media itself, and I think they have learned a lot of lessons over the last four years in the last several weeks, needs to do a better job of policing what is put out to Americans, what Americans are inclined to believe.
ZAKARIA: Jeh Johnson, always a pleasure to have you on, sir.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, we will dig deeper into just who the attackers were and how can this rebellion be quelled.
[10:26:18] ZAKARIA: There is the now infamous man with the horns and the face paint, the one carrying the Confederate flag and another seemingly stealing a lectern. With many snapshots of the mob that invaded the Capitol on the 6th, I'm curious about the bigger, deeper picture, how much of this was about Trump and Trumpism? How much about other causes like white supremacy?
To help me understand it all, I want to bring in Cynthia Miller- Idriss. She is the director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University and the author of "Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right."
Welcome, Cynthia. Let me ask you, you know, to start by giving us a sense, who are these people? Is there a core here that is motivated in one direction? Or is this just a completely motley group of disparate radicals?
CYNTHIA MILLER-IDRISS, PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, thank you for having me. I mean, what you see here and what you saw very clearly on January 6th is the coming together of a normally fairly fragmented spectrum across the far right. And they're united here by a sense of precarity, which is the fear that something is going to be taken away from you, to which you think you are entitled, and given to someone else.
So we see that with white supremacist groups that are there, the Second Amendment Rights protesters and we see that here with the Stop the Steal. So this -- what's important here is that it's a sense of precarity but also entitlement. So you have both of those things together. And that translates into a sense of threat. That threat gets defined slightly differently across all the groups, but it's an existential one. It has to be fought against kind of heroically, and that's what we saw on January 6th.
ZAKARIA: So you said that at the heart, and it makes sense of the desperation, the desire to act violently, is based on this fear of -- you know, that their situation is precarious, that their -- you know, their world is collapsing or going away. Is that sense of precariousness about economic position or is it about social and culture position? You know, is it the economics, or is it their status in -- you know, in an increasingly multicultural society?
MILLER-IDRISS: It depends on the group that we're talking about within the spectrum. I think what's important to note is it doesn't really translate into actual disfranchisement. So we're not seeing here a mass movement of the actually impoverished or people who are really in a financially precarious situation. And that's what we see when we're getting reports of who is arrested, it's a lot of middle and upper class employed people.
But they feel like something that they are about to lose out on something, something is being taken away from them in ways and then given to someone who doesn't deserve it. And I think that comes across whether that's white territory in a loss of majority white society or whether it's Second Amendment rights or freedoms, you know, that you're being forced to wear a mask. I mean, it's all of these kinds of threats.
And then the Stop the Steal language really tied that all together with massive disinformation about an illegitimate election and a broken democracy.
ZAKARIA: Why do they so love Trump?
MILLER-IDRISS: Well, I think the thing that you get here with Trump, the far-right, the spectrum on the far-right has never really had a charismatic leader the way that other extreme groups have had. And so he stitches together all of these groups underneath a kind of charismatic leader who says a lot of the things that they're thinking that has normalized in mainstream through his rhetoric even when it's not clear the intent is there by saying things in debates like stand back and stand by.
People across the far-right spectrum received that very clearly as a legitimization and a call to action.
ZAKARIA: I worry that, if, you know, you have these social media bans, particularly if they're permanent bans, and these movements, sort of, go underground, they actually become more dangerous because we can see less of them.
You've been following them and tracking them in places that many of us don't, like Telegram and things like that. What are you seeing there?
MILLER-IDRISS: Unfortunately, you're absolutely right. We are seeing there are now playbooks circulating online that -- in these chats from white supremacists advising others in the group on how to recruit conservative and pro-Trump voters who have migrated over from platforms like Parler, and -- and how to radicalize them gradually.
So there is no question that, on the white supremacist and far-right fringe, they are using this opportunity in slightly more anonymous apps and other platforms underground, to try to recruit, radicalize and build the movement.
ZAKARIA: Is the movement genuinely global?
MILLER-IDRISS: It's absolutely global. And I think it's one of the really important things to understand here. There was an attempt to storm the German parliament just several months ago. We have had the assassination of a German politician last year, the assassination of a British politician. We have seen increases in far-right terror around the world, from Christchurch to Oslo to terror attacks in Germany and elsewhere.
And so this isn't a problem that is only national in the U.S. And it's certainly not a problem that's going to go away with the transition to a new administration.
ZAKARIA: And what does one do to -- to fight it? MILLER-IDRISS: Well, with all due respect to my colleagues in counter-
terrorism, I mean, it is important to have accountability and to -- and to have the resources for surveillance and monitoring in law enforcement as well as deplatforming.
But all of those kinds of solutions will always be a Band-aid if we're not also addressing at its root things like how people are so susceptible to propaganda, to scapegoating, to manipulation online.
And so I really think this has to be a coalition of resources from within the education and social work, health and human services worlds, in addition to a homeland security approach.
ZAKARIA: And finally, I just have about 30 seconds, but I do have to ask you, when you see all this, and you've been studying it so carefully, does this feel to you like the end of a movement or the beginning of a movement?
MILLER-IDRISS: Unfortunately, I do feel like we have to consider this as not the end of something but the beginning of something, and something that we're going to be living with now for many years to come.
ZAKARIA: Thank you, Professor, very enlightening.
MILLER-IDRISS: Thank you for having me.
ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," from vandalism at the Capitol to what has been called "diplomatic vandalism," Secretary Mike Pompeo's last-minute foreign policy moves that are designed to put the Biden team in a bind. We will explain in a moment.
ZAKARIA: Secretary Pompeo spent the better part of the week making big pronouncements and bigger moves on the world stage. He said that Al Qaeda's new home base is in Iran. He labeled Cuba a state sponsor of terror and the Houthis in Yemen a foreign terrorist organizations.
And he reversed decades of U.S. policy by allowing American officials to have unrestricted contacts with their counterparts in Taiwan.
Why did he do all of this just days before the end of his tenure?
Let me bring in CNN Global Affairs Analyst and New Yorker staff writer Susan Glasser to help us get to the bottom of this.
So first I want to ask you whether you share my sense this is completely unprecedented. I cannot think of an outgoing secretary of state or an outgoing administration that has tried to make all these moves that will have no -- they're in no way going to be able to implement any of this, really. It's all designed to box in the incoming administration.
Have you ever seen anything like this before?
SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: No, absolutely, Fareed, this is really -- it's a remarkable end to perhaps the most disruptive and undiplomatic tenure of -- of any secretary of state in our lifetimes.
It's really impossible, in fact, to think of any precedent. And it all -- it all goes to, I think, understanding that Mike Pompeo is perhaps the most hyper-political creature ever to serve as secretary of state. He comes out of this, sort of, flame-throwing House Republican conference. We've see what that -- those House Republicans are like in terms of their almost fanatical Trumpism.
And this seems to be basically an extremely politicized end to a very unsuccessful tenure as secretary of state.
ZAKARIA: And it has real costs on the ground. So let me -- let me ask you to just run through some of them here.
The designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization, it was that designation that led David Miliband to describe this as diplomatic vandalism, Miliband being the former British foreign secretary who now heads the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian organization that is trying to save lives there.
And he argues that, by designating one side in this very complicated war as terrorists, you are going to have thousands and thousands of lives lost, if not more.
GLASSER: Well, that's right. So you see humanitarians warning about the actual costs on the ground of what appears to be essentially posturing by the secretary of state.
The other way to look at this, right, is that it's an example, an extreme example, of how the U.S. has in effect outsourced a lot of its foreign policy in the Middle East to two of its partners, the Saudis on the one hand, who have been fighting in Yemen against the Houthi rebels for the last -- for the entire length, actually, of the Trump presidency, unsuccessfully -- I should note that Mike Pompeo has done nothing whatsoever to stop this conflict.
And so you have it as an example, I think, of how the U.S. has, sort of, abdicated leadership in the region. And, you know, there's real costs to this. He's also seeking to impose political costs, of course, on the incoming Biden administration if they seek to reverse this, if they reverse the Cuba designation, that they are somehow going to be in league with terrorists. You can just imagine, you know, the campaign commercials that -- that Mike Pompeo is cutting in his mind.
ZAKARIA: Right. So -- and if you look at the Cuba and the Iran ones, they seem both entirely of that -- of that nature. You know, he's designating Cuba as a state sponsor of terror. You know, it falls on the Biden administration to awkwardly have to, you know, undo that designation.
And he's saying Al Qaida now has this new base in Iran, which seems to me, from everything I've seen, a huge stretch, Al Qaida, of course, being a radical Sunni organization, Iran being a Shia state.
But both of them are -- would be very awkward, politically, to undo, right?
GLASSER: Well, that's exactly it, or they think that they will. I have no doubt that the new administration is going to attempt to undo this. In fact, just this morning, Jake Sullivan, the new incoming national security adviser for President-elect Joe Biden tweeted that he was against this designation of the Houthis.
And I thought it was very notable that he cited a Republican senator's criticism of the move. You're going to see the Biden administration attempting, especially on foreign policy, I think, to work with those remaining more establishment Republican senators and elected officials, you know, who are trying to pull American foreign policy back.
But the other way of looking at what Mike Pompeo is doing in his final days as secretary of state is a sort of desperate last-ditch attempt to create a record of success where one doesn't exist.
Remember, this is the same administration that bragged and blustered about all the great deals it was going to make in the world. It's had a very aggressive rhetoric towards Iran in the Middle East, but it actually -- what has it accomplished? It withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. But by all expert accounts, Iran may be closer to having a viable nuclear weapons program as a result of that.
The regime, they wanted it to fall. It's pressured by sanctions, but it's still standing. So I think that's a way to distract, as well, from what their actual record is.
ZAKARIA: The -- the most politically difficult one of all is probably the one relating to China and Taiwan. And it falls exactly into the -- the pattern you described because it is pure symbolism. It's not as though there is any accomplishment. But Mike Pompeo can say he opened the door to contacts with Taiwan in a way that no previous administration did.
And, again, hard for the Biden people to reverse that because, as you put it very well, you can imagine Mike Pompeo and his political action committee cutting the campaign ad that will then go viral on Twitter.
GLASSER: Yeah. There's nothing that's been more, I would say, central to Pompeo's rhetoric, especially in this last year, than a sort of very aggressive anti-China rhetoric and posturing.
He continues to use the label of "the Wuhan virus" to blame China, along with Donald Trump. And you see, you know, a sort of -- an entire diplomacy constructed around negative rhetoric, essentially. They don't have much of a record to speak of. And I think that what you're going to see from the Biden team is an
approach that's much more resurrecting the alliances that Pompeo has done so much to explode, especially on China. I think you want -- you're going to see the Biden team wanting to work with the Europeans on standing up more to China, and that's a huge contrast to Pompeo's very unilateralist approach.
In fact, Pompeo wanted to have a final trip in office to Brussels. He essentially -- this is amazing. The American secretary of state was not welcome in Brussels. He had to cancel the trip, rather than face the embarrassment of not being met with by many of our key partners.
So I think that's the -- the short-term pivot, certainly, that you're going to see by the Biden team.
ZAKARIA: I -- I think it is an interesting test of the Biden administration as to whether they will have the courage to do what they regard as diplomatically and substantively the right thing to do.
Before you go, Susan, I want to ask you one thing about -- about Russia. The one thing that Mike Pompeo has not dealt with is the most -- the largest hack of American, you know, securities networks in history by Russia. Russia also faces a particularly interesting moment tomorrow, right?
GLASSER: Well, that's right. Actually, right now, as we're speaking, this -- this great drama is unfolding, and Alexey Navalny, perhaps the leading dissident of the Putin era -- remember, he was poisoned; he nearly died; he had to go to Germany to seek treatment. They saved his life. Remarkable work of detective work has, you know, really pinned this work down to FSB agents acting at the behest of the Kremlin.
He's on an airplane right now, surrounded by media, flying back to Moscow. No one knows whether he'll be arrested or not -- such a contrast to here in the United States, in a way, right?
You have this -- you know, here I am in the Capitol surrounded by 20,000 National Guard having to secure the Capitol against right-wing pro-Trump nationalists. In Moscow, you have this brave dissident flying back. They've closed down Vnukovo Airport, surrounded it with police vans.
So it's a real confrontation there between a democracy activist and the government. But to your point, quickly, about Pompeo, you know, on the very...
ZAKARIA: Unfortunately, Susan -- I'm so sorry, but I've got to -- I've got to let you go. We will -- we will come back to this and to you because it's always a pleasure.
GLASSER: Thank you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Next, Tim Snyder on how to rescue American democracy.
ZAKARIA: "The Washington Post" has tallied 30,000 false or misleading claims coming from Donald Trump in his four years in the Oval Office. He will go down in history as many things, but one moniker is certain. He is the post-truth president.
And as my next guest says, post-truth is pre-fascism. So the question confronting America as it prepares to inaugurate Joe Biden is how does the entire nation, not just the White House, get back to honesty and the rule of law, trust in elections and every other marker of a healthy democracy?
Tim Snyder is a history professor at Yale, a scholar of the Holocaust and one of the world's foremost experts on authoritarianism. If you haven't read his book "On Tyranny," now is the time to do so.
Welcome, Tim. I want to start by asking you to explain that -- that wonderful line in your book, "Post-truth is pre-fascism." What do you mean?
TIMOTHY SNYDER, AUTHOR, "ON TYRANNY": By -- by post-truth, I mean the turn in our culture, which has gone all too far, where we just accept that there's only opinion and there isn't truth. "You have your views; I have my views." We look at each other and we -- and we walk away.
The problem with that is that that allows politicians -- and we've just seen this happen -- tell ever bigger lies until those lies become violent.
At the same time, we're in a post-truth culture because we've let the sources of facts go away. Facts don't arise by themselves. You need work. You need investment. And above all, you need local news and local reporters.
We've been letting that die for the last 10 or 20 years. We have to -- we have to restore that. When people don't believe in truth and there are no facts to be had, what happens next is that we fall back on belief. There's a vacuum that's filled by spectacle.
Politicians emerge who are wealthy or charismatic and they fill that vacuum; they fill that void with a myth, with a story, with their own personality. And that's when you start moving towards fascism.
ZAKARIA: So wouldn't it be fair to say that perhaps the most disturbing and the long-term dangerous thing that has happened in the last two or three weeks may not even be the attack on the Capitol; it is this widely held conspiracy theory that the election was stolen, that seems -- it seems difficult to dispute it to its -- to the people who believe it, despite the fact that you've had audit after audit, recount after recount, 60 court cases where the courts all ruled against the Trump administration.
That seems to me to be, you know, the most pernicious part of what we are living with now. SNYDER: I think one of the ways it's pernicious is that the two events
are directly connected. What -- what happened in November is that Mr. Trump moved from being someone who continuously told lies to being someone who told a big lie. The claim that he won the election is a big lie. It's not just false, as you say. It's self-contradictory. How could there have been fraud against him when there wasn't fraud against other Republicans?
It's also a big lie in that it reaches into the dark parts of American history. Because what he's really saying is, if we didn't -- if we didn't count those black votes, then -- then I would have won.
And so the thing about a big lie is that it brings you in. If you believe it, then you feel like everyone else is against you. Because the facts are against you, and a lot of other people are against you.
And if you really believe the big lie, it demands action. And once you take action for the big lie, like, for example, you storm the Capitol, of course you're going to believe it even more. Now you're committed to it.
So we have to recognize this for what it is. It's a big lie. And we have to -- and we have to try to break it in the ways that you can break big lies, which is people of responsibility telling the truth and people who tell big lies that lead to violence being forced to take responsibility and accountability.
ZAKARIA: You talked, as I recall, in your book, about how, even if you -- if you support the rule of law; if you believe in constitutional democracy, don't just say it. Figure out a way to find, take one piece of it, one institution, one -- one judge, one court, and support people if they are trying to do the right thing.
SNYDER: Yeah. Thank you for remembering that. I mean, that's, I think, lesson two in "On Tyranny." The idea is that we can't do everything, that we can do something.
You know, the passive position is to say, as too many of us have said, "The institutions are going to hold. The institutions are going to protect us."
The active democratic thing to do is to say, "Hold on.
Those institutions need us. In fact, those institutions can't be better than we are ourselves."
And so you choose one. It could be a newspaper that you -- that you pay your subscription for. It could be a labor union that you join. It could be -- it could be a court that you pay attention to. If you are a lawyer or a doctor, you can try to inject some ethics into your professional organizations and hold your colleagues accountable.
Everyone -- everyone can do something besides vote and tell the truth. We can all affirm -- we can all affirm these institutions. And if -- and if we do that, that's actually what democracy looks like. Democracy isn't just about rising and falling or dramatic things that happen in Washington, D.C. It's about a -- it's about a kind of forward commitment from us both to truth and to engagement.
ZAKARIA: Facts first, truth first. Tim Snyder, always a pleasure.
SNYDER: Thank you. Pleasure was mine.
ZAKARIA: And thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.