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Fareed Zakaria GPS
Ukraine's Counteroffensive Begins; Interview With Ford Motor Company Executive Chair Bill Ford; Interview With The President And CEO Of NYU's Brennan Center For Justice, Michael Waldman. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired June 18, 2023 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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 today from London.
ZAKARIA (voice-over): On the program, Ukraine's counteroffensive has officially begun. What do the early signs reveal? And what exactly is at stake? I'll ask an all-star panel.
Also, the electric vehicle revolution. Europe and China are far ahead of America. Can the U.S. catch up? I'll talk to Bill Ford, the executive chair of the Ford Motor Company.
Finally, the Supreme Court. It's supposed to be the final check, the ultimate safeguard to preserve America's bedrock values. But is it now itself a danger to democracy? A new book says just that.
ZAKARIA: But first, here's "My Take." If you are surprised by Saudi Arabia's de facto takeover of professional golf, get ready for many more such announcements in the months and years to come.
The rise of the Gulf and particularly Saudi Arabia is already reshaping the Middle East. But it will also have powerful consequences across the world.
A quick quiz. What was the world's fastest growing large economy last year? If you guessed India or China or any of the Asian tigers, you're wrong. The answer is of course Saudi Arabia, which clocked in at 8.7 percent. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates registered heavy growth as well.
What explains the boom? Well, despite what many hope for, the world continues to be heavily dependent on fossil fuels. The Ukraine war and sanctions against Russia have reduced Moscow's importance in global oil and gas markets. In addition, two of the world's other major oil producing countries, Iran and Venezuela, are also under sanctions and have old and decaying oil infrastructure. America produces lots of oil and gas but still imports large
quantities. As a result, the world is now utterly reliant on a handful of countries in the Persian Gulf as steady and reliable suppliers of oil and gas. These conditions will likely continue over the next decade. And if they do, Gulf will see one of the largest inflows of wealth in history. Already the four main sovereign wealth funds of these countries have reportedly accumulated almost $3 trillion in assets, an increase of 42 percent over the past two years.
Saudi Arabia expects that its main investment vehicle, the public investment fund, will have more than $2 trillion by 2030 making it the world's largest. For the foreseeable future, these will be the most significant pools of capital on the planet.
The economic consequences of this wealth are all around us. Saudi Arabia has in effect bought the professional golf business. In January, "Bloomberg" reported that the kingdom sought to buy the Formula 1 racing franchise for over $20 billion. It lured perhaps the world's most famous soccer star Christian Ronaldo to play for one of its teams for a reported $200 million a year. It is making huge investments in the online gaming industry, hoping to become a major player in that space.
Look around at prestigious sports teams, luxury hotels in Europe and storied brands, and you might see behind them Gulf Arab owners. As one Gulf minister said to me, we built lots of infrastructure in our countries. What's coming in now is cash to invest.
This surge of wealth has reshaped the Middle East. The once dominant large and historically significant players in the region, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, of for various reasons of poverty, division and dysfunction, unable to play leading roles. The Gulf is where the action is. Saudi Arabia in particular has made a huge strategic shift in its foreign policy.
In his early years in power, the kingdom's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, used his country's wealth in a crude and overbearing way. He tried in various ways to pressure or topple the regimes in Qatar, Lebanon and Jordan, while waging a hot war in Yemen and a cold war with Iran none of which bore any fruit.
The 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi also occurred in this period. In the last few years by contrast he appears to have matured mending ties with Qatar and Jordan, re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iran and actively seeking a peace deal in Yemen. The Gulf states are all deepening their relations with China which is now the region's largest customer.
In 2001, Saudi Arabia's trade with the middle kingdom was just over $4 billion. About one-tenth of its trade with the West. In 2021, it was about $87 billion. More than the U.S. and the E.U. combined. Economic ties are growing rapidly and "The Washington Post" even reports that China has continued construction on a suspected military facility in the UAE. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf are not seeking a divorce with the United
States. They want close economic ties with China and close security ties with America. They want to be able to deal freely with everyone, including Russia. If you want to see where Russians have gone to escape Western sanctions, visit Dubai, where you will hear more Russian than Arabic at some hotels. They have growing ties with India and are even building new links with Israel.
Most countries would like to pursue a policy that allows them to freelance. Choosing friends in the west and east as suits their interests. If MBS continues down the path he is on now, Saudi Arabia for sure will likely be able to manage this balancing act.
Go to CNN.com/Fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
Last weekend, the world got its first official indication that the much discussed, much anticipated Ukraine counteroffensive had actually begun when President Zelenskyy at a press conference alongside Canadian PM Trudeau talked about counteroffensive actions that were taking place.
So how big are the stakes here and what can we expect from the Ukrainian forces? Can they take back their territories?
Joining me now are Anne Applebaum and Orysia Lutsevych. Anne is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and a staff writer for "The Atlantic." Orysia is the head of the Ukraine Forum at the Chatham House.
Anne, you say that the purpose, the real purpose behind this Ukrainian counteroffensive or the larger purpose is not purely military. Explain what you mean.
ANNE APPLEBAUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: The real purpose of the counteroffensive is to create a political change in Russia, by which I don't mean regime change. There has to be a moment when the Russians decide that the war is not worth fighting anymore and they take their troops and leave. It's kind of decision that the French made in 1962 when they decided to pull out of Algeria. You know, the British made that decision a number of times in their empire.
There is a moment when the empire ends. And the Ukrainians will use both military tactics as well as political tactics to convince the Russians to leave. And remember, the war is over when the Russians go home. They don't have -- the Ukrainians don't have to occupy Moscow. They don't have to get anybody to surrender. All they need to do is get them to leave. And so what you're going to see over the next few weeks is both, you know, the kinds of shaping operations we see now, attempts to cut off railway links and so on.
You may see some bigger military moves but you'll also see more events like this small group of Russians who went over the border, Free Russian Forces calling themselves. You'll see drones in Moscow and other Russian cities. That's also part of persuading the Russians to go home. ZAKARIA: I think that's a very good way to think about it because --
and I think the analogy with France and Algeria is exactly right, which is the French tried and tried, and at some point they realized, after by some estimates killing one million Algerians, that the Algerians were just not going to -- you know, they were going to get their independence.
APPLEBAUM: And they just weren't French. You know, I mean, it wasn't going to be part of an empire. And Ukrainians at some point need to convince the Russians that they're not Russians, that they won't be, they won't ever be, trying to murder lots of them in order to persuade them to become Russian isn't going to work.
ZAKARIA: You know, it seems like right now it's these shaping operations as Anne was saying. Do we have a sense as to whether -- you know, there are a lot of military analysts who say, look, the thing to do is to put pressure on the Southeast so that you start threatening Crimea. Is that what would make the Russians in your view, you know, feel like OK, this is getting very dangerous, the stakes are now very high?
ORYSIA LUTSEVYCH, HEAD OF UKRAINE FORUM, CHATHAM HOUSE: Well, Ukrainians remain very resolute to keep fighting. Nobody wants to give up any territory to Russia including Crimea. So what we see now is society backing this military effort, to actually achieve a collapse of the Russian front. I don't think Russians will be very much willing to pack and go. I think they really have to be defeated, and the Russian senior leadership and political elite will have to understand that this is just costing too much.
And what we're seeing right now even with President Zelenskyy announced as the start of the counteroffensive, the main battlefield, battalions, and we're prepared over 40,000 men, they have not been deployed yet. They are still in the home front, in the bases gearing up. Russians are really nervous because Ukrainians have capabilities now that Russians don't.
ZAKARIA: Anne, when we think about this at a broader level, the Ukrainians have been amazing with their bravery. They've been incredibly good fighters and they've been -- you know, the skill is amazing. But I think all of us do think in the back of our minds, Russia is so big. It has so many people. Putin could call up another mobilization. You know, the military budget before obviously Western aid which changes the whole thing, but the Russian budget was 10 times the Ukrainian budget.
Do the Russians have this capacity to just take the pain and put more troops through the meat grinder and just keep going?
APPLEBAUM: Well, as I said, one of the things the Ukrainians are trying to do is to convince them that that won't happen. But there's also some diplomacy about that. So why is the U.S. giving Ukraine F- 16s which has now been announced? Why did the Germans finally decide to give Ukraine tanks. Of course there are military reasons for that but those are also signs to Russia that we aren't going to stop.
In other words, you could keep your war going, and we're also going to keep the war going. And so the U.S. and Europe have both been sending signals saying that they too are prepared for a long conflict. So yes, there is a kind of psychological competition going on where the Russians are going to say we'll stay here forever and the West is saying --
ZAKARIA: So will we.
APPLEBAUM: So will we.
APPLEBAUM: And then I think as the -- you know, that's the thing to watch is that kind of psychological battle.
ZAKARIA: You mentioned Crimea particularly. You know lots of people outside from Elon Musk to, you know, at various points various European statesmen have said look, Crimea should go back to Russia, that the Russian possession of it is appropriate given that it was originally Russian and Khruschev gave it to Ukraine in 1954. You're saying Ukrainians will not accept that idea.
LUTSEVYCH: Well, first of all, Putin made one of the largest strategic mistakes by annexing more Ukrainian territory in September of last year. He annexed illegally on paper actually four Ukrainian regions which equalizes them now to Crimea. Crimea is not special anymore. It's as much belong to Ukraine as Zaporizhzhia or Donetsk. And there was no -- of course there is concern about escalation over the military campaign in Crimea but you know, it has already started.
The Black Sea is very much the frontline of this war. Remember the downing of the flagship Moskva that is now at the bottom of the Black Sea, the Snake Island, the attack on the bridge. So in a way this war in 2014 started with Crimea and this war must end with Crimea being resolved.
ZAKARIA: Stay with us. Next on GPS, President Putin on Friday said Russia has started transferring tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, Ukraine's neighbor to the north. He also made yet another threat to use nukes saying he would do it if there was a threat to Russia's existence. We'll discuss in a moment.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Anne Applebaum of "The Atlantic" and Chatham House's Orysia Lutsevych.
What do you make of Putin and the nuclear issue?
LUTSEVYCH: It's a very serious issue. I mean, because I don't think we have ever faced this kind of a war where a nuclear state, the member of P-5 attacks the country that gave up nuclear weapons and where other P-5 members guaranteed Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty. And to be honest, we have to confess that of course we state that nuclear blackmail is not working but the West, Washington and other capitals were self-deterring in providing that much needed military assistance to Ukraine.
That is why Ukrainians are paying a very high price for maintaining that frontline, almost like clenching their teeth waiting for the time when the West will understand that honestly Russian troops must be defeated on Ukrainian territory. And this is where Putin has the upper hand with this nuclear saber rattling that he keep using from day two I think of this war. It's a serious issue.
ZAKARIA: Anne, you've written this fantastic cover story for "The Atlantic" on the counteroffensive but before that you spent some time with Zelenskyy. Is it your sense that he is now -- I mean, he has rallied the world extraordinarily. Is he now directing military operations? Is that being done by Zaluzhnyi, the general in charge? You know, how should we think about this? Who is going to run this counteroffensive?
APPLEBAUM: So he said from the beginning that he's not a military commander, and as far as I know he doesn't try to preempt that role. But there are political considerations to any military offensive.
You know, how it should be conducted, what should its purpose be, you know, what role for example did those Free Russian Forces play, what role does Belarus play. And I think he has a large role in that. So you know, it's -- because it's both a military and a political project, I think he's got a role.
ZAKARIA: What was your sense of, you know, his mood, the circle around him, the decision-making?
APPLEBAUM: They're very self-confident now. You know, it's funny I saw him right at the beginning of the war. We went in April of 2022, right after the Russians have left Kyiv, and then we went back essentially a year later, and it was a very transformed experience. You know, he's now surrounded by much more professional people. You know, there isn't the sense of emergency.
They are -- you know, they seem much more in control of, you know, they're economic ideas, their contacts with the world. It's sort of more -- it doesn't feel like an emergency that everything is about to fall apart at any minute. So he's changed in that way. I mean, I think fundamentally he hasn't changed, though, in that he still has an emotional belief in -- you know, that the Ukrainians can win, that if he's able to galvanize them and galvanize Ukraine's partners, that they can work together.
And he's still very good at linking Ukraine and its trauma to the broader problems of democracy in the world. They've made a big effort to get African and Latin American politicians and journalists to Kyiv. You know, they understand their position in the world and they're still doing the same kind of outreach they've been doing since the beginning of the war.
LUTSEVYCH: I was just in Kyiv two weeks ago and it's quite interesting. I was inside the office of the president meeting his team, it felt very special that, you know, the core of Ukrainian state has been preserved, that it's functional, that it has a vision. Vision for Ukraine's role in the Euro-Atlantic architectural security, vision for the whole world, how we in the future avoid this similar aggression. And also it was right after the Hiroshima summit, and it was the place where really Ukraine plays global.
Ukraine is leading on a global conversation, not just the conversation within Europe or just Trans-Atlantic community. And I think it's something that this war actually allowed Ukraine to come into the forefront of really global conversation.
ZAKARIA: You are just back from Ukraine. You have this terrific report for Chatham House in which you talk about it seems to be this very important issue which is the rebuilding of Ukraine. You don't mean just the economic rebuilding, but the democratic rebuilding. I mean, Ukraine was famously very corrupt and dysfunctional.
Do you think that that is -- you know, that people are energized about that? Because right now in effect Ukraine is under martial law because they have to fight this war. But is there a determination to, you know, to make sure that it reforms and democratizes fully and all that?
LUTSEVYCH: Absolutely. I met a lot of representatives from civil society and we've run a survey for that report where we've asked people what is the main added value of this recovery other than infrastructure and bridges and roads, and they say it's about modernization of institutions. So Ukrainians themselves are mature enough to understand that if it's well-organized, if it's well -- if there's good oversight and if there's good participation of citizens and communities, this will have -- this transformative process for Ukraine that it will allow European integration to move faster.
It will allow rule of law to progress and it will allow Ukraine to build trust. Ukrainians are very hopeful I will tell you. They clearly are even under all those circumstances see bright future for the country as part of the European Union.
ZAKARIA: On that hope, thank you both. That was terrific.
Next on GPS, the global race for next big car market which is electric vehicles. I will talk to Bill Ford, the executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company, about how the U.S. could keep up with the European Union and China.
ZAKARIA: President Biden said last year's Inflation Reduction Act represented the largest investment in clean energy and American manufacturing in history. It's easy to dismiss such rhetoric as political bluster. But his
predictions about the IRA may actually come true. Companies have announced billions of dollars of investment in factories for solar panels, wind turbines, batteries. The batteries made in those plants could power as many as 13 million electric vehicles for a year.
I wanted to talk about it with Bill Ford, executive chair of the Ford Motor Company, and the great grandson of the company's founder Henry Ford. The elder Ford of course changed American manufacturing forever over a century ago by literally inventing the assembly line.
Bill Ford, pleasure to have you on.
BILL FORD, EXECUTIVE CHAIR, FORD MOTHER COMPANY: Well, thank you, Fareed. It's great to be here.
ZAKARIA: So let me ask you, a lot of people are looking at Joe Biden's IRA, the Inflation Reduction Act, which really is a series of tax credits, subsidies, incentives for a transition to a green economy. And they say this is going to be mammoth, this is going to be one of these changes in America, in American industry. And at the tip of the spear is the electric vehicle revolution.
So for you, looking at it from your vantage point, what does it look like and is that kind of characterization accurate?
FORD: I mean, yes, it's a big change. And -- but we need it.
We need to -- the rest of the world is moving faster than we are. China has moved at light speed towards electrification. And Europe has moved much faster than we have. So, it's inevitable. It's coming. And frankly, it should come.
But the important thing though, and this is where the IRA really is very helpful, is to help establish a manufacturing base in America. You know, right now, the technology largely is outside of America. And a lot of it is being imported. But we feel it is really important and I think the administration does as well to build an American supply base as we transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles.
ZAKARIA: But talk to me about that local supply base. Because you've gotten into a little trouble with some senators like Marco Rubio because you're building a battery facility in Michigan but in order to do it, in order to use the most cutting-edge technology you're partnering with a Chinese company. So -- I mean, inevitably there is going to have to be some kind of this kind of partnering.
FORD: No question. And first of all, it is a wholly owned Ford facility. They will be our employees and all we're doing is licensing the technology. That's it.
And actually, it is exactly what the IRA was set up to do because we're localizing production in America. Our engineers will be working with that technology integrated into our vehicles so we will learn that technology. We'll understand how, in this case CATL, not only makes the batteries, but also, you know, prepares them to be integrated into the vehicle. That is really important that our engineers gain that knowledge so we can eventually do it ourselves.
ZAKARIA: When you hear people talk about the -- the building America part of it, there are many people, economists who criticize it saying, look, what you're going to end up doing is you're going to massively raise costs if everything has to be manufactured in America. You're not taking advantage of global supply chains, global manufacturing, the fact that you can source things from all over the world in order to make something. The famous example if often given that if the iPhone was made in America, everything was made in America, it would cost four times as much, I think, is the estimate as it does now. What do you say to that?
FORD: I say making things in America matters. And if we outsource it all, we're not going to have a strong economy. That is for sure.
The other thing is the multiplier effect of a manufacturing job is much greater than any other part of the economy. Other countries know this and that is why they are so anxious to get the auto jobs in their countries.
ZAKARIA: But when you look at this cost issue, is this part of what is going on with the EVs, with the electric vehicles because you lose money even though you're making a lot. On each car you lose money.
FORD: We do now. But it is like all new technology, once you start to come down the cost curve, you know, and you start climbing up the production curve, the costs will come down. And they're coming down even as we're sitting here.
And with each generation they'll get better and better. And the batteries will get smaller and smaller and more efficient. And, you know -- and so, I -- you can look at almost any other industry that has adopted new technology, the early days typically were lost leaders and things were expensive. But once the technology ramped up costs started to come down quite dramatically and we see that happening here too.
ZAKARIA: When you look out at the future of the American economy right now with all of this transition taking place, with the infrastructure bill, which is, you know, the largest in at least 20 -- 25 years, how do you feel about the American economy?
FORD: Well, I mean, I think there is -- there is a lot we can be happy with. And -- but, you know, we have, I think, too much debt as a country. Yes, we just raised the debt ceiling but that is kind of kicking the can down the road.
And I think we -- you know -- and China owns a lot of our debt which is worrisome, I think, from a national security standpoint. But I think a lot of good things also have been done. Now are we heading into a recession? I don't know. My crystal ball is pretty cloudy on that one. (END VIDEOTAPE)
ZAKARIA: Next up, how does Ford plan to keep up with the stiff competition in electric vehicles everywhere from the United States to China? I'll ask him about it when we come back.
ZAKARIA: Kill it to save it. That is the mandate facing many automakers who have made their names and fortunes on gas guzzling vehicles and are now trying to pivot to electric. How is that transition working out at Ford? More of my interview with Bill Ford, executive chair of the Ford Motor Company.
ZAKARIA: How difficult is it to change the culture of your whole manufacturing process which has really been an industrial process, whereas, you know, an electric car is basically software on wheels?
ZAKARIA: Tesla does seem to have an advantage in that it is a technology company that happens to make cars. Whereas you're a car company that is trying to move up the technology value chain.
FORD: Yes, and there's actually merit to both. I mean, I think Tesla, you know, has found that making the car part isn't as much fun as maybe they thought it was. It is difficult. And you're right, you know, we're trying to catch them now on the technology side.
But I think, you know, one of the things for sure is that not everybody is ready for EVs. And that is fine. We have a whole incredibly attractive portfolio of internal combustions and we're going to have those vehicles for, you know, quite some time because one of the questions I'm frequently asked is, how quickly is this going to happen and what is the adoption rate? The short answer is we don't really know.
So, we have a wonderful portfolio of vehicles which, by the way, we're continuing to invest in. I was in Kentucky last week where we just launch our new Super Duty which is the backbone of work in America. And that's an internal combustion vehicle.
The vehicle doesn't lend itself today to electrification. Now, as batteries get bigger, stronger and, you know, more energy dense will it some day? Yes, probably. But we're not there yet.
So, I think for some segments, yes, gasoline will still be needed. So, it is important that we have a mix of vehicles. And if this thing all breaks much faster than what I just described, we'll be ready. ZAKARIA: If things -- if EV adoption moves faster than people are expecting or even at the same pace, there are many concerns about the supply chain there. Do we actually have the capacity to get as much lithium, as much, you know, copper, as much of all of those rare earth that you need to make these computers on wheels?
FORD: One of the nice things about battery is they are almost infinitely recyclable. So, once we get the initial sort of big group out there, there is going to be a whole industry around recycling the battery because all those elements you just mentioned can be reused and reused and reused. So, it is not as if we're going to have to be mining these forever. We're going to have to mine them until we get kind of the critical mass out there and then we'll just recycle the heck out of them.
ZAKARIA: And do you think that that -- are there any dangers in terms of the supply chain? You know, people worry about our access to minerals, a lot of them are in African countries. In many of those cases the countries have signed almost exclusive deals with China, some of those things are in China itself. Do you foresee any problems in getting access to all of this stuff?
FORD: Look, the supply base, whether it is on the internal combustion engine or on the EV level there are issues all through the supply base globally. COVID really knocked the supply base on its tail and we're still recovering from that. Whether it is chips, whether it is something very prosaic that, you know, we never thought we'd have a problem with all of a sudden, we do.
But on the mineral side, you're right, some of them are tougher to get than others but they keep finding new sources too. And, you know, we -- there are new sources in this country. The salt and sea out in the -- you know, the desert in California, turns out that has got quite a bit of lithium that is ready to be mined. But, yes, it is an issue. And, of course, then there is the human rights issue on the mining as well.
You know, we are trying to be very, very careful and mindful about the suppliers that we do business with. But some of it is, it is hard to have great vision into some of the, you know, sub-supplier, sub- supplier, sub-supplier, but we're trying to because, again, we don't want to do business like that and we won't.
ZAKARIA: The world's biggest exporter of cars today is China.
ZAKARIA: Really remarkable. It has gone from essentially having no industry 15 years ago to doing better than Japan this year. The next big phase of the electric vehicles I assume will be Chinese EVs because they have huge numbers there.
ZAKARIA: Are you ready to compete with Chinese EVs in America? FORD: Probably not quite yet. We need to get ready and we are getting ready. But you're right, I mean they're already going to Europe and they're growing very fast in Europe.
They are -- and you mentioned the speed at which they developed. They developed very quickly. They've developed them in large scale and now they're exporting them. And they're not here, but they'll come here we think at some point. And we need to be ready. And we're getting ready.
So, I mean, we have an all-hands-on deck -- you know, we learned a lot. When I look back at when the Japanese came to America, we weren't ready. Then the Koreans came and we really weren't ready. Well guess what? It is going to happen again and we are going to be ready this time because we're acutely aware of what not being ready will do to us.
ZAKARIA: Bill Ford, pleasure to have you on.
FORD: Thank you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, as the Supreme Court issues landmark end of term decisions we'll ask an important question, is the court today acting as a defender of democracy, or as a threat to it? When we get back.
ZAKARIA: And now for the last look. It is been about a year since Dobbs v. Jackson when the Supreme Court voted to revoke the constitutional protections for abortion in America. And in coming days, the court will weigh in on cases that will decide everything from the future of affirmative action in university admissions to the fate of President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan, to the right of American businesses to deny services to LGBTQ Americans.
I asked my next guest to put the court's prior term in perspective and tell us what we could expect in the future. Michael Waldman is the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU. His new book is called "The Supermajority, How the Supreme Court Divided America."
ZAKARIA: Michael Waldman, pleasure to have you on. You talk about the Supreme Court as a danger to American democracy these days. Most people will have thought particularly if you go back 20 -- 30 years, that the court is sort of the savior of American democracy. What do you think has changed?
MICHAEL WALDMAN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NYU'S BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE: I think we have to rethink and understand the role the court is playing right now.
[10:50:03] It is very unusual thing to have a Supreme Court with nine unelected justices with lifetime appointments making such big decisions every June. We only give it that kind of power because we trust it to be above politics, to act like a court. Right now, the Supreme Court is controlled, is dominated by six very conservative justices, a super majority, and they've begun to make very, very radical, extreme and activist rulings that are remaking society in basic ways.
It poses a threat, I think, to our notions of democracy. It is changing the country in ways people are only beginning to understand and I think it is going to lead to a pretty big backlash at the same time.
ZAKARIA: What would you say to conservatives who say, well, look, you had the Warren Court making liberal big important decisions that were liberal, and why was that OK but this is not OK?
WALDMAN: There have been times in the country's history where we need the court to take steps to protect equal rights even when the political system isn't interested in it. Brown v. Board of Education is certainly a classic example of that and that was the beginning of the Warren Court. But the Warren Court was the only time in the country's history where the court was very activist but actually kind of ahead of the country and it created its own backlash, a political backlash that we're living with to this day.
ZAKARIA: So, you know, what you're describing at this moment, it does seem to me accurate that the court is doing things that the public in general, majorities of the public are not comfortable with on abortion. Even on guns which you've written a wonderful book about the Second Amendment.
You know, it's -- most people don't realize that the Second Amendment did not prevent 200 years of gun regulation or maybe at least a hundred, suddenly going back to the 1850s. And that it was a series of decisions really starting with Heller, Scalia's opinion that completely transformed the legal landscape for guns, right?
WALDMAN: You're exactly right. It is sort of hard to imagine, but the Supreme Court never said the Second Amendment protects an individual right to gun ownership until 2008, that was the Heller decision. But it still left room for gun laws even though it was now seen as an individual right.
And Justice Scalia was asked, what is the difference between you and Justice Thomas? And he said, well, I am an originalist, but I am not a nut. Justice Thomas wrote the opinion more recently, the Bruen case. And that case, one of the really extraordinary decisions at the end of the last term in June of 2022, basically said you cannot consider public safety when you're looking at whether a gun safety law is constitutional.
You can only look at history and tradition by which they mean some law from the colonial era or from the founding era. If they had that law then, then maybe we can have it now. This is a very unusual way to rule. ZAKARIA: And at the heart of all this is this idea of originalism and original intent. And you say in the book that it is fundamentally misconceived. Explain why.
WALDMAN: It is misconceived. It is really pretty new. It wasn't until last year that the Supreme Court really started saying, this is how we're going to make all our big rulings. It's the idea that the only legitimate way to interpret the Constitution is to ask what did it mean at the time it was ratified to the founders.
The court ruled that the meaning of the Constitution is -- quote -- "fixed." In a very literal way what this means is that the social views, the social mores of property-owning White men from the late 1700s or maybe the 1800s has to govern us now and that is whatever the justices think they could find to bolster their argument. Sometimes it is terrifying.
In the Dobbs case they actually cited in the opinion, Justice Alito, six times a judge named Matthew Hale who is a British judge who sentenced women to death for witchcraft in the 1500s --
WALDMAN: Yes, not last year. And they understood -- the founders understood that they were creating a kind of a broad charter for a growing country, a country that would change.
We have changed. We've evolved. The Constitution evolves with it and that doesn't mean it is a misunderstanding of the Constitution, that is actually the only way to run a modern country.
ZAKARIA: And so, when you look at where the court is now, and there is a kind of partisanship on both sides now, each president is appointing reliably conservative or liberal judges. You think the solution is basically to remake the court and to put in, for example, term limits.
WALDMAN: I think one of the answers is to understand that the Supreme Court is an institution that can be reformed, that can be fixed, just the same as Congress or the executive branch. I think, for example, that nobody should hold too much public power for too long so that an 18-year term limit for justices could make sense. It is actually broadly popular with the country. I think that people are just now starting to understand the Supreme Court as a political institution needing some kind of reform.
ZAKARIA: Michael Waldman, pleasure to have you on.
WALDMAN: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: And thank you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.