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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Biden's Peace Proposal for the Middle East; Unpacking Biden's Executive Action on Immigration; Is Mexico's Democracy In Decline?: Why Americans Are So Unhappy With The Economy; How To Make Capitalism Work. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired June 09, 2024 - 10:00   ET



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


ZAKARIA (voice-over): Today on the program, President Biden outlines a plan for a ceasefire in Gaza.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A full and complete ceasefire.

ZAKARIA: And suggests Benjamin Netanyahu was prolonging the war to stay in power. What will it take for Israel and Hamas to reach a truce? I will ask Richard Haass.

And in a dramatic shift, Biden issued an executive action this week capping the number of migrants who can seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Will this help him politically or is it too late? I'll talk to the "New Yorker's" Jonathan Blitzer.

Also this week, Mexicans elected their first female president who will likely continue the policies of the populist leader AMLO. I'll dig into what it means and what worries the political analyst, Denise Reza. Plus I'll talk to Dr. Richer Sharma about what he says has gone badly wrong with capitalism.


ZAKARIA: But first here's my take. Indian commentators are running out of adjectives to describe the election results in the world's largest democracy. Surprising, shocking, stunning among others. The results have diverged sharply from most predictions including those of exit polls and of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who confidently declared that his party would win 370 seats and his coalition would scale 400. In the end, his party, the BJP, got 240, and his coalition, 292.

The Indian stock market crashed as the result trickled in. But markets can be wrong. This could well turn out to be good news for India politically and even economically. Why did Modi lose so much ground? One important reason was many

opposition parties came together and projected one common candidate as the face of their alliance, which meant the anti-BJP vote did not splinter. The BJP's share of the total number of votes in this election, 37 percent, was roughly the same as in the last one. Yet this time it translated into 63 fewer seats in parliament.

Voters also seem to have wanted to personally rebuked the prime minister. At least 20 of his ministers lost their elections. Modi's own victory in his parliamentary constituency was surprisingly narrow. His race ranked 116 of the 240 BJP victories by margin, among the lowest ever for a sitting prime minister.

The party even lost in Ayodhya, the town where Modi had built a massive new tempo on the side of a mosque that was torn down and inaugurated with great fanfare just months before the election. The results are most remarkable considering the many advantages that Modi had. He's the incumbent prime minister, his party massively outspent the opposition using an election financing scheme so blatantly one- sided that even India's often compliant courts eventually shut it down.

The agency charged with promoting government policies spent millions on ads with Modi's face on them, reminding Indians of Modi's guarantees, that the economy would soar and their lives would be improved. Many government benefits in India from vaccine cards to bags of grain come with Modi's beaming smile as if they were personal gifts from a generous benefactor. In addition, opposition politicians were investigated by tax authorities, the leader of the opposition was unseated from his parliamentary seat.

Two chief ministers, the equivalent of governors of states in America, were jailed and opposition party funds were frozen to make it virtually impossible for them to operate or travel.


And yet India's voters, many of them still poor, poorly educated and vulnerable, one in four for my literate voted for checks and balances for limits to power, and against the excessive cult-of-personality.

During the campaign, Modi campaigned with the pomp and ceremony of a monarch, even claiming that his birth was not a biological event, implying that it had spiritual origins. India's voters seemed to have reminded him that he is human.

Under Modi's rule, India's economy has boomed but its democratic institutions have suffered badly. All three independent and widely respected NGOs that assess country's democratic levels have downgraded India dramatically, documenting abuses of authority, decline in independent press and politicized judiciary and independent agencies. The fact that so many Indians appeared to have lied to pollsters in the exit polls tells you that they probably feared reprisals.

But now Modi faces an emboldened opposition, state governments that will stand up to him more strongly and a media and civil society that might even be willing to push back against governmental power and abuse. Investors and businessmen have been most worried by the election results. They see Modi as pro-business with a good track record on the economy and they loved the idea of a strong leader that they are sure developing country needs to prosper.

But they are wrong. The country that first broke out of the ranks of the developing world and became a rich country was post-World War II Japan. It did so under a series of colorless prime ministers. Two other economies that had breakneck growth over the last six decades greater than even China over that long run, are South Korea and Taiwan. For most of that time, they have also had bland leaders who just muddle through.

India's own seismic economic reforms took place under a coalition government headed by an unknown prime minister Narasimha Rao, who only got the job because the Congress party leader Rajiv Ghandi had been assassinated. The prior BJP leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who presided over strong growth, also headed a coalition. In fact, since 1989 coalition governments have been the norm in India. One to which it appears to be returning.

Average income growth under the last coalition government headed by Manmohan Singh was actually slightly higher than during Modi's tenure in office. Many sophisticated observers of the world often laud strongmen who run poorer countries, who can build roads and get things done. But the average Indian voter seems to instinctively understand that in the long run pluralism, cooperation, diversity are all India's distinctive features and its enduring advantage.

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

Last week President Biden called on Israel and Hamas to accept a permanent ceasefire deal. Nine days later, however, a deal appears elusive. On Saturday Israel rescued four hostages in an operation in Central Gaza, engaging in heavy bombardment that Gaza hospital officials say killed more than 270 Palestinians. Meanwhile, Netanyahu is struggling to hold his coalition government together and discontent around his handling of the war.

So is a path to peace still possible?

Joining me to discuss is Richard Haass, a former director of policy planning at the State Department and the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Richard, welcome. So tell us what you think is going on because you were just in Israel. You met with everybody there from Prime Minister Netanyahu down. President Biden presented this deal and pointed out that this was Israel's proposal to Hamas. But Bibi Netanyahu seems to be not quite distancing himself, but not accepting the deal either. What is going on in his head?

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I think what is going on in the prime minister's head, Fareed, is what I would call a sequential approach. He believes what Israel needs to continue doing is to go after Hamas to, quote-unquote, "destroy it," eliminate it. I don't believe that's possible. It is, however, possible to degrade it militarily, but he wants to do that first and he really doesn't want to talk about what comes after in Gaza, in the West Bank or anything else.


And secondly, as things ultimately begin to wind down in Gaza, which is not to be confused with peace, but I think the intensity of the military operations will soon wind down, you have an Israeli prime minister who's increasingly turning his gaze to the north to what to do about another Iranian-backed group, in this case Hezbollah, all of which to say is I don't see the pieces or the elements of peace there, and every once in a while we've got to listen to what officials say, in this case, the Israeli National Security adviser, who said he expected the war in Gaza to continue through the end of this calendar year.

ZAKARIA: So what that suggests is that more Israeli operations and the idea would be to what, at some point declared victory? Because what President Biden said was, look, you've degraded Hamas to the point where it cannot, by any stretch, launch an operation such as it did, take the wind as it were, and let's talk about a post-war alternative to Hamas rule in Gaza? Why is that are not attractive?

Obviously, there's one part of it which is it's not attractive domestically politically to the prime minister. Is that all it is?

HAASS: Well, that's a big part of it, Fareed, that if you begin to pivot to the day after then it raises some difficult questions about what Israel is prepared to do as to the future of Gaza or the future of the West Bank. And that has the real potential to bring down this government, which is the last thing this prime minister wants to do, given the political uncertainty and his legal vulnerability.

What I think is so interesting about the last couple of days, though, in this rate is nothing that happened in this rescue of the four hostages changes any of this. This was a tactical success for Israel. It was impressive what was accomplished, although as others have pointed out, obviously it came at considerable cost in lives. But it doesn't change any of the basics in terms of what is the definition of success in Gaza and how do you make a transition from having militarily reduce the competence or capabilities of Hamas and translating that into something political.

Because the last thing Israel, I would assume, wants to see is the reconstitution of Hamas. But in order to prevent that, you've got to have someone else provide security in Gaza and you've got to have somebody else other than Hamas provide political direction, provide an economic environment where people can prosper. So if you don't want Hamas and you don't want Israeli occupation, you need something else presumably with Palestinians and Arabs.

But this Israeli government for exactly the reasons you say can't allow that to happen. So what you have is almost putting off, keep pushing off the question of what comes next. ZAKARIA: And what about Hamas? Is there any prospect it would accept

the deal?

HAASS: I don't see exactly why or even if it did accept the deal it would be a short-term deal. But why would Hamas sign onto something where essentially the entire logic of the policy is to eliminate their role in Gaza's future? I don't see that they're prepared to do that. I don't see that they're prepared to give up all the hostages because, again, that gets rid of their principal piece of leverage. So I don't see Hamas as a partner for serious peace talks here.

Again, I keep coming back to the same point, Fareed, and I think it's probably one you share, that Israel has done, you know, some real work at degrading Hamas. But you can't beat something with nothing. In order to beat Hamas politically you've got to introduce another element here. The Saudis, the UAE, and the other Arab governments are willing to do it. You're going to need some role for the Palestinian authority.

President Biden made it clear that the United States will be a partner, but it needs Israel to pivot to that place but it's unwilling to so I think what we'll likely to see -- sorry to sound so downbeat this morning. I think what we'll likely to see is the war in Gaza continue for some time, albeit at a lower level. You may see more attempts to rescue hostages. It won't -- there's no way to physically get most of the hostages out.

It would only come politically. So I think we're looking at probably a long slow grind in Gaza. And as I said before, where you could see increased conflict, intense military operations might be in the north, in Lebanon.

ZAKARIA: A sobering assessment. Thank you, Richard Haass.


We will be back with Biden's border moves and what they mean.


ZAKARIA: President Biden issued an executive action this week that will prevent migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border from seeking asylum once border crossings reaches seven-day average of 2500 per day. Biden said he had no choice but to take action after congressional Republicans blocked legislation that had significant border restrictions. And he's acting on his own to gain control of the border.


Immigration issues have become a primary concern for voters in this year's election.

Here to talk about the new restrictions is the "New Yorker's Jonathan Blitzer, who has a new book on America's immigration crisis, "Everyone Who is Gone is Here: The United States, Central America, and the Making of a Crisis."

Jonathan, welcome. So what I want to sort of start with you is, you know, when we think of illegal immigration, we think of all these people furtively crossing the border in the old days, say the 1980s, and we think of asylum as something different. It was, you know, a few people kind of, you know, persecuted Jews in the Soviet Union, or people like that, you know, a few thousand applications.

How is it that we have, you know, these two things seem to have gotten conflated and now you have hundreds of thousands of people coming across and asking for asylum? When did all this start?

JONATHAN BLITZER, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Yes, I mean, the sort of short answer is all through the 1980s when the U.S. first created the asylum program. Enshrining it in American statute. You had civil wars raging in Central America and the U.S. was deeply involved in what was happening there. It was trying to limit the spread of communism and as a result it was supporting repressive regimes that were driving, you know, hundreds of thousands of people away from the country and away from the violence.

And so even from the very beginning, you saw American foreign policy in stark tension with the principles of asylum and the idea that the U.S. legally is going to extend protection to people who have been being persecuted. The consequences of years of kind of neglect and disregard for what the asylum program was supposed to entail meant that by the time you get into the early 2000s and the 2010s, you start to see large numbers of people primarily from Central America showing up at the southern border seeking protection.

The U.S., for all of the money it had poured into the border over the years, had never actually anticipated that that many people would show up seeking protection. Legally, they had the right to and the U.S. had the obligation to extend them protections, but there wasn't the infrastructure in place to do it.

ZAKARIA: So because the immigration system is sort of paralyzed, immigration reform is paralyzed, people figured out here's a path, you know, we have a right to stay in the country. When Trump weaponized it in 2015, was he referring to, you know, the asylum immigration, I mean, all of the above?

BLITZER: You know, I think the kind of political innovation of Trump on a rhetorical level was to conflate what was happening at the border and images that seems to people like images of chaos and disorder, to conflate all of that with immigration generally and with the legal immigration system, and it proved an alarmingly effective instrument.

ZAKARIA: That's a very, very important point. What Trump did was to take the fact that the asylum system had broken down and turn it into immigration is out of control because actually immigration America is not out of control. We have a fairly orderly process, you can argue the mix of, you know, skills-based and family might not be right or it should be expanded or whatever, but, you know, as an immigrant it's a slow plodding but fairly systematic process. BLITZER: You know, I would say a kind of corollary of that is the fact

that the asylum system has essentially had to answer for the failures of the wider immigrant mission system. You know, asylum was never designed to be just a vehicle for people to come to the United States for work to reunite with families and so on. It was designed specifically to help people who are persecuted based on their identity.

But what's happened in Washington has been that no one is able to kind of span the partisan divide on immigration. As a result, the wider legal immigration system hasn't been updated since the very least 1990. And so you have people who do have very legitimate and urgent reasons to come to the United States, who don't have legal avenues, and so they're taking their chances at the border and we're in this perfect circle.

ZAKARIA: Will what Biden has done make a difference? What he's basically saying is you can't just show up here and apply for asylum. You have to do it from your home country, or you've got to do it from Mexico. There's got -- you know, is that fair?

BLITZER: Roughly, I mean, what he's trying to do there is a specific logic to what the Biden administration is trying to do. It is trying to incentivize migrants to go to what are called ports of entry. These are points along the U.S.-Mexico border that are staffed by border agents, that have minimal facilities for processing people, so to the administration's way of looking at it, if they can direct people to show up at these ports of entry and to seek asylum there, then the system will be at least somewhat more orderly than if people cross irregularly between ports of entry.

ZAKARIA: And will it work politically in your opinion? I mean, this is -- the whole issue here is the Republicans, this is the number one issue igniting the Republican base as far as I can tell.

BLITZER: Yes. Yes. One of the challenges has been all along how the Biden administration walks this line. If on the one hand, making the case that, look, we are ready to be tough at the border and congressional Republicans are blocking us. And at the same time, you know, trying to take action because, you know, they're the government in charge.


It's obviously an extremely controversial issue in an election year. The polling is really quite bruising for the president on the matter. To my mind, you know, it's sort of an unwinnable battle for Biden. If he's only going to try to demonstrate that he's been tough without simultaneously making the case for humanity, for pragmatism, for legal immigration --

ZAKARIA: As he did in that -- in the legislation has proposed, but that all gets turned down by the Republicans --

BLITZER: That's true.

ZAKARIA: It's dead on arrival.

BLITZER: That's true. That's true. And you know, it's a legitimate bind I have to say. I mean, what initially prompted that legislative push back in the winter was the fact that the Biden administration requested significant amount of money to help manage these increases in arrivals at the southern border and Congress wouldn't appropriate the money. And so the Biden administration is in quite a difficult position because the primary mechanism for dealing with this legitimately complex situation at the border is for Congress to act and Congress won't act.

ZAKARIA: All right, we get a lot of heat on this subject. I think you've given us a lot of light, which is unusual.

Jonathan, thank you so much.

BLITZER: Thanks for having me.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS from U.S. border politics to politics south of the border. Mexico just had a big election. I will talk to an expert who's worried about the result because of what it will mean for the fate of that country's democracy.



ZAKARIA: This week, Mexico elected its first woman leader, Claudia Sheinbaum, and her party, Morena, in a landslide. She is widely seen as a protege of outgoing populous president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, who has ruled since 2018.

But my next guest says, it is a win for autocracy disguised as a democracy. Denise Dresser has been closely studying Mexico's politics for decades. She's a professor of political science at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico and a columnist for the Mexican newspaper Reforma.

Denise, welcome. Would you talk about is the way in which under AMLO and now what your fear is it gets reinforced, there has been a real degradation of Mexico's democracy. Explain what you mean.

DENISE DRESSER, WRITER AND POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Morena and Claudia Sheinbaum won by a landslide with 60 percent of the votes, leaving the opposition in the dust, and this was a mandate for what Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador promoted throughout his presidency and led him to campaign with and for Claudia Sheinbaum.

On the one hand, the election was a reflection of material benefits, increases in the minimum wage, cash transfers to the poor, and a manifestation of a very unequal society that feels that this president, newly elected, and the previous one, have actually listened to the people. But what the election has done is put Mexico in a situation or consolidate the situation that it has been over the last several years of democratic erosion, where socioeconomic rights win a majority, and political and economic rights, that when associates the functional democracy, will probably be eliminated.

The plan on which Claudia Sheinbaum campaigned was, for example, popular vote for justices of the Supreme Court, popular vote for all of the councilors of the Autonomous Electoral Institute, the permanent militarization of Mexico, which has increased under President Lopez Obrador. So basically, the elimination of checks and balances on a party that has now become a hegemonic party.

ZAKARIA: And the argument is that these are the obstacles in the way of him being able to provide even more larger ask, right? It's a -- it's a populist argument that I -- you know, I can solve all these problems if you get rid of all these institutions and all these other checks and balances on me that are blocking my way.

DRESSER: Yes. The argument is all of those institutions are an obstacle. They're a legacy from neoliberal elitist oligarchical rule, a democracy that only served elites. And those checks and balances have impeded Lopez Obrador from carrying out his true agenda.

ZAKARIA: AMLO and now it seems that his successor, are giving more and more power that used to be held by civil authorities, by local police, by the police, to the army. And when we think of the army, you know, certainly the case that -- you know, famously a former defense minister being arrested by the US DEA because he was so corrupt and so in cahoots with the drug cartels. This doesn't seem like a good idea if you're trying to fight, you know, these drug cartels. Why is the army being given so much power?

DRESSER: Well, this is one of the reasons why some of us have argued that Mexico's incipient democracy is truly under threat now. Because, as you well know, democracy and militarization do not coexist. The only countries that give hundreds of activities that used to be in the hands of civilians to the military, that basically acts as a parallel government with no civilian control, are countries that are authoritarian regimes.


Militarization in Mexico started in the 2000s but Lopez Obrador accelerated the pace to a degree that is unprecedented in Mexican history. The military today runs businesses, controls the airspace, 18 airports, ports, immigration. And I think that Lopez Obrador delegated so much power to the military because he wanted do away with civilian institutions. He has actually cut the size of the Mexican state.

ZAKARIA: Finally, it seems to me that the United States has decided that it needs Mexico to manage its southern border, and that Lopez Obrador has been reasonably willing to do that. And that as a result, whether it's Trump or Biden, the United States is not in any way pushing back on this democratic decay. Would that be fair?

DRESSER: That would be a correct interpretation. I think that President Biden sold his soul to the devil. He made the same pact with Lopez Obrador that Trump did which was remain silent on democratic erosion in Mexico for the sake of Mexico acting de facto as a border patrol, a policeman containing Mexican, and Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, Central American immigration to the United States, particularly in an era in which immigration has become one of the central areas of debate and of contention in the U.S. election.

ZAKARIA: Denise, thank you so much. Next on GPS, why are Americans so gloomy about the economy when statistics seem to suggest it is booming? My next guest says they have a very good reason. He will explain.



ZAKARIA: On its face, the American economy looks great. It's growing fast. Unemployment is near record lows. According to a March report, wage growth is outpacing inflation. And yet, Americans do not feel sanguine about the country's economic health.

According to a CNN poll from April, 70 percent of Americans say that economic conditions are poor. More than half say they are dissatisfied with their own financial situation. What explains this disconnect? My next guest says that despite the positive economic figures, all is not well with American capitalism.

Ruchir Sharma is an investor and the author of a new book, "What Went Wrong with Capitalism." Welcome, Richard. It's a terrific book. It makes you think about things so differently. And what you are saying -- first, explain why do you think people feel that the economy is not working for them?

RUCHIR SHARMA, CHAIRMAN, ROCKEFELLER INTERNATIONAL: Yes, because I think that if you look at the numbers on inequality, I think, if you look at the -- intergenerationally what's happening that today barely a third of Americans say that they are doing better off than their parents. When we were growing up -- of course, back, you know, 50 years ago, 80 percent of Americans would say that they're going to -- that they're doing better than the parents.

So, something deep is happening out here. We try to look at what's happening with Biden's low approval rating. Is it happening because of inflation and stuff? But the point I make here is that this is a trend that has been happening for the last 20 years. That every president's approval rating, on average, tends to get lower even under Trump, when the so-called misery index of inflation plus unemployment was so low, his approval ratings were low.

So, I think, there's something deep which is going on here where at the surface the economy seems to be doing OK. But, I think, because of decline in economic mobility, decline in social mobility, rising inequality, and a feeling that we are worse off than our parents there is this deep sense of the system is not working for us.

ZAKARIA: So, now this sound is very much like Bernie Sanders, but where you differ and the kind of interesting twist to this argument is you're saying -- you know, so a lot of people say, ah, it's because we've had this -- you know, these decades of neoliberal policies, too much marketization, too much liberalization. You know, what we need is more government.

And you say, actually, the big story here is that big government never went away. It just got bigger and bigger and bigger.

SHARMA: Yes. So, I think there are various ways to define government. The very narrow definition is government spending as a share of the economy. You can see that very clearly. And as I show in the book, which is that it has been on a secular increase.

Hundred years ago, it was 3 percent of GDP. Today, it is more than 35 percent of GDP. And even under the Reagan years, the so-called, you know, icon of the neoliberal era, government spending as a share of GDP never really declined. It just kept on increasing.

ZAKARIA: There's going to be one brief period where it goes down, right? Which is Bill Clinton, ironically.

SHARMA: That's right. That's the only time when, in fact, this country ran budget surpluses. Otherwise, in the last 50 years, it has never run a budget surplus. Whereas in the first 200 years of American economic history, they always ran budget surpluses unless you had a war or something.

ZAKARIA: So, even -- you know, so ever since Reagan, you've just had more and more and more government spending. But why would that then -- why is that bad for the economy? Explain what you're saying.

SHARMA: Yes. So, it's not just about government spending as I say in the book.


It's about regulation. It's about bailout, the culture of bailout. I explained in the book that over the last two decades, America has introduced 3,000 new regulations a year. And the total which have been withdrawn, 20 over 20 years, right? And this really hurts small and medium-sized businesses. Very -- gets much more expensive to set up businesses.

Then this whole culture of bailouts. You have the first big financial bailout with Continental Illinois in 1984. And since then, bailouts have become the norm.

Now, look at the average person and this happened in 2008. How does -- think of bailouts? They think of bailouts that all these rich fat cats get bailed out. What am I getting out of this?

So, my entire take in the book is that it's not just government spending. It has got to do with the bailout culture. It has got to do with the regulation. It has got to do with the micro management of the business cycle.

It's a bit analogous, you know, to the pain management system that we have here, which is that we have this explosion in drug and -- opioid as part of the pain management. And see that's exactly what's happened here. That we -- zero tolerance for any pain. Slightest thing happens, well, we got to sort of relieve this.

ZAKARIA: That economy is on oxycontin --

SHARMA: Exactly.

ZAKARIA: And you say that the other feature of this new kind of age of capitalism, the wearing -- of managed capitalism is much less competition at the top. That you have oligopolies, even monopolies. Again --in industry after industry, I was surprised, you have the 70s examples where we think we're looking at six or seven different companies or brands. It turns out they're all owned by the same company.

SHARMA: So, I think this is real feeling that we are being dominated and crashed by a whole bunch of big companies. It has become so much more expensive to set something new up.

If I want to set up a new fund, let's say, the cost of doing that today is 10 times more than what it used to be 20 years ago, just the bureaucratic costs, the regulatory costs. So, all of this is mounting up.

So, my entire point is that what was capitalism conceived to do? Capitalism, in its very essence, should be pro-competition and should be pro the small person, and new people coming in. Instead, the distorted form of capitalism we have today is pro-big business, and in terms of its pro-regulation and pro-incumbent.

So, that is something which, I think, is leading to deep frustration among people, declining productivity. And also, this feeling that the system is sort of rigged against us. And I think that that's really what's going on in America and much of the developed world.

ZAKARIA: "What Went Wrong with Capitalism" is the book. Ruchir Sharma, I really recommend people to read it. It's an absolutely fascinating read. I think you will see the economy differently. Thank you.

SHARMA: Thanks, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, we talked about Indian elections and Mexican elections. Another country just had a big election, South Africa. I'll tell you why voters punished the party of Nelson Mandela.



ZAKARIA: And now for the last look. Nelson Mandela, who brought an end to apartheid in South Africa, supposedly said, it always seems impossible until it's done.

Well, something else that seemed impossible just happened in South Africa and it was a very different turn of events. Last week, Mandela's African National Congress Party, which led South Africans to freedom and has led the country ever since, lost its seemingly unbreakable governing mandate. From the first post-apartheid election in 1994, the ANC has always received around 60 to 70 percent of the vote. This time, it got just 40 percent. That still makes it the biggest party, but it will have to try to form a coalition with other parties.

Although the ANC delivered democracy in the first place, that democracy failed to deliver for many people. An economic boom post- apartheid has now stagnated. The country's unemployment rate is the highest in the world. Party control of agencies and state-owned companies has enriched corrupt officials and well-connected businessmen. Residents have to contend with rolling blackouts.

Those factors have convinced many voters of the need to check the power of the ANC. They've gravitated towards two more radical parties that broke away from the ANC. Support has also grown over time for the Democratic Alliance, a pro-business party, that has governed Cape Town with impressive results and is popular with the country's White minority.

South Africa isn't the only democracy that has had a dominant party. From Israel, to Italy, to Japan, one party has been rewarded with decades of continuous rule after founding the modern state or shepherding the country into the modern era, eventually, they lost their way and lost power.

A famous example, of course, is India. The country was liberated from British rule by Mahatma Gandhi's Indian National Congress, which then governed for 30 years. It ultimately overreached and was voted out.

But in the past decade, there seemed to be a new unassailable political force, Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janta Party. As I mentioned at the top of the show, in this year's election Modi was aiming to increase his already large majority. Instead, voters dealt him a stunning set-back, forcing him to rely on coalition partners to stay in power. Similar issues to South Africa motivated Indians to punish the BJP like joblessness and inequality.


But voters also feared that the BJP was becoming too powerful and might actually alter the constitution. In recent elections in Poland, voters more strongly rejected a party that was trying to cement its power. The ruling party had seized control of democratic institutions and public media, and clamp down on LGBTQ and abortion rights. And so, voters handed power to the opposition.

All these elections remind us how seemingly invincible parties can fall from grace. Like corporate monopolies, political monopolies can ossify, lose their sense of hustle, and abuse their power, abandoning the principles behind their original success.

Freedom fighters like Mandela wanted democracy because they thought it would improve people's lives and deliver better outcomes. But the true gift of democracy is that it is self-correcting. When people don't see the results they want, they always have the power to shake things up.

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