tv Firing Line With Margaret Hoover PBS April 3, 2021 5:30am-6:01am PDT
who will lead the republican party into the future? this week on "firing line." with the biden administration now in office -- >> democracy is fragile. and at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed. >> -- and democrats controlling congress by the slimmest of margins. >> being equally divided the vice president votes in the affirmative. >> with differing views about how we vote and how to get things done. >> i believe we need to get rid of the filibuster now. >> they would guarantee themselves immediate chaos. >> wruz did the republican party go next? what do pulitzer-prize winning
anne applebaum and david fromm say now? >> "firing line" with margaret hoover is made possible by -- charles r. schwab, the fairweather foundation, craig newmark fphilanthropies. and by -- >> anne applebaum, welcome to "firing line." david fromm, welcome back to "firing line." >> it's been a while. >> the two of you are long-time friends and fellow travellers. public intellectuals ideifying with the center right. david, you were a white house speech writer and author of the recent book "trumpocalypse: restoring american democracy." anne, you are the winner of a pulitzer-prize and your most recent book chronicles the rise
of authoritarianism in the west. first, for the sake of our audience, how do each of you characterize your political views in this moment. anne, you first. >> that's a difficult question to answer. you just described me as being center right. i'm not sure i would call myself that. i might have done so 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. i think i would now have to call myself a center of the center. i -- i don't identify at all with the modern republican party. i voted democrat for the last several elections. historically, i was an anticommunist. i was in eastern europe in the 1980s and 1990s, and you know, believe very much in the overthrow of communism, and that put me on the right. in the modern world we no longer have a right and left that are arguing over, you know, the size of the state or arguing even much over economics anymore.
they're arguing over cultural issues. and i find that i don't really agree with the extremes on either side. >> david, d you still consider yourself to be a conservative or a republican? >> i am a registered republican. and i think thathe survival of a healthy, flourishing republican party committed to democratic values is very, very important. and certainly if i were living in one of the -- i live in the district o columbia, but if i were living in california or new york, i think i would be pretty active in state republican politics to make politics in those places competitive. >> both of you in your rece books used democracy in the title. tell me right now, is democracy is peril, anne? >> yes, i do think it's in peril. it's in peril not just in the united states but around the world. in the united states, what we're watching is not just polarization, so not just deep divisions between republicans and democrats, but we've also
seen a part of the public mostly inside the republican party turning against the institutions of american democracy themselves and questioning their value and reliability. so, i mean, if you look at the attack on the capitol on january 6th, that wasn't republicans fighting democrats. that was a group of peopleho were fighting the system. and they were there to block the process of american democracy. but you can see an echo of similar disappointment and similar distress in quite a lot of democracies, including big developing country democracies as well as european democracies. so, yes, i do believe it's a threat. it's not just in the u.s., but it's around the world. >> and i want to ask you, david and anne, bh about your solutions for strengthening democracy here at home. but first let's agree on what is, in your estimation, broken? what elements, david, of our
democracy here at home are most urgently in need of reform? >> well, america has always been very conditionally committed to democracy. before 1965 there was racial supremacy across much of the country. but i think things have been going especially worse since 2010 and the very radical gerrymandering that happened after the election in 2011 was institutionalized minority rule at many state levels. what happened in 2010 was that republicans got a danger and an opportunity. they discovered that their ideology was increasingly out of sync with where the country was. the country did not want what republicans were offering. but the political system offered new opportunities to use minority power to foist an unwelcome ideology. so, one of the reasons i have been so on this soap box is because one of the my concerns is to bring the republican party into the 21st century and say,
you know what? this narcotic of rigging elections is not good for you either. the right thing to do is to compete to offer useful policies for the country, not to try to rig elections so that even though your policies are massively rejected you can eke out power anyway. >> you write, visibly preventing minorities from voting was the strategy that trump's re-election depended upon. >> mm-hm. >> and you later said once the game of voter suppression is off the table, normal political competition may revive the gop as a center right party. >> yeah. >> how so? >> i think americans tend to be very pessimistic about their chances in open competition. i always find that kind of incredible. the most successful organization in the democratic world is the conservative party of great britain. they've dominated great britain for the last century. the message, flourishing business environment, people keeping most of their money for themselves, those are powerful
messages that can work in democratic competition. but in the united states, conservatives have been much more doubtful. so, they have focused in the pre-civil rights era on a racial baesic, in the post-civil rights era on a nominally basis. >> to add a historical note to this, if you look back in history at the number of democracies that have gone wrong, very often they have gone wrg because the center right has gone wrong. in other words, center right parties are very often the anchor of electoral systems because they are homes for voters who dislike rapid change, who are willing to accept some alterations in their lives, that they would like some feeling of continuity and stability. and it's when center right parties become more extreme or when they split up and divide they very often have challenges to democracy and you have real democratic decline. it's another historical reason
why maintaining a repubcan party that seeks to be a center party, in other words seeks to win the votes of a wide variety of people, not just people defined narrowly, geographically or culturally, but people from all different kinds of communities. this is very important for the maintenance of democracy in the united states. >> take the question of gerrymandering, david, because republicans of course will tell you is that both sides do it. and perhaps the republican party has just been more successful at it. >> well, both sides have done . but something changed in 2010. it really is different now. and here are the things that have chang. first, beginning of the early '60s, the civil rights era, the courts began policing gerrymandering. after 2010, courts exited supervising gerrymandering. and in two supreme court cases, the court said that's it. unless the's an actual record
of an explicit intent to disenfranchise a racial minority oup, do what you want. finally you never have the kind of control that republicans got because of the accident, the big sweep election of 2010 occurred in a year ending with a 0. the united states conducts a census every ten years, in a year ending with a 0, and the redistricting happens in the following ye, the year ending in a 1. but in 2010 there was more extreme gerrymandering at a time when courts are out of the business, at a time when americans are spatially segregating anyway. so, the map favors republicans in these projects. the law favors the republicans in the project. the time line favored the republicans in the project. and deterrents in 2010 vanished. the result is a state like wisconsin, republicans get 45% of the vote and take 65% of the seats in the state legislature. >> another form you both wrote about is the filibuster.
you called it a relic of the past. most legislation requires 60 votes to move forward. how would ridding ourselves of the filibuster strengthen democracy? >> one of the oddities about the filibuster is that if youry to explain it to someone who lives in a different democracy, they look at you like you're crazy, like that can't possibly be the rule. why does that work? the filibusr is not a constitutional rule. it is not connected to the founders or to anything essential about the constitution. it's also a reflection of something bigger, which is more generally speaking, the decline of congress. congress as an institution that can pass laws and get things done. so, the filibuster now operates as a tool that just makes it much harder to get things done. the filibuster is also a particular problem because of the nature of the senate. david has just spoken very eloquently about gerrymandering and how that affects state legislatures and affects the house of representatives as
well. but in a way, the bigger problem is the structure of the senate. and, again, the structure of the senate, which is in the constitution, means that rural america now outvotes urban america. and a number of states where very few people live can outvote states where a lot of people live. and this has created another democratic imbalance. large numbers of the population who want things like gun control, which is a very popular idea, are now outvoted in the senate by a small number of people in less populated states because they have two senators for wyoming, which has a few hundred thousand people and two senators for california, which has many millions of people. and the filibuster, in a way, adds to that. so, in other words, you already have this kind of grotesquely imbalanced sene. on top of that, you have this arcane procedural rule which means that it's even easie for
that smaller population to outvote the rest of the country. and i think for the sake of, you know, for the sake of democracy, it should be removed at least in certain cases or in certain circumstances. >> i think people don't understand how new the f filibuster is. the filibuster in its present form dates back to the 1970s. and the filibuster in its active form dates back about 15 years. so, the filibuster is new. it's not a hallowed rule of antiquity. the filibuster encourages political irresponsibility. here's how it's harmful to democracy. republicans have been come pained to repeal the affordable care act. they've never accepted the responsibility of power t create an alternative that people can see that accomplish the end that republicans want because they say why bother, we
don't have 60 votes. >> you two have something in common with many democrats, which is that d.c. should be a state. that would give d.c. two senators. presumably they would be democrats. why are you in favor of d.c. stathood. >> it's a matter of justice for the district of columbia. i was born in d.c. i was brought up there. but it would also very quickly solve one of the problems that i pointed out which is the imbalance of the senate between rural and urban america because d.c. is obviously an urban -- an urban area. so, it's not a perfect solution, but it's a constitutional one. it doesn't require a constitutional reform or change. it's not complicated if we simply adm d.c. as a state, then we have a little bit of the problem solved. >> let me add something to that. when people look and say, well, it's obvious the democrats are talking about d.c. and puerto rico as states with the view to gain the senate. that's sort of true. yes. that's what they want to do.
but the reason they are gaining the senate is there is a party whose power in the house depends on making it difficult for americans to vote. so, it's crude justice. the better answer would be make sure that americans have a legal right to vote. but the right to vote itself doesn't exist. only how that right may be regulated. so, if the art of american politics has been finding ways to take away people's right to vote in ways that don't trigger a judicial reaction. but that's wrong. we've got to stop doing that. >> okay. take the conversation to how to move beyond the moment of donald trump for the republican party and the country. david, seven senate republicans voted to impeach donald trump for his role in inciting the insurrection, and you called that a good day. >> yes. >> because it was more than expected. >> yes. >> but the fact is that the gop is still largely, particularly the base, believesn donald trump, supports donald trump.
do you suspect that his influence th wane or continue? >> i think we can see his influence waning and waning fast. he has become a kind of cultural totem, like refusing to wear a mask, like carrying a gun everywhere. it's a way -- saying you're for donald trump is a way of -- people do it to offend people who seem too pie yus or too bossy. but you can see that donald trump's problems, his lack of attention, his laziness, his corruption, those have become real obstacles to his power outside of politics. he's going to have tremendous legal problems. i think it's waning. he also insists everything be about himself. 2022 should be a pretty good republican year. the democrats have the presidency. that usually generates a reaction. the map isfavorable. and they've got all of these gerrymandering opportunities. but donald trump insists the
elon must be a referendum on how great he was. he's going to try to assert primary challenges to let's keep talking about me forever. if republicans keep talking about him forever, they'll continue to do as bad as they did in the elections of 2018 and 2020. >> anne, you wrote an important column where you used the word seditionist to describe not just the people who took part in the riot but the larger amount of elections who were united in their belief that donald trump won the election. the title is "co-existence is the only option." explain how a party goes forward coexisting with seditionists. >> the colum was an attempt to address a kind of misapprehension in the majority of the country but certainly in the left and those who vote democrat, that this group of -- very large group -- who believes that donald trump won the election and the smaller but
significant group who backed the capitol insurrection who believe that that can somehow be ignored or pushed aside or we can jus forget about them because they don't count. as much as he would like that to be true, that's not going to happen. we need a modus operandi. we need a way to move forward. we need a way to think about political conversations that allow us to avoid violence and have some progress. i was trying to think of precedence for this situation. the closest i could come to was northern ireland. and the way in which the situation there finally moved forward and towards peace was through people agreeg to talk about other things. in otherwords, we're not going to talk about the thing that we really -- that we'll never agree about, which is are we british or irish. but instead we'll talk about the local community center or how to fix the roads. we'll focus on economic issues. we'll focus on other things that
we all have in common, and we'll leave the elephant in the room outside. and i was arguing that some way of conversation between the left and the right or democrats and republicans in the u.s. will also have to move forward on that basis. you know, can we at least try to have national debates that are about economics or about infrastructure in which we can put aside the fact that we disagree about who won the election or we disagree about guns or other big cultural issues and focus on that? >> david, in "trumpocalypse" you did warn that there was a real possibility that the gop could degenerate into a, quote, culted personality that exists to enable and protect the maxal leader. >> yeah, i don't think this is exclusive to rht of center people. there are a lot of left of center peopl it's personality people. there are people who are easy going and people who are not easy going. the people who are prone to compromise and people who reject
compromise. and they're distributed across the political spectrum. i think the answer to this is that republicans and conservatives are going to have to learn this through negative experience. they're going to have to try and fail and try and fail. and it's been going on for a while and they have to keep trying and failing until they understand maybe it's time to try something else. maybe we should try having health care law that's acceptable to us. people could understand we are going to have to answer the question, okay, we promised not to have obamacare but to protect pre-existing conditions. how do you do that? write the bill. the resources are there to do that work. do that work. >> i agree that the impulse towards authoritarianism could be lt wing or right wing. i spent much of my career writing books about the soviet union, so i'm under no illusions there could be a form of left wing authoritarianism because there has been historically. what all the best scientists and
analysts have concluded is the impulse against democracy increases in times of stress and in times of rapid change, whether it's rapid demographic change, whether it's rapid sociological change, rapid economic change. and we are right now living in one of those period of very, very rapid change. and one of the things that i think this has created in a lot of places -- and it's true in europe and the u.s. and other countries too -- is a reaction against change itself and also a change and the clamor of public debate. there's simply a -- there's a strain of people who would like things to remain silent and they would like everyone to be quiet d tany would like to have a sense of solidity and stability and security delivered to them by their ruling figures, whoever they are. and all of these impulses can be -- unless used in the right
way -- can be antidemocratic impulses. and we see them. i just think it's not a coincidence that we see them right now all over the world including in the united states. i do think that the american republican party has sought to find those people, identify with them and make them -- and make them more frightened and more anxious about the times that we live in. and they're not -- they're not alone in doing that. >> anne, you wrote a recent piece "how to put out democracy's dumpster fire" and you wrote killed off by an internet kleptocracy that profits from polarization and rage. how did the internet contribute to the current state of polarization? >> so, in addition to some of the other things that we discussed, the imbalances in politics, the senate, the house, one of the other sources of democratic decline in the united states along with other democracies is the state of the
modern internet, by which i don't just mean social media. i mean the internet more broadly. the best way to think about it is to think about what the internet looks lik in an authoritarian country. in china, the internet is controlled by the state and it reflects the values of chise authorarianism. it's surveillance, censorship, control. but in theestern world, the internet does not reflect the values of democracy. it doesn't -- you know, there are no human rights built into the internet. there's no openness. there's no transrency. instead, our internet is controlled by a very few companies who operate according to secretive algorithms that we don't have any control over or insight into. the companies are tracking what you see and read. they're collecting data about you. and they're using that data to feed back to you information that they think you will want to see.
and the reason why they're doing that is not to promote democracy or to promote better civic conversation or polite discourse. they're doing so in order to keep you online and to get you to buy things. so, they're motivated by advertising. they're not motivated by the need to promote better discourse or better conversation. one of the pieces of the solution could be thinking much more creatively about how to have online debates in spaces that aren't regulated by facebook or by twitter but are regulated according to rules designed to increase civic conversation. >> we run a clip from the original "firing line" on the program. and david, by my count, you were a guest on "firing line" four times. in 1974, days before nixon's impeachment hearing, william pressed then republican cirman george h.w. bush about the gop in a post-nixon era.
take a listen to this, both of yo >> the republican officials are divided on whether association with mr. nixon helps or hurts. as head of the republican party, is it -- is it uncomfortable for you to cooperate with people in congress on a i have nothing to do with nixon ticket? >> well, i think we've got room in our party for diversity. and my advice to them -- and very few people seek it these days. but when they do, i'll say, look, emphasize the good things the administration has done and jump up and down say you don't like watergate. be against the bad things. be for the good things. >> reflect on how different the party is now than it was in that moment. >> the difference is the way to get ahead in the republican party in the post-trump era is to be for the bad things and against the good things. so, simply put -- i mean, what a breath of fresh air to acknowledge that the president
did do bad things and you might oppose them. those republicans who have opposed the worst thing that donald trump ever did, which was incite this attack on congress, they find themselves in terrible trouble. we could use george h.w. bush back again, for sure. >> i think it's interesting george h.w. bush emphasized the point that the republican party is a coalition, as is the democratic party, as are have to be parties in the two-party system. and i think the fact that it has to be a coalition is maybe the one thing that can save us. and pushing them to recognize that they need this broader coalition in order to win national ofce,fi that's the -- that's the hope we have that the party will begin to think about broadening its views a its attitudes in the future. >> david fromm, anne applebaum, thank you so much for your time and for joining me on "firing line." >> thank you. >> good-bye. >> "firing line" with margaret