Getting to the Point: A Conversation with the Authors of One Nation After Trump

Getting to the Point: A Conversation with the Authors of One Nation After Trump

(applause) Good evening. I’m Vicki Kennedy,
and it is with great pleasure that I welcome you to another
Getting to the Point, here at the
Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. This is such a special evening
for us, that we are welcoming
outstanding individuals and very close friends of mine. E.J. Dionne and Norm Ornstein, along with their friend,
Tom Mann, have written
an extraordinary book. I can’t wait to hear them. I can’t wait to hear Professor
Richardson as moderator. But that’s the sort of thing
we do here at the institute. This is our mission,
is to bring people together to discuss important issues
of the day. Civic engagement is at the heart
of our mission at the Edward M. Kennedy
Institute, and we are featuring
our authors. and the professor
who will moderate them, all of whom are passionate
about civic engagement. And this book is a call to arms,
really. I can’t wait for all of you
to read it, if you haven’t. It flies when you’re reading it. And I don’t want
to belabor it anymore, I want to introduce them
so you can hear them. E.J. Dionne is a native
of Fall River, he’s one of our own. He’s a columnist
for theWashington Post,where he writes about politics. He is a Fellow
at the Brookings Institute. He’s at Harvard right now,
splitting his professorship between the Divinity School
and the Kennedy School. That’s so appropriate, E.J. His son is with us tonight, too,
and we welcome him. He’s written more books than
I could even begin to mention, award-winning books, and he is a
thought-provoking person. Norm Ornstein
is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise
Institute, and he’s a columnist
and contributing editor forThe Atlantic,
and his wonderful wife, Judy, is here with us this evening. Norm has been focused
on political reform for most of his life. He has focused on
campaign finance reforms, senate committee reform,
congressional office… focused on a congressional
office of compliance to make sure that Congress
was governed by the laws that it’s enacted. And he has written
numerous books as well. He’s also my neighbor
in Washington, D.C., so I’m delighted
to have him here. Professor Heather Cox
Richardson, who is our moderator, is a professor of history
at Boston College, and her focus is studying
Republican Party, which is very interesting. She is an expert on American
political and economic history, and she, herself,
is an author of five books. So I hope they’ll all come up
right now, and come sit here, I think. Could you all…
could you welcome them now? (applause) I think you’ll enjoy a very
lively program this evening. Thank you. HEATHER COX RICHARDSON:
Thank you all for coming. I think I can speak
for all of us when I say we’re very pleased to be here,
and it’s a very exciting book, and it’s a great opportunity
to get a chance to get some of the ideas
in that book out and on the table. For those of you
who have not yet seen it, the premise of this book
is that the American system was never set up in such a way
that it should’ve given us a President Donald Trump, and yet it did. So the book goes through
how that happened, why that happened,
and how we might be able to ensure that it never happens
again. (E.J. chuckling) (applause) But one of the fun things
about sitting with authors is having the opportunity to actually ask about the book
itself. So I want to start with Norm,
and say, you know, why did you write this book and how did you go about it,
and what do you think you really were getting into
when you started? NORMAN ORNSTEIN:
Thanks, Heather. Before I do, I just want to say
a couple of words about Vicki. Talking to her before this
institute was up and the vision, and seeing how it’s been
executed is just mind-boggling and unbelievably impressive
to me. And I cannot come into
this chamber– having spent enough time
in the Senate chamber and on the floor–
without getting chills. And I remember when Ted
opened up the desk and showed me the other signatures inside,
as well, and this is the Senate. And it’s such a great
civic value to the country to have this institution here. So, for us,
we’re so proud to be here. So I’ll start with that. I would also say, the next time
you introduce somebody, you might say,
he or she has written more books than Donald Trump has read. (laughter) And somebody’s who’s just
written one book… E.J. DIONNE: That wouldn’t
be impressive, Norm. ORNSTEIN: Somebody who has
just written one book, it works there, as well. And we’re now 292 days
into the Trump presidency, or as the president says, “Longer than any other
president.” (laughter) So, with that out of the way. I wasn’t going to write
another book. Tom Mann and I had done a book
in 2006 calledThe Broken Branch
of Our Congress.
And then we did, 2012,
It’s Even Worse Than it Looks.
And we updated in 2016,
It’s Even Worse Than it Was.
And I didn’t want to be the Debbie Downer
of American politics. And we kept joking
that the next one would have to be
Run For Your Lives.
Which is not a joke anymore. DIONNE:
That’s kind of this book! ORNSTEIN:
But, as we thought about it, after the election, it really was important
to do something, we thought, that wasn’t just a continuation
of what we’d written, but something that would go
a little bit deeper into how we’d gotten here. And move away from, especially, as the first part
of the book does, anybody’s conception that Trump
was a unique figure who just arose on his own. Because the fact is
that Trumpism was in gestation for decades
before Donald Trump emerged. And some of it,
for reasons that go back to the decline in community,
the atomization in this society, things that people like
Bob Putnam had written about inBowling Alone,the geographical clustering
of people. But also the changes
in our politics, and especially in the
Republican Party’s politics, that could lead to a figure
like Trump. And if it weren’t Trump,
it would’ve been somebody else of that sort. But setting that stage became
a very important part for us. While Tom and I had written
many books together, Tom, E.J., and I had been dear
friends for a very long time, and I came up with the subtitle
of the book, which is:
“A guide for the perplexed, the disillusioned,
the desperate, and the not-yet deported.” And called E.J.,
and it was just at the moment that he was thinking,
“What can I do?” And so, the three of us– who were called the Three Amigos
for a long time in our various travels– came together and did it. RICHARDSON: And the pattern
of the beginning of the book emphasizes some of the things
that you talked about inWhy the Right Went Wrong,which I think is
the biggest tongue-twister of any title, ever, and I was
teasing E.J. about that. Do you want to lay
some of that out for us? DIONNE:
Sure. I also want to say
a couple things. First, thank you for
the reference to Fall River, which I am very proud of. And I always say
that when I was a kid, the turnout slogan in Fall River was “Vote for the Kennedy
of your choice, but vote!” And, secondly, I want to pay
tribute to Vicki Kennedy and we all know
how smart she is, we all know how deeply committed
to social justice she is, but the most important thing is she is just
a deeply good person, and we need a whole lot more
good right now, so thank you so much
for what you do. (applause) And, when I walked in…
this was my first view of this Senate chamber, and some of you may remember the conservative columnist
William F. Buckley, Jr., who famously said,
“I’d rather be governed “by the first 500 names
in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty.” And I walked in here,
and I said, “I’d much rather be governed
by the people “sitting in this Senate chamber
than by the current majority in the actual Senate chamber.” (applause) ORNSTEIN: Especially those
who have bought the book. (laughter) The… as Norm said,
I mean, the book really does reflect a sense that we have
of an emergency, that the country faces
an emergency partly because
of the authoritarian or autocratic threat
that Trump poses. And he has all the habits
of an autocrat. He demeans the press, he demeans and tries
to delegitimize his opposition, he tries to demean the courts
and attacks the courts whenever they act against him, as he did after the recent…
the recent shootings. He blamed it on Chuck Schumer. So you blame your enemies
for violence in the country, and these are the habits
of an autocrat. And so we wanted to make
that clear, and we also wanted to make clear
that he was ripping apart the norms of governing. I was always thought
it was very appropriate that Norm was the principal
author of the “norms” chapter, I just want to put that
on the record. And that norms are actually
more important in some ways than rules,
because you can’t write down everything you expect
from a president, and so
his violation of those norms. So we wanted to make that clear,
but we also sensed– and you were kind to mention
the earlier book– that both of our books
argued that, the previous books, that the Republican Party
had steadily moved to a more and more
radical position on the right, starting really in the 1990s. You know, the distance traveled
just between George H.W. Bush and Newt Gingrich was a very
substantial distance, already, in that the Republican Party had been really complicit
in the rise of Donald Trump. That the party had…
when Trump was starting his birther campaign, we quote
John Boehner in the book, and you know, to his credit,
he didn’t… he wasn’t a birther, but then when asked, you know,
did he condemn birtherism… RICHARDSON:
He didn’t shut it down. DIONNE:
Yeah, he didn’t shut it down. He said, “Well, people are
entitled to their own opinions.” No, you’re not entitled to your
own opinions about the facts, as Senator Moynihan
famously said. And the other part that happened
to the Republican Party, you wrote a great book about the history
of the Republican Party that has traced
its developments, and the Republican Party
used to be a party that really believed
that government had a major role to play
in investing in the country and expanding opportunity. So, from Lincoln,
with the land grant colleges, and the Homestead Act, to Teddy Roosevelt
with conservation, he was also a campaign finance
reform and health care advocate, up to Dwight Eisenhower
with the interstate highways and the federal student
loan program that I went to college on. Republicans really believed
that they wanted efficiency, and they criticized waste, but they understood the
government had a role to play, and we slowly lost that
in the Republican Party, and so we wanted
to lay that out, and we’re going to get to it. The other thing we felt strongly is you can’t beat something
with nothing, and that it was very important for moderates and progressives
alike to agree on a way forward, because we have to offer
alternatives to Trumpism. RICHARDSON: So, doesn’t this beg
the question, then, why Trump? You know, what led to this man
at this moment? Is it race? Is it all a reaction
to President Obama? Is it class? All those people who said we’re
upset about neo-liberalism? What do you think brought us
to this point? ORNSTEIN: So, let’s start
with how Trump could win a nomination. And a good part of that, I mean,
we saw the seeds of it laid out in those earlier books, that you
had a party that especially… you know, it goes back
to Gingrich and the 1970s in creating a kind of
tribal atmosphere. RICHARDSON: Let me stop
for a minute on Gingrich, because I think a lot of people
probably don’t understand the extraordinary importance
of Gingrich’s slashing, for example,
of the House budget. Do you want to talk a little bit
about the Gingrich revolution? And also the problem with the…
George H.W. Bush’s tax pledge. ORNSTEIN: So, you have,
starting in 1978, when Gingrich gets elected,
a strategy filled with tactics to win a Republican majority
in Congress, that’s built around
nationalizing the process and destabilizing the system
so that Americans would, at some point,
say they’re all horrible, what could be worse than this, vote the ins out
and the outs in. And that included using
the ethics process as a political weapon, criminalizing policy
differences. It included tribalizing
and recruiting people who believed all of that, and
then he had his moment in 1994. And when Gingrich became
the Speaker, one of the first things he did,
for example, was to defund the Office
of Technology Assessment, which was the independent office
in Congress where scientists and professionals could come up
with data and real facts. And it was… that was the
beginning of the war on science. Now, what you also had, another key figure
in all of this, was Grover Norquist,
who emerged on the outside, of course, with his goal,
as he said, to shrink government to a point where you could actually
drown it in its own bathtub. But the no-tax pledge,
that you could see the changes in the Republican Party
such that George Herbert Walker Bush
had to make a pledge for no new taxes,
and then broke that pledge, and that began a process in which a lot
of Republican voters began to distrust
their own elites. But take that forward to Obama
becoming president, a conscious strategy to vote
against everything, in unity, like a parliamentary party. And to delegitimize him–
the birther business– delegitimize the process
and the people involved, and create the sense
that government was so horrible, yet again, but all of that
worked against them. And E.J. made sure
that we included in our book that famous quote
from John F. Kennedy about “When you ride on the back
of a tiger, you end up inside.” And so, we went into
the 2016 cycle, and I wrote a piece
in the summer of 2015 saying never mind the usual process
where they’re just going to flirt with an outsider
and then pick the usual insider, you know, Jeb Bush,
you had 41, you had Bush 43, the motto in the family,
“No child left behind.” (laughter) And… but that this time,
it was not going to work. They were going to go
with an outsider. And Trump wasn’t necessarily the
one outsider who would emerge, it could’ve been Ted Cruz or it
could have been Carly Fiorina. But when he saw what
was happening in the country and got to the right
of everybody else on the immigration issue,
and also said, “I’ll disparage these
other candidates, “I’ll take on Fox News,
I’m not going to be “like those Republican leaders
who promised “that if we brought them
the majorities “in the House and Senate
they would destroy Obama and everything he stood for,
and none of it happened.” The tough guy,
tough on immigration, that enabled him to emerge,
and the populism in the country, along with having two candidates underwater in terms of
popularity, along with James Comey and some
voter suppression along the way, enabled him to win. RICHARDSON:
Wait, so you’re saying it’s not race or class,
it’s culture? ORNSTEIN: It’s all of the above,
and we can get to that, including economics. DIONNE: Well, let me…
can I talk about the race/class question a bit? First of all, on Trump,
there’s also a factor in the Republican primary. There was a tragedy
of the commons that the Republican Party faced, and every other candidate
had an interest in Trump being defeated, but each of them had a strategy
that involved Trump. So, with Cruz, he assumed
that Trump would eventually fall and he wanted to inherit
his supporters. So he didn’t go after Trump. The other Republicans
were hoping that they would get a one-on-one with Trump and they could beat him, so they didn’t go after Trump. But it wasn’t until too late that the rest
of the Republican Party realized that they had pursued
the wrong strategy. I mean, a few thousand votes,
one debate in New Hampshire may have changed
the whole course of the thing if Marco Rubio had actually
not been pulverized by Chris Christie
in that debate. But, on the race/class thing,
there’s a big debate in the country about
was it racial reaction, was it immigration, was it culture
that elected Donald Trump, or was it economic discontent. And we have a chapter
in the book where we went through
all of the studies. There was a lot of good work
done pretty quickly after the election. And on the one side,
if you look at the studies based on public opinion surveys, there is no question that race,
racial backlash, and immigration and culture played a huge role
in Donald Trump’s election. Even… there are studies
that show that even Obama/Trump voters were reacting on race. Now, that may seem strange,
but think about it. That Mitt Romney and John McCain
did not run race-based campaigns. Donald Trump did. So, there’s no denying
the role of race. On the other hand, if you looked at all of the
studies based on geography, then they pointed
to the economic factors in Trump’s election,
because Trump tended to do far better in places where
not so much high unemployment, but that had… where a lot
of people had been displaced by technological change
or trade, or faced displacement, places with high levels
of anxiety about the economy, formerly…
former factory towns. I mean, even here
in Massachusetts, my dear Fall River
saw an increase in the Republican vote. I mean, we’re so Democratic, we
still voted for Hillary Clinton, but the Republican vote went up in places like Fall River
and Lowell and Lawrence. Well, I don’t know about Lowell,
but Lawrence– the old mill towns. The Republican vote went down
in places like Newton, Wellesley, Cambridge,
here in Boston. And that’s about
economic discontent, so our argument is, essentially,
you’re engaging in a form of denial– you’ve got to avoid
two forms of denial. You can’t deny that race
played a big role in Donald Trump’s election,
but you cannot deny that his election took place
in an economic context where a lot of people
were hurting and were prepared to use a Trump
vote to slap back at the system. RICHARDSON: So, it’s not race
or class, it’s race and class. DIONNE:
Correct, yes. RICHARDSON: Which is not
something everybody says these days. But if that’s the case,
if in fact, we’re looking at sort of cultural, racial,
and class-based support for Donald Trump– or at least
some sort of class, race, cultural-based rift
in the country– here’s the $10,000 question: what do we do now? What do you suggest we do
going forward? Where’s the rubber going
to meet the road? DIONNE:
You… go ahead. ORNSTEIN: So, our book
is really divided into thirds. And you have been really good,
Heather, at taking us through
a third at a time. The first third,
how we got here. You know, the second third
is really on the dangers that Trump represents. The autocracy that E.J.
talked about, the kleptocracy that we could
talk about, which goes on even today. And then what I call
“kakistocracy,” an old word from the Greek
that means government by the worst and most
unscrupulous among us. (laughter) And if you kids know the word
“kaka” you know where that comes from. (laughter) But the last third
is the road map. DIONNE: If nothing else,
you learn a new word by reading our book. It’s worth it just for
kakistocracy. ORNSTEIN:
Goes back to the 17th century. RICHARDSON:
Well, can I just say, that one of my
classicist friends, after the election,
gave me a button that had a stop sign on it
that said, “Kakistocracy”…
“Stop kakistocracy.” And she said,
“I’ve only made seven, because I only knew
seven people who knew the word.” (laughter) ORNSTEIN: When you see, as the
president did the other day, talk about all the vacancies in the key positions
in the State Department, saying, “We don’t need
to fill those positions, because I’m the only one
that matters.” It shows you the narcissism,
and the autocracy, and the kakistocracy
all rolled into one, but to get to the third part,
which is where we go from here, we really first start
with an attempt to come up with an economic policy,
a set of policies that not only can unite
the progressive movement, but have some real appeal
to anti-Trump conservatives that work at addressing
the needs, and desires, and problems
of the working class– not the white working class. RICHARDSON: All right,
so let’s lay them out. Give us marching orders here. ORNSTEIN:
E.J. DIONNE: So, we lay out
sort of a charter for social responsibility
for corporations where we talk about the shift
in our country– in attitudes toward,
and even laws toward the stock ownership
where the only factor that is taken into account
is return to investors, whereas, the long corporate
story in the United States, that corporations were seen as
being given certain privileges, because they had
certain responsibilities. And the way we’ve set up
our laws encourage corporations toward short-termism
that we think is not good for economic growth
in the long run, but it also doesn’t promote
investment in workers, it doesn’t promote
investment in the community. And so we have a series
of reforms there. We talk a lot about displaced…
displaced workers, people sort of hit hard by trade and also by
technological change. And so we talk not only
about job training, and not only
about community colleges, but we also talk about
this vast gulf between different parts
of the country. And so we talk about the need
for a place-based economics. And most of our
economist friends have a certain legitimate
skepticism about place-based policies
because they worry about whether these incentives
can actually work. But there were some policies,
kind of tried experimentally, in the Obama administration
that showed that you actually could
lift up places. You could improve
the circumstances, both in inner cities and in broken,
predominantly white mill towns where you can actually
lift people up. So we have a whole detailed
program where we think if we took these steps,
as a country, we could restore
not just economic growth, but broadly shared
economic growth. Okay, I’m with you. But how on earth is anybody
going to get behind that as a change in American society? How do you lay that out
that we can actually get people behind what I suspect
you’re suggesting, is the idea that the government
should be actively working to help working class people–
all working class people– to find equality of opportunity. How do we get there? Could I jump, just for a second,
into that? I think we just had
an extraordinary lesson in what the country
really thinks in the debate over Obamacare. Because the Republicans assume,
going into that debate, everybody hates Obamacare, they don’t trust the government, and Obamacare never really
got an adequate defense in the period when
President Obama was in office. But one of my favorite political
philosophers is Joni Mitchell, remember, the folk singer? “You don’t know what you got
till it’s gone.” And suddenly, people were
looking at what it would mean to lose Obamacare. RICHARDSON: They didn’t think
they were going to lose it. DIONNE: Right,
and they actually believe Trump. Remember,
Trump sometimes sounded like he was Bernie Sanders. He said he wanted
a healthcare system like they have in Scotland,
which, by the way, is socialized medicine. RICHARDSON:
Coverage for everyone and cheaper than it is now. DIONNE:
Correct. And, you know, so that
when this repeal happened, a lot of Americans,
who had been critical of this or that aspect
of Obamacare, realized, “I have a lot
to lose here, or potentially a lot to lose.” And public opinion shifted
to the point where there was a majority for Obamacare. And on issue after issue,
if you ask people questions about government
in the abstract, people can be quite critical
of government. When you ask people questions
about particular benefits, when you ask them about
Medicare, when you ask them about
Social Security, when you ask them about
student loans, when you ask about
a broad list of programs, Americans say,
“No, that’s right, we want that kind of program because it
helps lift people up.” RICHARDSON:
Well, Americans like an activist government
that helps people. There’s no doubt about it, although they often vote
against that. But what you’re talking about
now is the opposite of what you were talking about
before. You’re talking now
a bottom-up bubbling of “this is what we want,” as opposed to “here’s policies
we think are good.” How do you get that
bubbling up from the bottom translated into some kind of
political movement, when, in fact, we’re looking at
an electoral college that gave us a president
who was elected with the minority
of the popular vote. We’ve got gerrymandering,
we’ve got voter suppression. How on earth does that
bottom-up bubbling translate into reality
under those circumstances? So, I want to talk about
the political reform movement, as well, but just to come back
for a moment to all of this– there are a couple of things
important to remember. Many of the ideas
that we propose are not just sort of standard,
big government things. Some of them are ideas that have
come from colleagues of mine at the American Enterprise
Institute. And that includes job sharing,
ways of using government for incentives for companies
to create jobs, it includes a bipartisan
family leave policy. You can find things
that are not ideological. And if we can somehow–
and this is an uphill battle– reduce the partisan tribalism, and reduce
the strategic moves that, “I’m not going to vote for that
because you’re for it,” we’ve got a chance of making
some of these things happen, and the place-based policies are
really a form of new federalism in many ways. It’s giving a little support
for communities to then take the actions
that can revitalize themselves. So all of that is there,
but what is also the case is that we have both now
an uphill battle given the headwinds of some
of the structural issues in our political system, and a looming, even greater
crisis of legitimacy that would be there even if
Donald Trump weren’t there. The electoral college is one
really important part of this, and, you know, if you go back
to when the popular vote first became significant
in any fashion, in 1824, all the way up through 1996. 172 years, 44 elections,
I believe. You have three elections,
arguably, but really only one where you could say definitively that the winner
of the presidency did not win the popular support
of the country, the majority or plurality
of the popular support. Five elections since… RICHARDSON: You and I are going
to have to argue about that, because I’d say there are four. ORNSTEIN: But, really, a couple
of them are more ambiguous. In 1824, you had popular votes, but it didn’t really matter
much. DIONNE: You had four and it went
to the House, anyway. In 1876, we don’t know
what the result really was. RICHARDSON:
’76… DIONNE:
And 1888. Those three. ORNSTEIN:
Those are the three. But from 2000 on,
five elections, two of them. RICHARDSON:
Two, two of them. So, the trend is clear. And the country has changed
from what the founders had. But the most staggering
statistic that we talk about involves this body, the Senate. By 2040 or so, 70% of Americans
will live in 15 states. Now, that means that
30% of Americans will decide who will sit in 70 of the 100
seats here. 30% of Americans will be able
to override vetoes, overcome filibusters, do all kinds of things
on their own, and that 30% are not at all
representative of the country as a whole. Now, there’s no easy way
to deal with that. Then you throw in
the gerrymandering and the residential patterns
that people have. And I saw a couple of people
tweeting the other day– tweeting today, even– “Well, look at what
the Democrats did in Virginia, “it shows that gerrymandering
doesn’t matter, because they won
all of those seats.” 55% of Virginians voted for
Democrats in the assembly races, and now it looks like
the Democrats will get possibly only 49% of the seats. So that’s because
of the gerrymandering. And as that goes on, the ability of people
in the country to have their will represented
in the country, is going to decline. And we’ve got to some things
that makes changes there. We now know that
in the presidential contest, Wisconsin was basically
given to Republicans because of voter suppression. And we have studies that
make that definitively clear. If we don’t do things to make
voting easier, if we don’t act aggressively
to make sure that Americans who have the right to vote… I was just yesterday
with Martin Luther King III pushing a bill to have voting
on the weekend. His father died trying to get
the right to vote. Lots of people have died. All of those things
are an important part of this that transcend, in some ways,
Trump. But, obviously, Trump and
the people that he brought in are not interested
in many of those changes. RICHARDSON: Well, I’m trying
to push you here, because I think that it’s
correct that we’re in a crisis of legitimacy. That every time you get
a situation like we’ve got now, where you get a president
who’s elected with a minority
of the popular vote, you have the reality
that a lot of people don’t feel like
the government represents them, and we have to fix that, especially with the problems
in the Senate and gerrymandering and voter suppression. But now let’s put the rubber
on the road. How? You people lay out some ideas
that might be interesting for people to hear about. One of the ones I liked,
by the way, was the idea there should be a guarantee
that every time you show up to a poll,
you should be able to vote in less than a half an hour. I’m in. Well, and, in fact,
I mean we have a whole series of voting reforms that actually came out of
a bipartisan commission that President Obama appointed. And the lines are
one of the things that disenfranchises people,
as does the one… you know, voting on a Tuesday. Now, we’ve remedied that some
with early voting, although there have been
some cutbacks in early voting by a number
of Republican states. But the people who lose out
when you have the long lines tend to be working people
who do not have the flexibility in their schedules
that professional people have. We have one extremely
controversial idea that I’d like to talk about, which some people call
“compulsory voting.” It’s really referred to in
Australia, where it comes from, as compulsory attendance
at the polls. There is a small fine levied
if you don’t vote. Now, why… first of all,
our theory is this is a civic obligation, and if you can be forced to do
days of jury duty, it’s not too much to ask
somebody to vote. But the reason I really
like this idea is that suddenly, it turns the tables
on local governments. They can’t do
voter suppression anymore, their job is to make it possible
for you to do your civic duty and avoid the fine. And so you would have
automatic voter registration, and it’s worked marvelously
in Australia. Which, by the way,
also gave us the secret ballot, the Australian ballot, so it’s
a reform we could accept. Now I’m under no illusions
we’re going to get that in this country. I’d love to see some states
try it, but I think it’s
the kind of thing we sort of try to push ahead of where
the consensus might be at various moments. Could I just come back
to one thing on… Norm mentioned
Martin Luther King, and it is also worth remembering
that he died after standing up for sanitation workers
in Memphis. And one of the things
we talk about a lot in the book is a deep need for empathy
in the country. I like to tell the story
I was at an event where I mentioned that
if I had a hat, it would say
“Make America empathetic again.” And a very nice man in the crowd
came up to me and said, “I really like that,”
and two weeks later, I got a hat in the mail
that said “Make America empathetic again.” And my son James said,
“You know, Dad, “that’s a great hat,
except he made it “such a good replica of the
Trump hat that from a distance, everyone would think
you were for Trump, so…” But… so I haven’t worn it
much, but I still love the hat. And we desperately need empathy
across the lines that now divide us. And I think a lot about
the slogan of the 1963 civil rights march,
where Martin Luther King gave that powerful speech. The slogan of that civil rights
march was “jobs and freedom.” And what that told us is that
economic justice and racial justice
go hand in hand, and you can’t have one
without the other. And it’s a really central theme
of this book, that if we start thinking
like that, we will stop
a destructive practice of holding one group’s pain
against another group’s pain. That is not the way
to bring the country together, it’s not the way
to solve our problems. RICHARDSON:
So we’re looking, then, for a new language. I think most of us would agree
with that here. Are you suggesting that we need
leaders and people on the ground to talk about American politics
and America in a new way. Talking about inclusion,
fairness, founding principles of equality,
and equality before the law. Is that what you’re suggesting
we need to start with? I think, at least I feel like,
in the world right now, we all recognize
there’s a problem. We might disagree
about what that problem is, but what I see is people
want someone to give us a direction to go. And what I’m trying
to push you guys on, is you’ve got a…
you’ve got a grab bag of ideas. How do we move forward? We actually have
an optimistic tone in the last part of this book, because we think we can
move forward. And that was before
even yesterday. But, one part of that, too, is
we call for a new patriotism. Donald Trump wants nationalism. And it’s the blood and soil
variety of nationalism. And “Make America great again,”
in his phrase, is really a way of pitting one group
against another. A new patriotism celebrates
the diversity of the country. It celebrates the roots
that we have. Most of us, nearly all of us,
have roots in other countries. And, actually, some of the things that I found
so heartening yesterday, we got a Sikh mayor elected
in a significant city. We have… we’re now starting
to see people respond. And we think that Trump
has provided a jolt. I sometimes likened it
to being our Dunkirk. Where the civil society
now recognizes that others may not be
adequate to the task, we have to step up to it. And if we can change
that language a little bit, and if we recognize that the
jolt is not just Donald Trump. And let’s face it–
if Donald Trump somehow disappeared tomorrow, one, Mike Pence is not exactly
a day at the beach. (laughter) We’d get somebody who is
far more rigidly ideological replacing a president
who has no views on policy. But beyond that,
all of these divisions that we’ve talked about remain. And part of our task,
and a part of the difficult task is we have to separate out
the really evil people– there are evil people there. There are people who are racist,
who are anti-Semitic. And then there are the Wayne
LaPierres of the world as well. And they have to be condemned. But, as E.J. said,
that vast swath of others who may resonate
to some of those arguments, for reasons that don’t reflect
those deep-seated evil things, we have to find a way to talk
to them in a different fashion. And I’m not sure that requires
one leader who can step up and do it. RICHARDSON:
But a new civic language. ORNSTEIN:
It’s a civic language. And now,
one of the heartening things is all the groups
that are forming, including some
from the bottom up, who are trying to do just that. RICHARDSON:
So, in a way, it’s almost as if you’re
marking… you’re marking the resurgence
of the liberal consensus, in a sense. DIONNE:
Well, look… yeah… RICHARDSON: Now go ahead,
I didn’t mean to interrupt you. DIONNE: No, that’s fair, I mean,
it’s a… it’s a kind of modern New Deal consensus,
if you will. It’s a New Deal consensus for a
very different kind of economy, and we’ve got to face up
to the fact that this is… RICHARDSON: Okay,
that’s a crucial point, yes. DIONNE: A different kind of
economy, and we try to be
sensitive to that. One of the ideas, by the way,
we talk about is the program
Elizabeth Warren had, a bill of rights, basically,
for people in the gig economy. We haven’t adjusted
our labor law to protect people in the gig economy, that’s the kind of thing
we really need a much bigger debate over. But let’s talk a little bit–
maybe because I’m smiling– yesterday’s election. You know, that and Kyrie Irving
are pretty good news for all of us. (laughter and applause) I thought I… I’m an old Cel…
I go back to Bill Russell, so it’s great to see Kyrie. Yesterday’s election
for us was heartening, not only because we believe
that President Trump needs a rebuke, but the
whole theory of the book– we wrote a piece
a few weeks ago, off the book, that a lot of people
sort of looked at funny, and the headline
was something like “Donald Trump Could be the
Best Thing That Ever Happened to American Democracy.” Now, we don’t believe
that’s because of what Donald Trump is doing,
we believe that’s what he’s calling forth
from our citizens. And the kind of organization
you’ve seen in civil society, the kind of organizing
on the ground, and the desire
of so many people yesterday to actually go out and vote. In Virginia,
they broke all records. And, you know,
just enormous turnouts. People suddenly realized, you know, if they sort of
were worried about lesser-evil politics or
something in the last election, they know what kind of evil
can happen if you just say, “I’m going to walk away.” And so people aren’t
walking away, they’re walking toward
engagement, and they’re walking toward
participation. And since I’m in Massachusetts,
I want to talk about the best thing ever written
about lesser-evil politics, and it was written by
Barney Frank. And he once wrote an essay
that began, “The only candidate I ever voted for,
without reservations, was myself the first time
I ran.” (laughter) Then he said,
“I looked at my record “and I saw there was some things
I did wrong, “but then I looked
at my opponent, and I decided to vote
for myself again.” (laughter) RICHARDSON: So it strikes me
that we have, in America, four times had to readjust the concept of American
democracy to crises. There was Lincoln
and the movement west, there was Teddy Roosevelt
trying figure out how to make principles of fairness
and equality adjust to industrialization. There was Eisenhower,
trying to figure out how to adjust
to a nuclear world, and now, perhaps,
we have American fairness, justice, and equality trying to
adjust to the new technologies brought to us by the internet. That seems to me
to be a good place to try and wrap up
and take some audience questions to these two gentlemen about
their ideas about the future. There are wandering
microphones here. ORNSTEIN: All that you’ve just
mentioned reflects back on your wonderful book about the history
of the Republican Party, which all of you should read,
and buy, as well. RICHARDSON:
Thank you. MAN: Thank you for coming
and for speaking with us. The one thread that
hasn’t been mentioned tonight, that seems to follow through with everything you’ve said,
is education. When you have people voting against their own
best interests, when you have
the youth of the country that is not learning
the history, the real history, of this country, I believe we’re doing
a disservice. All we’re doing is we’re just
making it easier and easier for people to be buffaloed,
and I believe that we have to. Right now, we’re on the edge
of a burgeoning industry, in and of itself,
with renewable energies. We could basically
put the country to work and eliminate unemployment
if we went in that direction, but we don’t. We’re not educating
our children, we’re not educating our adults. RICHARDSON:
So, what about that? You guys talk about education
in the book. ORNSTEIN: So, there are, I mean,
a lot of ways to answer that. One part of it is,
as Heather was saying, the new world
of communications. When you have people
cocooning in and getting information
from sources that don’t tell them
either what’s happening or give them false information, it’s an uphill battle
to even move beyond that. And I was struck that Fox News
last night went for hours without even
mentioning that there was an election
going on. After some of the results
started to come in. Monica Hess, who wrote a piece,
just recently, on the anniversary of the famous
Access Hollywood
tape, got all kinds of communications
from people saying, “What tape? “I never heard about that,
and I follow the news closely, I watch Fox all day long!” So, that’s a problem. There is that larger problem
of civic education and education more generally. And in many states now,
where you have state governments that are changing textbooks
to alter history, it becomes even more troubling. Now, I would say a couple
of things. One is, this institution is built around the idea
of educating people, especially young people,
about American politics, American history, and what the Senate represents, and I only wish that
Mitch McConnell would spend a little more time here…
(audience laughs) learning about that. We also, among other things, call for
a national service program. And we are always telling kids
to do internships to find out the reality
of what’s going on. But if we continue
to cut funding for education, that first hits arts,
and also social studies, and civic education, if we don’t fight back against
the notion of sanitizing what the country
is really all about, including some of the ugly parts
of the history, but also the diversity
that goes back right to the beginning, then we are not just doing
a great disservice, but we are threatening the very
elements of our democracy. It’s a key point, you’re right. DIONNE: Could I… oh,
give him a round of applause, I don’t want to interrupt that. (applause) Two quick points on that. We actually did make
a lot of progress, as you know, on renewable energy when President Obama
was in office. And there were some
real incentives given to renewable energy
that actually allowed some of these companies
to take off to the point where they don’t need
the incentives anymore. That’s a kind of classic… how can you use government
constructively is you can push the market
in certain directions, and then the market actually
can take over eventually. Second, we talk a lot about
civics education, and I think that
most teachers of civics and, you know, the courses
on state and local government, themselves think that we need
to do far more in our schools about that. And we talk about
linking it with… we have service requirements,
which are good, and we can salute the…
by the way, Ted Kennedy, one his last bills
with Orrin Hatch was a great expansion
of national service that we suggest pushing
even farther. But, you know, we talk about encouraging kids to work on
political campaigns, or to intern for various
agencies of government. So, we need to expand
civic knowledge, but the one thing
I want to caution against is I’m never fully comfortable saying someone else
voted against their interests, because I think people are the
judges of their own interests. And we may passionately disagree
with how they voted. We may, from our point of view,
say, “How can you vote “for this person who’s
cutting taxes on rich people and cutting education?” And we want to have
an argument with them to say we think that
this is a mistake, but I don’t think that we should
look at them as uninformed. We kind of have to
put ourselves in their shoes and say why did they do this? Maybe they don’t trust
government anymore, maybe they’re mad at liberals because these
living standard declines happen under Democratic as well
as Republican administrations. And so I think we have to talk
to people where they are. And I suspect you agree
with that, but I worry about, sort of, you know,
telling another human being or another voter,
“I understand your interests better than you do.” RICHARDSON:
So, education is on the table. We should fund education. What else? MAN: One of the ironies
in the civic education issue is there are a lot of teachers
who will say, “Yes, we want to do this,
we need to do more kind of action civics.” Their parents don’t. The parents of the students
don’t. Which gets to, I think, this sort of general
lack of trust in institutions, and maybe some lack of trust
in democracy itself. A lack of trust that
civic engagement isn’t just some radical plot. So, yeah,
I think there ought to be… DIONNE:
Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton. MAN: Yes, all those radicals,
that’s right. So, that’s going to be a battle,
I think, as much as we think
it’s a good idea. I mean, I think we need
a post-Sputnik response to the kind of civic knowledge or lack of knowledge
that we have now. RICHARDSON:
Interesting comparison, there. MAN: I’m all for keeping
to push that. I do have one question, though. You’re talking about
the need for empathy, which I endorse completely. Is it empathy
or is it a renewed appreciation for this thing called
the “common good”? Have we lost that notion
of the common good? And is that–
empathy is wrapped up in that, but is that one of
the fundamental problems today? DIONNE: I’m a Catholic,
and the common good is right at the heart
of Catholic social thought, so I salute you for that. And, you know, we could talk
about different words that are in the same family. The other word that I think
about a lot is “solidarity,” and we need a lot more
solidarity in our society. Just very briefly, the reason…
we talked about empathy, and we talked about
the alternative words when were writing the book. And the reason we used “empathy”
is that we didn’t mean it as look down your noses
from up here to somebody else’s problems
and think, “Well, I am the savior, I’m going to help
this person down there.” No, empathy is about
our capacity to look at each other and say,
“I can put myself in your shoes” so that, you know,
it seems to me, white people ought to be able
to understand, without struggling too much,
why an African American parent would get very angry
if young African Americans, unarmed, get shot by the police. But I think, also,
African Americans, because they went through
the same experience again, can understand that a guy
who had a decent factory job, who had his wages cut in half when his company
went out of business, they could put themselves
in his shoes, or her shoes, because they’ve been there,
themselves. So that’s why we talk about
empathy, because we are missing that
in this conversation. RICHARDSON: Norm. ORNSTEIN: Just a couple of…
on your first point, one of the heartening things
on the other side is that we are now seeing
young people who, ten years ago, had no interest
in running for office or going into public service
kinds of things. They were going into NGOs
in many cases. Now, there’s a flowering
of people who are interested in running for office. And it’s another part
of the jolt that Trump and Trumpism
have provided, that we’re beginning to see,
at least a lot of us, the stakes here, and what
you can do to get involved. And they may be able to push
their parents, even, in a different direction. That’s a very heartening thing. And another part of that,
by the way, is the number of women now stepping forward
to run for office, the number of women who got
elected in Virginia yesterday. We’re starting to see
some of those changes, and changes at all levels. If you… we’ve had
communities… The Indian American community,
for example. Prosperous people
who didn’t want to get involved in the political arena. Now they are, and now… and
one way is to run for office. That we have a transgendered
member of the Virginia assembly, and one really impressive woman, is a real sign. DIONNE: Who defeated the leading
proponent of the bathroom bill in the state legislature. ORNSTEIN:
Just a word on the common good. I actually ran a program… (applause) I actually ran a program for the American Academy of Arts
and Sciences a couple of years ago on
institutions in the common good, that, among other things,
you know, puts… casts some real doubt
on some of those institutions, including corporations,
which have gone away from any sense
of the common good. A good part of the new
patriotism is to get people back to recognizing that we
really are– to use the cliché– all in the same boat. And if you start shooting at
others in that boat, you’re going to put holes
in the hull and the whole thing
could sink on us. And if we can use that
new civic language, but also get people around
to recognizing what America’s about,
but that we are all Americans, and that it is important
to look at the common good. And a vote in Maine of 59 to 41
for expansion of Medicaid, which meant one whole
hell of a lot of people who weren’t going to get
Medicaid, but understood that
their fellow Mainers could suffer deeply
if it weren’t done, is a sign, a very hopeful one,
that we may be on the verge of something a little better. RICHARDSON: Despite the fact
that the governor says he’s not going to do it, anyway. I would like to say,
I appreciate that you– ORNSTEIN: Mini-me Trump
is the governor’s name. RICHARDSON: Yes. That you mentioned women,
who of course, have taken the lead
in the resistance to the Trump administration
since the very beginning with the Women’s March,
to this day, the largest single day
protest in American history. But we have time
for one more question. Shall we take somebody
from this side of the room? DIONNE:
Oh, yeah. MAN:
Hello. I’m thinking of some
of the polling data, and the way it comes in,
sort of being asked by neutral authors
or neutral researchers, how it doesn’t catch up on, or doesn’t pick up
on the style of Trump and the way his policies
weren’t so popular, people didn’t think his policies
would be carried out, but just their interest
in his style. And I’m wondering, as campaigns continue, whether you think people
are going to start campaigning on a civility stability
type of campaign, or we’re going to continue
to see insurgent, tough talker, stick-it-to-you type campaigns. DIONNE:
Two quick things on that, and I’m sure Norm is going to
want to say something on that. You know, thing one is
I do think that Trump’s simplicity of language actually sounded
to a lot of people like, “Well, whatever else
this guy is, “he’s not a typical politician, and I’m going to go for that.” And it does reflect this loss
of confidence in public life, and government,
and in politicians. I’m one of the last people
on earth who doesn’t see “politician” as an insult, but I know I’m in
a very small minority. And so I think in his
simplicity of language was a particular appeal,
which I think we can understand, because there is a kind of
double-talk that we sometimes hear
in public life that people get
very impatient with. But the other side of that is the sort of
more hateful language, and that was on the ballot
yesterday in Virginia. Ed Gillespie, who historically
was pro-immigration, was basically an amiable
Washington lobbyist and political operative, decided in the last month
of the campaign that the only way
he thought he could win was to mobilize the Trump vote by having these
really vicious ads tying his opponent
to drug gangs, and talking about
the Confederate monuments, and the NFL. I mean, it was just a blatant
effort to turn out a vote that he didn’t think
he could turn out. And my colleague, Greg Sargent,
at theWashington Post,had a very good piece today where it seems to have
been the case that, yes, he did mobilize some
of the old Trump vote, but he may have mobilized
opposition even more, that there were a lot
of Virginians who deeply opposed that,
were deeply offended by that, and he lost that election
by a very big margin. And I think that’s
a real warning to Republicans that this idea that they thought
was so brilliant three days ago, wasn’t so brilliant after all. RICHARDSON: Norm, could you hang
on a little bit so we can take another
question here? WOMAN: I was wondering what
you think about the Koch brothers’ role in getting Trump elected. This summer, I read the book
Dark Money
by Jane Mayer. DIONNE:
Great woman. WOMAN: And it was so
disheartening to read it, because they just seem to have
such deep pockets and a pervasive vision of… RICHARDSON:
Let’s throw this one to Norm. ORNSTEIN:
So, yesterday, Chris Collins, a congressman from New Jersey, who actually was one of the few
who endorsed Donald Trump, Republicans,
said about the tax bill, “My donors have said to me,
‘If you don’t get this done, don’t think we’re going to open
up our checkbooks anymore.'” Now, if you want
a more direct confirmation of theDark Moneythesis, you don’t have it
with anything other than that. And it really is
the big money coming in, and what they want
is that tax bill. And I would say…
and, by the way, what Chris Collins said is very close to what
Chief Justice Roberts called the “American way”
in the McCutcheon decision, which followed
the Citizens United decision, which has opened up
the floodgates, both to dark money
and to a corruption that is allowable
with everything short of the American Hustle,
ABSCAM variety, direct quid pro quo
in return for a vote. But it’s very close to that. And it is an enormous problem
that we have, and Jane Mayer wrote a piece
on the Mercers, who are now
Trump’s biggest funders. And one of the reasons
that many Republicans vote in ways that they know
are for really bad policies is their fear
that if Trump turns on them, the Mercers will open up
the billions, along with Bannon, Hannity, and all the others,
and come after them, and they’re scared to death
of having that happen, and that’s a problem. Now I want to end just by saying
one of the heartening things, though, is that we have
a handful of people inside the Republican Party
in Congress– McCain, Flake, Corker–
who are standing up and saying this hateful language
can’t go on and we need to recapture
the Republican Party, not as a moderate party,
it’ll be a conservative party, but not a radical, crazy party,
and not a party that caters to the darkest instincts
of Americans. And they’ve been joined
by a powerful group of outside intellectuals, from George Will
to Bill Kristol, people you wouldn’t have
imagined before who have been brought into this. Michael Gerson and Jennifer
Rubin and a host of others. And if the election results
yesterday– what we hope will happen is that we’ll get
a lot of people thinking, including elected officials, about what works
and what doesn’t. And it’s not just hateful,
vile campaigns, like the one that Ed Gillespie,
who, I have to say, was a student of mine
in college, as was Terry McAuliffe. But it’s also policies. How can you go forward
after this with the vote in Maine
on Medicaid expansion, and in states
that have refused to do it, basically continue to say no. How can you pass a tax bill
that, among other things, takes away the tax credit
for adoption, this is the pro-life party
damaging adoption. How can you take away
the ability of teachers to give supplies
to their students. One of the most noble acts
I can imagine, out of your own pocket, and take
away the tax deduction for that. And take away the individual
mandate in the healthcare plan, which means more people
without insurance, and higher premiums
so that you can give more money to the Mercers and the Kochs
and the other billionaires. How can you do that now, after you’ve seen the way
Americans have voted? And this is a gut check,
I think. Now there are plenty of problems
on the Democratic Party’s side, and they are no angels, and they have all kinds
of challenges. But right now,
the big challenge we have in the policy world and in
the world of our larger society, and the common good
and the ability to move away from racial divisions,
is on the Republican side. And we just have to hope
that yesterday really does bring some measure of change. RICHARDSON:
How about a final word, E.J.? DIONNE: Well, our book
is ultimately hopeful. And the very title,One Nation After Trump,presumes that there will be
one nation after Trump. And we are hopeful,
as we’ve said already, because of the degree
of mobilization we’ve seen, we are hopeful because America
has made mistakes before, and I think
our greatest capacity is a capacity
for self-correction. You all know
the great Churchill line, “Americans always
do the right thing after first exhausting
all of the other possibilities.” We’re doing a really good job
of that right now. And the title of the book, it is not an accident
that it sounds like the Pledge of Allegiance. By the way, everybody forgets,
the Pledge of Allegiance was actually written
by a socialist. No one talks about that much. But think about
what the final words of the Pledge of Allegiance–
“one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty
and justice for all.” We do not claim to speak
for the almighty, but “indivisible,” meaning we can
come together again, we do not have to live
the way we’ve been living in our politics. “With liberty and justice
for all.” And the way we can
come together, is it a battle for liberty
and justice? I think that battle, actually,
took a great… I think that effort took
a great step forward yesterday. And I think that’s where our country wants to move. And as Norm said,
there are some Republicans who are deeply uncomfortable
and unhappy with where we’re moving now. And I see
on the progressive side people who understand that
you need a very broad alliance, both to defeat
the abuses of Donald Trump, and hasten the day when we can
really look at ourselves and say, yes, this is a country
where liberty and justice rules. (applause) RICHARDSON: I’d like to thank
our panelists, Norm Ornstein and E.J. Dionne. It’s great book,
it’s a fast read, and it covers, most impressively, all the most
recent articles and research that have been done
on the Trump phenomenon. I’d like to thank the institute
for having us, and I’d like to thank
Mrs. Kennedy for being here, and thank, especially,
all of you for coming. Now, it is my understanding
that you can both purchase and have a signed copy
of the Mann, Dionne, and Ornstein book
after this event. Thank you all for coming. Let’s go out and create
a new America! (applause)

One thought on “Getting to the Point: A Conversation with the Authors of One Nation After Trump

  1. Fantastic program featuring powerfully well considered and meaningful insights. Thanks to the EMKI for making such available.

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