Has the Political Establishment Failed America?

Has the Political Establishment Failed America?


Good evening, and
welcome to what I know will be an exciting
and engaging event. My name is Sian Beilock. I’m a faculty member in the
Department of Psychology, and executive vice
provost of the university. As you know, a core value
of the University of Chicago is that of free expression and
rigorous evidence-based debate and argument. It happens in class. It happens when the Astronomy
and Astrophysics Department debates whether they’ll
find life on other planets by the year 2042. It even happens when we
argue about the superiority of the latka versus
the hamantaschen. [LAUGHTER] The university is an
intellectual destination that welcomes vexing
questions, and the thoughtful and challenging
discussions they produce. We are at a time of heightened
political uncertainty and tough questions abound. We therefore thought it would be
a particularly opportune moment to hold an event where members
of our faculty and thought leaders from beyond our
campus could publicly debate one of these
questions, specifically whether the political
establishment has failed America. And we’d like that debate
to happen in a way that involves your participation. We’ll have more on
that in a moment. I want to begin by thanking
the Institute of Politics, the Center for Leadership
and Involvement, and UChicagoGRAD for their work
in conceiving of and planning this event. In that effort, they were
joined by Intelligence Squared, a London-based organization
that excels in producing debates of this sort. Please join me now in welcoming
Hannah Kay of Intelligence Squared. [APPLAUSE] Good evening, everybody. And thank you for the
introduction, Sian. I’m Hannah Kay, and I’m
the executive producer of Intelligence
Squared in London. We are so honored
to have been invited to come here and
stage this debate at the University of Chicago. Now, for those of you
who don’t know much about Intelligence
Squared, we were founded in London 15 years ago. And we’ve made our name staging
Oxford-style debates in which we bring experts, top speakers
from all over the world, to express their opposing
opinions in this sort of structured format. And the idea is that they
slug it out against each other and then we get a result. Now, we’ve had some amazingly
starry names on our stage. But as Sian says, one of
the most important elements of our debates is
you, the audience. And tonight we’re
going to be polling you before the debate starts
and then again at the end. And we’re also looking forward
to hearing your questions. The Q&A is a vital
part of our debate, it keeps the proceedings going. And I have on good
authority that we have a very good
audience here tonight, so I’m really looking forward to
hearing what you’ve got to say. Now it’s time for
the debate itself. I’m delighted to welcome an
absolutely fantastic panel. We have two speakers here from
the university, William Howell and Eric Oliver. And then two who’ve
flown in especially for this debate, Michael Eric
Dyson and Jennifer Rubin. And chairing the
proceedings, I’m delighted that we have Mary
Ann Ahern from NBC Chicago. So please would you
give a very warm welcome to all our speakers? Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Hello, everyone. I’m Mary Ann. So good to see you. What a great crowd here tonight. We’re going to have
a wonderful time. It’s going to be fantastic. Hannah did not
tell you something that I think is
quite interesting. The debate topic,
believe it or not, was chosen before
the election results. Imagine that. [LAUGHTER] And also this interesting fact. Donald Trump, just days
before the election one of his very final
ads highlighted what he called the failed
corrupt establishment. Saying he wanted to stop
that corrupt machine, they had delivered
nothing at home, and were a disaster overseas. That was then. This is now. So we have a new
political establishment, and we have issues each day. My newsroom is
buzzing every day. Who would think that
the White House press briefing will be command
viewing every afternoon? But it is. From the travel ban
to the transgender bathrooms to the drug prices
to the anti-Semitic actions to the number of women in
Donald Trump’s cabinet, four out of 23. So tonight’s debate could
just not be more timely. Let’s get started. And you are going to take
part in this as well. Our topic, the
political establishment has failed America. In a moment, I’ll be asking you
to vote on this motion using your cell phone. After that, we will hear
the opening speeches of our speakers. And then I will announce,
after their speeches, the results of that first vote. Then I’ll be taking questions. So be thinking of your
questions tonight. And then we will encourage
discussion and debate between the speakers. The speakers will then close
the debate with a short summing up of tonight’s topic. And then we will have
one more final vote. So here is our question. Get those cell phones ready. Has the political
establishment failed America? For, against or don’t know. Here are your
voting instructions. Using your smartphone,
go to www.menti– M as in Mary– www.menti.com. The code you need to
enter, 15, 14, 42. And cast your vote for,
against, or don’t know. Has the political
establishment failed America? I will announce the results
at the end of the opening speeches. What if we don’t
have a smartphone? Good question. We’ll vote for you. Can you log on any way? Do you have a tablet
that you might be able to log on to Menti.com? And what will these votes be
used be used for, this poll? We were– it’s mainly
for this exercise to see. We want to see ahead of time
where folks stand tonight before the speeches. We will be comparing it at
the end of the speeches to– whether or not– perhaps
they were very persuasive and maybe changed your view. So that’s how the
votes will be used. All right, has everyone
cast their vote? For, against or don’t know. All right. Let’s get started. Our first speaker for the
motion, Michael Eric Dyson. Michael is one of America’s
most distinguished public intellectuals. He is a professor of sociology
at Georgetown University, and an ordained minister. He just might hug you tonight. He has written prolifically
on politics, race, religion and music. His latest book is called
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America –
he will be signing those books at the end of the evening- in
which he urges whites to awaken to black suffering. Mr. Dyson, your turn. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Thank you so kindly, Ms Ahern. Has the political
establishment failed America? I think you know
the answer to that. Hell yes. [LAUGHTER] Notice the question is not,
has government, qua government, failed America? We don’t believe that. The permanent management of
relations between citizens and the state, and the efficient
management of interactions between citizens and
their representatives, adjudicating competing
claims about what is right and wrong, rival
versions of the good that are asserted and
established, we believe in that wholly and fully. But the political establishment,
the particular administration of justice – or
injustice, the capacity of citizens to organize their
dissent or their complicity or their consent with
existing arrangements, are a different
matter altogether. We can love government,
support what it means, the American democratic ideals
that the founding fathers, though imperfectly, powerfully
nevertheless articulated as the predicate for the
expansion of the American dream and this rigorously
presumed and pursued experiment in democracy. But this establishment,
this political establishment has failed America. And politics in
particular are about what? The delivery of critical
resources in a time of crisis to vulnerable populations. The delivery of critical
resources in a time of crisis to vulnerable populations. So that the state
exists to serve the needs of the citizens,
not to subordinate them. And we look at the
political order right now, we understand that we are
living in an infamous age of relegating the authority
and the intelligence that are usually concomitant with the
election of an executive chief to a toddler. The reality is that this
political establishment has subverted the
very principles that ought to be the predicate
for our existence together as citizens. They have failed the people who
most need the resources now. If politics, in
one definition, is the delivery of
critical resources to a vulnerable population
in a time of crisis, who have they failed? They have failed women. We have a person
in office now who believes in grabbing
women’s private parts, and then blaming hip hop
culture for his errant ways. Please do not
blame Biggie Smalls for your intemperate fits. Biggie said “some say the ex
makes the sex spectacular. If it’s all right with
you, tonight we’re loving.” That’s the pursuit of
consent as the predicate for reciprocal engagement. [APPLAUSE] Women are reduced to
persona non grata, continue to live beneath
the level of many men who do the same job, 70% to 75%
of $1 of what a man makes. This is not solely or
exclusively the, if you will, the permission or the
behavior or the responsibility of the state. But the state intervenes
in such serious fashion and fails politically to observe
the need to fight patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism. Who else are suffering? People of color are
suffering, are being failed by this government. African-American people
continue to be within the matrix of radical inequality. The job performance
of black people does not measure
their employment. The unemployment of black
people has routinely tracked and then doubled that of
white brothers and sisters. So we know that, again,
the state may not be exclusively
responsible, but some of the public policies
that have been put forth in the name of
political conservatism have undermined
subverted and distorted the capacity of the
citizens to exist freely within the marketplace. Who else are being– who else is being, if you
will, disserved and failed? Muslim brothers and sisters,
and other religious minorities in America. We do not live in
a Christian nation. This is not the Christian
nation that the founding fathers imagined. They didn’t imagine
a Christian nation. They were not the
evangelical pietists that many contemporary people
who claim to be their legatees celebrate. Benjamin Franklin did not
believe in it very much at all. When Thomas Jefferson
took to the New Testament he sliced away under the edges
of a radical empiricism all of the miracles. This ain’t yo mama’s religion. So that this is not
a Christian nation. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
as a Christian minister, sought to make this
a better nation by using his religion to expand
the parameters of justice. So many of our political figures
have appealed to Christianity to shrink the dimensions
of our justice and to reduce it to a narrow
parroting form of Christianity that is neither powerful nor
secure for our human community. Who else is being underserved? Young people. [APPLAUSE] Young people are being
failed by this government. Young people are seen as the
flotsam and jetsam in life, marginalized,
dogged and dismissed because of their choices
in hair or their earrings or their nose rings
or their body staples or their ability to express
dissent in American culture. They are demonized
and dismissed, and yet they are the basis
for the brilliant, beautiful imagining of a different
future in America. “Somebody wake me, I’m dreaming. I started as the
seed, the semen. Swimming upstream, planted
in the womb while screaming.” That is the existence
of so many people who have been
marginalized, but they see something better and
brighter and more beautiful. And politics have failed them,
and they have announced it with brilliance and
not with bitterness, and the determination
to reorganize the logic of American democracy. Who else has been failed? The white working class
that voted overwhelmingly for an ostensibly
blue class billionaire who has no understanding
of or appreciation for the average white brother
or sister in this nation. This president will
not speak to you. The political
establishment and order that he is organized
around him is equally bigoted, vicious, insular,
predatory and incapable of imagining
another human being, being themselves, or imagining
themselves being somebody else. And so, my brothers
and sisters, when we look at this
political order, it has failed the American citizen. Not only the white
working class, but the average American
citizen whose status will not be elevated, whose
depth of commitment to our own government is
not being encouraged because of the cynicism that has
creeped into the relations between citizens
and those who are their ostensible
representatives. So we must declare
that those of us in the embrace of the original
ideals of the founding fathers and mothers must believe that
this nation can get better progressively, but not without
a serious dose of dissent. Not without rejecting
the political order that has failed to acknowledge
the fundamental humanity of the citizens of the
United States of America who are due the recognition
of their citizenship by representatives who are
not trying to impose arbitrary conceptions of democracy upon
them, but listen to them, embrace them and
encourage them to live full lives under the public
policies that are put forth. Not public policies motivated
by hate or resentment or keeping Mexicans out or
banning Muslims or demonizing women or distorting
young people or putting a knife in the back of the
average American white brother and sister. Malcolm X says
there’s no such thing as putting a knife in my
back nine inches pulling it out six inches and
calling that progress. This is not progress. In American society
you and I are fully participating in a drama,
an experiment that goes back to the founding fathers. What did they hope? What did they inspire those
who came behind them to do? To take seriously the
intimacy of our associations and to be able to reproduce the
beauty, the power, the virtue of American citizenship. And in doing so to be able to
embrace one another as brothers and sisters in a common effort
to make this nation the best that it can be. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Said that the ideals of American society
prevail, but until there is hope there will not be
a matching of our ideals with our reality. And in the end, the great
philosopher, Sean Carter, who was just inducted into
the Songwriters Hall of Fame said, politics? No. Government? No. ‘F’ government. People– government
among themselves. The politics are for the people. That’s why we must see that
this government is strong only when we acknowledge that
this particular political establishment has failed
the ideals of not only us, but the great founding fathers
and mothers who put them into order. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Mr. Dyson. [APPLAUSE] Our first speaker
against the motion, Eric Oliver, professor
of political science here at the University of Chicago. Eric’s interests include
contemporary American politics, suburban and racial politics,
political psychology, and the politics of science. He has recently completed
papers about public support for conspiracy theories, whether
liberals and conservatives name their children differently,
and conducting research on the biological foundations
of political cognition. Professor Oliver? Thank you, Mary Ann. [APPLAUSE] Thank you all for coming out. That’s a very hard
act to follow. [LAUGHTER] I was actually very
nervous about this, and I spoke to my wife,
Thea, and I told her about my nervousness. And Thea, she’s
really wonderful. She’s very loyal and supportive. And she said,
“Don’t worry honey, you’re going to be great.” And I said, “But honey, I’m
debating against Will Howell,” and she knows Will, “and
Michael Eric Dyson.” She’s seen him on TV. She’s like, “Well I’m
sure you’ll do fine.” [LAUGHTER] And then finally
I tell her, “But I mean to be arguing
against the proposition that the political establishment
has failed America.” And she said, “You’re toast.” [LAUGHTER] It’s easy to
appreciate her point. The proposition on the table
is powerful and alluring. And as our opponents
will point out, there are plenty of
reasons to think it’s true. Whether it’s the
ongoing problems of racial discrimination,
the growing chasm between rich and poor,
or the chronic dysfunctions on Capitol Hill, it’s
hard not to suspect that at some core level
America’s political leadership is clearly not working. Indeed this proposition
is so captivating it helped propel an infantile,
fatuous bigot into the White House. Throughout his campaign,
Donald Trump ceaselessly invoked the political
establishment as the principal source for
all that is wrong with America, and that he alone as an
outsider would fix it. Millions of Americans agreed. If there was a single
theme that underlie Trump’s unlikely success,
it is the proposition we are debating tonight. And therein lies the
challenge and the problem of the affirmative side. For when thinkers as smart
as Michael and Will suddenly find themselves agreeing
with Donald Trump, something is clearly amiss. [LAUGHTER] Before I go any further,
let me be clear about one important thing. Arguing against the proposition
is not the same thing as celebrating the status quo. We are not here
to say everything is hunky dory in America. Whether it’s issues of
poverty, racial injustice, or environmental
degradation, our country faces enormous challenges. But these challenges
are not the proposition we have been asked to
debate here tonight. The proposition we
are debating tonight is whether the
political establishment has failed America. This is a proposition,
despite all its appeal, that we should be very wary of. For this proposition is
emblematic of Donald Trump’s world view. Indeed to endorse
this proposition is to endorse Donald
Trump’s way of thinking, for the same type
of thinking that asserts the political
establishment is failing us also labels all Muslims as
terrorists, that believes guns make us safe, or that assumes
vaccines cause autism. It represents the same
type of intuitions that tell us the world is
flat, that all strangers are our enemies, and
that our problems can be solved if we put our blind
faith in a strong dictator. In short, the proposition
represents the very impulses that are the enemies
of liberal democracy. To explain this point,
let me take a brief detour into the science
of the human mind. Over the past few
decades, psychologists have come to recognize that we
are rarely as rational as we’d like to believe. The problem is, as the Nobel
Prize-winning psychologist Danny Kahneman notes,
our minds are lazy. We may pride ourselves on the
infallibility of human reason, but even our best thinking is
usually chock full of errors. This is because of how
our intuitive minds work. Rather than looking
for the best answers, our intuitions look for
the quick solutions. It uses distorting shortcuts. It relies on
stereotypes and fantasy. It confuses the internal
reality of our hopes, anger and fear with the
external reality of the world. And in politics the laziness
of our intuitive thinking also gets us into trouble. It leads us to believe in
myths and superstitions, to follow conspiracy
theories and fake news, and for many folks, to think
that a charlatan like Donald Trump is an honest
and capable leader. The proposition we
are debating tonight is emblematic of the laziness
of our intuitive minds. Let me just give you an example. Take the subject “the
political establishment.” this is a favorite
bogeyman of Donald Trump. But– and conspiracy
theorists around the globe. The very term presumes a
small group of power gropers with godlike omniscience and
a singular intentionality. In reality, such an
entity does not exist. American politics are
far more complicated and pluralistic than
such a single stereotype. Washington has multiple
centers of political power with varying degrees
of influence that shift with the electoral tides. Power is not shared just between
Congress and the presidency, but with the courts, the
bureaucracy, and state and local governments. These myriad groups are
rarely, if ever, in alignment. Think about it. Do Bernie Sanders and Marco
Rubio really work in lockstep? Are lobbyists for Exxon Mobil
and lobbyist for Greenpeace really in cahoots? Do Fox News and
Rush Limbaugh really have the same goals as the New
York Times and the Huffington Post? And are all these groups, which
clearly fall under the umbrella of “the political establishment”
equally culpable for all that ails us? Of course not. In truth, when people
blame the establishment they are looking for a
convenient and mythical scapegoat. Remember, our complex and
multi-layered political system is shaped as much
by historical forces and longstanding procedures
as by groups of individuals. Its’ successes and
failures must be viewed through the
wide lens of history as much by the short view
of contemporary politics. But, most of the time, such a
perspective is too hard for us to muster. So instead, we look to
blame a singular entity. It’s far easier to rail against
the mythical establishment than to appreciate
the safeguards of statutory regulations,
the historical precedents of judicial review, or
simply the challenges of ideological polarization
within a system of divided government. This of course also makes
the job for Jennifer and I much harder. For what we are asking
you to do tonight is to transcend the
natural tendencies of your own thinking. To look beyond the partisan
or ideological impulses that lead us to
fabricate such a thing as a political
establishment in order to rush to sweeping to
conclusions like failing America. We must resist the impulse
toward this type of thinking. Liberal democracy is the
byproduct of the Enlightenment. It is the byproduct of reason. It relies on a bedrock
of reason, deliberation, and dispassionate thought. It depends on
counterintuitive notions about tolerating dissent
and valuing compromise. The true enemy of
liberal democracy is not the tyranny
of autocrats, it is the tyranny of wrong
impulsive error-prone thinking. Tonight we offer
you the opportunity to stand up for reason, to
fight the cheap rhetoric of demagogues and– demagogues and
propagandists, and to affirm our highest ideals rather
than our base impulses. If you want to cast
a vote in favor of the values of free
speech, independent thought and liberal democracy, then
vote against the proposition on the table. Thank you. Professor Oliver, thank you. [APPLAUSE] Professor Oliver. [APPLAUSE] Our second speaker for the
motion, William Howell, professor of the Sydney Stein– Sydney Stein professor
in American politics here at the
University of Chicago. He holds appointments in the
Harris School of Public Policy, the Department of Political
Science, and the college. Mr. Howell has written
widely on separation of powers issues in American
political institutions, especially the presidency. He is currently working
on a book provisionally called “The Wartime President.” It examines the impact
of war on the power that US presidents
wield at home. Professor Howell. [APPLAUSE] Has the political
establishment failed America? So let’s be clear. What the political establishment
is requires some definition. And it doesn’t
require us to think that it’s a singular entity. And certainly, saying that the
political establishment has failed America
does not require us to– if we come out
in the affirmative, to say that then we’re
casting our lot with Trump and Trump’s way of thinking. It requires us to think
critically, absolutely, about what that establishment
is, what it does, and to think about a set
of evaluative criteria we might bring to bear in
order to judge its performance. So I want to do a little bit of
that for the time that I have. The case for this motion,
it’s worth noting, really has less to do, at least
in the beginning, with argument and more to do with awareness. We don’t need to
be clever, we just need to be a little cognizant. What are we looking
at right now? Well for the first time in
our nation’s history we just had a presidential election with
both of the major candidates had disapproval
ratings north of 50%. We currently have a former
reality television show star with no political experience
serving as president, wreaking havoc in D.C. Monday
to Friday, and on the weekends playing golf and– when he’s
not attending to foreign crises from the public confines of
the resort’s dining patio. The president’s chief adviser
is a conspiracy-minded leader of the alt-right. Betting markets currently
have Trump’s odds at making it through his first
term in office at about 50%. At town hall meetings
across the country, apoplectic citizens are tearing
apart chastened legislatures. In 1964, 77% of
the American public trusted the government
in Washington to do the right thing all
the time or most of the time. Today at 19%. 74% of Americans believe
that most elected officials put their own interests
above the interests of the American people. All of 19% of Americans
today believe that Congress is doing a good job. Washington, D.C. generally,
and Congress in particular, is, as it’s always been,
mainly a feeding trough for special interests
and lobbying groups. The ideological moorings of
both of the major parties have all but disappeared. Republicans have
become the party of nativists and plutocrats
and a good deal of racists. And Democrats, who
now are decisively the minority party in
America, have lost their voice and vision for a whole host of
issues from which they’ve once found energy: a sense of
commitment to the poor, to the dislocated, and
to the disenfranchised. And the dominant sentiments
in American politics today are ones of anxiety,
disillusionment, outrage and disaffection. For this state of affair you
bet the political establishment is to blame. They’re not uniquely to
blame and they’re not equally to blame, but
they have responsibility. And we need to be
clear about the nature of that responsibility,
for to do otherwise is to deny the
possibility of leadership to recognize that we– that
leaders in our republic have a role in structuring the
kinds of debate we’re going to have about our
issues and offering reasonable,
responsible solutions. Just as to deny– to suggest otherwise
is to deny the need for any kind of accountability. Look, there are
massive literature’s within political
science which show that the capacity of average
citizens to reason critically depends upon the choices
that are put before them, and the choices that are put
before them are structured by the two major parties. Just as there are
big literature’s that suggests the ways in which
average citizens take cues off of political elites
in order to figure out how to navigate a political
space in which they don’t have a whole lot of
information and they’re trying to make their way. This mess that we have before
us was not foisted upon us by the unruly masses. They may have
responsibility too, but the motion before us
is about the political establishment and whether or not
they have a responsibility. . And there clearly
the answer is yes. Look there are a number
of ways in which you might evaluate the labors
of this establishment. Let me suggest a few. One is we might think about the
extent to which they represent the views– the things that the
political establishment does represents the views of
a broader electorate. We can think about that. We can think about
the extent to which the political establishment
fulfills basic normative objectives like
justice or equality. We might too think
about the extent to which the political
establishment acts in ways that are consistent
with the expectations of our founders. There’s a fourth one,
though, which is namely the extent to which the
political establishment solves problems. And I want to talk
about that last one. We can be critical about all
four but that last one for me really resonates. Let’s think about the political
establishment track record on addressing a few issues. The climate. 2016 was the hottest
year on record. 2016, replacing 2015, which
previously was the hottest year on record, which
replaced 2014, which was the hottest year on record. The climate is warming. Ask yourself what does the
political establishment doing. What is Congress, the
presidency, the courts, our major parties, what
are interest groups doing about this issue in a
way that is responsible and that allows for us
to actually move forward in a way that addresses
this very real problem? The total national debt. Think about the
debt now, currently stands at $19 trillion dollars. It’s over 100% of GDP. We haven’t seen these
heights since World War II, and then we only
saw them briefly. What are we doing
about the debt? The tax code,
unbelievably complex. If you look at the tax code,
in 1940 the federal tax code was roughly 500 pages in length. Today it’s over
75,000 pages long. Nobody would write a tax code
from scratch like the one that we have. What are we doing about that? Social Security reserves
are declining right now. The trust fund looks like it’s
going to be depleted as early as within the next 18 years. What are we doing about that? For the last 40 years,
income inequality has been increasing such
that the gap between those in the top 1% and the
rest of the population is greater today than
it’s been in a century. You don’t need to buy
into Trump’s dystopian view of the world in order to
recognize that we, as a country face real challenges. And assigning culpability
to those people who are in positions of power to do
something about these problems is not to buy into a
Trumpian way of thinking. It’s to come to terms with
the very real challenges that we face. Let’s be clear, there are
serious and legitimate debates to be had about
the purposes of government, about what constitutes a
solution to different problems, about whether or not
the government ought to play any role in addressing
certain kinds of problems. The truth of the
matter is, though that we’re not having
those serious debates. Or more exactly,
politically elites are doing a miserable job
of structuring those debates in ways that create
space for citizens to enter into, to drawing
information about, to meaningfully
engage one another. Watch the debates
that are happening on the floor of Congress–
the debates about what’s happening on the floor
of Congress on C-SPAN, and see whether or
not you’re enriched in your understanding about the
challenges that we as a country face. Members of the political elites,
they deny science rather than engage it. They act as though tomorrow’s
burdens do not exist, and that we have no
responsibility for the matter. And they debase our conversation
rather than elevate it. What does, then,
failure looks like? Failure takes a number
of different forms. Sometimes it takes
the form of a refusal to fashion any
response whatsoever to an observed problem. We do nothing in the face
of mounting problems. That’s one kind of failure. Another kind of
failure is the refusal to learn from and update
past efforts to address a particular problem. I would venture to say
that we aren’t seeing the kind of return that we
ought to see in issues involving like health and education where
we spend a great deal of money, and yet there’s a lot
of evidence of failure. What are we doing
about that failure? Not a lot. And sometimes what
failure looks like is the passage of
legislation that has these fantastic, glorious
names that promise the world and yet deliver very little. Rather, what they
consist of the most part are cobbled-together
concoctions that are meant to buy votes
of individual legislators so that they can satisfy
the organized interests of back home in order
to– in order to advance their electoral prospects. But they don’t actually
solve problems. There are a host of reasons
why we don’t solve problems. The parties today are
as polarized as they’ve been in 40 years– excuse me, in a century, and
they’ve gotten increasingly over the last 40 years. There’s a sense in
which legislators have lost their way. There also is a way
in which the structure of our political institutions,
by constitutional design, gets in the way of our
ability to solve problems. What are we to do about this? Well, we need to
about, seriously about institutional reform. We need to think about how we
might refashion our government in ways that allow us to
meaningfully, artfully, responsibly solve problems. And so I would put
before you, what are our political elites doing? What kinds of
conversations are they offering about how we might
refashion our government so that it can do a better
job of meeting the very real problems that we face? And the answer is
clearly, they’re doing close to nothing at all. What they do is they speak
from their local, parochial electoral concerns
and they do– then they do close to nothing when
it comes to actually meeting the challenges before us. Is the political
establishment failing us? You bet it is. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Our final speaker against
the motion is Jennifer Rubin. Jennifer is a journalist who
writes the “Right Turn” blog for The Washington
Post, offering opinion from a conservative perspective. She covers domestic and
foreign policy issues, and provides insight into
the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Jennifer previously worked
at Commentary, PJ Media, Human Events, and
The Weekly Standard. Welcome. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s a pleasure to be back
with Intelligence Squared. I don’t think they told Eric
that I had done one of these before in New York for
Intelligence Squared. I lost really badly. But perhaps Chicago
will be the second try. I think Eric has
done a marvelous job unending and upending
the notion that there is a single political
establishment, there is a thing out
there turning the dials, hoarding the wealth,
making sure minorities and women are oppressed. It reminds me, our opponents
that is, of The Adjustment Bureau, if you saw that movie. The principle behind
that movie was that there’s a
little band of folk and they zip in and
out of buildings and behind the scenes, twitching
this decision, moving this one. This guy’s car breaks down. This person gets elected. And they monkey with us so we
have the illusion of free will, but we really don’t. I don’t think that’s the
way the real world works. I think that’s a movie version. It’s interesting that our
opponents would give you an ahistorical, ethno-
and America-centric view of the question. Because if you look at American
democracy, American society, American economy, it is worse,
except for all the rest. And that’s really what
we’re talking about. We’re talking about a
level of perfection, a level of human
accomplishment that no society in the history of mankind has
ever come as close to meeting as ours. And so the question
before us, and I like that Will went
back to the question because that’s really
the issue, is not should the political
establishment to be doing a better job, or
is there too much inequality. It’s the political
establishment has failed us. And when I hear that– I don’t know if you
caught it today or not. Mr. Bannon was at a gathering
of his alt-right friends and he said his
mission is to destroy the administrative state. He’s talking about
the establishment, it’s democratic norms, it’s
democratic institutions, it’s a free and separate press. It is the America that does
not work for some people, but works better than
any other system. And that we will miss
terribly once it’s gone. And I do wonder
why we are failing more if the establishment
is so clever. After all, Mr.
Trump got elected, and he was not the choice of
the establishment, was he? We may objectively
think that he is, but “the establishment”
was what he ran against. So how can it be both
Trump and the other guys? That doesn’t make much sense. I also want to take issue with
this sort of reverse notion that we live in the worst of
all possible times and the worst place on the planet. We are not perfect, but when
you give some perspective, which is what a university
education should provide us all, perspective, historical
setting and facts, you get a different picture. So let’s talk some facts. Will talked about health. 1959 life expectancy
was 69.9 years. It’s now 78. 1959 about 30% of our
country lived in poverty. Now it’s 13.5%. Donald Trump likes to tell us
that we live in a war zone. It’s not true. This is the sort
of catastrophizing, the sort of false dystopia. In fact, it’s about– the crime rate’s about half
of what it was in 1991. It doesn’t mean
there isn’t crime. It doesn’t mean that
we have failed America. It means that we haven’t
eradicated crime, but we’ve done a pretty good job
of reducing it substantially. We talk about the environment. You know, those dastardly elites
are working on the problem. They did enter into
Paris Agreement And what’s more, if you look
at non-greenhouse gases, we’re at a point
in human history that we’ve never attained
since the beginning of the industrial age. Since the late 1970s, pollutants
in the air have plunged. Lead pollution is down 90%. Carbon dioxide and sulfur
dioxide has been reduced 50%. By nearly every standard,
the water we drink, the air we breathe is better. Is it perfect? No. But these are the results
of imperfect human efforts to make our society better. But I’ll tell you, if
you want real inequality, if you want real discrimination,
If you want real poverty, go to a country that isn’t a
liberal democracy, that doesn’t have the rule of law,
that doesn’t have a market economy like Russia. Life is much worse there. In fact, it’s much worse
just about every place on the planet. You see, unfortunately
for us, there is an arrogance of the present. All of our problems,
like a teenager, never have been by
anyone else before. Our experience is completely
unique, completely terrible, the worst of all
possible worlds. But we know that
simply isn’t the case. Progress is imperfect. We have deep, deep
racial, ethnic divides. What the president
is doing with regard to undocumented
immigrants is obscene. And yet, we don’t have
institutionalized, legal Jim Crow in this state. We have a court in Washington
state that issued an order. How establishment,
the court system. And it stopped the
president in his tracks. He’ll try again. But we have a court system that
is designed to contain people like Donald Trump. I wish there was a golden
era that we could return to or that we could go forward
to, or some place on the planet that didn’t have these horrible
elites and we could just, I don’t know, make our own
food and sew our own clothes and all that kind of stuff. But in fact, a lot of
what we’re talking about is, I’m sorry, the
inevitable result of complex, modern,
globalized society. And there are tradeoffs. When we elevate
science, we lose faith. When we have independence and
mobility, we lose connectivity. These are the ebb and flow
of large historical forces that does not absolve us of
choice and of responsibility, but it should empower us. It’s easy to say
things are terrible, they failed, throw
out the system. But where do you get without it? You know, the Shakespearean
line from Henry VI is greatly understood,
“kill the lawyers.” Everybody thinks it’s
a dig on the lawyers. As a recovering lawyer, I know
it’s not a dig on the lawyers. What the point of
the comment was is that once you take away
the architecture of society, of a, at that time was the
most civilized society on the– at least in the Western
world, you’re left with chaos. You’re left with brute force. So careful what we should
wish for about overthrowing democratic norms,
democratic institutions, and independent press,
a court system that does hold the executive. When we get down
to it, it’s only the arrogance of
our own time that would lead us to believe
that if we only wanted to we could eradicate poverty,
if we only wanted to we could eradicate racism. These things are hard, but
we are working on them. And we needn’t absolve
ourselves of responsibility, hand over our lives to
the man on the white horse and in the orange face
and let him tell us that there’s a nirvana out
there in which all will be well. That’s not how grownups in a
liberal, small L, democracy behave. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] All Right. We’ve heard from our speakers. Here’s the pre-vote. Before they spoke, as
you can see, 65% of you here tonight thought yes,
the political establishment has failed America. 24% has said no,
and 11% don’t know. We’ll be taking another
vote later this evening. But first, now we’d like
to get to your questions. We have folks stationed
throughout the floor as well as in the balcony. And we want to
make sure that you phrase your question as a
question, not as a statement. And let’s hear– have you stand
when you have your question, please. And we’d like to
do several of them. If you’re ready with a
question, please raise your hand so we can get to
you because we want to keep this going, a
great discussion going. So let’s get folks throughout. Can I see where we are? Let’s see. Let’s go with 1, 3, 4. Number 1, please? Would you please stand? There so my question
for the panel is that it seems
like in both sides, throughout the course of the
election, and certainly ongoing now, has defined
each other as being part of the very
establishment that they claim to be opposed to. I could offer
plenty of examples, but I’m sure that’d be
an exercise in futility for our panelists. So my question for both
sides is, how exactly do you define an establishment when
that very terms is being used as basically linguistic
ammunition for both sides of the political divide? Michael, would you
like to take that one? Sure. It’s an excellent
question, by the way. And it is true that the language
has been deployed on each side. But as was said
earlier, not equally. There is a way in
which, as you notice, our opponents resort
to ad hominem– slight, clever, curious. But there was no ad
hominem on our side. We didn’t resort to
name calling about, oh you must clearly
believe in dystopia and that Donald Trump is part
of the very establishment that you abhor. Poor So when you hear people on each
side talk about establishment, you’re absolutely right. And our last speaker
of course queried as to how one might
be able to criticize the establishment when
Donald Trump was not part of the establishment. Oh but I do disagree. The feces excreted into the
diaper that is his Tweets– [LAUGHTER] –was fed to him by Eric Cantor,
John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and other established
figures like Paul Ryan, who demonized poor people, who
pathologized people who were not part of their
particular ideological grind, who were not part
of their party. It was much more subtle. It was much less
obviously vicious, but that
establishmentarian thinking fed and fueled the
likes of Donald Trump. Never forget,
Frankenstein is the name of the doctor, not the monster. The doctor creates the monster. Donald Trump is–
I hate to tell you this because I know many of
you are not familiar with this. This is what people of
color have been trying to tell you about whiteness. Now you’ve got an
example in Donald Trump. [APPLAUSE] Donald Trump– [APPLAUSE] Donald Trump is the face
of a revulsively innocent, an immature, infantile
refusal to acknowledge grown-up theories,
as you have said. And the refusal to
do so seems to be displaced from the very
people and processes that produced him. But they’re not. He is just the most
idiomatic, extravagantly evil, some would say – I
would say problematic, expression of what is a
deeply entrenched reality. So, yes sir, there
are accusations of establishment on both sides. But I would argue,
Martin Luther King, Jr., when he said, I’m against
the political order, said that there
is a higher order. There’s a deeper
moral ambition that we should encourage in each other. And those are the
kinds of things that I have in mind
when I speak about that. It doesn’t relieve us
of accusing each other of the establishment. But ultimately, I
think sensitive, sensible, insightful
citizens make a decision predicated upon their
understanding of what really has been deeply entrenched
and established, and those things that are trying
to get them in right order. Jennifer, maybe you’d
like to counter that. Well, I don’t think
your question got answered because
it was essentially, how can everyone be
the establishment? How can this one be
the establishment, that one be the establishment? We still have not
heard the definition of the establishment. Is at the head of the FDA? The head of Greenpeace? Mitch McConnell? Hillary Clinton? Nancy Pelosi? At some point the term becomes
meaningless because it is. We have people of
various political views– and by the way, Donald
Trump and Eric Cantor don’t agree on most anything. So we can easily kind of slop
it all together in one big mush and say, the establishment. But who are we
really talking about? And your question was
perfect because by saying the establishment, it
absolves individual citizens of making distinctions,
of making choices. This candidate is a better
candidate than this one. This policy is a better
policy than that one. Participatory
democracy, citizenship, requires that we not simply
lump everyone together and say they’re all equally bad. That’s moral relativism
of a really heinous type. If everyone is awful,
then no one is good and no one’s really
responsible for anything. And think that’s been
sort of our point. All right. Over here. Let’s take question
number three. I’d like to hear question
three as well as question four so we can keep it moving. So question three. So decades ago, America prides
itself on bipartisanship, the so-called disjointed
incrementalism to set aside differences
to make a difference. However, the recent politics
is so toxic, so polarized. And people say that the best
strategic long-term player in the world is China. So my question is,
how can America still lead in the 21st century with
so toxic political environment and so many veto points
in the political system, and this disgruntle from
the general population? Thank you. As well as question four. May we hear your
question as well? And then we’ll get to them. Question four. Yes? My question is sort of a
question about how historical your arguments are. So for the pro
team, I’m wondering, is there time when the
political establishment was not failing America? And the opposite question
for the others team. Is there a time when the
political establishment did fail America? And for both of
you, sort of if yes, can you point to sort of a
time when it started to switch? Thank you. I think we can almost combine
those two questions together about the timing. What about that? Has there ever been a time
when the establishment, when people weren’t complaining? As well as his question
about bipartisanship. It seems to go together. So it’s interesting, your
question, which is great. In the 1950s the American
Political Science Association convened its most august
professors together. And the crisis at the
moment was the sort of lack of choice
for American voters. The whole idea was that
Republicans and Democrats seemed to be so similar
you couldn’t differentiate between them. How could we be giving our
citizens meaningful choices when all we could
really sort of see were like you know
candidate personalities? And you know, what we’ve
seen in the past five decades since then is the polarization
of American parties. The Democratic Party has become
consistently much more liberal, the Republican Party has
been much more conservative. Be careful what you wish for,
is sort of the lessons of that. And I think the interesting
question about has there ever been a time where the political
establishment has failed America, I mean let’s
go back to the beginning of this country and its nation. You know I would say,
to take Michael’s point, you could say that the American
political establishment failed America from the get go. I mean this was a nation that
was founded with slavery. I mean is that really a
country that you know– it’s hard to imagine that we’ve,
you know, receded since then. You know, we could even
take this and take it to another level, which
is like the whole idea that America and the political
establishment are somehow or another differentiated
entities is also nonsense. That’s kind of like sort
of saying that you know, water has failed
the Pacific Ocean. You know this nation was
created by what we might call the political establishment. The nation has always
been in service of the political establishment. So, you know when we take a
historical viewpoint it depends really on your perspective as
sort of a half full or half empty glass. It’s easy to sort of say, well
the political establishment has always failed certain
groups in the United States. It’s always failed
African-Americans. It’s always failed women. It’s always failed the poor. It’s a system that
was set up to protect the privileges of the
propertied white interests. But that’s not what
we’re debating here. Or you could sort of see– [CHUCKLE] –maybe the– No, we’re
not– we’re not debating– [LAUGHTER] Michael, we’re not
debating whether or not a certain segment
of white America has been systematically
subjugating other groups of people. Of course we’re not. We’re debating this notion
about has it failed America. And I think it’s important
to note some sort of historical criteria here. Well look, the fact is the
present president of the United States of America spent
five years de-legitimizing the previous occupant of
the office as un-American, tried to retroactively
abort him from the womb of American democracy
and American citizenship. That’s damn well what we up
here talking about, number one. Number two, what’s
interesting, the answer is contained in your query
though, brother Eric. And that is the fact that
from the very beginning, America has been a failure. Only when it turns
to the very people that it has failed to look
for answers and remedies that when it is wise
enough it listens to them. Martin Luther King, Jr. was
the grandson– great grandson of slaves, enslaved people. The people he opposed
were people who were in the majority culture. What did Martin
Luther King, Jr. say? He said to America
in the last speech he gave, “Be true to
what you said on paper.” If you articulated it in the
Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the
Federalist Papers, whatever, the
reality is, he said, those ideals are the
governing principles upon which American
democracy expands. It took a failed
experiment in democracy to be recognized by one
of its greatest sons to rise up from the enslaved
and in their legacy to point the way to a better America. After all, George
Wallace doesn’t have a statue in Washington,
D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. does. And that — I think in that sense that’s the
greatest success we can have. All right — And that should I
answer the question. That is a success. That’s not an answer
that America has failed, it’s that we
celebrate people who expand the franchise, who expand
opportunity in this country. Are we at nirvana? No. But you mentioned
President Obama. We elected President Obama. And some people thought
he was a good president, some people didn’t. But we did elect an
African-American president. Was that a failure? Did the political class fail us
by giving us President Obama? No, no, what–
I’m not arguing — I’m arguing– William wants to get in
here for just a moment. [LAUGHTER] I’m trying to help here. I yield my time to Dyson. Thank you. [LAUGHTER] Go ahead. To say that the political
establishment has failed America is not to say that
it has only failed America. Right. You can recognize that
there are successes. You can recognize that
progress is a possibility. You can also
recognize that to say that it has failed
America is not to say that we should eliminate it. It leaves open
the question, what do we do about the observed
failures before us? But we should come to terms
with what those failures are, and not play in these
games of words that say, well there’s no such thing
as a political establishment. That it is poorly defined
suggests that it doesn’t exist. And so the movement, I think, on
the other side is to suggest– they’re not so much arguing
that it has failed or succeeded, but rather that we
shouldn’t be asking the question because political
establishment is this fuzzy thing. Let me suggest that it is– it has– it certainly includes
Congress and the president and the federal judiciary
and the two-party system and the institutions that
govern their interactions. And we ought to
then think about not do the policies that we
observe, the actions that are taken reflect or not the
interest of any one individual, but in those interactions
and in those commitments do we see meaningful progress
being made in domains that are pressing like climate change? And the answer– if
you think the answer is no, I certainly think the
answer is no, that’s a failure and we should come
to terms with it. All right. Let’s get some more questions
from the group here. Do we have any out there? We’re going to go with five. And who else do I see here? Right down here, five and four. And do we have one more over– right here, one. So five, four and
one, in that order. So number five, would
you start first? Let’s hear all three
questions, and then we’ll get some answers. It struck me when– what Professor Howell
was talking about was a lot of those problems
can be traced directly to movement conservatism, or
the logical extension of such. And this isn’t simply norm,
or a norm on Stephen Bannon. This is something that is the
logical extension of decades and decades of what was
postwar conservatism. Your question, please? The new right. So I guess the
question is, is I’d like to hear the
panelists talk about, is this not simply a failure
of the political establishment, so much as we have a rogue
party that simply does not want to play by traditional
rules of American politics? All right. Thank you. And we said four, which we
have your question as well. Yes. So my question is that,
even if we have so many progresses in like
life expectancy and so, if people don’t
believe that the political establishment is working,
if our state Is working, electing people like Donald
Trump, isn’t that a as in itself? Because if the liberal
order cannot sustain itself by electing people that
are vehemently against it, isn’t it basically
doomed to fail? And on the other side, if
you’re having so many progress, does it just qualify that we
failed in particular areas like some faith
or like tax code? Does it just say,
well, life expectancy, the crime doesn’t matter. Thank you. And we had number one. I think my question
is similar to the one that the first gentleman
had made mentioned of. And its, you know,
when you look at what happened financial
crisis, there were a lot of norms and
traditions that were broken that caused a lot
of damage to a lot of people. But a lot of people
who did go to jail because actual laws
weren’t broken. When you look at what’s going
on in the White House now, or when you look at what’s going
on in political society now — Tax returns are usually,
by tradition, turned over by presidential candidates. They’re not. You have people right now
who are in the White House talking to the FBI
about investigations that are going on. That is a longstanding
tradition as something that we don’t do in America. But didn’t they
really break any laws? And I think that is something-
you’ve got Americans who don’t know– who think
laws are being broken, and those maybe should be– And your question would be? Why– why– My question is, is there– is there a real
understanding of the fact that America’s got
a lot of tradition to have people who are
breaking those traditions. And we think they’re breaking
laws, and they’re not. Thank you. So, Eric, you want
to tackle these? Let’s start with– we
talked about a rogue party. We talked about the liberals
being doomed, the tax code. And then what about
breaking these laws? Can you give us– [LAUGHTER] In 30 seconds or less. In 30 seconds. Wrap it up. Well, I think
what– if I’m trying to find a thread that unifies
these that I can respond to in some way. And I think it
goes back to what I would like to say earlier,
which is this is an alluring proposition because it speaks
to- the political establishment becomes anybody who
disagrees with me. And so I’m out of power,
the political establishment is the man. He’s you know got
his foot on me. Sarah Palin would say, “Got to
get out from under the man.” So, or you know, you’re Sarah
Palin and you’re out of office, and then the political
establishment becomes Barack Obama and the Democrats. And I still haven’t
heard from our opponents. You know, Will was valiantly
trying to list off, I think, all of the components
of the political establishment. But if you look at
that group, that has such a diverse
set of interests. It’s hard to sort of say, well
there are environmentalists, and there are civil
rights activists, and there are white
nationalists, probably, in that group, and there
are oil company interests, and there are banks, and
there are social workers. All of these people are part
of the political establishment. And we can selectively choose
from of them– some of them and sort of say those are
the political establishment and they’re the bad ones,
and they have somehow or another absconded with
American democracy and sort of the rightful
sovereignty of the people. But, you know that’s– that’s just kind of– it becomes kind of rhetorically
shallow and meaningless at some point. You know, you’ve heard
that story chicken and pig walking down the street– [LAUGHTER] –saying, let’s each make a
contribution to breakfast. Chicken says, cool,
I’ll give up an egg. The pig has to give up his ass
in order to have breakfast. [LAUGHTER] Now, that’s the
establishment, the chicken. When all you have to
give up is an egg. When all you have to do is to
produce an external result, when all you have to do is
to think critically and– and as our panelists
on the other side here, musing
without being honest about their own
privileges, rooted deeply in a persistent
whiteness an America that fails to identify with
others who have come here, those others who are the pigs
who have had to give their life blood. So there’s no false
equivalency here. You’re the establishment,
I’m the establishment. When Barack Obama becomes the
first African-American person to occupy the Oval Office,
ain’t no equivalency between him and
43 other– excuse me, 44 other men who have
occupied that office. It was an aberration to be sure. So in one sense, you could
make the argument look the political establishment
worked because Barack Obama was elected. What happens, of course,
is what we fail to see. Barack Obama being the
symbolic head of the government and becoming president
doesn’t remove prison industrial complex,
doesn’t remove the fact that most black men will– you
know, one in four black men will be put in
the prison system, doesn’t remove the fact that
unarmed black men and women are routinely murdered by police,
doesn’t remove the fact that black and brown kids are
expelled earlier from school. So the reality is, is that
the pig-like existence of those people who have to give
up their life blood to prove a point about the durability
of American democracy is not equal to people who sit
around and rigorously think about the possibility
of American democracy. That’s why I said at the end of
the day the failure of America has been redeemed by
the people it enslaved, by the women that it
treated as sexist objects. And the very things, the very
pigs that they cast aside have now redeemed
the possibility of American democracy so that
failure has been rescued. The people who
have been failures are too much of a
failure to recognize it. And those who have successfully
tried to redeem the society have not been acknowledged,
and have been marginalized. That’s the argument here. So there’s no false
equivalency between well, we’re all part of
an establishment, what are we to do? There are better times. FDR was better. LBJ was better when he
had the society that looked out for poor people,
including poor white people. Those times were
better than others when we were entrenched in our
own narcissistic preoccupation and navel gazing
like we’re doing now, with this infantilized
presidency under a man who is
incapable of acknowledging a scintilla of intelligence
or a sentence structure that includes nouns, verbs, gerunds,
participles and the like. [APPLAUSE] Jennifer. I think Michael just
made our case for us. At times there’s progress, and
at times there’s regression. And simply because
we elected someone that very few people in this
room probably voted for, does not mean the system or the
establishment has failed us. Will said something
very interesting. He said essentially if you
think there’s progress, don’t vote for us. Yes there’s been, progress. I’m a white Jewish woman. Would I want to have
lived in America in 1780 or in 1880 or in 1960? I don’t think so. And the fact that
we have an ongoing– this is the story of
America, by the way. The ongoing perfection,
the ongoing story of wrestling with these age-old
questions of inequality, of justice, of
fairness, of inclusion. But the line is clearly
going in one direction. We had a Supreme Court,
pretty establishment, that outlawed
separate but equal. We had a Supreme
Court that said no, we cannot discriminate
against gay marriage. We do go in one way. And in that respect
President Obama was right, we all were on the
side of history. And so progress is not steady. It’s not assured. It’s not without setbacks. But we are going in
the right direction. If you want poverty,
starvation, inequality, go live someplace
else in the world, or go back 100 years
in American history. But you’re making our point. Wait– The failure– Will wants to weigh in
as well one more time. [LAUGHTER] While he’s thinking,
let me just– [LAUGHTER] You’re making our point. You’re making our point. You’re making our–
this is what I’m saying. What– all we’re
saying is, those points at what you
talk about that are the nadir, that are the
low points, those are failures. The political establishment
is failing us. We didn’t say it was
a permanent failure. It’s an episodic
interventionist failure. And when those failures
occur, then people who have been externalized,
who have been marginalized, help redeem and
rescue the system. All I’m saying to you– All right, Will. — is that the failure is real– You got to sneak in there. –but the rescue
is real as well. I certainly didn’t
say, or certainly didn’t mean to say
that if you can point to any successes, any
progress, that then you should be voting against us. To say that the American
public establishment has failed America is not to deny
the existence of progress. It’s to say that it is failing
to meet certain criteria. Mainly what I talked
about is a failure to meet very real problems,
very real challenges that we, as a country face. A thing that I like about this
term which our opposition is arguing against, the
political establishment, is that it points our attention
not to any one individual, but it encourages us to
think about the relationships between them, to think
about the structures that we have that govern how
we as a polity make decisions. It’s in those relationships
that we see failure. It’s in the divisions of the
parties, the ways in which Congress and the president fail
to meaningfully exchange ideas with one another
and to press one another in the context
of the larger public, and in an effort to
solve actual problems. That’s a productive
thing so we don’t go down this rabbit hole which
says, well who is the real source of the problem? Who is it? Is it John or is
it Mary or Bobby? Because as soon as
we go down that route we can always find
some reason why, well no it’s disproportionately
somebody else. What we should be
doing is saying, look there are
structural challenges that we face in our polity
that we are not meeting. And we’re not meeting– we’re not trying to
adequately address. This is why go back
again to this issue about institutional reform. Think about the poverty
of the discussions that we have as a
country about what we might do about
fixing our institution and fixing our relationships. There’s very little there. They’re there, even though
our elected officials are eminently capable of
reforming the very institutions in which they work. All right. Let’s get a couple
of more questions. We have three more questions. We’ll go with two, three– Up. Up. Where are you? I can’t see you. Five, thank you. Two, three and five. So, two, three and five. Two, would you give your
question first, please? So this is a two part
question for both sides. When Jennifer was talking
about the ahistoric argument that her opposition
was making, I did want to make a
point about causality. So how much can we take the
establishment and ascribe progress to them? When I think of progress
in public housing, I think of Jane Addams. When I think of
the nadir of it, I think of our public
housing policy now, and the Jane Addams
houses being torn down. When I think of progress
and civil rights, I think of Martin Luther
King, I don’t necessarily think of any politician
in the 1960s. When I think of the
fact that W.E.B. Du Bois talks about how
reconstruction failed and the fact that there was no
goodwill re-established between masters and freed men– And the question is? The question being,
is there a causality there, in terms of
is this progress anything the establishment
does or in fact something the establishment has impeded? And the second part
to this question is, does the
establishment enable that by giving us the freedoms that
allow for speech, business and innovation that has allowed
this country to progress? Thank you. All right. Over here. Did we say three, two? Two, three and five,
I believe, upstairs. All right. Number three. Hello. My name is Patricia. Hi, everyone. So I keep hearing in this
debate the word “forces,” “market,”
“marginalization,” and I want to make a
connection between them. Or I want to ask if you guys
see a connection between them. Why do the market forces allow
white men to be at the top, with white women
immediately after them, and then the rest
of the population? I think that’s a
question that needs to be discussed if
we’re going to talk about democracy
because democracy is a rule of the people, correct? And the people aren’t just white
men and white Jewish women. Thank you. All right. Our last question from upstairs. This for Mr. Dyson and Ms.
Rubin, since both of you are in the media a lot. How has the media
apparatus on both sides of the political
aisle played a part in the failure of
the establishment to educated populace? And do you think the
failure of establishment is more of a reflection of
our own failure as citizens to understand our relationship
to the government, as envisioned by the founders? And shouldn’t we–
shouldn’t this debate and ask the question
have we failed ourselves? Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Wow. We’ve got a lot there. So, the progress that the
establishment has made, as well as what about the
forces, the market forces, and then
finally the media what what’s happened there? Why don’t we start? [LAUGHTER] I’m so glad I get to ask the
questions and not answer. Go for it. Yeah, I’ll take a
little bit of it. I’ll take half the time
I was going to have so that Eric can come after me. First of all, the
question about causation, it’s the interaction between
the populace and the government that makes democracy work. It’s Jane Addams, but
then it’s the progressives who pass legislation to
incorporate housing codes. It is on one hand gay marchers,
gay citizens who come out of the closet,
who put themselves in the line, who in some
cases risked their lives. But then it is the politicians
and the courts that are brought into the process. That’s not a failure. That’s the symbiosis. That’s the way it’s
supposed to work. That’s democracy working
with individuals. And just briefly– I thought that was
a great question. Part of the problem
with the establishment is it lets all of
us off the hook. 46% of the electorate
elected Donald Trump. If 78,000 people had gotten off
their couches in three states, we wouldn’t have Donald Trump. There has to be a greater
participation, a greater responsibility we
take on ourselves for our own democracy. And ironically maybe it took
this disastrous election to spark that. You see people who have never
marched before on the streets. You see people who have never
joined an organization join an organization. People are buying newspaper
subscriptions, and may I say it’s a wonderful idea
and a good use of your dollar – because they realize
I have to do something. And that’s exactly
the right reaction. We do have the
power collectively, but we have to
get off the couch. All right. The media failing us, William? Well, we’ve been asked about
the political establishment. We might think about whether we
want include the media as part of the establishment,
and there’s a conversation to be had there. We can also think about the
ways in which we as citizens are culpable. That is we play a role in
electing people, obviously, who then– who then fill
positions of power. And so we too may be culpable. And in that sense we too
may have failed America. But to say– to come out
positively on the motion before us, has the
political establishment failed America, is not to
exclude those possibilities. We can say yes to those as well. Just as we recognize that there
are some successes, just as we recognize that the
failure has been sometimes piqued and
sometimes not quite so piqued. All we’ve been asked
before us today is whether or not the
politically establishment is meeting the challenges that
we as a country face today. And I think there
it’s undeniable that the answer is no. And it is no not because of
any one obstructionist group, but because we have a political
system that set upon itself, and we have political
actors who are attending to their local
parochial interests, and we have a set
of monied interests who play a major role
in dominating the kinds of deliberations that we have. And this collectively
means that we have failure. We have not attacked
this question though, Eric, the question
about what market forces and why white men are so
far ahead of everyone else. Well I mean I think
the answer to that is to be found in history. If you look at the
history of this country, it was founded by a
particular group of people from– a particular
group of Europeans. It was founded around
their, you know, aspirations towards
a market economy, and their sense of tolerance
of economic inequality, and in fact there
embracement of slavery. So if you want to
sort of say, well, why does our system have
these inequalities now? Let’s look back in time and
sort of see the roots of that. I mean the patterns
we’re seeing now directly are attributable to
our historical past. Now, does this mean– I mean I think that
the challenge for us is to sort of say,
well, does this mean our democracy is flawed? Is inherently failed
from the get go? I think as Jennifer
eloquently points out, look at the progress
that we’ve made relative to where we’ve come. Look at sort of the number
of people who we’ve– who have been lifted
out of poverty here. I want to speak to Michael’s
point on this point too because I think he makes a
very compelling case that you know, if you look at who was
it that was sort of challenging this trajectory of American
patriarchal classist racism and white privilege,
it was people on the outside. And yes, we should
acknowledge our heroes, our people who work
from outside the system to change the system. But I think it’s also important
for us to recognize that people within the system
that we don’t– we don’t often see, the
people who are invisible, the sort of kind of
modest bureaucrats. Take the example of vaccines. Vaccines have saved more
lives in the United States over the past 80 years
than almost anything. Can you name me who is
the hero behind vaccines? No. The reason why, there are lots
of heroes behind vaccines. There are local public
health officials who– there are local
political leaders who are advancing the idea
that you know what, let’s take this
counter-intuitive idea, take this seemingly toxic
system, stick it into your arm and inject yourself
with it and guess what, you know what, your
community will be healthier. So when we talk about
progress in the United States, progress was not simply
from the remarkable efforts of a few of our heroes. Progress is something that
is shared across the system and largely advanced,
I would argue, by people who are mostly
invisible to all of us. Let me — can I
answer some of that? I figured. Because she asked the
questions specifically– I hate to quote
Jennifer over here, but ain’t answer the
question because she– you didn’t even
repeat what she said. She said market forces
favoring white men and then right after
that white women. I can understand why you
might not want to answer that because it would — not your existential reality. I’m talking about now the fact
that arguments about failure and success rest upon the fact
that we think that the market as a blind distributor
of resource and good. That the market makes
decisions on competing goods, scarce resources, and
determines their distribution based upon objective criterion. When the reality is the question
you know really puts us in– square in the face of history,
Jennifer, since you said do you want to be– you don’t want to
be ahistorical. Well, if we’re going to be
historical, we’ve got to, as Eric has tried
to do there, we’ve got to acknowledge the fact
that the market will always favor the people who determine
what the market might mean. And that when you were
sold on the market as an object of white
fetish and curiosity, and the extension of white
economic power through slavery, black people were literally
part of the market. They were sold on the market. Their testicles were examined. Their feet were looked at. Their bodies were reduced
to persona non grata. So the reality is
in the marketplace, the marketplace sold black
flesh as a means of creating white wealth. That’s not simply the past. When we look at the
housing policy– the gentleman asked a
question about Chicago. When we asked about causality,
you can talk about Berkeley, you talk about
Hume, you could talk about John Locke,
the three figures who talked about causality
and cause and effect. But at the end of the day, the
causality there has to be this, white supremacy is operated
to privilege and advantage some people and de-privilege
and disadvantage others. That’s just a fundamental fact. And it’s not simply back
in those days of slavery. Housing markets right now– the distribution of
goods, the housing bubble. Why is it the
disproportionate numbers of African-American and Latino
people lost their wherewithal? The greatest bleed off
of black and brown wealth happened when the
housing crisis occurred. So my point is there’s not a
kind of incidental relationship between the two. It’s deliberate. And again I’ll end
by saying this. I absolutely agree
with you on this point, that it is not simply a heroic,
iconic figure from the outside who worked, there are
also inside people. But they’re not all
invisible, right? Think about Lyndon Baines
Johnson who really collared some of those, you know,
white racist senators and forced them to
do the right thing, in concert with Martin
Luther King, Jr. I would never
argue against that. But what I’m arguing
is that the failure to acknowledge the
humanity of those people to allow the market to
determine their association to an American
democracy was a problem. And only when it
was challenged– I’m not saying it wasn’t
extended from within, but only when
those brave souls– and it’s not just a few. The masses of people
challenged the hegemony of a white supremacist
logic that made not only their state better,
but they made America better. Martin Luther King,
Jr. didn’t just do something good
for black folk, he revolutionized the
American democracy to make it work
better for everybody. [APPLAUSE] All right. It is time for the
summary speeches. [APPLAUSE] We are going to sum up. Our panelists, each one we’ll
have a couple of moments. Again, the question is, has
the political establishment failed America? We will begin with Jennifer. Thank you again
to the University of Chicago, all of you,
our wonderful opponents, my partner, our great moderator. It really has been a pleasure. And if anyone thinks you can’t
have civil debate in America, they should come to the
University of Chicago. One thing that Michael
just said that was raised by this young woman I think
is critical to the argument that we are making. The most people– or the
people who have most benefited from capitalism are
the two billion, with a b, billion people
around the world who have been lifted out of poverty. As Bill Gates and
the foundation show, in the year 2030 we will no
longer have any countries as a whole – we’re not
talking about individuals – as a whole that are
considered to be in poverty, operating on less
than $1.00 a day. The lifespan of the
average person on the globe went up five years
in the last 10 years. And why is that? It’s because we’re
making inroads on removing mortality, child
mortality, infant mortality. These are the products
of capitalism. And so all we have failures,
we have done great successes. And it’s not just America. I think we should look
at humanity as a whole. I don’t think we should
be purely looking at our own position. I’ll end on this. I highly recommend, if
you haven’t already, reading Michael Lewis’
The Undoing Project. What he does is he
traces the history of industrial psychology
of behavioral economics. And his point is that
it’s a central frailty, a central fault of human reason
that we attribute the dilemmas that we are in as the inevitable
result of where we’ve been, and that we can predict the
future based on what we have. That the world is rational,
the world is predictable, and therefore if
x is not happening it’s because some people
don’t want x to happen. And that’s not true. The world is unpredictable. It’s complex. It’s messy. We make mistakes
as a country, we make mistakes as an individual. But, would you want
to go back and live in America 100 years ago? Would you want to go back and
live in America 50 years ago? Didn’t have air conditioning
in a lot of places, by the way. Would you want to live
on another continent? I don’t think so. So the question
was not, although I think our esteemed
partners would like it to be, has that
the political establishment sometimes failed,
sometimes succeeded? Has it failed certain people,
has it not failed other people? That would be a
defensible position. The proposition is the
political establishment has failed in America. And that’s just not true. Thank you. William Howell, you’re next. Well, I think we all, when we
look up at Washington, D.C. now, we see a mess. We see two parties at
each other’s throat. We see various
branches of government who are incapable of
working with one another. We see a total incapacity
to meet the challenges that we as a country face
today about climate change, about comprehensive responsible
immigration reform, about the debt, about
entitlement reform. We don’t see responsible
debate about these issues, and we don’t see
a concerted effort to try to extend them because
our politics are dysfunctional. Our politics are dysfunctional. What are our politicians
doing in order to try to attend to
that dysfunction? What they’re doing for the
most part is digging in. They’re not stepping back and
saying how might we relate to each other anew/ How might
we reform the institutions that govern our daily lives? There’s no work in
this particular domain. And that constitutes
a singular failure. There was a time in the
Progressive Era when a lot of people got
together and said the machinery of government
isn’t working to meet the challenges of our day. And so we need to do
something in order to attend to the issues
associated with a– changes in the economy, the
emergence of the United States on the world stage,
rising immigration. We need to refashion the
machinery of government. That was our shared
recognition that the machinery of government, the
establishment, was failing. And they set to
work at doing that. There’s no such work
like that going on today. And so the layering of
the failure is profound. There’s a failure to meet
the challenges that we face, just as there is a failure
on the part of people who are in positions of power to
refashion the institutions that govern our lives in
ways that would allow us to meet those challenges. It’s twice over. The work isn’t happening. We should call failure, failure. Thank you. Next, Eric Oliver. Once again, thank you
all for coming out and for your
wonderful questions. In Western Europe reason
first died in the year 475. this was the year that the
Greek philosopher Proclus recorded the last
astronomical observations of the ancient world. For the next 1,000
years Europeans abandoned the scientific
study of the stars and nearly everything else. The deductive proofs,
empirical research and reasoned philosophy classical
Greece, along with its democratic
values, were displaced by the unquestionable
tyranny of kings and popes. The Western mind slid
back into the realm of myth and superstition. Civilization in Western
Europe declined, and life again became
nasty, brutish and short. It wasn’t until
the Enlightenment that Europeans
reclaimed the science of their classical
forebearers, and with it the means to travel– to challenge
arbitrary autocracy. In the 300 years
since, the West has enjoyed an unprecedented
rise in the human condition. By any measure,
more Americans are living longer, better
and freer lives than at any time
in their history. Such gains are
largely attributable to the scientific and
philosophical advances that came with the
resurgence of reason, and the application
of that reason towards democratic governance. Now, I think the important
thing to understand about reason is that words matter. The only way that we
can reason properly is if we have
clear understanding about what our words mean. We argued back and
forth tonight about sort of the meaning of
words, but I would say that the problem
with the proposition is that it’s just an
inherently funny– fuzzy and flawed, not funny,
fuzzy and flawed proposition. We haven’t really
even come to terms with what we mean by
the establishment. We haven’t come to any terms
by what we mean by failure. I would argue we don’t
even have agreement about what we mean by America. So when we can’t agree about
sort of the basic words and terms of the proposition,
it’s really hard for us to have any kind
of reasoned debate. And the only default that’s
really available to us is to not sort of just imprint
our own hopes, desires, our sort of perspectives
on what we think the proposition should mean. We need to reject
the proposition. In an era of fake news,
lies, empty rhetoric that’s coming from the White House, I
think it’s really important now that we stand up for words. That we stand up for
truth, and then we stand up for meaningful,
reasonable ideas. So please vote against
the proposition. Thank you. Finally, Michael Eric Dyson. Sounds good. Bertrand Russell said that
“The purpose of education is to resist the
seductions of eloquence.” And our eloquent
friends over here– [LAUGHTER] –certainly have made that case. But if reason was
the only principle, the best people would
be the smartest people. But we know it ain’t the case. Martin Luther King, Jr. said
he long ago deconstructed that. W.E.B. Du Bois
said in the embrace of a kind of
enlightenment rationality that if the best people
were the smartest people, the smartest people would
be doing the best things. But often they use reason
to justify and to legitimate their essential injustice. So you can talk about a
European conception of reason as if that is the only point. You could say what was going
on in Africa simultaneously while they were smelting
iron ore while Europeans were playing in caves. It would be interesting to
do a counter-distinction between those two to
broaden your perspective, your weltanschauung, so that it
would be inclusive and global. A young man who
played basketball here named Michael Jordan
said he took 9,000 shots, said he lost 300 games, said
he was trusted 26 times to take the winning shot and lost. He said I failed and
failed and failed again, and that is why I succeeded. You cannot win six rings
without Scottie Pippen. You cannot win six rings unless
you recognize when you have failed. If you fail to recognize your
failure, you can’t correct. If you fail to recognize
when you have done wrong, you can’t do right. And with all due respect to my
professors on the panel, you– students come to
you, but I got a 58%. So 58% I got right,
but I still flunked. I still failed. You can have 0% or 58%,
you still might flunk. As I said, Malcolm X said,
don’t stick a knife in my back nine and just pull
it out six inches and say well that’s progress
because the knife is still in my back. I believe this is an incredibly
powerful great nation. James Baldwin said, I love
this nation above any other, therefore I reserve the right
to criticize it perpetually. And when you apply
criticism to America, I think you are falling into
the trap of Donald Trump. Donald Trump is a
nationalist, not a patriot. A nationalist says my
country, right or wrong. A nationalist says my
country can never fail. A nationalist says
this political system has been perfect all along. But a patriot says, no
this system has failed, but there is the potential
to revive and to restore and to give back the
redemptive character of our American citizenship. That is what we believe. That is why America
is great, not again. Donald Trump’s making America
great again hearkens back to a time where women
were in a household of domestic in-tranquility and
African-American people were marginalized and poor
people were invisible. I want to celebrate in
America that acknowledges those failures,
that refuses to live and what Gore Vidal called the
“United States of Amnesia,” and joins the kingdom of memory. This is a great nation if
we recognize the failures and do something to correct
them at the end of the day. [APPLAUSE] All right. So, thank you to all of you. We want you to now
take your final vote. Again, the motion before us,
has the political establishment failed America? For, against, or
still don’t know. Your voting instructions,
use your phone. Go to www.menti.com. The code: 15, 14, 42. And please cast your vote
for, against, or don’t know. You have one minute
to take that vote. If you’re in Chicago
you can vote twice. [LAUGHTER] It has been so
interesting tonight. I think one of my favorites– actually so many
as I took notes. But our minds were certainly
not lazy tonight, Eric, that was one of yours. And I think that it
was so interesting. All of the discussion,
it’s really been a pleasure to be
here to hear all of it, and to see so many
folks engaged. So the voting is over. We are going to give you not
only– let’s see what happened. Not just the final
vote– we ought to compare it to,
of course, the vote from earlier tonight,
the pre-vote. And it really– the Intelligence
Squad, what a treat to have you come here to Chicago. This is your maiden
visit trip here, and to have come to the
University of Chicago to offer this opportunity to
all of us here tonight, really, Hannah, is just very special. We appreciate it so much. So as soon as we
have that vote total I think it’d be
interesting for all of us to see did we persuade? Did all of our folks
here tonight, were there any minds persuaded? Was there a change? Was there a swig percentage? I believe we started out
it was 65% at the final. Here we go so the pre
debate, 65% percent had said yes, 24% had said
no, and 11% don’t know. And now our final vote. [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE] Oh well. I think we killed it. [APPLAUSE] Yes is 63%– We won. No is 24%. And we have moved
those who don’t know. I don’t know how you look
at it, but perhaps they’re kind of with them. Maybe. I don’t know. We’ll have to decide. No. That’s ain’t what it’s saying. We want to thank the speakers. We want to thank the University
of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, and of
course Intelligence– [APPLAUSE] In just a moment– Shit, by 20 points or 10. We’d like to let
our panelists leave. Of course Michael Eric
Dyson will be signing books in the back in the lobby. Thank you all for being here. Let’s let our panelists
get out of your first. And thank you very much. What an enjoyable evening. [APPLAUSE]

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