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Opinion

Democracy Works: Defending democracy at home and abroad

Robert Kagan
Brookings Institution
/
Robert Kagan

Robert Kagan is a foreign policy expert who turned his focus to the United States last fall in a Washington Post column titled "Our constitutional crisis is already here" that became one of the Post's most-read pieces of 2021. We're lucky to have Kagan with us this week to discuss the ongoing crises of democracy at home and abroad as Russia's war on Ukraine continues to unfold.

Kagan has argued that there was nothing inevitable about the relatively peaceful liberal democratic order that followed World War II, and that there is nothing inevitable about the perseverance of American democracy. In fact, he says that because so many reject the 2020 presidential election, we are already in a constitutional crisis, and it will take deliberate actions by the public and members of both political parties to get us out. For too many politicians, a recognition of our condition, let alone a commitment to those actions, appears to be a long way off.

Kagan is the Stephen and Barbara Friedman Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a member of the Foreign Affairs Policy Board in the U.S. State Department. He is the author of "The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World" and The New York Times bestseller "The World America Made."

Episode Transcript

Michael Berkman
From the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University. I'm Michael Berkman.

Candis Watts Smith 
I'm Candis Watts Smith.

Jenna Spinelle
I'm Jenna Spinelle, and welcome to Democracy Works. This week. Our guest is Robert Kagan, who is the Stephen and Barbara Friedman, Senior Fellow in foreign policy at Brookings, and a columnist for the Washington Post. We talked with him this episode about two of his recent columns, one on America's pending looming, perhaps constitutional crisis, and the other more recently about the war in Ukraine. And I should say that we recorded this interview with Robert the day before Russia invaded Ukraine. And we are recording this segment today on March 2, the day after the State of the Union address. And, you know, it's so interesting, because as Robert says, In the interview, he is a foreign policy scholar by by training, but he went out kind of on a limb last fall and wrote this piece on what's happening here at home. And I think that this, you know, what's happening in Ukraine really, sort of, in some ways ties the two together under this idea that no matter which democracy where in the world, we're talking about democracy, it is fragile, a concept we've explored many, many times on the show over the past couple of years.

Michael Berkman
So Kagan is a really interesting guy to have in at this time, because as you say, he's is a well known voice neoconservative voice in foreign affairs, he has written a lot, I think it's fair to say about how there's nothing really inevitable about democracy, and about the liberal world order that was relatively peaceful, least in Europe for many, many years, that this all required attention, work, deliberate decisions. And that's going to be true in retaining democracy in Ukraine, and in his word, saving Ukraine, and his perspective, in preserving American democracy as well.

Candis Watts Smith 
So I'm glad that we brought Robert Kagan mostly in the kind of same way when we the times that we brought Jim Piazza is that it really the work that they're doing helps us to see that, you know, American democracy is not exceptional, exceptionally buffered, from any of the kind of threads to its decline. And, you know, for me, I think it's really fascinating. And that's not quite the right word I want to use because it's terrifying what's going on in Ukraine. But to watch how, you know, autocratic leaders work and how you know, what it means for them to be in cahoots with each other and to think about, well, what if Trump were in office now? Or what if somebody like Trump who is warm to autocrats gets into power, and gets into power in a situation where a checks and balances that we have always kind of relied on and turn to and reflexively believe that they would catch us, you know, in places where we would fall, and at the rate that we're going, where party is mattering more than people's values outside of just their team is not going to necessarily save us? If we don't strengthen the, you know, our institutions, and also our kind of resolve, right, it's not just going to be about the institutions, it's going to be about whether we are willing to fight for own democracy in this country.

Michael Berkman
Yeah, I completely agree with you about having Piazza on having Kagan on and having people that have a global perspective and a perspective on other countries, providing insights into what's going on in the United States. And, you know, we don't have a good idea in the United States, those of us who study the United States about autocratic behavior because for the most part, we haven't had autocrats and they have in their studies and have far more experience with what they can do and what they're up to. And one thing I think that might be interesting for us here is that, you know, we knew during the Trump years and many people talked about Trump's sort of cozies up to autocrats and authoritarian leaders right in North Korea, and where he had a very special friendship, even a love affair if I understand it correctly, with with Russia and of course in the Middle East, and but I don't know that we really had a sense of the implications of that. Yeah. And and part of my point about Kagan talking about what we can we're about to see maybe what Putin is really capable of, is that we may not have had the clear sense then or at least many people have what the people we were cozying up with had the capacity to do.

Candis Watts Smith 
I think the other thing is, is that it's not just kind of that, like the average American, myself included, or not, you know, really sure what the depths of, you know, autocrats willingness to hold on to power, right, the kind of murder, death, invasion, all of the things, but I think that most people don't see what that means for the United States. And I'm not trying to be alarmist here, I think that the average American doesn't understand or doesn't have like a broad vision, or idea of what a civil war looks like. The fact is that Ukraine has been in a war for eight years. And, you know, I think we are kind of thinking unless tanks are rolling into Chicago or New York City, that this is not a possibility. But you know, we're seeing people take note of insurgencies have, you know, anti democratic insurgency across these countries, and I think we will be flat footed if we don't get a better understanding of how these dynamics work in other countries.

Michael Berkman
And I think this takes us back around to Kagan's argument about the constitutional crisis here and where we're heading, is, Are Americans going to be willing and able to step forward and take account of, you know, what he would what he says quite clearly as a sort of slowly unfolding crisis leading up to the next election, are we gonna do anything about it or not? I suspect strongly Not I, I'm not overwhelmed with with what I'm seeing in terms of taking his arguments seriously across broad sectors of American life. But I think that is something that he's challenging us about.

Jenna Spinelle
Yeah, no, he is indeed. And that is actually where we will start the interview with kind of his his reflections on what has or mostly has not happened in the time since that constitutional crisis piece came out. So let's go now to the interview with Robert Kagan.

Jenna Spinelle
Robert Kagan, welcome to Democracy Works. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Robert Kagan
Thank you. It's nice to be with you.

Jenna Spinelle
So we are talking today, in part because of your column in the Washington Post, our constitutional crisis is already here, which was published last September, as I understand it was one of the most read pieces on the Washington Post's website in 2021. And you outline what you think will happen if the Republican Party under the leadership of Donald Trump the zombie party, as you describes it, and continues unchecked over the next couple of years. But you also talk about the short timeline that people who value democracy and liberal democracy have to kind of change direction. And I we that timeline has only gotten shorter if now, as we say here now recording in February of 2022, like to start by asking how you feel about the arguments you made, or the sort of the, the path forward that you see now as opposed to when you wrote the piece last fall? Well,

Robert Kagan
Thank you. It's a good question. I wish I could say I felt encouraged by what's happened since then. But really, almost nothing has happened. We were of course, hoping that Congress would pass legislation on voting rights issues, which there were many issues to address, obviously, from gerrymandering, and all that, but but most importantly, was to address some of the laws that state legislatures have been passing which criminalize the activity of poll watchers, but And very importantly, which potentially gives state legislatures have the right to overturn the popular elected vote as it is counted and declare that that vote was improperly counted and to send a different slate of electors to Washington for voting in the Electoral College, which as we know, was something that Trump and other Republicans tried to do in 2020. But which state legislatures at least, prima fazia have given themselves the capacity to do legally quote unquote In 2024, so none of those concerns that everyone has raised have been addressed. Congress is frozen on this issue by the 5050. Senate by the fact that Senators mansion and Cisco don't want to vote to suspend the filibuster, which would allow a vote to take place on these things. So we've really gone nowhere. Meanwhile, of course, we've been distracted by other things. And we're I would say, we're sort of back to not paying much attention anymore. But the threat hasn't in any way diminished. In fact, there are many ways in which it's an increased, including the threat of violence. I think one things that I have seen, that we've all seen since last fall has been if anything, an increase in the likelihood that violence will play a role in the 2024 elections, just look at the support that Republicans have given to the quote unquote, Freedom convoy in Canada and and wanted to see a similar convoy established in the United States, just just one example. But the idea that violence is one answer to the problem. Polls show that Republicans that a majority of Republicans believe that a violent solution is an answer if they think that the election has somehow been corrupted, which of course, they have all been persuaded that it has ended well. So, so things have not gotten better. And as you suggest, time is now shorter. We're about to head into the 2020, mid 2022, midterm election season. I mean, it's impossible to predict but I would say odds favor Republican retaking the house and possibly the Senate. And that'll also have tremendous implications going ahead to 2024.

Jenna Spinelle
So you also write in your piece about this notion of wishful thinking by Republicans that, you know, led to a lot of the things that we've seen happen over the past couple of years since Trump's election and his campaign back in 2015 2016. I wonder if that wishful thinking is still at play in you know, what you were just saying about the resistance or the hesitancy to revisit things like the filibuster or take more seriously, what's happening in the States is, is that still because of this wishful thinking? Or is it perhaps something different that's going on today?

Robert Kagan
Well, wishful thinking is always never just wishful thinking. I mean, it's also there's a reason why you're engaging in wishful thinking. It's because you don't want to deal with the consequences of reality. So wishful thinking is preferable. And I think a lot of Republicans well, not a lot, but a certain percentage of Republicans who know perfectly well that Trump is a disaster understand perfectly well, what the threat is, they went through a period of wishful thinking, and some may still be in it that of course, well, Trump won't really run again or somebody else is going to run. There's a lot of what about DeSantis? What about, you know, name your other more moderate republican or allegedly more moderate republican and hope that that's going to happen, but, but I think mostly what's occurred is, especially since January six, when a number of Republicans thought that that was the undoing of Trump, I mean, even Mitch McConnell, for a few days after January 6, was basically condemning Trump and blaming him for what had happened, et cetera. Within a few weeks, they were all over doing that. And one of the things that happened was, it was clear that the very, very significant Republican base will support Trump and people who support Trump, regardless of what they do. And therefore, those people who criticized the January 6 incursion into the Capitol later had to apologize in a way for criticizing them. So, so dominant is this Trump movement, that Republicans have realized if they needed to be reminded of this again, that they resisted only at their own political peril. And so what we're really seeing is less a matter of wishful thinking than just political cowardice. There's no other way to put it because after all, these people are not defending their lives. They're just defending their time in the Senate. Many influence from any of whom have already spent a decade and said, You know, God forbid, they should have to leave two years sooner but so that I think is the major factor at this point that the, the sort of Trump wing if you will, of the party is so big, so dominant that resistance is essentially futile. And we're now seeing, in a way one of these stories play out all the way to the end, which is the story of Liz Cheney, who did have the courage to stand up and make herself the opponent of Trump, and who stands every chance of being run out of the Republican Party at this point. So that message, I'm sure resonates with other Republicans, and is a warning to those who might buck the tide, and therefore, not surprisingly, we don't see Republicans bucking the tide.

Jenna Spinelle
Right. And this notion of checks and balances, there's this situation that we we find ourselves in is in some ways, you argue because of the need for checks that the founders didn't anticipate, can you? Can you tell us more about that?

Robert Kagan
Yes, I mean, the founders came out of an English tradition where there weren't theoretically parties there was basically Whigs and Tories. But, but they didn't think, first of all, they didn't really think of them in parties in the same way that we do. And be many of them thought that to the degree that there were parties, they were pernicious. So the founders did not at the irony, of course, is the founders did not anticipate parties, but they themselves created parties. I mean, you know, Jefferson and Madison created, the Democratic Party effectively, wasn't called that at the time. But that's what so they created. But nevertheless, their theory of the Constitution, their theory of government, did not anticipate the country being divided into two national parties. They you have to, we have to remember, they came out of a world where the states were dominant, the states were almost like 13 countries living on the same territory. And they banded together loosely during the revolution under the Articles of Confederation, which still kept power in the hands of the states. And so when the founders projected, looking forward, they assumed enormous state control. And their view of the states was that the states were so widely disparate in their interests in the nature of their populations and their economies, that it would be very unlikely that a single party or faction or individual could unite everybody in all these states in such a way as to produce a demagogue. So they therefore not thinking about parties counted, the checks and balances they built in were checks and balances between the three branches, basically, the executive, the legislature and the judicial branch. And that was their concern. Their concern was a president usurping power and abusing the Presidential prerogative, which is why they put the impeachment clause in the Constitution, which I think they intended to be used fairly regularly, actually, to keep presidents in check, and to give the Congress significant powers, and their assumption was that Congress would be more jealous of its prerogatives, then individual members would be thinking about anything like a political party. So their assumption was, Congress would defend its prerogatives against the president, the president would defend his prerogatives against the Congress, and the judiciary might step in here and there to adjudicate between the two of them. But that's what it was. So what they there's a long way of saying that what they did not anticipate was that party loyalty in each of the branches would effectively negate that check and balance that a congress dominated by what by the party of the person sitting in the White House would support the president, even at the cost of congressional prerogatives, which is indeed what has happened, not just in the Trump period, but over the last 30 or 40 years Congress has gotten relatively weaker, the executive has gotten relatively stronger. And the reason is, is because the political parties in Congress support their president. So they're willing to give their president more power. And then when the next president comes around, comes around the other party, you can't take the powers away. So that's in a way How come we've had this accretion.

Jenna Spinelle
You know, to take a step back from this a lot of your expertise is in American foreign policy, looking at what's happening throughout the rest of the world. You know, what are some of the things that that you have seen abroad or have learned from that part of your work that you made you want to kind of shift your focus, at least for this piece, or this this period to look more at at what's happening here at home?

Robert Kagan
Well, you I mean, you're right. I mean, I'm, as we say, out of my lane here when when it when it comes to writing about domestic politics, and it's not my, it's not my my TA, and I spend most all my time writing about foreign policy, but sometimes, you know, things are happening in your country that you need. I also very, I've know at no other time in my life that I felt like the democracy that I live in was at risk. So I can leave it to others to manage those issues. I didn't have to get weigh in. But as an American citizen, I felt that it's important for all of us to just start caring about these things. But in terms of, you know, it's important to remember, as you look at the rest of the world, that democracy is a fragile institution, it is the rarest form of government historically, even though we take it for granted. And we think it's the it's, it's the endpoint of human development, etc. And there has been widespread democracy in the world. But that's a very aberrant situation. Unfortunately, I think we are because we're all children. The Enlightenment we believe in, in the history moves in one direction, you know, ever upward maybe with pitfalls, stumbles here and there. But there's such a thing as progress. But I don't think history actually supports that. And I think what we have taken as progress has just been, as I say, historical aberration, made possible by the fact that the country that believes in democracy also happens to be the strongest country in the world. So not shockingly, democracy has spread during that period. But I mean, the link, obviously, for me is an America that is not a democracy is not the same America, and its effect on the world will not be the same and we saw some glimmerings of that during the Trump years. I mean, Trump was allied with the world's dictators when he was in power, effectively, we all know what his attitudes towards Putin was in you in the European fight, he is on the populist side, he's on the side of Hungary and Viktor Orban, he's on the side of the most right wing populist movements in every country in Europe. And those were his allies. And so America could be the great supporter of global autocracy, if it if it ceases to be a democracy. So I mean, what happens in the United States is, unfortunately, have a real global and historical significance. So ultimately, it all ties together. The interesting thing for me now, and maybe you were probably going to ask this question at some point is, what is the effect on the current international crisis on American domestic politics? Yeah. And of course, it's impossible. It's very difficult to predict. But we there are historical analogies that I think are relevant here, which is, if you go back to the 1930s, and even as late as 1938 39, and 40, you had a very strong illiberal faction in America. It wasn't just the America first crowd, it was the Republican Party, to some extent, saw Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt is the enemy that he was a communist, he was a socialist. And they actually were fairly sympathetic to the fascist governments because they were anti communist. And so there was a in the same way that there is today an affinity between American domestic conservatives and international fascism. So you know, today we see the same thing we saw then. And we saw it now. Now, the effect of World War Two, which was immediately cast as a war between democracy and totalitarianism of one kind or another, in a way sort of forced Americans to like take their own democracy more seriously. And as scholars have written, one impact of the Cold War was that Americans felt that they needed to do a better job of like living up to the principles that they claim to be standing up for internationally. And some, at least some elements of the civil rights movement was an outgrowth of the Cold War competition, because the Soviet Union was constantly pointing to the fact that United States had a racist system. So what kind of democracy etc, etc. So, it's not inconceivable that depending on what happens, the world of crisis is being depicted largely as a democracy versus autocracy struggle in which the United States is supposed to be on the side of the democracies. So I I'm hopeful a little bit that this will have some effect on Americans commitment to democracy at home. And the only thing I'll stop with this, but it's interest To see how divided the Republican Party is right now, even on the issue of Ukraine and Putin, but the majority of Republicans and certainly the overwhelming majority of elected Republicans are anti Putin, pro NATO, pro democracy. And I, I just hope that that kind of rubs of on other Republicans as we go forward.

Jenna Spinelle
Right. And as we wrap things up and think about the sort of dual mission or door tasks that America has, with both, you know, shoring up democracy and support for democracy here at home, while also maintaining our standing on the world stage as the world's most powerful democracy. I just wonder, you know, are we the most cynical version of this question is, is are we up to the task of doing both? But I just wonder, you know, we in some ways, have the infrastructure in place through things like the National Endowment for Democracy to help advance democracy outside of the US? Do we perhaps need something similar to help you know, revitalize interest in and support for democracy here at home? Or are there other types of policy or other solutions that we could be thinking about as far as continuing to build that base of support for democracy here?

Robert Kagan
Well, I don't have a good answer to your second question, unfortunately, because I don't know what it you know, there. I'm sure that there's a lot of democracy experts and advocates who are thinking hard about these issues. And and I hope they come up with something might. My own sense is that's not what happens. It's not an educational process as much as it's a political warfare process. And, unfortunately, that's the way things get decided. But But I do want to address your first point. Are we up to it? Yes, we're up to it. And but it's really, are we up to it psychologically, is in a way, the bigger question, but I do, I do think people need to remember that if you combine the overall power and GDP not only of the United States, but of our allies around the world, from Japan, and Korea and Australia, and de facto in this situation, India, on one side to the European powers on the other, our power is significantly greater than Russia's and China's combined, by the way, which was also true before World War Two. I mean, the United States and its putative allies before World War Two were stronger than Germany and Japan. It was just when are you going to use the power? was the only question. So I actually believe that, you know, in the long run, we will come out of this. Unfortunately, though, the long run may be longer than we want. And we may be in this for 20 years now, we blew our chance to hold on to this world. This is not me, you but people of your generation. Others have been saying that these last 30 years have been the biggest disaster in American foreign policy. We're gonna look back on these last 30 years as the house the on moment, relatively speaking, compared to what we're about to go into. And so we're just, it is the challenge, I will say, unfortunately, more of your generation than mine. Now, to see us through this latest set of crises, the only thing I would say is look to our past, as they say in the in the in the markets. Past performance is no predictor of future performance. But our past performance is yes, we wait too long, we let things get out of hand. And then we bring our considerable power to bear to try to improve the situation that we've allowed to collapse. And I think that's kind of where we are now, we are absolutely capable of doing it. But we need to understand that this is a long term challenge that we need to take very seriously.

Jenna Spinelle
Right. Well, we will leave it there for today. Robert, thank you for your writing to highlight these issues and help us learn this history. That's that's so important. And thank you for joining us today to talk about it.

Robert Kagan
Thank you enjoyed it very much.

Michael Berkman
So Candis interesting interview. I've now I've heard Kagan's interview, I got to see his talk yesterday and spend a little time chatting with him such a fascinating guy. One thing that came up that I think is really interesting point to think about is whether or not we're seeing perhaps some kind of inflection point or some kind of point here that will shift support for democracy or how people come to value democracy, or how important the preservation of democracy becomes. And it just say another word or two about that. I mean, I think I think this is something that we could talk about both in terms of the US and everything Kagan talked about, that's going on, but also in Europe. You know, we you had brought up the point before the interview about what If Trump were still president can't help but to think that Trump would be trying to divide NATO. And therefore, or at least he would be stuck with having been trying to divide NATO. And this has done nothing but bring NATO together, I It's hard for me to imagine how Trump would have navigated any of that. But clearly, this has had a profound effect on Europe, European governments and European people, as it had a similar kind of effect in the United States, you think.

Candis Watts Smith 
So, I mean, if we look back to history, we can see when there are moments in time when the US has to reflect on its own doings values, some thinking about how the civil rights movement, really was able to get jump started after World War One, and then really kind of, especially through World War Two, and certainly through the Cold War, because, you know, people of color, and black people especially could say, Look, you say that you care about democracy. And yet, if we look really hard, we see that the United States is just another form of racism and fascism.

Michael Berkman
Well, I was gonna say, I'm sorry, I'm just gonna say it was also used by the Soviet Union as very powerful propaganda against the United States.

Candis Watts Smith 
Exactly, yeah. So and in that, right, there is a, there was a significant change, or we get at least the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. So there is a, let's say, maybe a pattern of an opportunity, a window opening, where if we are going to criticize what other people are doing, and to, you know, suggests that, you know, certain places should be ashamed of themselves for the things that they're doing. That means that we should be trying to be our best selves, and that we should ensure that our elections are such that citizens are able to vote and not have to jump over barriers that we value, our journalist and our media, that we don't have propaganda in our K through 12. Schools, you know, in suggests that we shouldn't be teaching about our history, in a certain way, right, this kind of whole CRT business. So there's a possibility that we could be reflective, and then there's probably what we will do, which is not do that. So you said earlier that you suspect strongly that we will not have at an inflection point.

Michael Berkman
So I mean, there are really parallels, I think, to the civil rights movement, although it's not nearly as prolonged that has been right it has been going on, and it's not as intense, but that this provides propaganda for them. And this exposes for us our own hypocrisy in in the United States. But, you know, unless you see change within the Republican Party, and Kagan is quite clear about this, then you're really not going to see change here.

Candis Watts Smith 
So that's what that's where the real when I say like the real party is not an optimist is that, you know, there have been plenty of instances where somebody creates a problem. And then they suggest that they solve the problem, right? And it's not actually solved at all. So you know, to say, like, oh, well, I don't, you know, the left hand is doing one thing and the right hand doesn't know what it's doing. I think that's essentially what we're going to see.

Michael Berkman
Yeah, and polarization is a really strong drug partisanship is a really strong. Yeah. And I and I think it's a stronger drug now than it had been in the past. And, you know, I'm looking at something that Jennifer Rubin wrote yesterday and or two days ago, it's all blended together. But, you know, I Jennifer Rubin is it wrote a column that basically did make this case that, you know, maybe we're reaching she didn't say inflection point, but maybe this is a change point. Yeah. The Ukrainian flag is everywhere. She writes held aloft by 1000s marching in the US and European cities. She goes on a bit, they says, you know, not not since we saw us spontaneous demonstrations of solidarity with the US after 911. Has there been such a unified outpouring of support of emotion and righteous anger around the globe, and she's also talking about in the in the United States, maybe this she says what unified a poll for polarized country. But I don't think it will. I mean, I think that we are So much more polarized country that, as you say, people just go back to how they're used to seeing things.

Candis Watts Smith 
I mean, the other thing is, is that we can, I think, let's say there is a moment of unity, it's going to be about what's happening over there, right not about question is if we're going to reflect on what it is that we're doing over here.

Michael Berkman
And that disappointed me about the speech last night, because I thought that Biden came in and made a strong case at the beginning, for standing up with Ukraine, for standing up for the defense of a democratic country against an invasion from its authoritarian neighbor. But then he didn't really make that connection to the United States in the one that we're talking about the one that I think Kagan makes the one that I think others make, he didn't call, he didn't turn that into a call for arms. That's right about democracy in the US. In fact, his discussions about democracy in the US came at the end of the speech.

Candis Watts Smith
That's right.

Candis Watts Smith 
And, you know, I mean, I got where he's coming from, I think He figures he lost that battle. And so there's really not much point in making that argument for himself. But this, you know, if this is going to be some kind of an inflection point, it's the one opportunity to talk to everybody, without anybody getting in the way.

Candis Watts Smith 
And the other thing that stood out, right, is that just kind of going back to the issue of might this be a uniting moment? That Lauren Boebert heckled...Joe Biden.

Michael Berkman
And was praised by her own party for it?

Candis Watts Smith 
Yeah, she she heckled him about when he's talking about veterans. And so it's like, wow, that's the one area where we tend to unite and then everyone's on board. And so then I thought, Well, gosh, if we can even if people can't even have be on their best manners in that moment, then I think we are heading for trouble. We are headed for trouble farther along.

Michael Berkman
But yet another norm, this notion that the State of the Union is an American ritual of, you know, the country coming together to hear from our president. And now it's just it's heckling. It wasn't only her, by the way, Marjorie Green was heckling me the entire time, tweeting out this ridiculous stuff, it's clear, they weren't listening. I just, it's just it's it's hard to imagine quite how you work with them.

Candis Watts Smith 
So I think that we have to kind of really look to see what it is that these folks are doing and saying, because they do have power. They have power, if not in the legislature, they have the power of people who are rallying behind them, that so I, you know, I, I think in some ways, it's kind of like the sentiment that we had about Trump in 2015. He's not serious. And now look where we are. So one of the things that he said during the interview, and I'd be interested to hear your thought is that, you know, he says, and I agree that Americans are very oriented toward progress, and we're always looking for progress. But that progress is not inevitable, and we can backslide. And so I think he called what the kind of democracy that we have right now a historical aberration. Do you think he's right?

Michael Berkman
Yeah, well, this is this point about the liberal democratic order as well, then that that is an aberration that was brought about only because of American power and how we used it, and how we set things up after, you know, in the cold war effort after in the aftermath of World War Two, democracy is actually quite fragile. And we're in the position of having been a democracy, a flawed democracy, but a democracy for a long time. Maybe taking it for granted. Maybe not really recognizing, certainly, we didn't recognize the threats that Trump posed to American democracy. I was at a panel at the APSA a couple years ago. And they had a legal scholar on some kind. And he was talking about norms. And he says, here's the thing about norms, says once a norm goes, it's gone. And so you have a couple of choices when a norm is gone, said either everybody just then proceeds without norm, because it's gone. Or you have to codify it into law. And it becomes a law or regulation or something, controlling something with, you know, sanction and teach behind it. But once the norm is gone, it's gone. Right? So an example he used is why would any president in the future show their tax returns right unless and right, and we're thinking about Kamala Harris. Why shouldn't she do crazy stuff there, given that they all told us that that's exactly what the Vice President's supposed to do. I mean, and democracy rests a lot on these kinds of North, I mean, accepting the results of an election. That is really just conceding is a norm, the no law that you have to concede. We learned in that discussion with Piazza a couple weeks ago, when it's denied, you can go down a very dangerous and violent path. So I think that all the you know, we have to see a lot of this and a kind of cumulative way that the removal of noise, removal of guardrails, these have implications down the line. They're not easily restored, if at all.

Candis Watts Smith 
Well, with that said, I want to thank Jenna and also Robert Kagan, for his insights for his reflection and for inspiring Americans to be more reflexive about the state of its own democracy. I'm Candis Watts Smith for Democracy Works.

Michael Berkman
And I'm Michael Berkman. Thanks for listening.