Loury is a professor of economics at Brown University. He was famed as a ‘black conservative’ in younger days but seems to have converged to independent centrist or center-right positions. Pollack is a professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, and a liberal of thoughtful cast. They clash quite satisfyingly after the 6.15-minute mark.
Not just President Trump’s behavior in office but the fact of his election has been a chastening moment for many people who study democracies, and the fact that this represents a profound failure of our gatekeeping institutions at a number of levels… This book ‘How Democracies Die’ is a beautiful but disturbing book that makes several points that identify how our democratic institutions are weaker than we tend to assume… President Trump’s ascendance has permanently harmed the country.…
The disturbing aspect of President Trump is not so much his own behavior but the way conventional politicians have found it useful and effective for them to make common purpose with him…. Many autocrats come to the fore in democracies and in some cases the center-left and the center-right, conventional politicians, are able to come together and unite and say ‘OK we’re going to contain and hold accountable this figure. But in other cases conventional politicians decide ‘I can work with this guy, I can control him,’ and very often they achieve some practical ends that they like… and then they discover ‘well actually I can’t control this guy.’ Senator McConnell’s behavior, and Speaker Ryan’s behavior, the Nunes memo and things like that that showed the polarization of the checks and balances system is really very concerning.
Weak stuff, I know. Pollack begs the question. He assumes what was to be demonstrated, that ‘Trump is a threat to democracy,’ and then bemoans that conventional politicians haven’t united to stop him.
My concern is, really, that your reaction is the threat to democracy. That puts it very, very starkly. Democracy in the direct sense that there was an election in 2016 which had a particular outcome. That’s my democratic touchstone. I know there’s all this talk about Russian interference. I’m unmoved. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina… blah, blah, blah … sounds to me like the people spoke. Yes, it was not an electoral majority, it was an electoral college majority. Yes there was a lot of stuff going on, a lot of shenanigans, there was James Comey … blah, blah, blah. We can’t fix all that, there’s always noise, there’s always stuff going on. Touchstone, basic fact, the people spoke.
A lot of people don’t like what the people were saying. Donald Trump simply is the messenger. Now I know. Now I’m putting this very starkly. This can be critiqued. I might want to have a more nuanced articulation of this argument going forward. I’m basically saying: he’s the tribune of the people. We don’t like it. We don’t like the fact that those people won the election. Those people being the ones who stand for this or that or the other. The ones who are just titillated by this that or the other effusion from Donald J. Trump.
He’s fit by definition. All this talk about how smart he is, about how decent a person he is, and so forth – I don’t think anyone really knows. I do know there’s an awful lot of wind blowing going on out there. But it’s irrelevant. He’s qualified in virtue of the fact that he articulated, very clearly from day one, a posture, a view, an outlook on a range of issues, and the people endorsed him democratically.
Is democracy under threat? Did gatekeepers fail? Trump attacks the press. He says they are fake news. A lot of people start tearing their hair, talking about ‘the fourth estate is about to be disemboweled.’ I don’t see that at all. Where is it written that a demagogue, and that’s what presidents… I mean you don’t think that Obama was selling a bunch of dreams to people, that he wasn’t manipulative? Politicians are in the business of creating images and manipulating people’s sentiments.
So he’s fighting back. He fights back because he gets a bad press. So he tries to discredit the people who are trying to make him look bad. He’s fighting back. Then the response is ‘Oh my god! The sky is falling! The republic is being disemboweled! We’re on our way to Nazism!’ Well, pardon me if I for one am not persuaded by that argument. It sounds like sour grapes. What it sounds like is ‘You’ve met your match. You used to think you could tell me what to think, whether it was about the bathrooms or about affirmative action, or whether it was about a war somewhere or whether it was what our social security policy should be. You used to think you could just lecture to me.’ It turns out that voters in Missouri, South Carolina, Wyoming, blah, blah, blah, had a different outlook than the coastal elites. And they won the election, OK.
So no, the sky is not falling. Rather people who have certain presumptions about their authorization and entitlement to exercise power in this country have found, have learned a hard lesson that they’re outnumbered. At least they were in 2016. The effort to discredit what those voters said by attacking Trump – that is the threat to democracy. And it’s also profoundly contemptuous of the attitudes and values of those people who spoke. You consider the New York Times editorial page and negate by your pen the sentiments of pro-life people, the sentiments of people who don’t know about gender in the bathroom, the sentiments of people who want to put America’s interest first. You think it’s a refutation of why you put America’s interest first to lecture from your haughty post, as Charles Blow does in every column that he writes. Wagging your fingers in the face of America? You’re the most anti-democratic, the most elitist, the most presumptuous, most entitled and dangerous people I’ve seen!