Mark Danner meets with Alan Ross’s Political Science 179 class to discuss his recent coverage of the January 6 insurrection.
Transcript (edited for clarity):
Alan: Great. I’m trying to unmute you so that you’ll be able to chime in later. And Mark, are you with us?
Mark: I am. I’m here. Very happy to be here. Thanks. Good to see you. Good to see you, Alan.
Alan: For those of you who don’t know, Mark is a professor here at Cal in the journalism and English departments, as well as a professor of, uh, foreign affairs in humanities at Bard. He’s a writer written several books and a reporter who’s covered central America, Haiti about the Balkans, the middle East, and a war zone called Washington DC, which he covered very recently. Hopefully you had a chance to read the incredible article that he wrote the New York review of books, where he contributes regularly. He used to be a staff writer at The new Yorker. And is there anything you don’t do, Mark?
He’s here to talk to us about, um, his reporting from Washington, DC, what he saw on the ground there and what the aftermath is and what we’re going to be facing going forward. So please welcome Mark Danner.
Mark: Thank you very much. It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me, Alan. Would you like me to talk for a little time and then just open it for questions?
Alan: Generally people do 20, 30 minutes. It’s up to you though. Very loose, very formal, whatever you’d like.
Mark: Okay. The one thing I’d ask is if you’re not, if it’s not terribly intrusive, if you guys could turn on your video, I’d be, I’d be grateful just because. It would be nice to see who’s out there. I find that that really helps on zoom. I realize if you don’t want to, you don’t have to, but if you, uh, if you could, it would be great to see some of you.
But I’m really grateful to be here. It occurs to me, uh, that when I was just getting out of college, I was extremely interested in politics and the Salvadoran civil war was going on, which I went on to cover. And that, you guys, I’m presuming you’re very interested in politics being in this class, you’re kind of in this golden age for looking at politics. I did a book a few years ago called stripping bear, the body and that title, stripping bear, the body came from a quotation from a Haitian political leader who said political violence strips bear the social body, the better to see the forces struggling beneath the skin. And it strikes me that for those interested in politics now is just the perfect time because you’re seeing the forces beneath the skin, just struggling on the surface. And that’s what we saw on the 6th of January, a date which will go down in history as the only really attempted coup launched in the United States which it isn’t very difficult to imagine. It could have been it could have been successful. And I’ll talk about that.
But I want to say, first of all, that why did I go to see this? Why did I go to write about it? It was covered at the time as an enormous surprise. You know, how indeed did this thing happen. But if you were paying any attention, particularly on various, uh, chat groups on the web, or simply to Donald J Trump’s Twitter feed, you knew that he was calling his supporters to Washington on January 6. In the most notorious quote, he said, “come to Washington. It’s going to be wild. It’s going to be wild.” And you also knew that if you were following his attempts after the election to try to overturn the results, to try to become president for a second term, you knew that the real crunch would come on January 6th. It was really the last chance to do anything. This occasion in which the Congress accepts and certifies the electoral votes is usually simply a proforma affair. There’s no real way to stop the process, but if he was going to have the Congress in some way, enter the process, January 6 was basically the last opportunity to do that.
And it’s my theory, basically that if the house of representatives had been in Republican hands, we might very well be living under president Trump right now. I think that the coup might actually have been successful. That is just a few votes in the house of representatives stopped president Trump from successfully overturning the will of the voters.
Now, when I saw this chat online and when I was reading president Trump’s Twitter feed, I at the time was supposed to go to cover the inauguration for the New York Review of Books, which is a paper I’ve been writing for ever since college. I worked for them right out of college. I worked in the office and then I became a correspondent. I also have written regularly for the new Yorker. Those are my two major outlets.
I was supposed to go and cover the inauguration. I had already covered the various Trump rallies and other events, there weren’t really Biden rallies to cover. But there were Trump rallies and I had covered some of those.
And I had covered for the New York review, every inauguration going back to I think, 2000. So I was supposed to go and do that. But at a certain point, when I looked at Trump talking about the 6th of January, I realized something was going to happen. And I asked my editors at the New York review, if they could send me to Washington for that.
And they said, well, If you want to, but then you can’t go for the inauguration. So I had a choice and I thought, you know, January 6th is going to be a much more interesting day. And one of the points I want to make here is that anybody who was paying attention knew that there was going to be violence on January 6, that there was going to be a major attempt to disrupt the counting of the votes. So the failure of the Capitol police and other security apparatuses in the capital to prepare for this becomes even more mysterious. That’s one of the questions that’s lingering from these events. Why weren’t they prepared for it? Why didn’t they have troops there? Why didn’t they have more police there?
And I think that that’s a story that’s going to come out. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. If there was a certain degree of complicity there we’ll find that out eventually. And any of that, I decided that January 6th was going to be much more interesting than the inauguration I got on a plane. I flew to Washington DC, which was a kind of closed down city at the moment, all of the plate glass was covered with plywood. You couldn’t have much more closed down than Berkeley is he couldn’t get a coffee on the street. It was very grim and gray winter time in Washington, nobody on the street.
And I got up very early and went to the Washington monument and there was the beginnings of this just massive crowd, including scores of people dressed up in crazy apocalyptic clothing, carrying all these flags with Trump as a Rambo Trump as a tank commander, Trump as a motorcycle gang leader, Trump four more years, Trump signs, stop the steel, uh, hundreds and hundreds of signs, and people, a lot of people wearing so-called tactical gear, meaning that they were dressed as paramilitaries wearing helmets. You could see some sidearms, some guns. But it was, it was an amazing looking crowd, much more armed and prepared than other Trump crowds I’d been to see. And I found myself before, long in the middle of this massive coagulation of people.
It really felt like being, uh, at a rock concert. It was absolutely packed. And at a certain point I couldn’t move my elbows. I couldn’t move at all. You could see the stage, but you also had, uh, the figures onstage replicated on several jumbotrons. And then of course there were all the iphones being held up to record. So you had not only these huge images of Eric Trump andnKimberly Guilfoyle and Don Trump Jr. As they were talking on the stage and revving up the crowd. And then you had, you had these enormous images on the jumbotron and these little images on the iphones thousands of them over the heads of the crowds and the flags swaying.
It was terribly cold, the ground, you know, very windy. So the flags flapped and made a lot of noise. The ground was frozen and slippery. Um, and the crowd was absolutely out of its mind. Another way that it resembled a rock concert. And you know, emphasizing the costumes and so on, but a lot of people weren’t wearing costumes, they were just people there. And, you know, you’re talking about tens of thousands of people who were just there to see Trump and who had followed his summons. And these were people who really believed that the election had been stolen. And I think it’s very important to try to put yourself in their position that they believe Trump.
I mean, it’s that simple. They do not believe the legacy media. They do not believe the Washington Post. They do not believe the New York times. And what’s more important. They don’t believe the court system. They don’t believe the system of government. We have, they believe Trump. And I think it’s important to say that these people there is nothing that would.
You know, single them out if you saw them in the grocery store. Very much a middle lower middle class crowd, some working class, but I would say mostly middle class, um, uh, a lot of Midwesterners, um, from my conversations with people. Um, but these people had gotten on planes to get there. So they weren’t, you know, it’s not like a big crowd of poor people.
It certainly isn’t. It was mostly middle-class, perhaps some working class. And, uh, eventually Trump came out and gave a real barn burner of a speech in which I should say, because we’re, you know, next week the impeachment trial will begin, and some people at least will argue that he didn’t incite the crowd.
That to me is a non-question. He was absolutely explicit in saying March down to the Capitol fight like, hell. If you don’t fight, like, hell, you’re not gonna, you’re not going to have a country anymore. I mean, he absolutely explicitly incited the crowd repeatedly. So this argument that he didn’t incite the crowd to me is risable, you know, it’s just not a serious argument. If you look at what he said, and I assume that the impeachment managers will play some of his remarks in, in Congress, for when making their case, you’ll see that he was very explicit in what he said. And he said, I will come with you. I will March with you down to the Capitol. And we need to fight like hell and, you know, Pence, Mike Pence is a great guy, but he has to do what’s necessary. He was pressuring Mike Pence, the vice president, who would have been presiding over Congress to somehow stop the counting of the votes and call for a revote or declare the election for Trump. None of this had ever happened before. But you know, to Trump, the fact that it was legally unprecedented doesn’t really mean much. He really believes that law is something that you hire lawyers to get around. Important thing to remember about him, that, that he believes law bends to political power.
And this was a very good example of that, you know, march down pressure them, and I will still be president. So it was very clear to me that he was actually thinking this could work. Uh, and I think the idea that this was symbolic, not true, is just not born out by the facts.
So I indeed walked down to the Capitol, it took about half an hour, with this huge crowd of people. It was like, I thought we were like crusaders with our flags pointed forward, walking down to the Capitol and, it was still quite cold. And when we finally got there, people were fighting at the front of the building and trying to push their way in. By that moment, some people had already gotten in. And I had a decision to make, you know, I had interviewed people, I talked to people, I had a decision about whether I wanted to actually try to get into the Capitol. And I decided not to. I’ve thought about that a lot since there were many journalists who did go inside, but I decided that actually I didn’t believe I should do that. I’m not sure that I made the right decision. I’ve gone over it and over it ever since. And eventually I decided that since there were journalists inside, and since I had talked to a lot of people outside, I would go and watch some of the last part of it, so the last hours or the occupation, I would actually watch the cameras that were inside, which is what I did.
But I think what I’d like to say at the end here, because I’m very happy to answer any questions you have about the impeachment, about the events of that day, about what it was like to cover them, what it’s like to do that kind of work, whatever, whatever you’re interested in. But I do want to say that to me, the impeachment, you know, I said, this is a golden time to be interested in politics and that political violence strips bare the social body and the impeachment trial is really going to do that as much as is possible. It’s a kind of x-ray of where we are right now as a country. It seems to me, it’s asking a very, very clear question, which is “do you want the system we have, which has existed for nearly a quarter of a millennium, you know, nearly 250 years, do you want that system or do you want to overthrow it?”
Because in effect, Trump was trying to overthrow it and I compared in my piece, our present situation to what was going on in Rome, in the late Republic. When the system that had been set up was for a relatively small state, not an imperial state, and it was starting to show cracks and eventually of course it became a dictatorship. And I wanted to title the piece, crossing the Rubicon crossing. The Rubicon is what Caesar did, uh Julius Caesar when he led his troops into Rome. So it was essentially the beginning of the end of the Republican system. And I think we’re at a similar point in this country. If Trump is not convicted, if there is any crime that the founders envisioned as meriting, impeachment, this was it, a grave crime against the state itself. It wasn’t a crime against Republicans. It wasn’t a crime against a group of people. It was a crime against the state. And, the Romans understood what that kind of crime was. And if there’s any kind of crime that merits conviction and forclosing a future political career, because that’s what conviction makes possible. You can, first of all, in the Senate convict by two thirds, you need 67 votes. If you do that, you can then vote by a simple majority to make it impossible for Trump to be elected to any public office again.
If the country is unable to do that, I think it says something very grave about where we are and the vulnerability of the system itself. So I think this is absolutely a critical point in our country’s history right now, and we’re living through it. Anyway, thank you everybody for listening. Uh, so patiently, I’m very happy to entertain any question about anything from any of you, so thank you.
Shiraz: Thank you for your account on your visit to the inauguration. That was really compelling.
Mark: I’m glad you thought so, Shiraz.
Alan: Sorry, Mark. I was muted. I was asking when you were interviewing people at the site, who did you tell people you were? Did you say what publication you were writing for? That you’re from Berkeley. And did you blend in at all? Or how did that work?
Mark: That’s a very good question. And I must tell you that I’m embarrassed to give you an answer because it is not what I would recommend for journalism students and, and fledgling journalists. But in fact, I went there as a member of the public. I did not display credentials for the press. I did not identify myself as someone working for a publication and I didn’t really interview people, I just talked to them as if, you know, we were in the crowd. And I’m not particularly happy with that, but I have found in the past that going as a journalist to Trump crowds is almost impossible. You’re put in a kind of cage. And you’re identified as a kind of enemy of the people. And so I found that it’s just simply much easier to go as a civilian. And one of the things I do is if I quote somebody, I don’t use their name, if I happen to get their name, I don’t use it because to their knowledge,they’re not speaking to a journalist. So, ethically speaking, I do not recommend this or think it’s a particularly good solution to the problem, but that is what I did.
Alan: And another question I have is, the fact that we went through an impeachment. It went nowhere earlier, the first impeachment, do you think that will backfire so that people won’t take this one as seriously? If this had been the first one, had they not done that, do you think the outcome would be different?
Mark: Well, I don’t know whether the outcome would be different. Obviously can’t say where the outcome would be different because we’re not at the outcome yet. But, I think that there is a, a kind of feeling, in the press at least, and a lot of the public that this is a fait accompli, that the Republicans won’t do it, it’s an empty exercise. And I think that’s very dangerous, because I think there is a non-zero chance of him being convicted. I think it’s possible. If you said to me now let’s bet a thousand dollars on the impeachment, I would bet that he would not be convicted. However, that doesn’t mean. I don’t think that there is a chance he would be convicted, or a chance that 10 Republicans would vote for conviction. I think that’s quite possible, because I think that a lot of these people are going to be stunned by the presentation. A lot of them weren’t there, they didn’t see the speech he made, a lot of them are going to be kind of shocked and. I may be completely deluded, it may be, you know, 50 to 50 who knows. And getting 67 votes is going to be very difficult. It means 17 Republican votes. So I think the odds are against him being convicted. Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s impossible, but I think what you said, to go back to your question, that the fact had already happened, has made the press and the public somewhat more bored with it than they would be otherwise. It would be a much more special thing if he hadn’t been in impeached before.
Alan: Right. Okay. Let me go through some of the questions from the class. Let’s go, Peter asks, would you prefer section three of the 14th amendment to bar from, from office or impeachment and why?
Mark: That’s a very good question. What was the name of Peter? Peter, thank you. That was, that’s a very good question. I would prefer he be convicted, of sedition, of incitement, because he’s guilty of it. And because everybody is essentially being asked to stand up for the system. He committed a crime against the system. He violated his oath of office. He did it fully in the public view. And if he isn’t punished for this, it essentially means others could do the same. It means that we don’t have the wherewithal to stand up for our system of government. I think that the 14th amendment is perhaps a secondary step that could be taken by majority, but assuming that he is not convicted, if the Congress then goes on to pass a bill to bar him under the terms of the 14th amendment, it will always be viewed as illegitimate by a significant amount of the country, because it will be thought of as partisan, which by the way, it will be. So, I think it’s the right thing to impeach him. I think it was outrageous, that McConnell should have, uh, started the trial immediately. And there wouldn’t be this slimy excuse that you can’t impeach an ex-president, which is fake. If that were true, Mitch McConnell would have had the power to acquit him, in effect.
But yes, I think the impeachment and the conviction is vital.
Alan: Do you have any thoughts on the first one, the first impeachment at all?
Mark: Well, in retrospect, I think they should have taken a little bit longer and made a real case. I mean, in retrospect retrospect, you would wish, because of this engagement, that the last one never happened. Because I think it would feel more serious if the last one hadn’t happened.
Alan: Okay. Maria asks, um, how did you stay safe at the Capitol? Did you try to blend in?
Mark: This is related to Alan’s question. I did blend in, I mean, I wasn’t wearing a Trump hat or anything, but I also wasn’t self identifying as a journalist. And, I felt I didn’t feel unsafe. I felt like I was going to be crushed in the crowd, so I had vague feelings of claustrophobia, because the crowd was so tightly packed. It was just, I don’t know if anybody knows the feeling of panic in those situations, but I did feel it at certain times. Some of the crowd did attack and threatened journalists. They tried to destroy some equipment for CNN. And if you do identify as a journalist in a crowd like that, it’s not terribly pleasant. So, I just feel like if I did, it kind of defeats the purpose of being there, because it’s a way it isolates you. Uh, on the other hand, if I were carrying a camera around like CNN does, I wouldn’t have really had that choice.
Alan: What percent would you say were wearing masks?
Mark: 10%. I’d say, maybe.
Alan: Did that concern you?
Mark: Yes, absolutely. I went to an earlier rally, maybe we could send around a link to that piece, too, in Michigan. And it was very disconcerting and disorienting to suddenly be amongst 20,000 people without masks. It was just very bizarre. This was in October, I think,
Alan: Especially tightly packed, like you’re describing.
Mark: Yeah, very tightly packed. And I wore a mask. Okay. And you feel weird wearing a mask, you know.
Alan: José asks, did you feel judged wearing a mask?
Mark: I did a little bit. There were enough people wearing them that it wasn’t that weird. But you were, sort of strangely, the unusual person wearing it, but I didn’t really feel judged. And I mostly, I felt apprehensive because I was so tightly packed in with all these people. But I took a test afterwards and I didn’t get it.
Alan: Okay. By the way, they’re, you know, they’re not allowed to turn cameras on, or not able to.
Mark: Oh, I didn’t realize that.
Alan: All these webinars are different. So,Alex asks, in the last 20 years, have you seen anything like the emergence of so many far right groups, like we have in the Trump era? What social conditions do you think have created groups like Q Anon and Boogaloo, et cetera?
Mark: I guess the answer to that is no. Although I think this, this current recrudescence, if you can call it that, because we’ve had moments where the far right is riding high before, I think the current one really began under Obama, in the racial alienation and racial fear, that the coming white minority feels, really started under Obama, and has grown dramatically under Trump.
I think there were probably moments around the Goldwater time, for example, when you had, perhaps not similar in magnitude, but also the early civil rights era would be a time when you had a right wing white nationalists, coming strongly to the fore. A book I would recommend strongly is the paranoid style in American politics by Richard Hofstetter, which is about that time and about earlier periods in American history.
So it’s not unprecedented, but I can’t identify a president who was in power, who encouraged these people in the way he did. And I think his encouragement of these people partly has something to do with the fact that Washington was simply not ready for this, that the Capitol was not ready for it. Because, as has been often pointed out when Black Lives Matter did their March in Washington, there were National Guard, there were, you know, millions of police. You could attribute that simply to racism and racism certainly has something to do with it, here’s no question about it. But there also is the fact that there are certain sympathies between police forces and the right wing, that are built into the system. If you go to a Trump rally, one of the chants is “Back the Blue, Back, the Blue”. It has become a cultural touchstone, backing the police. So I think part of that attitude was responsible for the fact that they simply didn’t have people on hand to control the crowd.
Alan: Okay. Martin asks, could you please elaborate a bit more regarding your contention? The coup could have actually succeeded.
Mark: Sure. Sure. I’m glad Martin called that a contention because it is a contention. People would disagree. My view is this. If you had a majority in the House of Republicans, and a majority in the Senate, and a Republican vice president presiding – and say everything else was the same, you had the same number of states, you had the same electoral votes – there would not have been a counter pressure within the chamber to resist somehow setting aside those states that were criticized as having problems with their elections. As it was a majority of Republicans in the house voted to set aside the results. And I think nine senators, I believe voted the same way. It’s hard for me to imagine, if you had majorities in both chambers that were Republican, what it was that would have kept them from actually exceeding to Trump’s viewpoint.
I mean, I may be completely wrong. You could argue, and this is why this is a contention. You could argue the opposite. You could argue that Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and the other senators were able to do what they did because they were safe and thinking this won’t change the results of the election. But I just, I just think that if you had a majority in the house, it all could have been turned over. I really think that that is possible.
Alan: Ava asks just prior to the insurrection, did the crowd believe that Trump would join them on the grounds or at the Capitol? And did you hear the crowd talking about storming the Capitol to commit violence against certain politicians or any violence? I guess at all?
Mark: Those are two good, good questions. It is true that the crowd thought that he might be there. There were huge cheers when he said I’ll be with you, and he said that several times, so I think there was some expectation that he would be there. The second question about violence, you definitely heard people talking, I certainly did, about “they all needed to be shot,” “they needed to be hanged,” it was “time to clean them out.” I heard that phrase several times. I quoted in the piece, this guy was standing in front of me, who actually had a banner that said, “Lead us across the Rubicon”. So, that pictures Trump as Julius Caesar, lead us across to get rid of this terrible system, and on the other side it said “the die is cast”, which is what Caesar supposedly said as he led his troops across the Rubicon. “Alea iacta est”, tt is in Latin, which I wanted to use as the epigraph for the piece, but my editors thought it was too pretentious. Which, if you can’t be pretentious in the New York review of books, what the hell, you know?
So this guy who had that flag, I said to him, so you think Trump should be leading people to take over the government? I don’t think I said it that explicitly. I think I said, so you think it’s time that it was, you know, all ended and he said, yeah, I think we have to clean them all out, and we clearly can’t do it by voting.
In other words, remember that the premise of the crowd was we’re here because Trump was reelected, but now the system and all of these terrible people, including the deep state are now stealing the election from him. It’s important to realize that that’s why they thought they were here. We reelected him. And now all of these evil actors are stealing the election from him. We did it through our votes. We reelected him through our votes, but our votes are being stolen. So it’s important to understand that that’s the way people were thinking, because if you don’t understand that the violence does not become explicable, you know, why were they so violent? Because they thought their votes were being stolen.
Alan: Natalie asks, what’s your prognosis on the likelihood that Trump supporters will learn to “re-trust” the media or journalists? Is it likely to happen under the Biden administration? Will it take a new Republican leader to bring them back, or will Trump and fake news have a prolonged hold on that portion of the population?
Mark: Ah, that’s a very good question, Natalie. And I want to be encouraging. But I feel like right now it’s Trump’s party. Right now. That could start to change. If he was convicted, that would start to change. You would then have the staging for a kind of civil war within the Republican party. If he’s not convicted, I think what that impeachment trial will show is that it’s still Trump’s party. I think that it’s going to be very hard for most of the Trump backers to accept the news media, the so-called mainstream news media. I think that’s a long way off, if ever. And I like to think that if Biden pumps money into the system, which is what he’s trying to do, if he gets people vaccinated, if he doubles the minimum wage, which is what he wants to do in this stimulus bill, you know, within it is a proposal, or a law, to take the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour, so to more than double it. If he does all those things, I think it’s conceivable that some of these people who can be convinced, will be convinced that it’s good he’s in power. But I also think there’ll be a lot of people calling in the dictator, and I mean, it’s already happening. So it’ll take quite a while for the polarization in our politics to lessen, if it does lessen. It’s not going to happen right away.
And I think he’s trying to do the only thing which you can do, which is to do things through the government that will help people. And I think he needs to get his proposals so they will take effect quickly. One of the great errors President Obama made was when they passed the affordable care act was that it didn’t take effect for what was it, five years. You know, now it’s popular. But it wasn’t popular while he was in office.
Alan: Do you think Trump would seriously run again in 24?
Mark: I think it’s possible. I think it’s quite, I think it’s quite possible. He’s a very odd man, obviously. And I think if he felt the only way to keep his power alive was to say he was running, I think he would do it. So I also think there are a lot of imponderables here. I think he’s gonna be in court for various things. I think he’s going to be indicted. So, certainly in some civil matters, he’s absolutely going to be indicted. I think he’ll have tax trouble. He’ll have, possibly he’ll be indicted in the Southern district of New York, because of the Stormy Daniels matter. There various areas that I think he will be in court about, and whether those have an effect, I don’t know.
Alan: Jason asks, how likely do you think we could have a second civil war given that a lot of these extremists are in the myth mindset of having a war with blue States? I’ve heard conversations of a succession.
Mark: I think, again, I think that’s an extremely good question. I think a succession is doubtful. I doubt that would happen. I don’t think there’s the requisite population in various places that would support that. The most obvious point to make here is that African Americans in the South have the vote now. And that is only been true since the mid sixties. So I think an actual formal succession is very doubtful. I do think it’s quite possible we’ll have a lot of violence. I think it’s quite possible. You’ll have terrorist attacks. I think there might be assassinations. There’s a very well elaborated terrorist movement on the right, that, um, came up with the ideology of leaderless revolution, that’s known all over the world. The Islamic state, for example, took that up. Where did they get it? The American, right. That’s where it came from. So I think you might have some of this leaderless violence. That will, you know, people will be shot, state capitals might be besieged. I think that’s quite possible. But whether it would rise to the level of civil war, I don’t know. Suddenly the government, the government has been very lax when it comes to dealing with these people, partly for first second amendment reasons. There are a lot of people out there, militia groups who are very well armed with assault rifles. I don’t know of other countries in the world that have this situation, but that’s ours.
Alan: Another question that I saw earlier, I didn’t get the name, was, do you think that it will have violence? Should there be a conviction? Would you expect a violent reaction to that?
Mark: I think it’s quite possible. I think it’s possible we’ll have violence in any case. I think that probably it’s more likely we would have it with a conviction than not. Terrorism, you, you blow a bomb up somewhere, you kill, we saw in Oklahoma city, 168 people, I think was the number were killed. Why do you do that? You’re not going to take power by doing that, but you might raise your membership. You’re recruiting. You’re kind of saying we’re carrying on a fight. Join us, join us. Join us. That’s what Al-Qaeda was doing. And you’re also trying to provoke your adversary.
Al-Qaeda for example, why did they attack the Pentagon and the Twin Towers? They wanted the United States to invade Afghanistan. That was very well known. So, why would you have domestic terrorists, for example, assassinating or attacking buildings? One answer to that is you want to provoke the government to clamp down. The more the government clamps down, the more you can mobilize anti-government forces. It’s a very well-known dynamic. If you want to see it in action, I recommend very highly the film “Battle of Algiers”. It’s a great movie and it shows the dynamic of these kinds of movements.
Alan: Giselle asks, could you give your thoughts on Trump’s children running for office? Do you think Trump’s supporters would also support them and do you think they stand a chance of winning? It depends what office of course
Mark: Yeah, I think it’s quite possible that for example, Ivanka could unseat Marco Rubio, I think that’s quite possible. Although Rubio is fairly popular in Florida, so I wouldn’t take it as an absolute given. And Lara Trump is talking about running in her native North Carolina. And that would be an open seat as well, because Burr is retiring. So, I think it’s possible.
The interesting question for me, as Alan implied, is could any of them step into Papa’s shoes and run for national office. And I tend to doubt that. It’s possible they would inherit enough of his backers to be a formidable opponent in multi- candidate primary on the Republican side. It’s possible. But he’s, he’s a very unusual politician, and his kids, I’m not that impressed with his kids. I don’t know whether they could hold that movement together. Maybe, I don’t know. But if you asked me to bet on it, I doubt it.
Alan: Maria asks, “is there anything that could happen to unite the United States? A common cause between the right and the left?” Wow. Martian attack?
Mark: What a great question. Gee, I don’t know. Biden is trying, by introducing a number of policies that are really class specific. He’s trying to give money to everyone. He’s trying to raise the minimum wage. These are good policies to try to unite people. But I think this will take a long time. I think we haven’t seen, as Biden has said about the coronavirus, we haven’t seen the worst of it yet. And I think that’s true about division in the country. We haven’t seen the worst of it yet. And this is not simply because of Trump. There are a lot of factors that predate him, that have caused this polarization. We have much less polarized politics in the fifties and early sixties. And of course, Black Americans didn’t have the vote then. So I’m not saying that’s the only reason we are where we are, but certainly, if you, if you talk about sort of large arcs of change that have put us where we are, one of them is the civil rights movement and the transformation and the party system that that caused. You had, at the beginning of it, you had a solid democratic South, and now you have a solid Republican self South. Why is that? Because African Americans got the vote, in the South and across the country, and white Americans in the South became Republicans.
So the American political system, I think is unequaled in its deformation because of race. And Trump, if you look at his politics, when he did, when he announced his campaign, talking about Mexicans as rapists and immigrants and the other, and his whole politics, it’s no accident we have this white nationalism now. His whole politics were based on the other, and the other is someone who’s darker than you are. And I think that can not be overstated. I think it can’t be exaggerated, and it goes back very far in American history. He didn’t invent it, but he used it in a way that other politicians were much subtler. I mean, he’s like George Wallace is the closest you could, you could compare him to, I think, in modern American politics.
Alan: Except probably not five of my students know who George Wallace was.
Mark: George Wallace was the governor of Alabama, who’s famous for saying, “segregation now, segregation later, segregation always” and I’m mangling the quote, but he stood up against the civil rights movement, blocked the school house door, wouldn’t let black children in, and then eventually ran for president in 68 and 72. Hee actually was a politician who showed the way for the Republican Southern strategy, which I referred to a minute ago, which is, because of the civil rights movement, we are going to win in the South as we haven’t for a hundred years, as we never have, Republicans had never won in the South. And George Wallace, by winning states in 68 showed Nixon what became the Southern strategy, which was Republican conservative, racial, dog whistling, talking about States’ rights, which was another word for segregation, essentially.
Alan: It’s almost five. I have another question here, and then I don’t know if you can stay on for a few minutes after?
Mark: Sure, as long as you like.
Alan: I appreciate that. So, Ryan has a happy question here, “part of what makes systems of governance work is people’s belief in its legitimacy and integrity. It seems to me that many people, not just those on the right have lost faith in our system. So here’s the happy question. Do you think calamity is inevitable? What changes, if any, do you think have to be made to preserve the unity of our country or our current system?”
So that’ll be the last question then we’ll go to extra hours.
Mark: First of all, I’m very impressed with how pointed and well shaped these questions are. I think we’re already in the age of calamity. So inevitable in a sense, begs the question. We’ve been in a state of open calamity since 2000, certainly. The Supreme court election, 9/11, the Iraq war of choice, the 2008 economic calamity, the election of Donald Trump. We’re already in, as I tried to suggest when talking about the late Roman Republic, we’re in a situation where we have an archaic system. Donald Trump lost the last election by nearly 8 million votes. And he almost, almost became president again, legitimately, under our system, 40,000 votes going the other way, across several states, three States, he would have been president. That is an archaic decadent system. Where 8 million more people can vote for one candidate and the other one wins.
So our electoral college system, our senatorial system, the system that was put into effect in the late 18th century century, is not working. It is not working. So yes is calamity inevitable. Yes. We’re already in calamity. And the problem is, you know, how do you fix these things? Well, it probably will be completely impossible to amend the constitution, to, uh, get rid of the electoral college. On the other hand, there’s a work around, the multi-state compact, which may conceivably change it. I don’t know if you’ve talked about that in class, Alan, I won’t explain what that is, but it’s a possibility that it might correct the electrical college problem. It’s possible to do something about the Senate. How? By inviting in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as additional States,that would help do something. Right now, the Senate is 50-50, but the Democratic senators represent 41 million more voters, or, excuse me, I think it’s 41 million more Americans than the Republicans. That is not a good system. That’s a big problem.
We also, by the way, I think that Republicans have not won the popular vote, a majority of the popular vote, since 1988. And yet they have served, I don’t know, roughly half that time they’ve had the white house. We also have a Supreme court, which is now majority more than majority, super majority Republican, even though they have won the popular vote, majority of popular vote, only once since 1988. That is not a good system.
So we’re in this major crisis. As this is happening, we’re having the demography of the country change dramatically. I’m sure you’ve talked about this before, but we’re headed for a majority minority country, which is a terrible phrase, but that’s what’s happening. It’s already happened with California and couple of other States. And the future minority is using these weaknesses and these archaic weaknesses in the political system to, to keep its hold on power. That’s kind of the short description of what’s going on and we haven’t figured out a way to solve that problem. It’s a very big problem and you guys are gonna live with it in your adulthood.
Alan: Okay. Great answer, really fantastic Mark. Thank you so much. So I will end the recording and the formal class, and then we will continue and you are un-muted so you can actually directly ask more questions and a huge thank you to Mark.
Go ahead. Anyone who’s un-muted now, and just jump in with your questions for Mark.
Student: I have a question. So it’s more about what happened on January 6th, but I was wondering if you heard any like, specific talks not hurting any of the law enforcement, just because a big part of the Trump base was always behind like blue lives matter. So this is to see if any of that conversation came up. Or if that just kind of flew out the window when the police were the ones trying to hold them back?
Mark: That’s, that’s a very interesting question. There were within the Capitol, a lot of exchanges, many of which you can see on videotape.
I mean, as I remarked on my piece, this is the most photographed coup in the history of the world. So you can, you can basically spend hours online looking at what happened in the Capitol. You can see confrontations between the marchers rioters, whatever you want to call it, and the police, in which the rioters are saying, you know, “we’re on your side, let us in, don’t fight. Let us in. We’re on your side. We’re representing you.”
And my view is that the police were very pissed off at people who said things like this, because they were trying to keep order and keep people out. That was their job. And these people, you know, if you want to help me, stay out of the damn building, you know, stop pushing forward, stop spraying, bear spray at me, stop hitting me because you know, more, more than a hundred of those cops were injured.
You know, there was a lot of violence and a lot of injury. So, to go back to your question, I did not hear people around me saying, well, make sure you don’t hurt the cops or anything like that, but there were a considerable number of conversations within the building that were basically rioters, trying to say to the police, you know, you’re with us, we’re on your side. And there have been some charges that there were some police who let them in. Te don’t know yet whether that’s true.
Alan: Okay. Now does the next person want to jump in?
Student: Thank you for the great talk. And I had two questions. Was there any sentiments I’m on with the crowd that they were doing something illegal? And also what’s something that shocked you that isn’t really talked about in the media?
Mark: I don’t think that anybody thought they were doing something illegal. Certainly not at the level of the March. And remember that Trump told them to do this. And many of them who have been arrested are essentially saying that my president told me to do this. And, you know, you can look at that and say, well, obviously what you did was illegal and you should’ve known better. And you walked into this building and you pushed by police. And it was obviously illegal, but many of these people really did think the president was the only legitimate arm of government now. You know that doesn’t mean that were right, obviously, but, but many of them, I think rationalized the situation by saying that. Trump, my president invited me here. So a lot of these people, they’re kind of in their way of looking at the government, they’re rather royalist. And they see Trump as a kind of ‘The leader’ and the Republican party it should be said, has gone in this direction.
I mean, in George W. Bush administration, there were a lot of thinkers in it who talked about the unified executive. You know, the idea that the president has ultimate power. He can do whatever he wants in the agencies. And that’s traditionally not the way the U S has operated. So there’s a strong royalist current within the Republican party that Trump essentially stepped into.
Your second question about was there anything I haven’t talked about that was particularly shocking or interesting.
I saw this weird confrontation after I left the crowd. I stopped at a Starbucks that was actually open. It had its windows were all covered with plywood. And I went in, I was freezing and I went in to get a coffee. And of course you couldn’t sit down because it’s the pandemic. So everybody was masked and their bathroom was closed, you couldn’t use the bathroom.
And as I was waiting for my latte, a crowd of people from the March came in all wearing Trump’s paraphernalia. And they were like, what do you mean we can’t use the bathroom? Who says? And it should be said that everyone behind the counter was African-American and everybody in the Trump crowd was white. And they got into this huge argument. And one of them said, I’m going to shut you down. And he went outside and stood next to the door. And anybody who came to the door, he would say, They’ll take your money, but they won’t let you use the bathroom. Don’t go in here. And finally this guy walked in who was another Trump supporter, but he was African-American. And there were very, very few, I mean, I would say, I don’t know, it can’t have been as high as 1% of Black and Brown faces in that crowd.
But he came in and it was this weird confrontation between him on one side of the counter and these three African-American you know, baristas on the other side. And he sort of started to lead the crowd and yelling at them and saying, “what do you use? What bathroom do you use? I’m tired of this liberal shit.” I thought about this and I wanted to get it in the piece somehow, because I thought there was something very provocative about this confrontation. But I never did. You know, so now I’ve used it.
Alan: Okay. Someone else?
Student: Yeah. I have a question about, so you said that those rioters at rally, they’re like mostly middle class. I saw conventional wisdom usually says that far right supporters are of the nowhere class, or the working class. So could you explain this demographics? Also, you talked a lot about how this could actually be a coup, do you think the Myanmar military coup, that just happened, do you think there are any implications for the U S current system?
Mark: Well, those are, those are two great questions. I think the class question is a very interesting one. My experience of most of these crowds has been there a lot of small business owners. There are a lot of, sort of, middle-class sort of more on the lower middle-class side, but you know, you meet accountants, people who have their own accountancy business.
So the idea that it’s just this rabble of poor people is not as simply not true. It’s just not what I’ve seen. That doesn’t mean obviously the people who come and are present, come to rallies are not the same demographic as his voters. I mean, they overlap with it, but they’re the most radicalized voters.
So I would say that the class isn’t the big difference. That’s number one.
It’s fascinating bringing up the Myanmar coupe. I think there’s a lot of reporting yet to be done when it comes to January 6. And one of the key questions is: why did it take the national guard so long to arrive?
And we know a little bit about this. We know that Steny Hoyer, who’s the number two Democrat in the house. When he was locked down, they were in these rooms, seeking shelter from the crowd. He called the governor of Maryland. And Maryland obviously is adjacent to the District of Columbia. He said, “Can’t you send in your national guard. We need help here.” And the governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, couldn’t get approval from the Pentagon to send in the National Guard. Now there’s a real question. Why was that? And I have a feeling it’s probably a complicated answer.
It’s not just some guy sitting there saying “Gee, I hope the president is able to overthrow the Congress. Let’s hold back the national guard.” I think it’s probably more complicated than that. But there’s another piece of this, which is that after election day, Trump immediately fired his Secretary of Defense and he fired several other key officials at the top of the Pentagon, including the chief of staff, and replaced them with loyalists, with people who were only known by their loyalty to Trump. Now, if you saw that happen anywhere in the world, I’ve done a lot of this kind of reporting, it’s like a signal that there’s going to be a coup. I mean, that’s what you do, you know, you make sure you have loyalists in positions of power.
A couple of days before January 6, the 10 living defense secretaries. Ten former defense secretaries who were still alive, wrote a letter. They wrote a op-ed in the Washington post, the point of which was basically to say “no coup.” I mean, it’s a remarkable letter. It basically said in the history of the U S the military has not played a role in political descendancy, in elections and in the choice of the next government and political transition. And it’s a remarkable, I mean, I highly recommend you look at this op-ed, because it was essentially a letter that was saying between the lines, Hey, military, don’t take part in a coup. So, you know your question, comparing the Burmese situation to ours is well taken. We don’t know what role the military played beyond that it took them a long time to show up and why that is, we don’t really know at this point,
Alan: Next question?
Student: Hello. I wanted to ask you, what are your views on Twitter on Facebook excommunicating Trump and what social media platforms are or were complicit in the coup and what should happen to them?
Mark: Boy, these are very large. That’s a very large question. The first part of it is my feelings about the so-called de platforming Trump, which I think is an amazing word, “de platforming,” are distinctly mixed. I am grateful that he is relatively quiet of late and he’s lost this incredible platform. I also feel queasy that a private company, in effect one CEO, has this kind of power to just shut up the president and now the former president. There’s something very undemocratic about it. So my feelings are distinctly mixed about this.
I guess in your broader questions about the social platforms, I don’t think I have very unusual views in that I think they need to be broken up, frankly. I think they are monopolies that are dangerous. I think the US economy has been terribly deformed and distorted, in part by these monopolies, but it’s not the only reason. I think we live in an era of just obscene, obscene, inequality, that these platforms are helping. They’re not, again, the only reason, but they’re one reason. I think that it’s very hard for a democracy to function effectively with this kind of obscene imbalance of wealth and power. And I think that’s one of the factors that’s at work here.
So I think these platforms should be broken up. I think it should be competitive. I think when Trump left Twitter, he should have been able to go somewhere else. You know, frankly. And I say that, as I say, with mixed feelings. It’s not right that Jack Dorsey can say, “all right, I’ve had enough,” just because this guy thought of Twitter, do you know what I mean? It’s just not the way it should be.
Alan: Right. Great question. Next question?
Student: Do you believe that the Republican Congress members statements after the insurrection, misconstrued what the public perceives of what actually occurred?
Mark: I’m not sure I take exactly your question, but I’m going to answer it in the way I understand it, which is that many in Congress on the Republican side have essentially argued that he did not incite. They’ve taken this one pro forma statement he made, which is that ‘I want you to protest peacefully’ and use that as an argument to say he didn’t incite. And I think that’s completely false. It’s just anyone who looks at what he said, that there just is not a case, a factual case on that side, of saying he didn’t incite.
You may also have been referring and maybe I have this wrong, to the fact that after the attempted coup, the majority of Republican Congress members voted to set aside the electoral votes and I think that’s incredible and outrageous. Literally incredible. It’s astonishing to me that they did that.
They’re clearly very afraid of his supporters. I mean, some of them are true believers and some of them are afraid of his supporters, and afraid of being primaried. One of the larger problems here is that the Congress, because of gerrymandering is now set up in such a way that if you’re in a Republican seat, there are very few seats where you have to fear being unseated by a democratic opponent. Your fear is all about being primaried to your right. And that is a major problem in how the Congress works right now. Because if a lot of people were fearing that a Democrat could take their seats, the politics of the place would be very different. There would be some sort of incentive for compromise and so on. I mean, you can see the implications,
Alan: another question?
Student: So my question, I guess, kind of builds on that, which is why I wanted to get in. I saw like Trump’s lawyers recently said that one of their defenses is going to be that, like, how could he have been cited the mob if some of these attacks on the Capitol were pre-planned.
So, I mean, my question just is like, why are we focusing so strongly on the speech she gave right before everything happened on the sixth? Just because I feel like it was like a slow long, boil that just kind of built up over a long amount of time. Like he had been lying about it since before the election.
So my, I guess that’s like the first question. And my other question is, I know that there’s a lot of information still out there, about how some freshmen members of Congress could have even been involved in. Like with Marjorie Taylor Greene, it’s more about some of the conspiracy theories and things she said, but I was wondering then, what’s your opinion when we do hear about maybe actual members of Congress being involved? What do you do with those people? Like, do you try to get them out of Congress or do you just take away committee of seats? Like what’s the medicine, sort of, for it?
Mark: Well, those are two big questions. I mean the first one. You know, I couldn’t agree more. I mean, the idea that it’s simply about his incitement in that speech is essentially that’s what they’re making the argument around because it’s the clearest case of cause and effect. So they’re making the argument around it, but you’re absolutely right that he was arguing the election was going to be stolen months before the election. And the New York Times the other day, I think it was Monday, had a great takeout, a very big piece called 77 days, that was a history of those days, beginning with the election. So, Tyler, you’re completely right about that, I completely agree.
The second point, I think people who were actually involved, this is a very similar question to the question of convicting him, which is when the system is threatened, the system itself, not one party or another, but the entire system, what do you do about it? And if you have an inability to protect the system, it’s a sign of a kind of political decadence, that the system isn’t working. I think the obvious answer to the question, you know, if they find, for example, that there were Congress people who gave tours the day before to some of the leaders of the insurrection, who showed them around the Capitol, which they’ve been saying happened. I don’t know whether it did or not, but that’s the rumor. What if they find that that happened? To me, those people should not only should they be expelled, but they should be subject to prosecution for conspiracy.
These are crimes against the state and this is why treason, I think it’s the only enumerated crime in the constitution that has the death penalty attached. I’m not saying these people should be executed. I’m just saying that a crime against the state is a different kind of crime than a property crime, or even a crime of violence. It’s a crime about overthrowing the state order. And, you know, the Romans, the Catiline conspiracy, for example, which was a foreshadowing of Julius Caesar, the Romans killed all of them, without trial, I should add. I would never, I’m not advocating capital punishment for these things or anything, I’m just saying that these are a level of crime that’s very serious. And if a system can’t defend itself against that, it’s showing a mortal weakness in the system. And I think that that’s the situation where we’re in right now.
Student: What did you think of when the Republicans were in the bunker and they refused to wear masks, even though people were offering them. And the public, of course, didn’t know this, But my question is I thought that the Republicans were being anti-masking just for the public to make sure that they didn’t get primaried, like you were saying before. But it appears that they actually believe this, that they actually think that masks are useless. What do you think about this?
Mark: Well, I’m sure that different people among the Republican party have different views on that question, I think as a public matter, wearing a mass has become a kind of signal in the Republican party that you may be soft. You may be a ‘RINO’, that’s the term ‘Republican In Name Only.’
So the people who feel this, who believe this are on the right of the party. So wearing the mask for some Republicans amounts to signaling something for their constituents, I don’t think that’s completely the case. I think there are a number of Republicans who wears masks.
I mean, a prominent Republican who always wears a mask is Mitch McConnell. Right. The most part, the most powerful Republican in the country. So I think that this varies, but it is true that the wearing of the mask has become a symbolic ‘giving in’ to democratic ideology for some people. And there, you know, there are people it’s hard to believe, but there are people, thousands of people, millions of people, who believe that COVID is a completely over hyped phenomenon. I mean, I say it’s hard to believe because 430,000 people have died of it, but there are people who believe that those numbers are fake.
You know, I met at a Trump rally, a nurse, somebody who actually works with COVID patients who believed that. Who said that there were people who died, she knew of people who died, who were really dying of other things, and they were listed as COVID deaths. So she believed it was fake. It’s very hard to argue with people like that.
Alan: Okay. Another question?
Student: Quick question for you, Mark. Thank you so much for taking the time. This really kind of in regards to the recent violence toward, you know, peaceful protests, like BLM and the insurrection at the Capitol. In any other country where democracy is threatened, and there’s these sort of violences that take place, usually the U.S. steps in. When this happens to us, who do we look for? To keep us in check? Is this just another example of absolute power corrupting or, or is this just an outlier that’s just happened to happen?
Mark: Um, Well, it’s an interesting question. Again, I’m not sure that I fully understand and correct me if I don’t.
There are plenty of adversary countries, if we can put it that way, that took some delight in seeing this happen in the United States. I mean, read the Chinese press, for example. The U.S., they perceive, has been very much self-righteous in talking to them and look, it should first get its own house in order.
So you saw this in the international press. When you mentioned absolute power corrupts absolutely. I’m not sure. Are you talking about Trump? I’m not sure what you were really asking there.
Student: Yeah. Sorry. It was about Trump,
Mark: I think it’s very hard to apply that to him, I think. He never had absolute power. He’s a very, very unusual man. I think it’s not unfair to say he’s an abberant personality. I met him and had lunch with him once, he’s very self-absorbed. He is very ignorant. He knows things about certain areas of life, and he has vast areas of ignorance about other things, including by the way, the federal government. And it isn’t simply that he doesn’t know it’s that he’s unable to learn. He’s simply unable to learn. He doesn’t want to learn. He’s unable to learn. So it was impossible to teach him about parts of the government.
He really claimed and believed that he knew everything. There’s a book, his niece wrote a book. I think it was called “Too Much and Never Enough,’ by Mary Trump. I highly, that’s a best seller that book. I highly recommended if you’re interested in Trump, it’s not very long. It’s about his family.
And I think when we talk about him and he’s not, he’s a political phenomenon, but he’s much more a psychological phenomenon. Do you know what I mean? So I don’t think it was absolute power corrupting absolutely. I think it was his inability to believe that he could lose. And I think that was deeply ingrained in him and still is ingrained in him.
So people who told him that the election had been stolen, he only wanted to hear from those kinds of people. And by the end, he really believed that it had been stolen or at least there’s not a big enough difference between what he really believed and the way he acted to matter. But I think this is a psychological matter, you know, much more than a political one.
Alan: If the election were today, how many votes fewer do you think he would get? And he got in November. I mean, percentage? do you think would be, do there’ll be much of a drop-off after everything that’s gone on, post-election?
Mark: Yeah. Wow. Boy, that is a pointed and very dismaying question, because I think it’s possible he’d get more votes. I hate to say this because I think they’d be able to possibly get more people out. I mean, it’s interesting that the senatorial elections in Georgia the fraud that he pronounced seems to have depressed voter turnout on the Republican side. So that would argue that there’d be fewer votes.
But I don’t know, it has seriously revealed that many Republicans, when faced with the choice between keeping the system and keeping Trump, choose Trump over the system. And we don’t like to think of our country that way. We’d like to think that what’s most fundamental, what joins us as Americans is these sacred documents, the constitution, the declaration of independence. This is what we all have in common, the system. And it comes before the ideology of individual politics and political parties. But there’s that phrase, I ended my piece with it, ‘this is not who we are.’ I hate that phrase, ‘this is not who we are.’ It’s what we do. So how can it not be who we are?
Various people have said this isn’t who we are. We believe in the constitution. Well, really? How can it be who we are if it’s not what we do? And I think the last 20 years-
Alan: well, exceptions, that’s why
Mark: Well, exceptions are very large. If torture is not who we are – I’ve written a few books on torture, I’ve written a lot about it – if torture is not who we are, as Obama said, then why did we do it? And how come we didn’t punish anybody for it? Why do we still have 40 people in Guantanamo Bay, Who’ve been tortured, many of them, and we’re not letting them loose? How do you say that’s not who we are? So I think these are questions I throw squarely into your court as students who are interested in politics, because it’s to you to sort of grapple with these questions and they’re not easy ones.
Alan: Okay. Do you have time for any more, Mark?
Alan: Okay. Because these are great questions The last one was mine, but now let’s go back to you guys. Someone want to jump in?
Student: To circle back on what you were saying a little bit ago about how the democratic senators represent 41 million more voters than there are Republicans do. More of a philosophical question in terms of government, the founding fathers created the system inherently unequal because they’re trying to balance the small States versus the larger States. But, what you’re saying is this is flawed, but how would you say any of your proposed improvements really disrupt this power dynamic? And do you think that this like balancing of small States versus large States is an important balance to keep?
Mark: It’s a very complicated question you ask and I can only kind of sketch the answer. You’re right about the balancing of small and large States. It also had to do very much with slavery.
But one of the things that’s happened is, our political parties used to be like, like this. In other words, they overlapped when it came to ideology. You had conservative Democrats, notably in the South, and you had liberal Republicans, notably in the Northeast. So if you said to somebody, what political party are you from? If they answered Republican or Democrat, it wouldn’t necessarily tell you what their ideology was. We’re so used to this polarized politics that this sounds very odd what I just said, but in fact, there were lots of Republicans who were more liberal than the conservative Democrats. And there were plenty of Democrats who were more conservative than liberal Republicans.
Now that ended again with the civil rights revolution of the sixties. I mean, it took a while to play out, but now the parties where they used to be like this, or like this. And it means that you have regional differences and small state to large state differences are stacked on top of ideological differences.
In other words, you used to have this overlapping of ideology, which would mitigate these regional differences. I’m trying to say something relatively complicated in a very small space. But all of this has contributed, there are states many, many small states, Wyoming. I live in California, 40 million, Californians have two senators, Wyoming, 800,000 or 500,000. I forget how many people in Wyoming there are, they have two senators, Wyoming as currently constructed will simply never go Democrat. I mean, I suppose you could say that that California will never go Republican. Although in living memory, there has been a Republican governor. California was not always so stratified ideologically.
I hope this makes a little bit of sense to you that, the system itself, together with certain changes that have happened in the last 40 years have made these differences, these kinds of overlapping differences. Ideology has added itself to regional differences. And rural and urban differences to make the polarization of the country enormously exacerbated.
There’s a very good book on this. I don’t think I’ve explained it very well, called ‘Why We’re Polarized,” it’s by Ezra Klein. I very much recommend it. It gets into this issue much more deeply than I can in this amount of time.
Alan: Anyone else?
Student: If I may follow-up, I don’t feel that fully answered the question in terms of like –
Mark: No, you’re right.
Student: I guess, let me more say more specifically. Do you still think there is an imperative to balance the smallest States versus large States powers, anymore? Or is that now more replaced by the rural versus urban dichotomy.
Mark: Boy, you really ask complicated questions. The system was set up, I mean, it wasn’t simply large states versus small states. It was elite versus rabble and I think that’s worth saying. The Senate is notorious because you know, the Senator originally was not popularly elected until 1917.
Senators were chosen by state legislatures. So it was sort of the elite of the elite choosing the elite. And the electoral college is also an artifact, not only of slavery, but of keeping the system in the hands of the elite. And I think one of that’s, one of the problems we have is how do you, uh, make for a more popular voice in the constitution, under the constitutional system.
I guess that balancing small States against large States, you know, comes down to the issue of federalism and whether the system, whether federalism, is outdated. I mean, it’s a question to debate. It’s not a serious question that’s going to be changed because, my broader argument would be, that the constitution was designed in a way that made it extremely hard to alter. And that the problems I’m pointing to do not stand a real chance of being altered under the system. The only way it would happen would be a constitutional convention.
I mean, it’s like the electoral college system, there’s simply no way that’ll be altered. I think in our lifetimes, by a constitutional amendment because too many states see it as in their interest and the same thing with the senatorial system. I mean, if you were in Wyoming, would you vote to change that system? Never. Right.
So anyway, I think that you’re quite right in saying, I didn’t answer your question fully. But I think the problem that I’m pointing to, the only way to confront it is through end arounds. The multi-state compact as a way to do something about the electoral college. I mean, that basically is a certain number of States agreeing, vowing, that they will give their electoral college votes to the candidate that wins the popular vote. And once you get half the States that represent half the electoral college, to agree to that system, it becomes the de facto system. So whether it would be ruled unconstitutional or not, I don’t know, it might be.
Bringing in, uh, Puerto Rico and the district of Columbia States would not solve the problem of small states. It would, because of the current demographic realities, would help to more balanced the Senate. So it would, it would head it in a politically in a more balanced direction. It wouldn’t solve the problem at all. But it’s one thing that could be done with majority vote. Well, actually it now needs 60 votes. That’s another thing that has to be eliminated is the filibuster, which we haven’t mentioned at all, but which makes the problem with the Senate even worse.
Alan: We had a speaker last semester, who said, though, the multi-state compact would not work in that a state like California would pull out. They’d initially be in it, but if they saw Trump winning the popular vote, but not the electoral vote, would pull out of it. So that they’d left the electoral votes. Each time they could be in and out, unless I guess it’s a constitutional amendment within the state that prevents them or it makes it difficult to change.
Mark: Yeah, I think that’s a valid argument. I mean, another, a gentler way to say it would be if it finally passed, that is if enough States passed it to make it law, we would be in uncharted territory. It would be unclear in these situations where you have a difference between electoral and popular vote, when you had that kind of election, there would be a certain degree of pressure on that law. And you could have a kind of fiasco, of the sort that we had. What happened since election day has shown, has underlined, as I tried to show by that quote about stripping bare the body, it has underlined weaknesses in the system.
For example, that state legislators, state legislatures are able to decide – a state legislature, theoretically, could vote to give itself the power to award the electoral votes, if it wanted to, there’s nothing unconstitutional about that. That’s a real problem in the system.
And you would have that kind of pressure, if you had another one of these elections, two of which have happened in the last 20 years. We’ve had two elections, and we almost had a third, 2004, in which the winner of the popular vote did not win, did not become president. And I don’t know whether the system can stand, that happening repeatedly.
Alan: anyone else want to get in?
Student: I have a question, a little bit off topic, but with the house right now, with the GOP voting on the fate of Cheney, and earlier McCarthy basically giving a pass to Marjorie, what do you see the fate of the Republican party and how in the world do they not become the party of QAnon, and how in the world can they win any kind of future elections?
Mark: It’s a very, very good question. What you said is the way a lot of these pieces are couched, will the Republican party collapse, is it broken? Is it the end of the Republican party? I mean, I look at the Republican party and see a party that got 74 million votes for president.
They won most of the senatorial contests that were predicted to go to Democrats and they picked up 11 seats in the house. So the idea that they’re about to collapse in some ways strikes me as kind of fanciful. I mean, they are the party of Q Anon. And so far as I can tell, it’s not dooming them.
I mean, I’ve read innumerable pieces in the Washington Post and the New York Times about how dire the situation is for Republicans. I don’t really see it, you know? I mean, they turn out a lot of voters. It is true that they’re having a kind of moral split, that is true. And if they vote to acquit Trump, they’ll be morally besmirched for all time, but does that mean that they can’t win elections?
I’m not so sure about that. What about 2022, will they be destroyed by the democratic party in 2022? Wow. I mean my personal preference is, I hope so. But I wouldn’t be willing to bet on it now, usually a president’s first midterm, he loses seats, a lot of seats very often, and they can’t afford to lose a lot of seats.
So I think I take your question, if you’re talking about sort of the moral and ideological fade of the party, they’re in huge trouble. They’re disreputable, they’re built on lies. A huge number of their supporters believe in this big lie, that’s a terrible situation. But does it mean they’re going to be destroyed electorally?
I haven’t seen the proof at this point. I mean, basically the last election went very well for the Republicans, except on the level of the White House.
Alan: And Georgia, at the end.
Mark: That’s right. And Georgia really is a kind of epi-phenomenon of the White House, you know? I mean, that’s why they lost. Right. So I wish I had a more, you know, more, uh, encouraging answer to that.
Alan: Well, thank you so much for staying on afterwards, Mark. Great talk. And I definitely will have you in person, next time. I look forward to that when we’re back on campus.
Mark: Well, thank you for inviting me, Alan. I’d love to come. And I want to just thank everybody who’s still around for a lot of great questions.
Alan: There were a phenomenal number of questions, of people have stayed after. I think that might be a new record also, so
Alan: It’s just a great talk, really interesting.
Mark: Well, thank you. You know, send me the recording if you can do that.
And, thank you everybody for coming. I’ve really enjoyed it.