tv Fareed Zakaria GPS CNN July 4, 2021 10:00am-11:00am PDT
welcome to our viewers in the united states and around the world. i'm fareed zakaria, and this is a special edition. "state of america." today on the show, a report card on america. as the country celebrates its 245th birthday, we take stock of how the nation is fairing. we'll start with the state of democracy. president biden pledges to do big things. >> this is a generational investment to modernize our infrastructure. >> congress remains deeply
divided and states pass laws to limit voting. >> change can happen, and i still believe we're at that moment now, but it's up to us to write the end of the story. >> then -- >> [ screaming ]. >> -- race relations. just 13 months after the killing of george floyd. we've seen protests, but have we seen change? >> i think most african-americans have had that hope, that the country can be better. >> also, the state of the economy. stocks and housing and everything are up, up, up. but are we at peak america? finally, tiktoks, podcasts, watching movie
premieres from the comfort of your couch. we'll examine the state of american culture. but first, here's my take. we've all read stories of how americans don't care about history. a few years ago, a survey found that only one in three americans could pass the citizenship test that is required of all immigrants seeking naturalization. but that tells us more about the decline of civics education than about what americans value. in fact, this country has always passionately discussed and debated its past. we are going through a particular bitter period of consternation now as some americans require a deeper reckoning of our history and others ke cry what they see as denigrating our country. last week gwen berry turned away
in protest as the american anthem was being played. she said -- >> if you know your history, you know the full song, the third paragraph speaks to slaves in america, our blood being pill tered all over the floor. it's disrespectful and does not speak out to african-americans. >> wherever you fall on this issue, it forced me to learn about "the star-spangled banner," which was only adopted in 1931. its third verse makes reference to slaves who dared to try to escape their captivity. the person who wrote it, francis scott key, was a nasty racist. this is a country founded not on blood and soil nationalism but on ideas. that's why we have the concept of something being unamerican that is contrary to these american ideals. it's rare to hear a position
described as un-italian or un-russian. you can espouse any ideas and still be russian because your nationalism is unrelated to ideology. the united states, however, is a nation dedicated to a proposition, to use abraham lincoln's famous phrase. when we debate the past, we are debating the meaning of america. as the historian henry steele commager once observed, even though european states became more recently, asia and germany became nations about half a century after america, from them it can be said that the nation was a product of america, he wrote. but with the united states, history was the creation of the nation. for americans the country's history is not the accumulation of past events but rather the
product of active choices that highlight the country's meaning and message. there was no golden age when americans lived in happy agreement. after all, the country began with deep discord. the constitution itself was so bitterly opposed by powerful voices that it could only be adopted along with ten amendments to the document. for almost two and a half centuries since then, americans have debated fiercely over everything, from national expansion to economics, to wars, to, above all, slavery. slavery and its consequences are the greatest disgrace in american history. naturally this is the issue that produces the biggest and most wrenching debate. i realize people see outlandish assertions or see a protest that make them wince, or something that's taken too far this time. but it's all part of life in a
free society. it is a much better indication of a country's vitality than some imposed heroic history that glosses over failures and mistakes and misdeeds. if that means we have to grapple with the reality that men like thomas jefferson or woodrow wilson were complicated at happ. we should have faith that in a free society we can honor men and women for what they did right and hold them to account for what they did wrong. many are concerned that in this intellectual atmosphere of anything goes, bad ideas, even dangerous ideas, might be let loose. they might. so fight against them with your own better ideas. cancel culture on the left is a worrying and profoundly illiberal trend. but perhaps more worrying about laws being passed by republican state legislatures that ban the teaching of certain ideas and
theories, the right's version of cancel culture is fast becoming legal censorship and state propaganda. this week the chinese communist party celebrated its 100th anniversary. amidst all the fanfare, there was no public discussion of the party's terrible failures, from the great leap forward to the cultural revolution. that is a sign of fear and fragility, not strength or confidence. go to fareed.com for a link to my washington post column this week. let's get started. so how will history view this moment in american political life, and how can the past help us understand what is happening today?
i am honored to have two pulitzer prize-winning historians with me today. doris kearns goodwin earned a pulitzer for her book called "no ordinary time." her other book is "leadership in turbulent times." jon meecham was honored with a pulitzer for his andrew jackson book "american liar." his latest is titled "his truth is marching on, john lewis and the power of hope." jon meacham is advisor to president biden. jon, how would you characterize this moment? we do seem divided. what's your best summary? >> well, i hate to say it because of the way the decade turned out, but i think we're in the 1850s in america. i think you have a dedicated
minority of the population. it was the cessationist, slave holding interest in the 1850s. today it was this vast swath of people who have found a home in the republican party who are no longer part of a coherent and constructive and good-intentioned conversation about the future of the country. and when you turn politics functionally into religion -- and i believe that's what's happened -- is you have your own holy books, you have your own prophets, your own path to salvation -- that is a terrible, terrible blow to free government because a democracy fundamentally depends on our capacity to see each other not as adversaries or heathen but as neighbors. and so i really do believe that the divisions we're enduring now
are a difference of kind and not degree of certainly those that have affected us since the 1930s. >> and, doris, when you look at a period where there is no question that we're deeply divided and you look at the 1850s, what gets the country out of it? what changes the phase? does it take, i mean, a terrible conflagration like the civil war? does it take what lincoln displayed? what do you think? >> i think what it takes is a combination of the people from the outside pressuring in and the leadership that's there. at the end of the civil war when lincoln was called a liberator because of the emancipation proclamation, he said don't call me a liberator. it was the anti-slavery movement
and the soeltdiers that did it all. lincoln warned that the democracy itself would seem an absurdity if the people that lost the election, in that case the democrats in the south, they i can can break up the union because they lost. that's somewhat where we are today. on the other hand, the anti-slavery movement formed, republican party was formed, lincoln became the president of the united states, the civil war was fought. yes, thousands of people had to die, but in the end the emancipation was secured and the union was restored. you do have a similar threat that jon may have thought about, too, from teddy roosevelt who warned that democracy would be under threat, and in some ways there is an echo today that if people in certain sections and regions begin to think of each other rather than common american citizens.
but the answer to that is what you said in your opening piece. it's civil education. i believe it's national service. you get city to the country, country to the city, and you begin to share a revolution with shared values and you get an understanding of what's right about america. it's the activism of the citizens. we had more people voting than ever before. we have to get more people out to the polls. that's the key. >> jon, how much of this -- are we grappling with the fact that abraham lincoln died and his vision for reconstruction was never really pursued and reconstruction then failed and jim crow was reimposed? in a sense, does it all go back, or a large part of it go back to that fact that while there was the emancipation proclamation, while there was the freeing of slaves in the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, it didn't mean a lot for hundreds of years afterwards? >> the civil war changed laws
but it didn't change enough hearts. i don't think there was any doubt about that. it didn't change enough minds. one of the tragedies of american history, if not the central tragedy of american history, is that we are founded on an idea of equality, but we profess it far more often and with greater passion than we practice it. the struggle for justice and equality and a history of which we can be proud is a daily one, i would argue, at the risk of self-parody, in everybody's soul. the soul of a person, i believe, is not all good or all bad, but is an arena of contention in which our worst instincts do battle against our better angels. i don't want to drag you two into this, but i know my worst instincts win a hell of a lot more often than my better angels do. and because democracy is a sum of its parts, and the parts are human, not clinical -- this is a country not founded on
parchment, it's founded on people. and so, if we, the people, cannot realize that a sense of neighborliness and the sense of pursuit of justice for all are not animating principles, then we fall into this hobbsian world where it's the war all against all. and i fear, far more than i would have even a year ago, because of the aftermath of the election, because of january 6, i fear for the first time in my adult life, that we may be handing over democracy to our children that does not resemble the best parts of the democracy that shaped us. when we come back, more of this conversation with jon meacham and doris kearns goodwin. ♪ ♪ when technology is easier to use... ♪
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we are back with doris kearns goodwin and jon meacham. doris, jorn was talking about how if leaders can lead us to the better angels of ourselves or our darker impulses. the question i have that sort of relates to that, if leadership is so important, clearly donald trump is viewed by some very large part of the country as its leader. so much so that he dominates a party in a way that i can't recall any prior president in american history. the one that i think of is teddy roosevelt who so dominated the republican party that he left it and tried to, in effect, create his own party, the bull moose party. are there any other perils?
what does it mean when a leader gets so powerful that he is more powerful than the party itself? >> i think partly it has to do with the nature of the media today, right? i mean, you had -- one of the scary things about the 1850s is you had a partisan media. so when lincoln goes to a debate with stephen douglas, the republican newspaper says, he did great, he was carried out on the shoulders of his supporters, and when he's in the democratic paper, they said he was so terrible, he fell on the floor and they had to drag him out. that's what we have today. we have the echo chamber, the consideration of the other being given to us every day by people watching different cable networks, listening to different social media. you have former president trump that dominates one of that form of media. it is a scary thing, but i think we have to remember, what are the mysteries of when citizens become active? you've got the civil rights movement that's there before lyndon johnson is able to get
three great civil rights laws through. you have the women's rights movement, the gay movement, the environmental movement right now, the climate change movement. we have to depend that there are times when the movements happen, you need a leader in there. if the leader can get in there and mobilize the sentiment of the people, change happens. i still believe we are in that moment now. it's up to us to write the story. we know how the 1850s ended. we know it ended in the civil war. we are still writing the chapter of where this is going to end. there is a chance for what biden will do with climate change, midterm elections, a chance for 2024, and there are leaders out there where we're going to take hold of, as jon said, the better angels of our nature, but it's up to us. we are the collective entity right now. >> jon, when you think about what direction we are going, left or right, you said
something interesting in the break to me. you said, economically, clearly we've moved left, but culturally we may be center right or right. how do you account for that puzzle? >> well, i have a theory about this, which is that one of the reasons for the republican flight from reason is a fundamental and almost elemental sense that from eisenhower until trump, republicans and conservatives supported presidents who, in the end, did not deliver for them. and when you come to 2016 and you have this choice of former governors related to presidents and senators, and then you have this voice, the trump voice, there were enough people who thought, you know what? we're like lucy and the football, we're not going to fall for this again. and that's because -- you and i have talked about this for years. eisenhower was not a radical right wing republican.
he said if anyone were to attack social security, that would be political suicide. richard nixon and gerald ford were centrists. neither one could even conceivably be nominated today. george w. bush would tell you that there is a line between t.a.r.p. during the financial crisis and trump. and so i think that -- i believe republicans at some level know that they basically lost the argument over the role of the state in the marketplace. now, i know a lot of folks on the left think that's crazy, but from their point of view, government keeps getting bigger and that was a central claim. so, therefore, their anxiety, their political energy has to find a channel, and that channel has become cultural. the republican party, as
currently constituted right now, is far more about having power so that liberals can't have it than having power for a positive agenda. >> it is what the historian fritz carved in terms of the 1920s, the politics of cultural despair. doris, you have a blunt nationalism about america. do you worry there is this very dark strain of people who feel their country is going away, this is the last stand? there is a kind of, you know, dark millionairianism that if we don't stop this now, the country is going down to perdition. >> i do think it's a problem. but i guess that bland realism that i'm not willing to get rid of is this country has had
things happen before and we've come out with greater strength. when fdr was about to take office in 1933, they said, if your ideals happen, it will be a failure. he said no, i'll be the last president in history. democracy was on trial. we have to remember these tough times. as i said before, voting is the key right now. the idea that people are trying to restrict the vote, the very thing on which a democracy depends -- lbj said without voting -- voting is the basic right upon which all the rest are meaningless because it controls your destiny. the real fight for the biden administration right now, the most important thing that will happen in congress, are they going to be able to protect voting rights against these state attempts to not only take away people's rights to have the
access to vote, but take away the counting of votes, this has to be fought with every bone in every people's body. it should be a bipartisan majority that cares about voting or democracy itself is at risk, and i think that's the central point we're at right now. >> what a fantastic conversation with the two of you. thank you so much. it's an honor to have you both on. next on "gps," we will tackle race relations in america 14 months after george floyd's murder. i will be joined with another pulitzer prize winning historian, annette gordon-reed. so you're ready for the day with a fresh face for a fresh start. for a limited time get a 5th cartridge free. i don't just play someone brainy on tv - i'm an actual neuroscientist. and i love the science behind neuriva plus. unlike ordinary memory supplements, neuriva plus fuels six key indicators of brain performance. more brain performance?
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it's been just over a year since george floyd was murdered at the hands of the minneapolis police. and it's been just over a week since derek chauvin was sentenced for that murder. in that span, the country has seen massive protests, statues come down, schools change their policies all to be more equitable and try to remove remnants of the country's racist past. a president prone to racist dog whistles was voted out of office. the new president signed a law making juneteenth a federal holiday. it would seem that the arc of history may be bending to its justice. is it? for the state of race in america, i want to talk to annette gordon-reed. she is a professor at harvard and a pulitzer prize-winning historian. her new book is "on juneteenth." annette gordon-reed, welcome to the show. >> glad to be here.
>> i know this is an impossibly large question, but if somebody were to ask you, what is the state of american race relations today, how would you answer? >> well, i think it's like a river. there is a surface and a deep part of it that could be going with crosscurrents. i think we're sort of at an interesting time because we see the growth in white nationalism, we see a growth in efforts to suppress the vote, which, in many instances, means suppressing the black vote. on the other hand, we go through our daily lives and we seem to get along. there is not a race war going on, but there seem to be people who wish to foment one. >> let me tell you how i look at it and tell me if i'm wrong. i do think there has been an enormous amount of progress made. blacks are more integrated into every echelon of american society, whether college, grad school, professional life.
you look at the protests with what happened with george floyd, and it seemed to me for the first time there were truly multicultural and lots of white people involved. you have juneteenth becoming a holiday. so there is real progress. it's not just that we're getting on day to day, wouldn't you say? >> i would, but surely -- i'm thinking of the starting point. yes, we've made an enormous amount of progress. but at the same time, i don't think we can ignore the fact of the sort of warning signs of dissent from this idea that we should get along. and we have to be concerned about that. >> do you think that the kind of things you're worried about are a backlash to the things i was talking about? >> absolutely. yes. i think we're still in something of a backlash from having had a black president. we do know that throughout history, any time there has been a sort of visible advance of african-american people, there
is a backlash. and then things settle down, and there's progress, and then there's another backlash. and, you know, we have this cycle going on, and i think we're in the midst of that right now. it is a backlash. but not -- we haven't gone back, obviously, to the bad old days. but we have to be vigilant about this. i guess what i'm saying is i don't want people to be complacent about the idea that progress is inevitable. history has no end, it has no side, and we just have to keep at it, and the only way to do that is not to become complacent about our situation, even though, you're right, we should mark progress when it has happened. >> what do you make of these efforts to look back, to kind of have a reckoning with american history, things like the 1619 project? there is one side that says, look, it's very important to look plainly and frankly at america's history which has a great deal of racism, and there are others who worry it's going so far that we will not honor the country's founders like jefferson and washington anymore.
where do you come in? >> i don't think that there is -- it makes sense to assume that just because people talk about 1619 or people raise the issue of slavery that that means that people don't love the country. african-american people have been among the most patriotic people in this country from the very, very beginning. african-american men and now women have fought in every war that the country has ever had, they've tried to uphold the values of this country. we've been the people who have been pointing to the declaration as america's creed and as something that's an important part of what it means to be an american, and yet we have a critique of the country as well. i have said, you know, loving something doesn't mean that you take an uncritical stance towards it. if you really want a person or things to be better, you have to deal realistically with them, and you have to have a hope, and i think most african-americans
have had that hope that the country can be better. james baldwin says he criticized the country because he loved it. and that's -- i mean, that's my stance on it. >> there is a line in your book where you quote w.e.b. dubois who says there's a fundamental tension between americanness and blackness. explain that. and do you think it's getting resolved? >> i think what he's referring to is that black americans have existed in this country as second-class citizens. we've lived in a place that we've loved and known our families in, had great experiences in, had hopes for, and many in the country don't -- have not accepted us fully as american citizens. so that creates a tension that african-americans have had to resolve over the years. people ask you, how can you love a country that treats you this way, where you're treated in this fashion, and so that
creates the dilemma that dubois was talking about. >> on that note, annette gordon-reed, thank you for being here. >> it was a pleasure. thank you very much. next up, the state of america's economy. it looks like it's booming, but is it really? and if it is, will the boom last? that story when we come back. this may look like a regular movie night. but if you're a kid with diabetes, it's more. it's the simple act of enjoying time with friends, knowing you understand your glucose levels. ♪ you need an ecolab scientific clean here. and you need it here. and here. and here. which is why the scientific expertise that helps operating rooms stay clean is now helping the places you go every day too. seek a commitment to clean. look for the ecolab science certified seal.
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the author of "10 rules of successful nations, is it fair to say that the boom that existed prepandemic, we're back to that, is that really what's going on in long historical context? >> hi, fareed. i think so, because we went through the last decade for the first time in american history without a recession in the u.s. we had the pandemic-induced recession, which was in many ways artificial, and now we are back to where we were, where we left off. the only difference being that we have spent a lot of bullets in fighting this pandemic from an economic standpoint in terms of the deficits we're running and the debt we're being forced to take on to deal with this pandemic. but the main point is this, that america has been the comeback nation of the last decade.
i think this is still not fully appreciated and understood by many people. the fact that america shared in the global economy contrary to all the pessimism that existed exactly a decade ago has ended up going significantly higher over the last decade. >> so when you think about, you know, sort of this decade, what you're saying is that after the global financial crisis, america sort of got its act together or whatever and has basically been on a kind of long boom that has really -- most people thought that we would decline as a gdp. we've actually increased over the last ten years. >> exactly. and i think there is a further point here. america's share in the global economy has been steady for the last three or four decades. but as a financial superpower, america has never been as powerful as it is now.
that is a bigger distinction. america's power is unrivaled and unparalleled. but this may be as good as it gets, that a lot of people are getting excited and optimistic about america now, but the time to have been really optimistic and excited is when everybody was pessimistic a decade ago, or even much through that period, but now amidst this giddiness, i would point to the fact that the american assets today, you look at the stock market, the bond market, american housing, you put it all together, america has never looked this expensive compared to the rest of the world. when it comes to looking this expensive over the last 100 years, generally it has done more poorly compared to the rest of the world. >> what about the debt? you hear a lot about the fact, particularly after the pandemic, but a lot of people now say, look, we were wrong about debt. ten years ago we worried too much, we should have borrowed
more and gotten the u.s. out of the recession then faster. what do you think about the pandemic-related debt? >> i think that we still don't know what the consequences of that are, all because something that happened in the past doesn't mean it will happen in the future. but here's what really concerns me, which is the amount that america owes the rest of the world today is about 67% of its economy. that number is staggeringly high, and historically if a country has been that indebted to the rest of the world, it has led to a decline, in its currency in particular. that is one of america's particular advantages, that it has the world's dominant currency. it has been able to borrow
freely. we are able to borrow from expenses because of that, but now we may take it to the extreme and on the edge here. the next decade things may not look as good for america compared to the rest of the world. >> ruchir sharma, sobering insight. thank you very much. >> thank you, fareed. >> as we look at the state of america today, let's not look at the aspect of any country's help. it's culture. what can we say about american culture today? how does it compare to the past? i'll talk to one of the great scholars of the subject when we come back. mr. clean magic erasers ♪ ♪
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do you have a life insurance policy you no longer need? now you can sell your policy for an immediate cash payment. visit coventrydirect.com to find out if your policy qualifies. perhaps the foremost historian of america's cultural and intellectual landscape with the last book won the pulitzer prize. his new one "the free world" has received more rave reviews. welcome, professor. let me ask you when you look at
american culture today, what does it look like compared to the period you've just written so much about? >> well, the period i wrote about is the period right after the second world war from about 1945 to 1965. the only cold war years. so comparing that to today, i think we would say that today culture in america is doing extremely well. i mean, we have to bracket the pandemic period when culture industry struggled a bit, but on the whole, there's an enormous amount of product out there. people are creating it. people are consuming it. people go to museums. they buy books. they download music. they stream everything, and all those things are infinitely more accessible than they were 50 years ago. and i think they're more central to people's lives. plus the bar to entry for
creators of culture and consumers of culture is very low. anybody pretty much can record a song and post it on spotify or youtube and almost anybody can listen to it there. and remember, video games are culture. tiktok is culture. music videos are culture. and all the products now circulate worldwide. i would even say that criticism is in great shape because the web is filled with criticism. a lot of it is learned and sophisticated and accessible. i would say by that measure, i would say culture today is very strong. >> what about the big difference that strikes me is between culture today and the period you were writing about in this book, which is you alluded to it at the start. it's totally decentralized. there are no gate keepers. you don't need to go through a certain set of established avenues or things like that. whereas culture in the 1950s,
1960s was hire arc can i. is that a good thing that is democratized, or does it mean anything goes and standards have gone down? >> how could it not be a good thing? when i started out writing for magazines in the 1970s, 1980s, it was all print. and now relatively few publications where you wrote a review or essay, people would pay attention to it. the gate was narrow to be part of the critical conversation in a way. very few people got into the journals and venues. today it's different. anybody can write a review on amazon. they do. and we have to sort through the stuff that we find online. it's like when you're buying a product, you read all the customer reviews. some of them get one star. some of them get five stars. you have to sort it out. as you say, there's to gate
keepers, no vetting that allows all kinds of opinions to get added to the public realm. i think that's a great thing. and it's also a great thing that people can write a book and sell it digitally on amazon. people can make a music video and get it on spotify. that there's all this incredible access. does it mean standards are different? yes. there's no system that creates a hierarchy of cultural goods. people have to make a lot of choices for themselves. but that's what consumerism is about. we like to make choices for ourselves. i think this is pretty much a good thing. what is missing is what you're trying to get at, which i agree with. the sense that it all really matters. that it's something more than just a cultural product that gives us pleasure. it gives us satisfaction. it has some real world significance that we need to think about and talk about. i don't think we really talk about culture that way except in certain political senses that
people are sensitive to. but generally, in terms of is that a real movie, we don't ask that question anymore. >> we're living in a more material time and less ideological time, wouldn't you say? >> about culture, yeah, i think that's right. it's very much so politically. >> a painter can get $100 million for a painting more than probably it did in 1949 or 1951 or something. >> we do care about that. we care about sales. we care about how much money movie stars make. we're more aware of that than we were. people assume movie stars are well-paid, but now we know how much they get, like sports stars. i think we're more materialist that way. that's a measure of success for a lot of people. >> pleasure to have you on. >> nice to talk to you. thank you. and thanks to all of you for
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