Barton Gellman, “Democracy in Crisis”

March 23, 2022 0:58:49
Kaltura Video

Join us for Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Barton Gellman in conversation with Michigan Law Professor from Practice Barbara McQuade, as part of the spring 2022 Democracy in Crisis series. March, 2022.



0:00:25.1 Michael Barr: Good afternoon. I'm Michael Barr, Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. It is a pleasure to welcome all of you to Policy Talks at the Ford School featuring Barton Gellman. Today's event is part of an ongoing series hosted by the Ford School in partnership with Wallace House and Democracy & Debate. The series is called Democracy in Crisis: Views from the Press. This series, which will continue into the fall, features award-winning journalists and their insights into the forces threatening our country's democratic systems. It also explores the role of the press in upholding democratic institutions at a time of demagogic attacks on the media and dramatic shifts in media ownership and independence. We hope that you will join us for additional events in the series featuring Sarah Kendzior on March 31st, virtually, and Anne Applebaum here on campus at the Michigan League on April 4th. In addition to our partners in Wallace House and Democracy & Debate, I also want to thank the Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, and the Detroit Public Television for their support of this event and the overall series.

0:01:39.1 MB: Today, we welcome Barton Gellman, a staff writer at The Atlantic and best-selling author. Before joining the Atlantic, Gellman spent 21 years at the Washington Post, where he served tours as legal, diplomatic, military, and Middle East correspondent. Gellman anchored the team that won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for coverage of the National Security Agency and Edward Snowden. And he was previously awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for a series on Vice President Dick Cheney. In 2002, he was a member of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for coverage of the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath. His recent work in The Atlantic provides timely and important insights into our country's democratic insecurity and the threat of autocracy. The conversation will be moderated by my colleague Barbara McQuade, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and a former US attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. A regular contributor at MSNBC and NBC News, Professor McQuade has been recognized as one of Detroit's Most Influential Women.

0:02:46.7 MB: A reminder that there will be time at the end of the conversation for questions, and encourage you to engage and ask questions in the YouTube chat box or tweet your questions to #policytalks. With that, I ask you to please join me in welcoming Professor Barbara McQuade and today's guest speaker, Barton Gellman.

0:03:08.3 Barbara McQuade: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you, Dean Barr. I wanna thank Catherine Carver for inviting me to host this talk. And Bart Gellman, thank you so much for being here. We're just thrilled to have you. The work that you've been doing to write about democracy has been incredible. And what a wonderful series. I really have to compliment you, Dean Barr, over at the Ford School there across the parking lot from us at the law school. We've had so many wonderful speakers coming in, focusing on such critical issues at the moment. So I'm really delighted to be able to participate. I often come over as an audience member, and so today I'm really delighted to be able to participate in the conversation. I also wanna thank everybody who's joining today to listen in. Hats off to you. A democracy depends on the informed electorate, and talks like this one can really help you to educate, to engage, and to empower our citizens. And so I thank you, in light of all the things that all of you could be doing with your time, that you're taking time to learn more about these critical issues. So Bart, first, let me just say thank you for joining us.

0:04:10.7 Barton Gellman: It's my pleasure.

0:04:13.2 BM: I wanna talk... I had a chance to read some of your pieces from The Atlantic, which are not only really insightful but also really well-written. If people haven't had a chance to see some of his pieces on democracy, Bart's not just a really insightful analyst, he's a really great lyrical writer. I really enjoyed reading your writing. You've written a number of interesting pieces about the threats to democracy in America. And in one you wrote that in the last election, Donald Trump attempted, and you use this word "democracide," which I think is a really interesting word. And he had help. You go on to say, "The victim survived but suffered grievous wounds. American democracy now faces a long convalescence in an environment of ongoing attacks. Trump has not exhausted his malignant powers, and co-conspirators remain at large." I wanna ask you some questions about that passage in particular. So what do you mean by "democracide"? 

0:05:15.9 BG: Well, what I mean is turning the results of a free and fair election upside down. He tried, and this is an extraordinary thing to have to say or even to imagine, but he tried to appoint himself the winner of an election when he lost it. He tried to unseat the electorate. He tried to overthrow the lawful government of the United States. It was an extraordinary thing for anyone to do, let alone a sitting president at the time.

0:05:48.2 BM: And when you refer to grievous wounds that America has suffered as a result, what are some of the grievous wounds that you're referring to? 

0:05:57.8 BG: Well, I think you have to start off by looking at how presidential elections are decided. We know that everybody gets to vote. And we know the votes are totted up, and each state then appoints electors that reflect the outcome of those votes in the state, and so forth, but there is not actually any single referee, any single authority that rules that the election is over. So if... It's not as though you're at a football game, right? And the losing coach says, "We didn't lose. We won. That was cheating." There is a chief official at the game to say game's over, quit your bellyaching, you lost. We don't have that in our system.

0:06:54.8 BG: We have a series of limited jurisdiction bodies that decide individual questions along the way. The way you know who won the election in the past was that the loser conceded defeat. Even in the 2000 election, when the Bush v. Gore case reached the Supreme Court, you might think the Supreme Court decided the election because it halted the recount in Florida and left a status quo in which George Bush had more electors, but Gore was not out of options. This still had to go to Congress for the electoral count, and as vice president, he was going to preside over that count, and there were legal arguments left to be made about who were the lawful electors in Florida.

0:08:03.5 BG: And so the election didn't end with the Supreme Court case, the election ended the next day when Al Gore came out and said, "I will respect the decision of the Court, and I concede that George Bush will be our next president, and I wish him the best, and we'll get him next time." That concession speech had an instrumental power there as it has in almost every election in modern times. When Trump refused to concede, but he said, "I won," there wasn't anybody to tell him that he didn't; he lost, there wasn't any single authority that could tell him otherwise, but he's done, he has eroded the norms and the power of the many lesser authorities that decide our elections, the whole civic structure of the constitution.

0:08:56.2 BM: Yeah, so much of our constitutional structure and our way of running government really depends on people acting in good faith and people following some of these norms without having a hammer that comes down, and as you say, declares who is officially the winner for once and for all. Those were the attacks that were sustained on and before January 6th, you also wrote that you see ongoing attacks on American democracy, what do you see as some of the ongoing attacks on American democracy? 

0:09:30.8 BG: Well, so the first ongoing attack is that Donald Trump personally continues to speak of almost nothing else but the 2020 election and his alleged victory. He is trying to establish a fact that is in conflict with all the evidence. He is trying to persuade his supporters, and he has persuaded many of them, that Joe Biden is not a legitimate president, that the constitutional entities that have the job of deciding the winner are corrupt and can't be trusted, that only Trump can be trusted. He has had the active and passive consent of a large majority of the Republican party in terms of its elected officials in creating this false history. And because of that, and because so much of their base believes it, they are chipping away at the institutions that decide elections in the future.

0:10:46.4 BG: So they're trying to change the rules of elections in many states, they're changing voter eligibility and voting procedures, and a whole lot of other things that are designed to diminish the number of votes that go to the other team. And most crucially, they are subverting the institutions that count the votes. So it's as though this fictional coach in the football game has lost the game and said, "All my fans, everyone go out and get jobs as referees. I want you all to become umpires on the NFL. And you'll know how to call the game next time when we have one. You'll know how to show that I actually did score a touch down," and so on. It's trying to take over... Another way to analogize it would be trying to take over the judiciary. I mean trying to take the officials whose job it is to decide what the facts are and corrupt them by filling them with people who take the position that black is white and that Trump actually won the election that he lost.

0:12:04.3 BM: So it sounds like the threats are still out there. Is... I hear some people say, "Well, the lesson from January 6th is the democracy held. There was this attack, physical and through the levers of power, and it held, it was defeated." Do you think that's the right lesson from January 6th, or do you think instead, this was like the warning alarms code red, time to take dire action? 

0:12:35.9 BG: Well... I am happy to celebrate the fact that the walls held, the guard rails held, the system defended itself, but it was a very close-front thing. And what's happened since then is that Trump and many, many Republican elected officials and operatives have looked back systematically at what happened in 2020 and located all the obstacles that prevented Trump from declaring himself to be re-elected, and they're systematically going around and trying to uproot those obstacles. So let's take for example, The Secretary of State of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger who conducted three different counts of the votes in Georgia, Joe Biden won and Raffensperger did what any lawful Secretary of State should do, and he said, "Yes, I can see that the votes went to Biden, therefore, I'm going to certify that Biden has won our state."

0:13:46.3 BG: We know that notoriously Donald Trump called him up and tried to induce him to "find" 11,780 votes for Trump that weren't there, so that Trump would actually be the victor. He threatened him, he cajoled him, and he refused to accept the fact that Raffensperger did him, and he put all the pressure of President of the United States can possibly put on a fellow Republican, and Raffensperger held. It is a contingent fact that Georgia happened to have a Republican Secretary of State who could withstand that kind of pressure, and what they're trying to do now is to erase that fact. So Trump has recruited and endorsed a candidate to run against Raffensperger and also to run against the governor who likewise refused to decertify the results of the state election. So he's rounded up people and endorsed those people to defeat the officials who did their jobs.

0:14:53.4 BG: Meanwhile, the Georgia legislature has passed a number of new voting restrictions that are based on... That are justified by the fictitious irregularities of the 2020 election, which didn't happen. And just in case Raffensperger is re-elected, they have passed a new law in Georgia that says The Secretary of State no longer sits as a voting member of the State Board of Elections. So the next time that Georgia has to certify the election, Raffensperger won't get a vote even if he is re-elected, and for good measure the State legislature run by Republicans has also given itself the power for the first time to fire the chairs of the county election boards if they don't like the job they're doing. So if you have Republicans saying, "Trump really won last time, not withstanding all the evidence, and we're gonna be in charge of counting next time," then you've got a big problem.

0:16:03.8 BM: Yeah, one of the things that's been remarkable to me is we've had a few exceptions like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, Mitt Romney, and a handful of others who were willing to call this out for what it was, that this is fraud, it is what... One judge described and suspended Rudy Giuliani's law license had not a scintilla of evidence to support that the election was stolen, and yet there are so many elected officials who are going along with all of these. Is it just naked ambition? Is it raw political power? What is it that... Are they just... Do they truly believe what they're saying? What causes these elected officials to continue to persist in this idea that the election was stolen? 

0:16:50.9 BG: I believe that there are a lot of Trump supporters who have heard the former president, and have heard many members of the Republican elites say the election was stolen, they've seen it amplified in social media, and on Fox News, and in the alternative communications environment that they live in, and I think they've come to believe that the election was stolen. If you were to give truth serum to Republican elected officials at the national level, and probably at the state level as well, you would find the vast majority of them would admit that Joe Biden won the election, would admit that there was no large-scale fraud, that there are no magic votes for Trump that should have been counted. That the crazy, crazy nutbag theories that President and his people put forward on why the election was no good are invalid. So that's what the Republican elected officials truly believe.

0:18:04.1 BG: Why they don't say so is partly fear, they've see what's happened to Liz Cheney, she was one of the top members of the Republican hierarchy in the house, she had plausible ambitions to be speaker of the house one day, she lost her position in the party, she has been expelled from her state party, there are... She has been primaried by people raising lots of money to expunge her from the house, and she has paid a huge price.

0:18:44.0 BG: So there are Republicans who are afraid of Trump and afraid of his base, and then there are pure opportunists who basically don't think the truth matters all that much one way or the other and they'll do what is good for them, then there are some who really are deeply ambitious and see this sub seething, angry Trump base as a power center for themselves in the future, that they can marshal the intense emotional political support that has stood behind Trump and use it for themselves.

0:19:28.3 BM: One of the things you mentioned there is how social media and disinformation have been used in the pursuit of this democracide... You put people in a number of different categories, those who are ambitious and they know this is all a lie, but they don't care... They care about their personal ambition, they care about their political agenda for the country, but there are those, I think, who get their information, as you said, from far, right wing news outlets who truly believe this stuff. Because they read about it on social media, they saw a Facebook post or whatever it is, there are all these videos making the rounds on social media, like: "Here's a truck delivering fake ballots in Atlanta" or Detroit or wherever it was. How can we counter that disinformation that is occuring online and is convincing so many people, including some of the January 6th defendants that a lie was true? 

0:20:34.3 BG: That's a really big and important question, and I was not a great answer for you. I see my job as a journalist as reporting and writing for everyone. I am looking to address a reader of good faith who wants to know what's true, and is prepared to follow me as I display my evidence, and so I try to show my work... I try to take seriously the things that people tell me and investigate whether they are true. I look for corroboration, and that's the old school sort of the mainstream journalistic answer. And that's where you get fact checkers, for example. There are great ones doing fact-checking work for the Washington Post, and the New York Times, and CNN. And none of that stuff touches the true believers on Trump's side and there are strong incentives for people to lie to large populations of political readers and viewers for profit and for political ends, and it seems to be quite effective.

0:22:13.4 BG: I spent a lot of time, many, many hours over a period of about a month with this one fire fighter in New York who believed that the election had been stolen, and I said, "Tell me why you believe that, I wanna... Let's explore it together." And he was game to kinda go through that exercise and to take a hard look at the evidence. And he gave me one statistic, and I traced that back to its first publication on the web and showed how it started with a tweet that was either misleading or... Just ignorant. It was comparing apples and oranges. And I showed what the apples were, what the oranges were, here's the initial source, here's the original source of the election data. And this thing you think happened can't have happened because look how the numbers line up. And he just said, "Well, the election was stolen so there must be something else."

0:23:15.8 BG: So we moved on to another subject and I traced that one with him. And we did it over and over again and he was prepared to accept that some of his details might not be right, but there were such an abundance of evidence in the world he lived in. It was just such an overwhelming amount of data proving that the election was stolen. There were so many stories told about it, so many things that purported to be videos of something nefarious, that it just wasn't possible that you could rebut all of it. It just was obvious they must be true. It was a fire fighter saying where there's smoke, there's fire. And I couldn't touch it, I couldn't budge him at all. And I found that strangely dispiriting.

0:24:06.3 BM: Yeah, this use of social media and other things is such a powerful force as we learn from the Facebook whistle-blower. It isn't necessarily the content, but the algorithms that are in there, that the things that get the most negative and powerful reaction are the things that comes at the top of your feed, and so in that way the disinformation, or the outrageous information, is the one that makes the rounds the fastest. And that likely contributes to it. So, you mentioned that there are certainly people that had something to gain from this idea that the election was stolen, Donald Trump himself, his inner circle, other political candidates who ride his coattails. But, I wonder to what extent as we see war raging in Ukraine and Russia engaging in propaganda there about why they're invading Ukraine. It's because they have to denazify Ukraine, as bizarre as that sounds.

0:25:03.2 BM: And the people there want to be liberated, telling your people all kinds of falsehoods to support the war. I know Robert Muller indicted some Russian Intelligence Officers and the Internet Research Agency for interfering in the 2016 election with social media propaganda campaigns by posing as like the Tennessee GOP and some group called Blacktivist and other things and saying outrageous things to generate opposition from the other side. Do you think that there was any, either Russian or other involvement, by any other hostile foreign adversary in fueling this campaign about the lie that the election was stolen? 

0:25:47.8 BG: Alright, we've seen some evidence that the GRU, the Russian Military intelligence Organization, in particular, along with the FSB, the old KGB. Have amplified claims about a stolen election, and amplified claims of irregularities, they have amplified messages that, you can't trust the system, that's the most fundamental objective of all for the Russian propaganda is to tear down confidence in the institutions of this country, tear down the idea that we actually are a democracy that is governed by the will of people. And so we saw that in 2020, it was not apparently as wide ranging a campaign or as effective from what I can tell. But it is still there. And you're seeing now an odd symmetry in which there are important figures on the American political right, who are echoing and propagating Putin's message about Ukraine, and Putin's message about what Russian forces are doing in Ukraine. And then you have Russian state television putting up clips from Fox News to validate its own propaganda message to its people. And so there's been a synchronizing abuse there and a mutual back-scratching you could say.

0:27:44.7 BM: Do you have any theories as to why there are some on the right in this country who admire Vladimir Putin? I mean, he's a hostile foreign adversary, he is most certainly not acting in the best interest of the United States, and yet we had Donald Trump call him a savvy genius? His admiration for Vladimir Putin goes back many years, but we are seeing this admiration from the far right. What do you think drives that? 

0:28:09.7 BG: Well, Trump personally is clearly on the record as being an admirer of very strong foreign leaders who are not beholden to democratic institutions or to opposition forces or even to their own voters, and so you would have... I mean he'd loved the leaders of Poland and Hungary and Turkey and Russia and North Korea. He literally said that he and Kim had a love affair in North Korea. He admires dictators, and you will virtually never see a word of criticism from him about people like Putin, and you will see a great many words of praise, and I think Trump sees himself in them. As for why people on the right are going for the Russian propaganda, when for so many decades, one of the main litmus tests for being a Republican was to be anti-Soviet, and anti-Russian and strong on defence and inclined to skepticism at best about Russian intentions.

0:29:37.5 BG: First of all, I think they are well aware that Russia tried to help Trump in the 2016 election, and interceded strongly on his behalf. Some of them believe, and many more of them state that Ukraine intervened on the side of Hillary Clinton, which is not true, didn't happen, but it's part of the fantastical counter-story that Republicans tell about the 2016 election in terms of foreign interference. So they are inclined to believe that the Ukrainian government is corrupt and so I really don't get the appeal of it. And this is actually still controversial inside the Republican party. There are plenty of Republicans who still stand up for the traditional anti-Russian point of view, who still believe that Putin is a dictator who is trying to invade and impose his will on a neighboring country and are actually backing Joe Biden's policy on Ukraine. You're seeing one of the few open splits in the Republican party today is happening over Ukraine.

0:31:12.0 BM: Yeah, it's been very interesting and very difficult to comprehend I think how members of any party are speaking favorably of Vladimir Putin. I wanna focus back on things in this country, we enjoy all of these freedoms in our country, and it seems that people have been pushing most of these constitutional rights to extreme positions. We've seen this real expansion of gun rights for people, not just advocating for gun rights, but almost fetishizing guns. We see these members of Congress posing in their holiday card with everybody in the family holding an assault weapon, glorifying guns in a country that has so much gun violence.

0:32:02.4 BM: We see the same with free speech rights, people talking about... You can't constrain me from saying things that might be inciting, like we're gonna fight trial by combat and we're gonna go around and fight for our rights, or else we won't have a country anymore. We're seeing a rise in militia groups and threats to public officials. We're seeing people defying masking mandates and vaccine requirements. And it reminds me of a quote from Justice Robert Jackson, who wrote in the 1940s in a riot incitement case that he said, words along the lines of, "Unless temper our views of the Constitution with some practical wisdom, we will convert the Bill of Rights into a suicide pact." I kinda feel like that's the path we're on these days. How do we prevent these extremists from using our rights against us to commit democracide? 

0:33:00.8 BG: Yeah, well, that's a really interesting phenomenon you're talking about here. And I'm not actually a huge admirer of the opinion that gave rise to that suicide pact quotation, you just made because it was an opinion that justified an infringing a constitutional right because the outcome would be added on closer to an absolutist about some constitutional rights, that I am a fan of, that kind of compromise. But yeah, it's culture, it's a question of culture, it's a question of political culture and civic virtue. Either you have a population that fundamentally believes that we all ought try to get along, that we take turns in power based on the outcomes of elections. That people ought to do unto others as they would like to be done unto. Then a society in which everyone is asserting the right and screaming towards the maximum possible interpretation is gonna be a kind of an unpleasant place to live. I think. The idea that gun rights are the foundational right for all other rights in the Constitution is, has got a lot of currency among the gun rights supporters. The idea is that it's the only guarantor of liberty. Is that everybody has gun, because if the government turns against the people and the people can rise up, defeat the government with their guns.

0:34:56.0 BG: This strikes me as being a curious model for self government. I don't believe that that is in fact what the founders had in mind. But it leads... It does lead to this kind of extremism where either the gun lobby wants, let's bring more guns into schools where we need more guns, is we need them among school children. So let's arm the teachers or we need more guns in the bars. And so let's have open carry up their numbers and so on. It sounds like someone in a contest to make up the most down outlandish scenario they can and then try to make it law. But yeah, I think what we're missing is a political culture that tempers everyone grabbing at the rights that they favor.

0:35:56.4 BM: Yeah, I worry that in our multicultural pluralistic society, there are some who don't want to share with others. I think part of this Make America Great Again movement is about going back to the days, the good old days, where women knew their place, minorities knew their place, and White men, Christian White men were on top. In Charlottesville, at the Unite the Right Rally, we heard White men chanting, "You will not replace us,". Which seems to reflect a fear that Jews and racial minorities are going to replace White men in this country. I've always viewed that the rising tide lifts all boats, but it seems that there are others who view the world as a finite resources. And if I give more power to other groups then I'm losing power. And that's intolerable. And you noted in some of your writing that one interesting aspect of the January 6th attack on the capital is that most of the perpetrators there were middle-aged middle class, White men, including law enforcement officers and military members. Do you see a connection between what happened in Charlottesville and what happened on January 6th, and how does that bode for our future? 

0:37:16.0 BG: There is connection. It is not that the January 6th protesters, by and large, were openly racist. There were some there who were. There were Neo-Nazis, and there were people with contemptible slogans about the Holocaust and so on. And then there was the Confederate flag, and there was a lot of calling Capitol Police officers, the N-word. So there was some open racism and some open anti-Semitism. But what there was a lot of based on the political science data, is that the people who came to that protest on January 6th, who took part in that rebellion were disproportionately from counties in which the share of White population was on the decline. Now, the Census Bureau has projected that in around 2045, this country for the first time will be a majority minority. That is to say White people will no longer be an absolute majority Of citizens of this country. And they will become, instead, the largest minority.

0:38:51.8 BG: And that is an interesting fact. It is a fact to be celebrated by some people. And it is a fact that fills many White people with dread. And where the White population is on the decline, there is an inclination or belief that there is a loss of status and power and that the country is no longer ours. And if you take national polls, as they've done at the University of Chicago, and find a group of people who believe that, one, Biden is an illegitimate President, and two, violence is justified to restore Trump to power, you come up with about 20 million people of this country who believe that. And the vast majority of them also agree with the idea that there is a great replacement going on in which there is a conspiracy to replace White people, White Christian people, with Black and Brown people. And the conspiracy is most often attributed to Jews. And that fear and loathing was a significant driver of the anger on January 6th.

0:40:28.8 BM: Yeah. And you know, it's unfortunate but there are politicians who will stoke those kinds of divisions for their own political advantage, building blocs of people. For example, if you have poor Whites who are not aligned with minorities where they might otherwise find economic commonalities, but keep them apart by driving a racial wedge between them, then you can keep them on your side of the ledger, which is one cynical view of what motivates some of the so-called leadership by people who wanna push for those things. Well, why don't we move on to some audience questions. We have got a number of questions that have come in. And if any of you have any additional questions, please feel free to submit them in the chat, and we'll ask them of Bart. So first question for you, Bart, is this. You're gonna have to defend your profession a little bit with this one. An audience member asked, "It felt like mainstream media outlets played an active role in helping Donald Trump gaslight the country. For instance, with extensive live coverage of his rallies and White House daily press briefings during COVID where lies were spread, or daily press briefings like the size of his inauguration crowd. Is this just a case of giving the public what it wants, or is there more to it? 

0:42:03.8 BG: Well, that's an interesting criticism. It is a complicated answer, I think. For one thing, I mean sometimes people criticize mainstream media for giving Trump a platform. Well, let's just unpack that. He's the President of the United States, or he was for four years. He has the presidency as a platform. Anything that the President says or does, traditionally, is understood to be news. And when the President says or does extraordinary things, as Trump did all the time, he said wild things. That is by the definition of mainstream news, that is news. That is something you need to know about. It would be strange and not a better world, in my opinion, if somehow there were a very effective conspiracy by the media not to let Trump talk, and you never knew that he was threatening to nuke somebody or making extraordinary claims, or all the other wild things that he did. We have to cover him. We have to let him say what he wants to say.

0:43:31.7 BG: I think that we were slow to push back hard enough on the lies. It is typically something that journalists are very, very reluctant to do, is to say that someone's lying because that implies a knowledge of the inside of their head. You can only lie if you are going to lie, if you are knowingly telling a falsehood. How do we know that they know? And so journalists, typically, will dance around that question. Although in Trump's case, there are plenty of cases in which you do have evidence of lying. And the mainstream press started saying so. There is a criticism of the press as having a view from nowhere, in which all facts are in contention. And you just have to report that he said, "It was sunrise," and she said, "There's no such thing as a sun." And you don't have to distinguish between them. In fact, you do have to distinguish. If there are questions of fact, and the journalist can resolve them, the journalist should, and not just quote someone as saying, "black is white," and leave the question open for the reader.

0:44:56.4 BG: So we had to give Trump the attention that he craves because the American people elected him. What we didn't have to do was let him get away with telling spectacular lies and not pushing back harder on behalf of the truth. In other words, I think journalists are allowed to be on the side of the truth. That's their business.

0:45:18.2 BM: Alright. Very good acquittal of your profession, Bart. A question about what can be done now to prevent these threats from truly destroying our democracy, I guess, are there things big picture that we can do as a country? Or are there other things that each of us can do as individuals to help fight back about this? I think most of us want to see our democracy preserved. And don't like to see these threats to it and don't want to see a successful democracide. What are some things that we can do to prevent or counter these efforts? 

0:45:58.4 BG: Well, I'll start off by saying what I can do. What I could do is call attention to it. I have a big megaphone because I write in the Atlantic and if I write an interesting piece, then sometimes I'll get invited to a a prestigious forum, like the University of Michigan to talk about it and talk to more people about it. I might get on television or a podcast or radio, and that has happened with my democracy coverage. And what I'm trying to say is, "Hey, everybody, this is a big deal. This is a big problem." The life of our democracy is on the line and we could actually lose it. And so from a citizen's point of view, the first thing to do is, is to be willing to suspend your disbelief. Because I think that we grow up with an understanding that we come from a very special country, that we have lived on our constitutional democracy for well over 200 years and that we can take it for granted.

0:47:08.2 BG: And that if someone is saying democracy at risk, it sounds like hype. And I'm saying, if you look at the facts on the ground it really is at risk. And so first of all, being willing to look at that candidly and understand what the facts are, and then look at where it's happening. A lot of it is happening at a very local level. So there are precinct and county officials whose job it is to make a fair count of the vote on election day or whose job it is to fairly register people who wanna register to vote and not look for excuses to throw away their registration. These were traditionally nonpartisan jobs and Trump Republicans are making extensive efforts to take over these jobs. Steve Bannon says on his war room podcast, "We're going to take over the election boards." And they're going to fill them with partisans who believe that the last election was stolen or at least professed to believe the last election was stolen.

0:48:28.1 BG: And who knows what they'll give themselves permission to do in order to make good on that. But if you have someone who believes the Earth is flat, who wants to teach your kids geography at school then you probably wanna find a way to stop that. So people who care about democracy have to care about their local election boards and find out what's happening on those and find out how to volunteer to be on them or to support someone who wants to be on them. That's one very patriotic thing that ordinary people can do right away.

0:49:11.0 BM: Yeah, I worry about... And certainly, I hope some of the people who are listening here are people who are engaged in and want to be part of the solution. And I think there are things, as you just said, that all of us can do to be helpful. I worry that there are people maybe in some of these states that are in places that are red states, where people just don't have time to pay attention to these things. They're busy. They're busy with their lives, they're busy doing things. And so from right beneath their noses, their legislatures are doing things like you described in Georgia, where they are enacting laws that allows the legislature, for example, to swap out its own choice for the voted choices of the electors. Are there ways we can expose those kinds of things and generate the kind of outrage that seems like it should already be there, but somehow isn't? Is there a way that we can help amplify the message, the kinds of things that you're talking about in the Atlantic? 

0:50:08.8 BG: Somebody said... I'm trying to remember who, it might have been Leon, but someone should correct me that you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you. And the same is true of politics. You are not outside the world in which politics takes place and politics will affect your life. And if we lose the institutions that allow us to govern ourselves and allow us to oppose the government in power then we've lost something big. And it'll come knocking on your door one day in a way that affects you very much personally. I don't know how to get people to care about something that they don't care about. All I can do is say what's happening.

0:51:01.0 BM: Yeah, well, maybe we'll take one more question here. And I think people wanna end on a good note, perhaps. Is there any reason to be optimistic? Are there good things that we should look to can give us optimism that our country remains strong and that with some help, perhaps we can preserve our democracy? 

0:51:24.2 BG: Yeah. I think that this country is filled with well-meaning people who wanted to do the right thing, and who love their country and love their families. And love the idea of America at its best. And I don't in my heart really believe that Trump will succeed in reversing the outcome of an election of actually overturning it. Not this time. It didn't happen in 2020, and somehow I believe we will get through 2024 without it happening. I don't know exactly how because there are a lot of indications, indications of risk, but I believe that somehow we will rise to the occasion and maintain our democratic traditions in this country. I think everybody has to just pay attention and find a way to get involved.

0:52:31.8 BM: Yeah. There's a quote that says, something along the lines of, "The mark of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." I always love that quote, but I have to say that in recent years I have turned against it a little bit because I think it suggests that it's self-executing. That justice will be there if we just wait long enough. And in fact, I think quite the opposite is true. I think it only gets there if we push it there and that, this invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin and the efforts by Donald Trump to subvert the election. I think are great reminders that there are forces out there that do not want justice. They want power or glory or money or whatever it is, and they're willing to sacrifice justice to get what they want. And so I think it's incumbent on all of us to take part in bending that arc of justice. I don't know if you have any thoughts on that, Bart? 

0:53:36.1 BG: Well, I think you've got it exactly right. I mean, when Martin Luther King said that he didn't sit back and wait for the arc to bend toward justice, he devoted his life and risked death and was martyred for the cause of forcing events. Of protesting and organizing, and spending every waking hour actually trying to push the system one degree, and one degree and one degree closer to a time when there would be equal civil rights for all. He did not think that the moral universe was bending all by itself. He believed in significant exertions for that end. And we can do a lot worse than that example.

0:54:31.6 BM: Well, we've got two minutes till close Bart and I'll close it at five, but I'm wondering if you just have any, maybe closing remarks you wanna share with our audience, either warnings to heed or hope for optimism, will take whichever you care to share with us.

0:54:50.3 BG: Well, we've covered the ground pretty well. I would actually be interested in talking with you a little bit about... Drawing on your experience of the law because there are a lot of people who think that the solution to any of these problems is just whatever's legal. That the judiciary will resolve any of these disputes about who won the election. And I wonder if you think the court are good place to adjudicate the running of our democracy.

0:55:31.7 BM: Well, I think like all of the institutions in our government, they have a rule, but they also have some limitations. So I don't know if they can solve every problem. But, for example, there has been some speculation that the Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice are not investigating Donald Trump for his role in attempting to defraud the American people over the election. I'd like to believe that there is such an investigation underway, it's a department of justice policy to neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation, and Merrick Garland has also said that he follows those norms, especially during times that are extraordinary.

0:56:11.3 BM: He has vowed to hold accountable anyone who attacked our democracy at any level, whether they were present at the Capitol or not on January 6th, I think there's a valid, legal theory to charge Donald Trump and others with a conspiracy to defraud the United States by obstructing the vote on January 6th. It does not require a conspiracy with the violent protesters, but simply a protest, a conspiracy to pressure Mike Pence to abuse his power as vice president by refusing to certify the election results. The key to any of these things is proving knowledge and intent, which means that Donald Trump had to know that he didn't win the election. I think that there is a mounting body of evidence that that is true, but I think that's the question that the justice department will have to resolve that they can prove that beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury of 12 people. And I'd like to think that they're working on that. Well, we are outta of time, so any last word on that Bart? 

0:57:16.3 BG: It would require not only that they'd be really good at keeping a secret to believe this, but also that they could be running a grand jury with witnesses, without saying anything. How is it we haven't heard from witnesses? 

0:57:29.8 BM: I ran hundreds of grand jury investigations that nobody ever heard from only if you are calling controversial witnesses would I expect you to hear from the grand jury secrecy rules, if you're calling people who are perhaps Mike Pence's inner circle, they don't wanna talk about that. So I agree with you. I don't think they've subpoenaed Steve Bannon or Ivanka Trump. I think they'd go kicking and screaming, but it may be that they haven't gotten to that stage yet because they wanna keep it covert. Well, how about you and I will keep talking about this, 'cause I think that's really interesting. We'll find out one of these days, but we are outta time.

0:58:01.1 BM: So, Bart, I wanna thank you so much for sharing your time and thoughts with us and also for your incredible writing. I really have enjoyed reading what you have written. Not only from an insight perspective, but just also just lyrically your writing is amazing. And I really commend to all of you to read his work in the Atlantic. It will make you think and you'll enjoy it out to boot. So thank you for joining us today. Thank you for your time. Thank you to the Ford school. Thank you for this series of talks. Thank you to Wallace House and thanks to all of you for joining us today. It's so heartening to see that there's so many people who are interested in being engaged in the issues, educating themselves, and empowering themselves to make sure that they're active participants in our democracy. Thank you and have a good evening.

0:58:46.7 BG: Good evening.