tv Presidential Misconduct Discussion at Fordham Law School CSPAN November 28, 2019 5:29am-6:59am EST
be sure to watch c-span's washington journal at 7:00 this morning. join the discussion. discuss the history of presidential misconduct by looking at the trump presidency and past administrations. from fordham law school, this is an hour and a half. >> welcome. thank you all for being here. before we get started, i want to tell you i am so happy to be having this event because we never get to talk about history and historians. we always talk about politics and the law and foreign policy. it is all very interesting. i think it would've been a very good thing if more historians
historians were weighing in more frequently. we don't have enough of it. this is our attempt to do that. before we get started, let me say that this is being recorded by c-span. when you get the microphone, speak into the microphone. wait for it for you speak. -- before you speak. be aware of the fact that it is being recorded. before we get started, let me introduce the men to my left. jim banner, an editor of a book about presidential misconduct. that is the kickoff for our discussion. a visiting scholar of history a , historian who spent most of his career teaching at princeton. his most recent book is about being a historian. i think it is about the profession and the worldview.
he has edited and written numerous books. including the one we are featuring tonight. he is one of the creators of the national history center. jackson, the editor-in-chief. let me tell you how i know him. i was a graduate student at yale. people would always say, there is this great historian. he is going to be so great. full disclosure, a few years older. he defined a field. how to think about culture in a way that to many different ways of speaking to political life. we are very happy to have him.
his most recent book was rebirth of a nation. he writes constantly for the new york review of books and the london review of books. rick, to his left as a journalist known for many things. tonight, i would like to introduce him in a number of ways. he is a famous speechwriter for jimmy carter. we will talk a little bit about jimmy carter. he has worked twice at the new republic. most identified with the new yorker magazine. he is given a lot of credit for refashioning that magazine. he has been a finalist for the national magazine award. six times. won that once for his comments,
the talk of the town in the new yorker. his most recent book is about the birth of a new political era. eric is all the categories at once. journalist, critic. depends on where he wakes up. now, he is the distinguished professor of english. he is a media columnist. he has written 10 books. in june.is coming out state; whyd lying in presidents lie and why president trump is worse. [laughter] he is a contributor to the new yorker, atlantic, rolling stone. he has written about politicians from bill de blasio to george bush to barack obama and many others. i am hoping among these panelists tonight we can get some sense of proportionality about what is happening in the country today.
what i would really like you to tell us briefly is why the reissue of this book that originally came out in 1974. why are we seeing it again? >> i am happy to do that. i want to say that i do have some views about the trump presidency. but i will keep my powder dry until we get into a general discussion. history has a way of capturing historians by surprise. i was caught up in a project 45 years ago to present to the impeachment inquiry of the house judiciary committee at the request of its special counsel. a contextual survey of presidential misconduct from george washington through the administration of lyndon johnson. along with about 14 other historians under the managing editor.
in eight weeks, we prepared a andrt, submitted it to john he accepted. they were getting ready to present the report to the members of the judiciary committee and the president resigned. i hoped that would give me some license that i had something to do with nixon's resignation. [laughter] but it did not. it turned out that the report never got into the members of the impeachment inquiry. but the text was in the public domain. grabbed up by dell publishing house. published in cloth and paper additions. after nixon resigned. the book fell dead in the marketplace. it is scarcely known among historians. it was reviewed only once. by myself. [laughter]
it.ranged i wanted it to be a footnote to the impeachment inquiry. to get some matters about the state of administrative and political history off my chest. i went on about my life as a historian. a year ago this past september, i was sitting in my office working on another book, completely different subject. phone rang. jim? , yes? this is joe. joe lepore is a fellow historian at the harvard faculty. a lot of you know her as a writer for the new yorker. nice to hear from you. what is this book? she stumbled upon it. found out in 45 years it had been taken out three times. [laughter] insignificant if
she didn't know about it. darn it. she had brought back a whole significance. all hell broke loose at my desk. i eventually turned it over to my agent. the result is this updated version of a report that was first written and submitted to congress 45 years ago. i am still alive to tell the tale. [laughter] this book goes through the presidency of barack obama. the original one did not cover the nixon presidency. this one does not touch upon donald trump for two very strong reasons. one, previously and now, the administrations that occasion a report like this are not complete. second of all, most of the documentation of nixon's administration was not available then.
certainly trump's administration now. it is only fair that we leave the sitting president out of it. i want to say two things about the nature of the report. three things. this is not the kind of history colleagues would think of producing. it is very much against the grain. it is factual. it is really a chronicle. the kind of history that was written through the middle ages and beyond. episode by episode, papacy by papacy, president to president. no connective tissue. just what happened about certain aspects of the presidencies going back to george washington. the second-place, a report about presidential misconduct over 230
years, as was said in the , may betion to the dell unprecedented. there really is no seriously scholarly academic field of presidential misconduct. a very respects, it is narrow way to interpret and try to evaluate the strengths of presidencies. if we are going to look at a presidency and we are going to evaluate it on the vision of taking office, success and implementing that vision, the political skills of the administration, obstacles faced, --sis beset them and so on
to evaluate presidencies on the grounds of misconduct doesn't make great and strong sense. take for example the presidency of warren harding. it lasted for 2.5 years and one of -- was one of the most corrupt in history. he was as unblemished as the snow. he was not corrupt. it was all the people around them. naive, didn't set down laws. >> he was a sex maniac. >> a sex maniac. we will have to talk about that later. [laughter] my colleagues and i have not gotten into private lives. before or after the presidency. take harry truman's presidency. it was quite corrupt in many ways. the president was not.
those around him did a lot of illegal and corrupt things. who would judge the truman presidency on the grounds of his -- of misconduct? he ended the second world war. he integrated the armed forces. the marshall plan came into being. the truman doctrine. it was an administration of extraordinary achievements. i think of that old joke, how is your wife? compared to whom? [laughter] it is hard to think of the record we have made. it is hard for me to do so. we don't have any comparative signposts. we need to know more about our kindred representative
democracies. britain, france, scandinavia. germany. japan. south korea. compare the record that we have amassed with the record of misconduct or good behavior on the part of governments elsewhere. i am not certain that should be the comparison. maybe we should compare the records we have amassed against the records of states and cities. then it seems to me if you compare this record against rhode island, louisiana, chicago, it may look pretty good. [laughter] i come away from our own account not certain if i should feel depressed or rather confident that somehow we have muddled through with the effective -- defective institutions that we have.
institution such as congressional investigations, courts, robust press, nonprofits, citizens such as the women's march that keep the system more or less to check with only occasional breakthroughs interruptions such as we are experiencing today. i do feel confident in making some comparisons later on. karen: i want to turn to you next because i want to hear your reflections on what presidential misconduct is. even beyond this book, what is actually this word misconduct mean and what does it not mean? how should we think about it? both in the long perspective in -- and in the short perspective of what is in front of our eyes.
>> i think i'm the only one up here who has done time in the white house. i eagerly turned to the jimmy carter section. it could have been replaced with a one-liner. nothing to see here, move on. his scandals, such as they were, derived from the fact that he had never served. the only time he had ever served in the federal government was when he was in the navy. he did not know anyone outside of georgia. the scandals, such as they were, like the bert lance scandal,
derived partly from the fact that he brought with him the people he trusted in georgia. not all of them by washington standards were trustworthy. the real problem with president carter was that he was inexperienced. the mistakes he made at the beginning could be largely explained in that way. he put a cousin of his in charge of white house housekeeping. ethic he hadching
brought with him from georgia resulted in some mistakes that were more damaging than any scandals. for example, newspaper subscriptions were all canceled. that was to save a few dollars. that was the worst one. he sold the sequoia. that was the presidential yacht. that turned out to be a mistake of the first order. he was trying to de-royal the white house. he gave up "hail to the chief." he thought the president did not need a yacht.
he sold it. it was a costly mistake. the yacht was a real money saver. with the yacht, he could take half a dozen senators out for a trip up and down the potomac. serve them some bourbon and water. he banned alcohol from the premises. hard alcohol. there was beer. hard liquor works better when you're trying to make a deal. [laughter] when he compromised, he had to give up something of real value. a lot of those concessions could have been replaced more cheaply
by trips on the potomac. that was a scandal of sorts. a scandal derived from being too too moral.row -- perhaps people can point out to me things i have overlooked about the carter administration. the book, which is full of revelations, defined scandal rather narrowly. it does not include the lyndon johnson section. policy scandals. it does not include the vietnam war. you could call that a scandal.
it was a horrible mistake. perhaps even worse was the invasion of the dominican republic under johnson, where the dominican republic could come into the hands of a social democratic. >> those limitations were set for us. >> misconduct, i cannot recall any of that from the carter administration. correct me if i'm wrong. bert lance had his problems and jimmy carter brought him. the lack of washington insiders was a handicap for carter. i guess i will leave it at that. karen: i want to ask one follow-up question.
at what point did it or did it not become evident inside the white house that the lack of insiders was a problem? >> speechwriting office, later i became the chief speechwriter. that seemed pretty clear to our little cabal. karen: give us some reflection before we get into individual presidents on how you think about this word misconduct and what it means in terms of how we should think about ideology, policy, sexual scandals, whatever it is. >> i am in favor of a much broader definition of misconduct.
you start to get into policy and you are beginning to speak my language. i feel like the most serious presidential misconduct and the type that has been most destructive to human lives and liberties both at home and abroad has occurred at specific historical moments. the last 70 years. since the emergence of the imperial presidency and the national security state. particularly the intelligence agencies, which can operate without control or oversight, and remain largely invisible to the american population at large. i think it is interesting that in the reissue of the book, the two presidents whose administrations do warrant broader coverage of misconduct are richard nixon and george w. bush. both of these presidents were
engaged in serious abuse of power. through the institution of domestic spying by the cia, which is clearly against the cia charter. it was begun under lbj and directed at protesters against the vietnam war and other dissidents. nixon expanded that program considerably. operation chaos was finally exposed. seymour hearst had a brief gate at the new york times. his exposures provoked the hearings that were conducted by senator frank church into the misdeeds of the cia. the committee discovered all sorts of evidence of disturbing misdeeds.
not only the spying of u.s. citizens who opposed nixon's policies but also the successful and presidentially authorized cia coup in chile. the overthrow of the democratically elected salvador. what was interesting to me was there was this fusion most of the time between the executive branch and the rest of the national security state, in particular the intelligence agencies. sometimes there was tension. there was tension under the kennedys. complicated reasons. there was very little tension under nixon. that was when the government and the presidency committed the most egregious misdeeds. they were guilty of the most extraordinary misconduct. i would say the same thing was
true of the george w. bush administration. it provided a new lease on life for the national security state after the very brief moment of public skepticism spawned by the church committee and the failures of the vietnam war. the global war on terror brought it back. it brought back the possibilities for the most serious kinds of misconduct. warrantless electronic surveillance, which is a clear violation of the fourth amendment. torture and the torturous legal memos devised, a clear violation of the eighth amendment. the geneva convention. these were the conventions that
dick cheney said were quaint. there were various levels of misconduct ranging from harding's encounter with a chambermaid at the palace hotel in san francisco to other more serious matters involving public policy. i want to broaden this to have these other issues. karen: let me talk to you about this quaint. al gonzalez said this. one of the things i would like to hear you, and then i will turn to eric, think about is are we living in a different paradigm? i know this book lays out presidential misconduct. almost like we normalize it whether it is about policy or personal life. yeah there is misconduct in all of these different administrations. eric will tell us how trump's lying is worse than any other president. before that, i want to ask you,
i agree with you, the war on terror, it changed the presidency and the executive in ways, it is quaint now. do you agree with that? are we really any different or are we just going to, in 10 years, issue another book, presidential misconduct, updated once again? or are we living in a different place? because of the national security state? >> i fear that we are living in a different place. i am deeply suspicious of pronouncements of new paradigms. it reminds me of bill gates and ologists predicting the utopian future that awaits us after the bumpy transition. the transition is where people
live. this is not something we can escape that easily. this is everyday life. our everyday lives, and this is partly due to technology, as you know, and the capacity of the nsa and other agencies, the kinds of revelations that eric snowden made about the dragnet that encompasses all americans. and lists google and facebook and the rest to monitor our conversations. internet visits. we all know about this. it makes me worry that if there is not a new paradigm, there is a new public mentality.
not only younger people, but often younger people, who say, why should i care if all of my data is out there i have done nothing wrong? i cannot do anything about it anyway. if the phone company knows, why should i care if the government knows? the problem with you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear approach is no one ever says that about the snowden revelations who lived under a dictatorship. no one from germany, or the former soviet union, chile says it. you could continue the list. that is people in the u.s. yes, we have a government who has abused powers previously but we have not yet reached conditions that the germans were sm or communism.
there is a naivete as well as a hasef that technology brought us into this new era and we have to adjust. there is a technological determinism. a kind of technological determinism. the train has left the station and we better be on it. we better be able to hail that train and stop it if we want to. that is called public policy. we don't have to just accede to technological determinants here. >> eric, i want to turn to you. before we get to trump, talk a little bit about how you see the in terms of the presidency, the contract between the president and the citizenry, and where you think it fits into this discussion about misconduct overall. >> well, it is a big topic,
obviously. in copyediting, but i just turned in my second book. my first book came out in 2004, i think. in the first book, i concluded that presidents shouldn't lie. now, i don't feel that way anymore. i really don't. i think lying is a part of life. i think everybody lies, or just about everybody. and just about all politicians lie. if you look at how presidents are judged, the ones who lied are not any less popular or any less successful than the ones who didn't live. jimmy carter hardly ever lied. barack obama did not lie. john kennedy lied all the time. franklin roosevelt lied a tremendous amount. and he saved western civilization by lying, i would argue.
to be president of the united states, you almost have to lie, because people can't handle the truth. for the first century and a half of american history, i would say presidents lied for two reasons. one was, well, they lied about slavery. they lied about the nature of human beings. but they lied because america was committed to endless expansion. every president was sort of responsible for expanding the country and yet, people didn't want mexicans or central americans or american indians or free blacks to have the same rights that they had. in order for these things to
happen, they had to continually lie about what was happening and how these people were treated. that went on and on as the country expanded. the most consequential liar of the first american century is james polk, who increased the size of the country by 25% with a war that he lied to get into. interestingly, the hero of the truth of that story was abraham lincoln, who tried to hold him to account as a congressman. he lost his seat over it. and as we became an empire, empires demand lies, because they are very ugly business and people don't want to hear the truth about that. presidents, by a -- by and large, lied about it. woodrow wilson didn't lie personally. teddy roosevelt did lie. hoover, i couldn't find a single lie that hoover told. warren harding only lied about his sex life.
he did not lie about the scandals he wasn't personally involved. but once you get into the modern postwar period, beginning with world war ii and after, we become an empire and we define our national security in such a way that anyone who does anything we might not like has to be stopped. yet, we cannot admit to that. lying becomes a part of being president. actually, the united states didn't overthrow chile, but under eisenhower, we overthrew guatemala and iran directly. and also indonesia and congo. all four of those things happened under eisenhower and yet he is considered a wonderful guy. everybody wants him to be their grandfather. all those presidents lied a lot. kennedy lied about the cuban missile crisis.
again, i'm really glad he did it. you can't really generalize about lies. nixon was a terrible person and his lies were incredibly damaging. i don't think for the same reasons that jackson says. i think they were damaging because they killed millions of people. he could have ended the vietnam war repeatedly, but he didn't want to because he thought it would be bad politics. we have these actual discussions where kissinger and he says these things. george w. bush also is responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people and the creation of millions of refugees on the basis of lies. so when you get to trump, interestingly, trump is not in their league in terms of the number of people killed and the chaos caused in the world, and yet, he's told approximately 14,000 falsehoods. not all of them are lies, but most of them are.
trump is a different -- we are in a new era with trump. these other presidents, as horrible as what they did was, what nixon did was and what george w. bush did, and ronald reagan, he was a terrible liar, but gave the impression of believing his lies. as horrible as they were, they were lying for a purpose. we kind of knew that they were lying. they ran basically competent governments that had individual obsessions of the president himself that went too far. they were reined in over time. johnson, too. whereas trump has destroyed any distinction between truth and lies. he just doesn't care. all he's done his whole life is lie. he lied when he ran for president. he lied in the debates. it was amazing to me what he was getting away with.
he did not stop as president. the very first day of his presidency, he went to the cia and started lying before the cameras. and so he's attacking our way of life, our government. quitepreparing -- it is consistent, the origins of totalitarianism, if you want to destroy people's ability to resist, you have to destroy the distinction between truth and lies. if they can't believe anything, they can't act. i don't want to compare the united states to nazi germany or stalinist russia. i reject those comparisons. but there's an awful lot of similarity to the way those dictators treated truth and the way trump's supporters go along with it.
as has happened in both of those places. and i think there are elements of totalitarianism in trump's presidency and the movement that derive specifically from his ability to keep lying. and i think if he were to be reelected, i'm not sure our form of government would survive it. i like to think i am a historian, so i don't make predictions. but it is a new situation and we don't have the words for it. think about fox news. there's never been anything like fox news. we know what fake tv is and we know what independent tv is, but we don't really know what fox is. it is something brand-new and it reinforces the lies. so if you wanted to tell the truth, you would have to contend with them defining the truth as lies and they are very powerful. so my new book started as a history of presidential lying but it became about a culture of lying and how the president is part of that culture. he's the most important symbol of it.
and may be most important liar. but it is a much bigger problem. >> you wanted to weigh in? >> accepting what you said, can i shift categories for a minute regarding president trump? i think the crisis that we face is graver than most politicians, most of us, most journalists understand. if i read the record correctly, and i would like to know whether all five of us read it the same way, the most egregious departure from normal corruption, using public office for private gain, telling lies, covering up, occurred under richard nixon. you read an account of richard nixon's presidency and the
account is really dizzying. what was going on? nixon's departure from previous embodiments of corruption and miscreants and wrongdoing was the fact that nixon and his advisors were orchestrating misconduct, illegality, corruption from the white house. it had never been done in that fashion before. nixon was a party to the misconduct for which he eventually had to resign, because he probably would have been voted out of office by the senate. nixon, it seems to me that the next most serious moment of presidential conduct came during the iran-contra affair of ronald reagan, who went to his death saying that he knew nothing
about it, and i think he probably did know something about it, but the evidence as i read it is not entirely clear. but here is a case that policy was being made out of the white house in contravention to congressional act. money was taken from one pocket for which it was authorized and appropriated and used for other purposes. this was a shadow cabinet or a shadow group of officers working against the law. what the trump presidency has done is to combine both. trump and the people in the white house are orchestrating illegal behavior, and they are doing it now with a shadow government that operates outside the white house. and we've never had that before. this is a step up or a step down
in the nature of presidential and administrative misbehavior. i think we've got to understand it structurally. it is certainly true that the president lies all the time, but i've always thought that was gestational. that is the way he came out of the womb. the same way he came out of the dd, borderline a personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, there is things that i believe are not intentional. he cannot help himself. he's a man of low character and he lies and he's incompetent and we know those things, but how do we make sense of this presidency in the long history of presidential behavior? i think you can see an accretion in misconduct, and in this case it is structurally different and more grave than any we've ever had.
>> rick, you talked about sort of bringing in the people who were inexperienced, which is a comparison that is often made with the trump administration, bringing in people who are not doing, in what they are who have never worked in whatever field they are in before, and you see it through various departments. do you take what jim is saying, which is basically that this kind of shadow government is -- combining this with what is going on, coming out of the white house, is a new marriage, or do you see it as we've seen corruption before, we are going to see it again, we've seen a grab for power before, we've seen interference in foreign affairs done behind the scenes before -- how do you assess the difference in this administration or not? well, i'm not sure how to do that. but there is something new and different about the trump experience.
he doesn't have any politics. he doesn't have any policy preferences. we've never had a president -- i think your diagnosis of several well-recognized mental disorders is on the money. it could be worse. he hasn't got us into any wars. he doesn't want to have a war to the extent that he has any thoughts about that at all. is astounding that he uses the office to enrich himself in such an obvious and unmistakable way.
and i think what eric said about fox news and the growth of a kind of state television, the kind of thing which you see in a lot of much less morally developed countries, that is -- i'm not sure that trump would have been possible without that. i think everybody in this room probably watches cnn or msnbc. is there anybody in this room who gets their news from fox news? no hands are raised. [laughter] >> anyone who raises his hand is a pariah. >> and so many of the things -- i'm not sure i'm on topic, but you
have now an enormous part of the interested public, people who watch fox are also interested in the news, who simply don't know and cannot know what is going on. they are living in a completely different reality than the rest of us. we like to think, and i think accurately, that what we know, the news that we get is pretty much true, and we are astounded day after day that he hasn't just been hustled out of there. because the things that outrageous day after day are unknown to a large part of the public. that is certainly a new development. >> jackson, i would like you to kind of weigh in here. i get the national security part
and i'm with you on that, but what eric was saying, it is more than that. you even say it about not caring about your privacy and the new point in time. what is the cultural ramifications do you think? i don't mean that you have to predict, but if you were going to write the history of the next 10 years, what would you be looking at culturally to understand the presidency, whether it is the result of the war on terror, presidency, or now, had fundamentally changed -- what would you look at other than fox news? >> i'm glad you didn't ask me to predict anything. i predicted that jimmy carter was going to save american capitalism. i guess that happened, but i don't know if he did it or not. capitalism muddled through. it always does. but i don't know. >> i will have to get the details on that. >> well, it was a hopeful time.
we just passed through the valley of the shadow. i am very discouraged and depressed about the state of our public life, and the prospects for the next 10 years, and i have to tell you it is not just because of trump, who is a dangerous man, a genuine menace -- i agree with all of that. with respect to the culture of lying, i still feel like we have to get beyond personal characteristics and even personal pathologies. one can find pathologies in almost anywhere. trump's are just more flagrant than most. but it seems to me in terms of a political culture of lying -- i don't want to sound like a broken record, but to the creation of the national
security state. in particular, the creation of an agency, the cia, that was explicitly designed to produce disinformation. the original fake news. there are a lot of -- i think fox news is equally dangerous, certainly as dangerous in its own way as trump in terms of twisting our discourse. but i don't believe cnn, and i don't believe msnbc either, and i think they are about as close to state media as you can get, just a different part of the state. the "new york times, the "washington post," they will produce unnamed officials, unnamed official sources without tracking them down. journalism is in such a bad condition. it is not just because of the internet and the concentration of power in a handful of media companies, although that is crucial.
but i think the practice of journalism has suffered terribly, really since the early 2000's, maybe longer. for me, a critical moment is in 1978, when richard helms, the head of the cia, has been convicted of lying to congress about his role in the cia coup and he cops a plea and pays a $2000 fine and "the times" runs an editorial praising this plea and saying, yes, this rebalances the need to enforce the laws against lying with the continuing need to keep secrets. so from that day forward, any
cia official who took the oath of secrecy that is required of that organization could get up before congress and lie his head off, and they have done it since then repeatedly, including a good many of the ones who are serving as commentators for cnn and msnbc. >> do you want to comment? >> i'm very angry that jackson keeps putting me in the position of having to defend nixon and kissinger and the cia. the cia wanted to overthrow him. they didn't do it. they tried a couple times and gave up. he was overthrown by his own generals. when the coup came, nixon turned to kissinger and said, did we do this? because he wanted to take credit for it. he was so impressed with the way eisenhower had overthrown these governments. and kissinger said no. and then he says, maybe we created conditions for it.
he knew that he was disappointing, nixon when he said he didn't do it. but he was overthrown by his own generals. they tried, but it never worked out. but in terms of the culture that we are living in now -- >> the point about helms remains -- >> absolutely right. >> there was cia involvement that may have been ineffectual. >> people were killed with cia weaponry and so forth. >> but i don't think we need to quibble about -- >> you are making me quibble. [laughter] >> i think the important point is that the cia got permission to lie at that point. >> you mean from "the new york times" editorial page. >> in a sense, that is an example of the media that i'm talking about, the kind of state
media role played by "the times," just as in the run-up to the iraq war. >> i'm going to differ with you in a big way here. i wrote a book called "what liberal media" -- i still get a little check for it. on the first page of that book, partially because i'm a professor of english, even though my degree is in history. i always make the point that the word media is a plural noun, so it is grammatically in correct to say the media is. you have to say the media are. and therefore, it doesn't make sense to talk about the media. whatever you say about the media is going to be true about one part of the media and false about one other part of the media. it's even true when you get down to institutions like the "new york times," which right now has over 1300 editorial employees. some of them are great and some of them are terrible.
it is not -- i find it indefensible to say that it is a state media. the same is true for "the washington post." there are a lot of people there who are working hard to tell very uncomfortable truths about our government and there are a lot of people who are uncomfortable with those truths being told. it is a constant battle. sometimes the truth wins and sometimes it doesn't. and that's true in a lot of institutions, "the new york times" especially, because it is the most important and most influential, and i write about it more than anything else, and i write about it critically 90% of the time. it is actually i would say the most important private institution we have in terms of maintaining our democracy. without "the new york times," we wouldn't be the democratic country we are. we could do this all day. you could say they did this, but then they did this.
we'd go back and forth. but the fact is, the media are a very complicated institution. the part of the media that requires our -- that tells us the truth requires our support. yet people talk about it as if it is a monolith. i think that's dangerous, because you could say anything you want about it as a monolith. >> would you make the same comment about government at large, the executives, that there is as much good as there is bad, and you just have to be tolerant that it is an institution in progress, or would you distinguish between the political and the cultural institution? >> well, this is one of the things that is so dangerous about trump, that this fish is rotting from the head down. he is setting an example of contempt for all the functions
of government. >> and culture. >> you know, if lyndon johnson lied about vietnam every time he spoke, but vietnam.gle policy and no matter where you look, it is a failure, they don't care about the truth. the president doesn't care about the truth. so i think there are a lot of good people in government. i think there were a lot of good people in the nixon and ragan administration trying to do a good job. this is the first time we've had a president that has contempt for the job that government does. ragan talked that way, but he didn't act that way. again, this is something new. he has contempt for the truth, he has contempt for the job that he does, he's got no politics at all, and we are in uncharted territory. >> so we are going to turn to questions. believe it or not, we are sort of out of our time. i want you each to just reflect on this for a moment.
which is, when we are done with this presidency, however it ends, do you think there will be a sort of energy towards rethinking the presidency, or the executive, or do you think no, we will just go on like we hope that doesn't happen again, or do you think there are lessons that need to be addressed legislatively, policy wise? >> personally, i don't think you can go back in time very easily. barack obama is wonderful in a lot of ways and a disappointment in a number of ways. one way in which i was disappointed is he is a constitutional law professor and presidencyn in the at all. once he got the power, he liked it.
in our current situation -- the other thing that worries me, we are attacking fox news and the presidency. the american people have a role here. barack obama literally, according to the account of the people who keep count of these things, he told fewer falsehoods in eight years than trump tells in 10 minutes quite frequently. i'm not exaggerating. he told a grand total of 12 falsehoods in eight years. there was one conversation where trump was talking to hannity on the phone. he told 45 falsehoods in 45 minutes. and yet, our most honest president was replaced by our most dishonest president for the second time in a row. jimmy carter was our other most honest president. the american people don't care about this. they care if the lies are consistent with their resentments. people are not demanding the truth. they are demanding comfort. they are demanding reinforcement. that's what politicians respond to. the republican party is terrible
because the people who vote for it are terrible. it's complicated because we get lied to and so forth. i don't see us going back. i see us living with this. i can't really imagine the future. >> rick, give us some hope. >> rik, give us some hope. what can be done to make it better? it can't just be, "oh, it's goign to be bad forever." >> since i gave up the practice of commenting on the weekly developments, i've devoted most of my mental energy to what i think is the big problem, and that is -- you should excuse the expression -- the constitution. >> i've heard of it. [laughter] >> usually it is right out of the box. the religion of the constitution is not a good thing. the constant invocation of the framers, the idea that the federalist papers is holy writ
when even the authors of the federalist papers didn't agree with them. they reached a compromise and they were out to sell it. they were right that it was a better deal. so i think we need to rethink the constitution. the way -- the easiest fix that we can make is to elect a president by popular vote. that can be done without touching the constitution. you may have all heard of the national popular vote interstate compact, so i won't go into the details of that. it is wrong to blame the american people for trump. it was wrong to blame the american people for bush junior. the american people did not choose -- the american people chose otherwise.
in the case of bush, that could be a planetary catastrophe if the winner of the popular, the so-called popular vote -- if the winner of the election the way we understand elections had taken office, we would be in a very different place now with respect to so-called climate change, global heating. and the same of course is the case for trump. trump seems aware of this. that's why he crazily says that 3 million more votes were stolen in california. that's why hillary won the vote of the american people. the american people are doing their best, but the machine is rusty and faulty and broken. it can be fixed.
it can be fixed, but it's not going to be easy and the odds are against it. at least we've got maybe a 25% chance of national survival. that's not too bad. >> jackson? >> i appreciate that eric and i both resort from time to time to the historians' trope, which is complexity. i thoroughly agree that "the new york times" is a huge and complex organization, as is the u.s. state department. as is the freaking cia. there are good cia agents. this is how sy hersh did his best work, was that he found military officers and people in the intelligence community who believed they had taken an oath to the constitution rather than
to their bosses and to their immediate superiors. they became the whistleblowers of their day who supplied him with the material he used to uncover misdeeds by government. i thoroughly agree that media are plural and there are plural possibilities from within each media institution. the drift of things at this particular moment is discouraging to me. i'm perfectly willing to do away with the electoral college. i agree that would be a good thing. i'm less willing to toss the baby of the constitution out with the bathwater of the electoral college. i'm more devoted to the bill of rights, i am, than to the constitution.
the constitution is full of a lot of ingenious 18th-century mechanisms for balancing and reducing the concentration of power, which have more or less worked for a long time. i'm not sure we necessarily want to dismantle those mechanisms, but i do think that what is precious to me in the constitution is the bill of rights. by the way, it's what was precious to edward snowden, too. that's what got him involved in his career of revelations. i think we're going to need -- i think it's going to take a lot of ingenuity, more ingenuity than the current democratic party is demonstrating, to redirect public discourse in a way that it needs to be redirected. what i hear among the dnc and the democratic establishment, as
well as among most of the major media, is a longing for the status quo anti-trump. i don't think that's enough. i think the reason trump was elected was because there was serious shortcomings in that status quo and in that way that basically neoliberal, pro-market forces had taken over the democratic party to a large extent, almost as much as they had already taken over the republican party with not quite the same fundamentalist tinge, with more of a technocratic tinge. but they were not satisfying popular needs. i think we need a reorientation of the democratic party in a way that would satisfy toward what i would call a social democratic direction. that would involve -- a couple years ago, i and a number of
historians and political scientists who had written about the reform tradition, the progressive tradition in american political history, had been invited by the rockefeller brothers foundation at the rockefeller estate in terry town. there was a lot of talk about philanthropy and good intentions until at one point, one of my colleagues said, there really is going to have to be -- some people will have to lose and some people will have to get more. there is going to have to be a certain amount of redistribution here. we cannot just keep growing. i think that's the really hard challenge that i think the democrats or anyone who claims to be an egalitarian faces, that some people are going to have to pay more than they do now to create a decent society. i think it could happen. i think there's enough goodwill out there, enough intelligence. i think there's a native brightness in a lot of american
people, even if they are not highly educated. i believe in the vernacular intelligence and decency of a lot of people. maybe they were misled by trump. maybe they really do have a mean streak that he tapped into. in any case, i don't think that we are stuck with expecting that same group of voters to keep voting for the likes of trump. the likes of trump are not likely to -- one hopes -- come along again anytime soon. i'm far from being optimistic, i'm sorry to say. i'm cautiously hopeful, cautiously hopeful. >> we will leave the optimism to you, jim. >> you are more optimistic than you sounded earlier in the discussion. when someone talks about rethinking the constitution, my heart turns to ice. over 30 states have passed resolutions calling for an
article five convention to rewrite the constitution. if any of you can convince me that we will find a george washington, a ben franklin, a james madison, alexander hamilton, james wilson, so on in this day and age who will be elected to a constitutional convention -- whether it's in philadelphia or kansas city i don't much care -- you are more optimistic than i am. instrumental changes in the instrument, such as the interstate compact that tries to circumvent the impossibility of changing the electoral college by main force by amending the constitution is a very promising approach. i also think that instrumentally and practically and institutionally, which is the way i usually end up thinking about these things, our first order of business and one incumbent on all of us to enforce upon the democratic candidates in the plural and then certainly upon the one who
gets the nod at the end of the primaries, is to force them to tell us what we are going to do specifically to clear out the wreckage of this administration. i'm not thinking here about campaign finance reform and things that have been on the agenda of liberal, well thinking, smart people for decades now, for well over 50 years. i'm not talking about that. i mean very specifically, what's going to be done on day 1, 2, and 3? what are the first actions going to be taken in what sequence to redraw the boundaries of political action, political behavior, to get us back in the paris accords and so on? i want to hear that from our candidates. these are not constitutional issues, necessarily. they are political and they are administrative issues. i have yet to hear any of the democratic candidates speaking in those terms. i think it's incumbent upon all
us the citizens sitting in this room and elsewhere to get hold of our candidates somehow, through other people, through people we know, through members of congress, to try to bring that to bear upon them. they have to tell us what they're planning to do. we have to know what they mean to do as soon as one of them takes office, if we're lucky enough. >> it is time for your questions. wait for the microphone. remember that this is being recorded. questions? over here. >> to what extent would you say that a lot of the problem has to do with, shall we say, the triumph of emotionality over rationality in the society at whole, on the whole? and this kind of corporate
consumer thing that's going on about what somebody wants is more important than what somebody else needs? just as an example, i had a discussion with somebody about obamacare. we all agreed that our health care went up, but then millions of children who were not insured were then insured. this is more an attitude that is more the exception than the rule these days. after the -- with the generation that went through world war ii and the depression, there was at least an agreement that to make some sacrifices on what you yourself wanted for what somebody else needed. to what extent is that a factor? and also the triumph of emotionality a factor.
>> want to take that, eric? >> two points about that. your greatest generation who made those sacrifices, they made them for white people. once you brought in people of color, people who were different, things got a lot more complicated. people were much less willing to make sacrifices for people who didn't look like them and share what they understood to be their values and religion, etc. countries that are monocultural are much easier to govern than countries that are not. secondly, up until recently, we had a pretty narrowly defined elite to who people largely deferred.
we had gatekeepers, we had a group of people, the protestant ethic, who felt a sense of larger commitment. they did all right for themselves, but they were serious about serving the larger public and the ideals they were raised to serve at places like these private schools that instilled these values in them. harvard and yale and princeton, etc. that elite collapsed for a lot of reasons. part of it was their own greed and all the money that became available in the 1980's. part of it was that it was not sustainable anymore. the most important element of its destruction is the internet. it democratized information. it gave everybody -- it used to be that people would argue in
very broad terms. now they know every little thing about every little issue if they want to. they can create boxes around politicians that politicians can't get out of. they will face some sort of reaction. it's why fewer than 10% of people support our actual gun-control laws. and yet, we have these lack of gun-control laws. the 10% of people will make your life hell if you try to oppose them. otherwise, in the past, they wouldn't have known. you could have passed laws about it and they would never have known. the fact that we've democratized information and that the elite has stepped away from its role as a gatekeeper has increased the emotionality of these issues and decreased the ability for gentlemen to get together over brandy and cigars and settle
things. that has made congress much less fun for everybody and much less effective. they don't have the freedom and the president thousand have the tind of freedom -- doesn' have the freedom to make the kinds of deals that they wanted to see made. there's too many people involved. they are not the same kinds of people. they hate each other. [laughter] >> more questions? thank you for that. right here. >> i'm a psychohistorian. we have an international center of multi generational legacies of trauma. the question i have -- presidents are the ultimate decision makers in terms of future traumas. they always start by invoking future generations, right? the hope for future generations.
in fact, many of the decisions are very immediate for the next four or eight years. they don't give a damn about the impact of those decisions on next generations. i would like your views on that. it's not only presidents. it's many decision-makers. that's because of the political system. i would like your views on that. don't you remember, when hitler ran, he was considered an idiot by some and not taken seriously. his country went totally behind him. we know the multi generational effect of that. >> jackson? >> that's a tricky one. that's a serious and difficult question.
i agree with you that presidents always talk about future generations. i think reagan is a good example of a kind of genial demagogue who is talking the kind of game that gets everybody feeling good. about america is back and what he meant by america was turbo capitalism. i guess what i think you are getting at is the whole problem of leadership. this has to do with the balance between emotion and rationality. leaders have to be able to inspire emotions as well as make convincing logical arguments. i fear -- i'm not trying to
shift the ground away from the generational issue. i think it's critical. on the other hand, i think generational conflict is often worked up as an excuse for a way to distract people from other , more fundamental kinds of conflict. i was suspicious about it in the don't trust anyone over 30 days. i'm suspicious of the same kind of crossgenerational suspicion now. i do think we have a problem of leadership in this country and what it means to be a leader is a very tricky business. i agree entirely with eric about how much easier it was for white americans to care about other white americans when the face of poverty was white and when affirmative action was white. one of the things we are looking at here that makes it difficult
to govern is we are more genuinely multicultural democracy than we used to be. more so all the time as more immigrants arrive. i teach at rutgers, which is one of the most diverse schools in the u.s. probably. i've been there for 30 years. it has changed dramatically. 30 years ago, it was mostly the white sons and daughters of the american new jersey middle class. it's much more complicated than that. it's harder to be a leader who will address a multicultural audience. i think obama did it briefly. during his campaign. as soon as he was nominated, he turned around and accepted the
existing order of the national security state, the political establishment, whatever label you want to put on it. i think it's very difficult. there was a moment there in hyde park, the night of his election, a small d democratic triumph. it was the end of a coup, the bush administration. the end of that neoconservative coup. i think that was the great disappointment. i don't know. i don't know whether he could have stepped up or not. i'm sure he feared threats to
his family. anyone that tries to change things in this country is going to be violently threatened. i think it's a real challenge to get to press politicians. we have the opportunity to press them and say, let's talk about what your policies mean for the next generation and the generation after that. we have the obvious example with climate heating. i like that phrase. it is a little more straightforward. we believe in plain speech here, right? rhetoric is important. there is no such thing as mere rhetoric. rhetoric shapes how people feel and think about their own possibilities and the country's possibilities. >> trump never talks about future generations. trump never talks about future generations, never. >> several people in his administration have talked about how they don't care about the legacy because they will be dead anyway.
that is one of the memes that has come out of it. >> that's the wall street mentality. you'll be gone, i'll be gone. >> i think you are a little hard on obama. he had to deal with this constitutional structure, excuse me. we are running up against this in the current campaign. arguing over medicare for all versus building on obamacare. there ain't gonna be medicare for all. that's a nonstarter. we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and cynicism by pretending that by electing a democratic president who believes in turning us into norway, which i would love to see, that would be wonderful, we are setting ourselves up for cynicism. by not recognizing that we have
to do these things through a very rusty machine. that machine is not going to give us the kind of change that bernie, for example, is talking about. it just ain't going to happen. >> we have time for one more question, a quick question and a quick answer. >> hi. i want to mention the extraconstitutional impulse or a verynstitutional and quick example i would say bush v. gore was a constitutional travesty. i think the decapitation of the liberal leadership in the 60's, covered over by the lone gunmen phenomenon embraced by the media and comforting the public, is the second thing.
the historical consensus rejected out of hand. the third thing, under your boy whatn, i am very taken by carl bernstein revealed about clifford telling him in an interview. truman and i weren't afraid of the red scare and the red menace. to me, these are anti-constitutional and extraconstitutional points that one could try to digest but not explain away by saying the constitution has no real order. i think we got to start living up to the constitution and get better. to sort of dismiss it when you see these kinds of extraconstitutional monstrosities. there's many more than this. i picked three just to pepper
the stew here. >> ok. we're out of time. that was more of a comment than a question. i thank you for it. a couple things before i make any concluding remarks. the first is vital interests. on thursdays, the center has a new online publication to inform the public about foreign policy. it runs the gamut from china to climate change. st, most deepkie dive into things you should know and you might want to know about. it comes out on thursdays or you can link to it in the morning brief. you should read it. it's fantastic. i just wanted to mention that. that's the first thing. the second thing is we have two more events this semester. i don't know how that happened.
we have two in december. one is on november 12. -- december 12. it's about high-power cyber, cyber and geopolitics. cyber offensive, cyber attacks. it is an eye-opener. you really should come. he's just phenomenal. peter bergen has a new book on trump and his generals about national security and the national security state and how it morphed via the generals who were so powerful in the first years of the trump administration. that is on december 17. i invite you back for both of those. my concluding remarks are, a couple things that weren't mentioned tonight. one is the issue of the constitution. i think that is going to become a really important point of debate.
not a point of, let's have a religion of the constitution. but a point of debate. i think something that wasn't mentioned, balance of powers. this was seen as a discussion within the executive. i think that we didn't have enough time. thinking about the balance of powers is the next thing we have to talk about and what that means. weather that means we revise the constitution or we don't. a third thing is, in terms of going forward -- i think you all touched on these cultural discomforts, whether it's that we accept lying, that we accept a lack of privacy, that these things have changed since our childhood. what we need to do is have this same panel with 30-year-olds. seriously. and see how they think about
these issues and whether they think about these issues. if they don't think about these issues, then what are they thinking about? they are thinking about the future and the fact that they want to be here for the future. i think i had a lot of other things to say but i will leave it at that. we will reconvene with younger folks at some point. thank you very much. thank you for coming. [applause] one more thing. there's a book signing out in the hall. jim will be signing the presidential misconduct book. you should all read it. ok. [applause] thank you for reminding me. [laughter] >> here are some featured
programs on c-span this holiday weekend. today at 10:00 a.m. eastern, former president bill clinton and former florida governor jeb bush share stories and memories from the 1999 education summit. former speaker of the house john unveiling ofnt the his portrait at the capital. supreme court justice elena the john paul stevens lecture at the university of colorado law school. on friday, spent a day in the life with three of the 2020 democratic hopefuls. senator michael bennet, mayor pete buttigieg, and senator cory booker. at 8:00 p.m. eastern, we will look at u.s. relations with iran and security in the gulf region from the obamas administration. on saturday, a house ways d