Dean Obeidallah

Dean Obeidallah: How the GOP weaponized ignorance

Political satirist Andy Borowitz has published a new book, "Profiles in Ignorance: How America's Politicians Got Dumb and Dumber," which may surprise some readers. Unlike his New Yorker column, The Borowitz Report, this book is not cast in the vein of genial or gentle humor. It's a stinging indictment of how the Republican Party has, by design, devolved from at least somewhat reasonable or coherent discussions of politics and policy to full-on celebration of idiocy.

This article first appeared in Salon.

I spoke to Borowitz for a recent episode of "Salon Talks" about his deeply researched book on the GOP's long arc into paralyzing dumbness. He shared his insight on the GOP's "three stages of ignorance," which come with laugh-out-loud moments when he quotes actual words spoken by leading Republicans to make his point. Consider this legendary utterance from former Vice President Dan Quayle: "I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future. … The future will be better tomorrow."

But it was Donald Trump, of course, who weaponized idiocy in a way that went from being amusing to literally deadly, especially with Trump's mishandling of the COVID pandemic and the election lies that led to the Jan. 6 attack. Remarkably, there are now numerous Republicans with Ivy League degrees — or even two degrees, like Ron DeSantis — who deliberately play dumb to connect with the GOP base. All is not lost, however: Borowitz shares a few concrete ways that reasonable, intelligent people can reach at least some Republicans. Watch or read our conversation below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

This book is not exactly satirical. It's substantive, though often funny too. Did you debate doing a book about the profiles in ignorance and making it truly satirical?

It was a departure for me, because I'm known for doing fake news. I'm known for making up stories. I think I wanted to try something a little different because the news has gotten so ridiculous recently. The idea of doing satirical news has become very, very difficult. With Donald Trump, I would wrack my brain trying to come up with something ridiculous that he might do, and then 10 minutes later he would do that thing. So the news wasn't fake anymore, it was just early. And that I found frustrating.

I was on tour a couple of years ago — I did a standup tour called "Make America Not Embarrassing Again." I got into the topic of ignorance a little bit and I had this throwaway line where I was talking about Sarah Palin and her interview with Katie Couric where she couldn't name a single Supreme Court decision that she disagreed with, other than Roe v. Wade, of course. And I thought, you've got to be able to come up with something, like Ali v. Frazier or something, just pull something out of your ass. And I realized that was significant because Sarah Palin was the gateway idiot who led to Donald Trump. And that got me thinking about this whole rise of ignorance in America.

I went back in time and really focused on the last 50 years, which I call the age of ignorance. And I think that's where, although we've always had dumb politicians in our country, ignorance has really reached critical mass. You don't need to be satirical when you have comedians like Sarah Palin and Dan Quayle writing the jokes for you. You really don't. You can't top them, really.

You write about ignoramuses and argue that they're attracted to the Republican Party, or so it seems. Democrats, by contrast, have eggheads. You mentioned Adlai Stevenson, Al Gore, even Mike Dukakis. Is there something about the parties that naturally self-select?

I think both parties started in a similar place. If you go back to ancient history before either of us was born, to the 1950s, and you look at Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, both of them were actually big readers. Harry Truman didn't go to college, but he read like crazy. He read every library book in Independence, Missouri. Ike on the other hand, was also a huge reader, but he kept it a secret. He thought it was going to hurt his image. He acted like he just played golf all the time, but Ike stayed up every night until 11 o'clock reading. I think reading is actually a really good measure for determining how knowledgeable somebody is.

I'm a little bit hesitant to say that the Democrats are the party of smart people and the Republicans are the party of ignorant people. But I think the Republicans caught on a little bit sooner to the fact that this whole projection of anti-intellectualism was a vote-winner, and they really made it their brand. The Democrats were a little bit tempted by that too. I mean, certainly Bill Clinton was looking at Ronald Reagan and saying, "Now, he's got a real winning message. How can I dumb down my message a little bit?" So the Democrats haven't been immune to it, but the Republicans really are untouchable when it comes to this movement. They are really the vanguard.

Are you suggesting that Donald Trump didn't bring home 11,000 documents to Mar-a-Lago because he wanted to read them? That's not why he had those documents there?

This shows you how bad I am at predicting events. I never thought that, of all the things Donald Trump would steal from the White House, reading material would be among them. Never. I mean, silverware, yes. Maybe some extra bottles of ketchup, I don't know. Reading material, never in a million years.

We've always had dumb politicians, but in the last 50 years, ignorance has really reached critical mass.

They were begging him to read stuff when he was there. One trick they used with Donald Trump, and this isn't made up — nothing in the book is made up — but one trick that the National Security Council would use, whenever they had a really important memo they wanted him to read, they would put the word "Trump" in as many paragraphs as possible, hoping that would catch his eye. He really likes that word. I don't think it succeeded, but it was worth a try.

You describe three stages of the "profiles in ignorance." The first one is ridicule. Tell us a little bit about ridicule.

First of all, I should say: Nothing in this book is just my opinion. As you point out, it's very thoroughly documented. It's all facts. That doesn't mean it's totally serious. It is hilarious because, and I'm not taking credit for it, I'm quoting very funny people.

The three stages of ignorance are ridicule, acceptance and celebration. Ridicule came first. That was when dumb politicians had to pretend to be smart. It was still important, we thought, for our politicians to be knowledgeable. Then after that, we moved into the acceptance phase, where dumb politicians felt it was OK and even cool to appear dumb. That's George W. Bush, the guy you want to have a beer with. And now we're in a phase, which is really the most horrifying phase, where smart politicians pretend to be dumb because they think that wins votes. You have very well-educated guys, like Josh Hawley, the world class sprinter, and Ron DeSantis, who talk nonsense because that's what they think their voters want to hear.

But ridicule — let's start with ridicule. There was an era a long time ago, say 50 years ago, where we still expected politicians to know stuff. The Republicans discovered in the 1960s, after the Kennedy-Nixon debates, that it was important to have somebody who was good on TV. Because Kennedy cleaned Nixon's clock on TV. Not on the radio, because on the radio they both sounded knowledgeable. So the Republicans reverse-engineered this and thought, well, instead of finding a politician who's knowledgeable and making him good on TV, let's just find somebody who's really good on TV and then make it appear as though he knows stuff.

And that was the beginning of Ronald Reagan. They recruited Ronald Reagan, who was at that point a has-been TV host. I mean, he'd hosted the "General Electric Theater." They hired this guy, Stu Spencer, who was a really shrewd campaign manager. And he hired — this is not made up! — some UCLA psychologists to basically, "Clockwork Orange"-style, load Reagan with information.

It was barely convincing. I mean, he would get up there and do talking points and seem like he had memorized the script, which of course he was really good at, since that's what he did for a living. But he won the California gubernatorial race by a million votes, and that really set the whole thing off. Because at that point the Republicans realized, we just have to find people who are good on TV.

Now, this backfired in 1988, because they thought they had that guy in Dan Quayle. They were convinced Dan Quayle was the best-looking guy in the world. Dan Quayle thought he was better looking than Robert Redford. That was his humble opinion. The problem was, Dan Quayle, unlike Reagan, could not fake being smart. Reagan, when he didn't know an answer to something, would just do a wisecrack. He'd say, like, "Well, there you go again," something like that. Quayle just got really, really upset. Nothing is worse than a guy who doesn't know the answer to a question and makes it really apparent that he doesn't know and is pissed off that he doesn't know. That was Dan Quayle. He just imploded every time his knowledge, or lack thereof, was tested.

Then you get into acceptance, with George W. Bush. He's asked by a radio host who the president of Chechnya is, and he goes, "I don't know. Do you know?" And they start spinning this. Instead of going, "We have to teach you more," a light bulb goes off. And that's the next stage. Share a little bit about that, please.

Well, this is where Karl Rove, who was really the Stu Spencer of George W. Bush — or Bush's brain, as he was called — lucked out, because he started with George Bush being a candidate much in the mold of Dan Quayle. Their ignorance was very similar. Their backgrounds are very similar. They were in the same fraternity, Quayle at DePauw in Indiana and Bush at Yale. And they were both knuckleheads. But the difference was, Dan Quayle would get asked these questions and then freak out.

George W. Bush would get asked questions and he would say, "Maybe I don't know that. Maybe I don't have to know that." He would sort of embrace his ignorance. And he said, "I don't have to know everything. I'm going to surround myself with people who know things." That sounds familiar, because Trump said the same thing. "I'm going to surround myself with good people, the best people." The problem is, those people didn't know shit either.

George W. Bush, just a few weeks before invading Iraq, did not know who Sunnis and Shiites were. I mean, he literally did not know. He was informed about this by some Iraqi exiles at the White House, and he said, "I thought the Iraqis were all Muslims." I mean, this was weeks before invading Iraq. While the book is funny, it also has a tragic side because we see the consequences of ignorance. It's not just all, ha ha ha. I mean, a lot of people die because politicians don't know stuff. And that's a problem.

But George W. Bush really turned ignorance into an asset. Because he didn't know anything and was like, "I'm like you. You don't know much either, do you? So I'm the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with." That became so famous. That poll was commissioned not by an actual polling company, but by the marketing department of Sam Adams beer. So we've been living with this incredible political wisdom courtesy of the Sam Adams brewery. Well done, America.

Sarah Palin was the gateway idiot who led to Donald Trump. And that got me thinking about this whole rise of ignorance in America.

Sarah Palin, as you say, began to show us glimmers of what the GOP is today: the the celebration of ignorance and the trolling. Like, I'm going to stick it in your face and I'm going to gin up hate against people on the other side. Is that fair?

It's totally fair, because what you find, and this is true in other countries too, is that when facts and information disappear, hatred and prejudice fill the void. It's easier. Learning about geopolitics is tricky and complicated. Learning about economics, people's eyes glaze over. But if you say something like, "There are rapists coming over from Mexico," or, "Barack Obama wasn't born here," that's easy stuff to grasp. There is a very nefarious side to ignorance, which is, what fills that void? In the case of Sarah Palin, her own campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, who was John McCain's campaign manager, when he finally sat down with her after she'd been selected, he came to the horrifying conclusion, and this is a direct quote, "She doesn't know anything." And it's true.

She had never heard of Margaret Thatcher. She thought that the queen of the U.K. commanded the armed forces. She didn't know who attacked us on 9/11. She thought it was Saddam Hussein. This was somebody John McCain chose to be one heartbeat away from the presidency. I actually found her defeat, in the most recent election [as a candidate for Congress], really encouraging. I really feel that her status as a national joke may actually have caught up with her. Wouldn't that be wonderful? We say history doesn't move in a straight line. This book tells a story that's pretty horrifying. But wouldn't it be wonderful if we're actually due for a correction? You can be dumb as a politician in this country, but not that dumb. That would be amazing.

Finally, you get to the celebration phase, and this is something. The celebration of idiocy and how dangerous it is. Donald Trump ushered in that celebration.

Donald Trump actually doesn't have to make much of an effort. He is one of the most deeply ignorant presidents, probably the most ignorant, in our history. On the internet, especially on Twitter, it's so easy to call somebody an idiot or a moron. I'm sure you and I have been called that many, many times — today already. But I really prefer the term "ignoramus" because ignoramus literally means somebody who doesn't know things. And Donald Trump does not know any school subject well, even the areas of his so-called expertise, like business and construction and renovation. He doesn't know about that either. I have a lot of quotes from people who worked for him who said he was completely at sea when it came to that stuff.

But what's really horrifying about this stage — there are two kinds of ignorant politicians we're dealing with now. We have Marjorie Taylor Greene, who comes by ignorance very naturally. I mean, she's the one who says that I personally have a space laser — which I wish I had! I wish I could operate a space laser. That is such a flattering assessment of me, to think that I could operate such machinery. I barely can get on Zoom, and she thinks I can do a space laser. So she comes by it naturally. Lauren Boebert comes by it very naturally. Louie Gohmert, people like that.

Marjorie Taylor Greene says that I personally have a space laser — which I wish I had! That is such a flattering assessment of me, to think that I could operate such machinery. I can barely get on Zoom.

But then there are these super-educated guys like Ted Cruz, Princeton grad, Ron DeSantis, Josh Hawley. These guys know better, and yet they're making really dumb decisions because it appeals to this populist sense that we don't want smart people running the show. To me, the celebration phase is the most heinous phase, because we have people who really know better who are acting like dopes, and it's hurting us. It's endangering us.

How do you think that impacts the base? When Donald Trump would say things like, "I know more than the generals. I know more than the doctors," the way I interpret it is that his base, who loves him, is like, "Oh yeah, I know more than the experts too. I'm glad he's finally saying the truth." And I'm not saying you should question experts. But there are people who are like, "No, in my gut, I feel you're wrong. I have no empirical, objective data to back that up. But because I disagree with you, I don't care that you have a PhD and you've spent your life working in this field." During the pandemic, we saw how dangerous that was.

During the 2008 election, a British documentarian went out and interviewed voters in West Virginia and was asking them about Obama. Obama wasn't very popular in West Virginia. One woman said, "I'm not going to vote for him because he's a Muslim." And the interviewer said, "Well actually, ma'am, he is a Christian." And she said, "I disagree." I mean that is where we are — we've elevated everyone's opinion to the level of fact. That is very dangerous. But here's the thing. If we're going to believe in democracy — and I hate to be an optimist, but I am kind of an optimist — we can't totally give up on the idea of Americans learning stuff. We can't just say, "Well every Republican is an idiot and uneducable, and they can't be taught the truth."

Donald Trump does not know any school subject well, even in the areas of his so-called expertise, like business and construction and renovation.

One thing that I came across from researching the book is — you remember trickle-down economics, the Republican gospel that you cut the taxes of the rich and then the poor, magically, somehow get rich too. Doesn't work. It's been disproved a million times. I think, though, that trickle-down ignorance has been a roaring success, because we're social animals and we're actually very compliant.
I mean remember during the "War on Terror"? We actually paid attention to Tom Ridge when he had that ridiculous color-coded chart and said, "We're up to orange today." We actually listened to that. So when our leaders say things like, to pull an example out of thin air, "I really think that drinking bleach could knock out the coronavirus just like that," a certain number of us will say, "Well he's really important, he's the president, so that must be true." So these people have an enormous responsibility, obviously. What they say has enormous power.

If ignorance is trickling down, the only thing I can think of is that knowledge has to somehow push up. We've got to work locally and get involved locally and try to make our towns and communities better. Elect local politicians who are well-informed, get engaged in democracy in a way that reaffirms our belief in democracy. And then hope that will eventually spread upward.

We tend to nationalize every problem. We're on Twitter constantly. We think it's all about Trump and Pelosi and Biden and all this stuff. We take ourselves off the playing field when it comes to our little community, our town. Yet that's probably where the best democracy is happening right now, at the local level. And it's probably the thing that we ignore the most, unfortunately.

Judd Apatow explains why George Carlin had 'the best routine about almost every subject in modern political life'

Legendary comedian George Carlin passed away in 2008, but as you can watch firsthand in HBO Max's new two-part documentary series, "George Carlin's American Dream," his material on issues ranging from racism to gun violence to abortion resonate more today than ever.

I spoke to the co-director of the film, Judd Apatow, a comedy legend in his own right, on "Salon Talks" about his connection to Carlin and the making of the film. For starters, the title of the film is a line from Carlin's material that could've been written today: "The owners of this country known the truth that it's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it."

For Apatow, that line resonated because we are watching an effort by today's Republican Party to move our country backwards. Apatow and his co-director Michael Bonfiglio made an inspired choice with the film to include long chunks of Carlin's material — as opposed to cutting it down to simply a setup and a punchline. That allows you to enjoy Carlin's material in full comedian glory. For example, you can watch Carlin talk at length on abortion and the right's focus on forcing women to carry a fetus but not caring about the women or child that is born.

Apatow also shared that Carlin, who was a well-known advocate for freedom of speech, would understand why today's GOP is banning books. "They're banning books because if you read the books, you will question how the country is set up and the power dynamics that hold people down," Apatow sai. "The worst thing that could happen for certain interests in the country is that everyone was educated."

The two-part film charts Carlin's life from childhood through stardom — complete with a brutally honest look at Carlin the father and husband as shared by his daughter Kelly and his widow, Sally Wade. But as a comedian myself, it's Carlin's material that will not just make you laugh, but also make your jaw about how his observations on our country are still spot on today. Watch my "Salon Talks" episode with Apatow here, or read a Q&A of our talk below, to hear more about Carlin and more from Apatow, who opens up about his creative process and insecurities as a comic. "You're always terrified," he shared.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Judd, welcome back on "Salon Talks." You've been putting out a lot of work lately. You have great work ethic, and I'm not joking.

I tried to get through the pandemic with just very committed workaholism. That was my approach, and I didn't realize it at the time. I thought I was being normal, but I noticed when I was promoting "The Bubble" and then promoting "Sicker in the Head" and now the George Carlin documentary that maybe I was busy.

If I could find a common thread through your recent work it would be deconstructing both the art and the artist. Is that what interests you?

I think that I'm probably in just some massive existential funk that I'm always trying to deal with. I think for a lot of people, we create to try to understand life, to sort through things. It's also a way to feel like you exist and to be part of the conversation and to be acknowledged. So, there is a connection in a group of people who get through life by dissecting it and looking at what's working, and what's not working. And am I happy? Am I not happy? What happened to me that made me so neurotic that I feel the need to do all this? Am I evolving or am I falling apart?

"Sicker in the Head" is a follow-up to your first bestseller "Sick in the Head." As a reader, I was drawn less to the comedy people that you talked to because I come from a comedy world, but more to other performers like Lin-Manuel Miranda. He talks about being on stage during "Hamilton" and looking out in the audience and seeing celebrities and wanting to know before he goes on stage that they're there and these little things. It reminded me of my years as a stand-up comic and the idea that when you're on stage you're functioning at high levels of multitasking. Were you amazed by that type of creative process or more the people that you interviewed?

On one level I'm always trying to understand how people do it. The interviews for me as a creative person are about, how do you do it? When do you write? What are you thinking about? Why do you talk about the things you talk about? How do you figure out the medium in which to express it? When I think about someone like Lin-Manuel Miranda,

I want to understand that whole process of "Hamilton," but I also want to know how he's doing. Did the success slow you down or speed you up? Did it make you neurotic about being judged for the follow-ups? Obviously not, because he's been so productive since, but those issues of mental health and how we keep our s**t together in the face of our own insecurities, trying to be successful, trying to not run out of gas. All of those issues are interesting to me, in addition to how do you be funny? Why should we be funny? When the world is such a mess right now, what is the place for comedy in it?

Being that you are a director, is part of your unique skillset that you hear something and it has this innate quality that you're like, "Hey, that is special"?

That's part of why I direct because I want to create spaces where people are trusted and they're part of the collaboration in a big way. They're helping create their characters. They're letting them grow. Many of my favorite scenes suddenly blossomed. Maybe it was in a rehearsal. Maybe it was while we were shooting and someone said something. Maybe it was hilarious, maybe it was heartbreaking. I remember when Paul Rudd and my wife, Leslie Mann, were shooting a scene in "Knocked Up" and she's mad at him because he snuck out to watch "Spider-Man" with his friends without her and she's crying. And she goes, "I like 'Spider-Man,'" and that's an improvisation. It happens because you trust people and you're hoping that all these connections suddenly pay off.

When I used to do comedy full-time in New York, doing four spots a night was typical. I love trial and error. I love giving a chance to the audience and going up with four punch lines to a joke and trying it over a few days. Do you come from that kind of background in terms of when you were directing?

I come from stand-up. That's all I ever wanted to do. I didn't want to do anything but stand-up, I just started getting jobs in other areas and thought, "Oh, I guess I should follow where the world is pulling me." But, I do like the trial and error of jokes. It's fun. I just hosted the Directors Guild Awards. I had thought about it for months for my monologue. How do I entertain these people while making them feel happy and respected? And that process of working on the jokes and doing them at Largo and at comedy clubs and perfecting them is really fun. But I think it's more fun for me to allow something else to happen. I like when the train goes off the rails and something new suddenly reveals itself.

In your remarkable documentary on HBO, "George Carlin's American Dream," there's a line in it where the title comes from. And Carlin says, "The owners of this country know the truth that it's called, the American dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it." When you hear that line, how does it resonate with you?

It is a country that's supposed to be evolving — that's what they tell us. That's why it's interesting because you have these people who are like, "No, we are only supposed to listen to the original documents." And, these originalists, it has to be exactly what they thought of in the 1700s, but that's not what the country was supposed to do. It was supposed to grow and evolve. In thought, we were supposed to get smarter and treat each other better and adjust it as we went along. But it was a country created by slave owners and land owners who were trying to prevent a lot of people from having a say in how the country was run.

Even though we were born a democracy, it was a democracy that kept a lot of people out of the democracy. And what are we seeing happening right now? There are a lot of people that are saying, "We'd like some of these people not to vote who might not allow us to hold power, and let's figure out ways to discourage them from voting." Because if we were a true democracy, then we would only be talking about having a national holiday where everyone can vote. And we make it as easy as possible for people to all legally vote. And we never have that conversation.

We would have automatic voter registration. They wouldn't have that extra game where we're going make it even harder to register to vote now.

It's illegal to give someone a glass of water if they've been on line for seven hours in some states.

During the second part of the Carlin documentary, you leave in his long comedy bits, which I think is so important. Those jokes are relevant and resonate, as if they were written by a comedian today. Carlin talks about banning toy guns, but not real guns. He talks about forced birth by the Republicans.

I think that the reason why people are interested in George Carlin is because every time something happens in the country, he trends on Twitter because he has the best routine about almost every subject in modern political life.

How do you think Carlin would react today? This GOP has gone further than talking about banning abortion. They're literally passing laws in Oklahoma that ban abortion at day one. It would force a woman who is raped to carry the fetus to term. They are banning books and banning subjects from school, like Black history or talking about the LGBTQ community.

He has routines about how they want you uneducated. They want you to know just enough to run the machines, but not enough to ask hard questions. That was the core of his beliefs. Of course they're banning books because if you read the books, you will question how the country is set up and the power dynamics that hold people down. It has to lead to burning books. The worst thing that could happen for certain interests in the country, is that everyone was educated. That people understood how screwed over so many communities have been and continue to be.

People will get a chance to hear the story of George Carlin's seven dirty words, the curse words that you cannot say on TV in America. It culminates with him getting arrested in Milwaukee for saying dirty words. And there was a case going to the Supreme Court about the Seven Dirty Words and indecency. How do you think Carlin would respond to what some people today call cancel culture, where comedians are actually compelled to apologize for jokes that offend some. If they're hateful, it's one thing, but some people take it the wrong way, and comedians are called out for it.

He came from another era. When he talked about a lot of this, he thought, "Well, just change a channel if you don't like it." That was what he said. He's like, "That's why you're allowed to change a channel." I think in a lot of culture now, though, things are pushed down your throat with algorithms. There's a lot that you wouldn't watch or you wouldn't hear or ever know about if an algorithm didn't force it in front of you.

He wasn't around in a time where algorithms could hypnotize people and change their minds. We understand the psychology of how your positions can be changed by the way you are fed information. So, we're not sure what his opinion would be. I know that he felt like, "You're allowed to be a bad comedian. You're allowed to have bad thoughts and that's OK."

There's a great clip that goes around a lot of him talking about Andrew Dice Clay. And he had a lot of, I think, compassion and respect for Andrew Dice Clay. But he also thought that some of the material at that time was punching down. But yet he said, I would definitely defend his right to do it, he should be allowed to do it. And that's what I've always felt. Comedians could be criticized; nobody should be canceled. Everyone should be allowed to work, but occasionally we make mistakes and not all comedy is for everybody.

Some people want really dark, intense, nasty stuff. And some people don't, and that's OK. There should be places for people to see different types of comedy, the same way you might want to go see heavy metal and someone else would rather go see a country band.

You show a clip of a young Richard Pryor and a young George Carlin on the set together with John Davidson. When you see the documentary, you'll see this, but the evolution of Carlin wasn't just about comedy. It was him as a person, he evolved several times. Do you get a sense he was searching for who he was? Or as he got older, he organically evolved, and then it manifested in the way he looked the way he talked?

He came from a post-war America. He had an abusive father. So, his mom took him and his older brother, Patrick, who sadly just passed away last week, upstate. He's amazing in the documentary. He's such a funny, wonderful person. And so, he was five years older than George. George was one or less than one. And their mom took them away because they thought they were in a dangerous situation.

He had this dream of being Danny Kaye, that was the original dream. He met people like Jack Burns and got more politically interested. As the '60s went on, he was kind of a corny comedian and he slowly realized he couldn't say the things he wanted to say and had to take this big leap to grow his hair and curse and grow a beard and say, I'm not going to be someone that goes down easy, that plays by the rules and is very vanilla.

He became a big star, but then he got vanilla again. He ran out of gas and he had a heart attack. And I think he just lost the sense of who he was. I think in the same way musicians do. People put up three or four great records, then like three or four terrible records and then suddenly they find it again.

He saw Sam Kinison at some point and thought to himself, "I don't want to be a corny comedian next to this guy. If this is the bar, I want to redefine who I am and go farther and get better." And it is funny that Sam Kinison was the person who lit a fire under his ass and he got competitive. And that was when he wrote those amazing specials at the end of his life.

What I've found with Carlin and in your book is that comedians are driven, but they're also fragile. There's insecurity underneath the surface when you're in this world.

That's the terrifying part about a creative life. You got to keep it going. If I have a hit movie, it doesn't mean the next one will be good. Every movie is an experiment. When I start something and I think, "Oh, I'm going to make a movie about the pandemic." When I made "The Bubble" for Netflix, I'm taking a huge leap and nothing I've done before, preps me for that. And then I go into the next one and that one will not succeed because of what works in "The Bubble."

You're always terrified. Will I have the next idea? Do I have anything left to say? Am I repeating myself? Am I becoming a bore? And some people do run out of gas. We've seen them where we go, "Oh, how come all the good steps in this eight-year period and nothing is good afterwards." And that's why I'm always impressed by people like George Carlin who fight through that and stay current and edgy and interesting. And it really is about being engaged and passionate about what you're doing.

The lesson from Carlin is to keep pushing yourself and you're going to reinvent yourself. Don't fear that, don't stay in your comfort zone because you've had success, if that's not true to who you want to be for the rest of your career.

Last thing, in your book, you interview some Muslim comedians who I've known for years, like Ramy Youssef, I know him since he was a 19-year-old kid, and Hasan Minhaj, who I know, not as well but I've interviewed him several times. What impresses me about them is they're like philosophers on some level. There's something very innately talented about them and their understanding of the world. And I think Carlin had that as well.

With the first book, it was a lot of people I interviewed when I was a kid and that was certainly a very white, mainly Jewish comedy world. I talked to all the people that I looked up to growing up, people like Paul Reiser and Jerry Seinfeld and Leno and Howard Stern. And for this book, I thought it really should reflect the world right now. People Ramy and Hasan, they're great storytellers. They are philosophers. They have to look at the world through this lens of their culture.

They're compassionate about their experience and they're looking at how they're navigating the world, but they're also looking how other people are looking at them and how people are relating to them. They're seeing everything in both directions. They just have a level of insight that other people don't have. They're very rare, special, important people at this moment. And riotously funny. I did a talk in New York with Ramy about the book and we have a project we're working on together and I couldn't be more impressed with his work and his approach to the work.

"George Carlin's American Dream" is now streaming on HBO Max. Watch a trailer for it below, via YouTube.

Ex-Republican Rick Wilson gives Democrats advice on how to defeat authoritarian GOP

"Vladimir Putin has this deep appeal to the modern Republican Party because he believes in power, he believes in wealth, he believes in control," former GOP strategist Rick Wilson warned recently in a conversation with me on "Salon Talks." Wilson added bluntly, the GOP "have become very friendly to dictatorship, to authoritarianism…people like Putin."

Wilson is no longer a Republican himself, but knows them from the inside and out — from their strengths to their dark, undemocratic desires. After all, he was one of the top political consultants building the party from behind the scenes for decades. Wilson, co-founder of the Lincoln Project, candidly described today's GOP as "an authoritarian, dictator-friendly party that has abandoned all of its ideological predicates except pure power, and these small-D democratic values." And he was just getting warmed up. Wilson added, "What the Republicans are doing, they're racing to make 2024 the very last election we ever have in this country…I don't want to seem like I'm exaggerating that, they don't want elections, they want power."

From there I spoke to Wilson, the New York Times best-selling author of "Running Against the Devil" and "Everything Trump Touches Dies," about this one question: What do Democrats need to do to win in 2022? He shared a litany of practical, real-world advice for Democrats, starting with raising alarm bells about the dangers posed by the GOP to our democratic republic. He also faulted Democrats for not demanding Trump be held accountable for his role in the January 6 attack and for not holding January 6 committee hearings weekly. Wilson is right when he says if a Democratic president had done what Donald Trump did after losing the 2020 election that the GOP "would have gone at this thing with 24/7 fists of fury."

Wilson also warned Democrats to punch back hard on the conservatives' culture war issues, such as their efforts to ban what they call "critical race theory." Wilson explained that "Democrats need to learn how to jujitsu the culture wars," by framing the issue in ways that work against Republicans. And Wilson shared a few colorful examples of how to just that. 2022 is a challenging year for Democrats but it's very winnable. Watch or read my "Salon Talks" with Wilson to learn more.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

How do the political winds look today as you look at November 2022? What do Democrats got to do to win?

It's always difficult for the off-year of an incumbent party. It's always a problem. There are only three times in the last 150 years where the party in power gained seats, one of which was 2002, and that was only because the predicate of the election was national security after the attack by al-Qaida in New York on 9/11. Biden faces headwinds just generically in the very start.

Now, I think there are a lot of difficulties. Democrats are retiring — there are 30 retirements so far. They are a divided party in Washington between the Biden/Obama/Clinton wing and the progressive wing. The progressives have not felt like they have had a sweeping set of victories that they wanted for Green New Deal and then the social spending stuff. They're a little grumpy right now sitting on the sidelines.

Republicans are very, very good at raising money, recruiting candidates, staying on message and relentlessly nationalizing campaigns. If there's a single failing I think the Democrats are experiencing right now, it's that they're trying to nationalize the campaign on things that don't matter to voters right now. They're trying to nationalize the campaign on Build Back Better — fine and good, but it's not working. It's not big enough to change the daily lives of voters and to make them think, "Oh, gosh. If I don't support Democrats, I'm going to lose this great benefit that I have received from Build Back Better." They don't feel that Build Back Better has meaningfully improved their lives at this point.

The other thing the Democrats are falling victim to, as they do — and I've written a lot about this, you and I have talked about this — culture wars are where the Democratic Party goes to die. When they don't understand the culture war that's being waged, and where they don't understand how it's being run against them, they get caught up in a very bad cycle where Republicans have found the notion that may be fake and made up and horrifying divisive, but they're really smart at deploying that issue. I'll give you a perfect example, that's critical race theory. Critical race theory, as we know, is not taught in schools, it's a fringe element of part of legal theory, blah, blah, blah. However, when Republicans say critical race theory, what Democrats tend to do is say, "Well, no, it's not taught in schools, it's an edge theory of this ..." and they start defending it and they start getting in this cycle of defending it. That is playing the Republicans' game, running their predicate, running their playbook. They will just walk them into this meat grinder every time.

Democrats need to learn how to jujitsu the culture wars. What they should say is, "Just tell us the truth, Republican candidate X. You just want to say the N-word, you just want permission to say the N-word. That's what this is really about. You don't want African Americans to vote, you're telling us that every day by all these new voting restrictions. But you really, really want to make sure we don't talk about anything that makes you uncomfortable, right? Not being able to say the N-word makes you uncomfortable, doesn't it?"

They don't fight with the knives-out, full-throttle, go-for-the-kill aspect that guys like me who grew up in the Republican system have lived and breathed our entire careers. They don't understand that the psychological nature of the culture war thing comes from a really significant Republican understanding of the country, that it is not homogenous ideologically. I've seen Democrats before who say, "Oh, well, we've got this pretty good candidate in Tennessee or Kentucky or Arkansas, however, we can't get behind him or her because they're not aggressively pro-choice enough, they're not exactly right on every single issue, they're not a perfect clone of somebody from Oregon or Massachusetts or California or Washington State or New York." Republicans get it. They give their candidates permission, in some weird and subtle ways sometimes, to be off the ideological agenda, as long as they can win the seat.

In 2018, the Democrats, and Speaker Pelosi gets a lot of credit for this, very smartly went out and said, "Find candidates in these districts who can win, not the most progressive, not the most ideologically perfect, find people who can win." They did a really good job — 41 seats that year. Now, that wasn't just the effect of the first term-itis, it was also the effect of good candidate selection of candidates who matched their districts.

The country still has a tremendous amount of ideological political diversity, because I will tell you, a Democratic voter in Oklahoma is not as progressive as a Democratic voter in San Francisco. If you pick candidates and recruit candidates based on win-ability and electability, you're going to be in a lot better position than if they meet every single one of your ideological tests. You give me 50 Conor Lambs, I'll go out and win you 35 new Congressional seats. You give me 50 AOCs, I'll get one or two. Conor Lamb looks a lot more like the Democratic voters in a lot of these states than AOC does. I pick Conor Lamb just as one example because the temptation of ideological purity, and this in some cases happens with Republicans too, the temptation of getting the ideological dream date that leads you down to ineffective candidate or campaign is a danger for a party.

Now, look, Republicans are going to get their wish for the most MAGA crazy people in some of these races in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin, in the Senate side particularly, and the Democrats are going to have a much better chance of winning in the Senate because you're going to end up with a Josh Mandel or a J.D. Vance or some other lunatic on Ohio. You may end up with a Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania. Anytime you can match moderate to crazy, you're in a great spot, you're in a fantastic position. Anytime you can match a person who does not meet every single right-line ideological test, but appeals to voters in the state or district, you're in great shape.

It's good to have the proverbial Sister Souljah moment. It's good for voters to see you being able to say, "Look, I'm going to stand up for you in this state, in this district, I'm going to fight for you. I don't care about what they do in Washington, I don't care about what they say on the pages of the Times editorial page, I care about the people here in Altoona, Pennsylvania or Maitland, Florida or Mecklenburg County, North Carolina." Getting into that idea that the country is not homogenous ideologically is really smart.

The third thing is, this is not going to be an election about policy, it will be about personality. It will be about a broad sense of whether we're going to pick one major path in the future of this country or another. There are people in D.C. who say, "Oh, the election will be about prescription drug coverage and Build Back Better." Horses**t. Get out of here. The election's going to be a decision between whether or not you have an authoritarian, dictator-friendly party that has abandoned all of its ideological predicates except pure power, and these small-D democratic values that inform this country, or whether you're going to have a country that may be messy and we may fight all the time and it may be a little bit broken around the edges, but it still embraces the passionate political arguments and diversity that the country really has and requires politically.

It is going to be a matter of groups like mine and many others to convince enough Republican voters, and they're still out there, in fact there's some research now telling us the number's a little bigger than it used to be of voters who are like, "I'm done with the Trump crazies, I'm done with the QAnon, I'm done with the conspiracies, I'm done with the anti-vaccination stuff." That number's a little bigger than it was in 2020, but it's not a majority by any stretch of the imagination.

Democrats have to find a way in state and district races to pull across what we call the Bannon Line voters. Steve Bannon hates me with affirming passion, but he came up with a line one time, he said, "If those Lincoln Project guys can pull between three and eight-percent of Republicans away from Trump, he's going to lose." Well, that was exactly the model we were looking at and exactly the model we executed on these states. It's a game of small numbers, the Democrats need to execute on that small number game. They need to work that small number targeting, they need to go after the people. You've got to sell these voters on the fact that the Democratic Party for them is an Airbnb, okay? It's not a house, you're not buying the house and moving in forever, you're not even renting the house for a year, you're going to stay for a little while because the circumstances outside mean you need to stay for a little while.

If you're in say Michigan, would you rather have that moderate Republican woman voter who thinks taxes are too high and wants her kids back in school because she's sick of staying home with them? Even though she wants lower taxes and she might even be pro-life, do you want her or not? You should want her. It's not going to make your party suddenly a bunch of conservatives, you're not going to all turn into George Bush neocons, you're not going to turn into Evangelical Christians, but you're recruiting a group of voters who are willing to stand up against a party that, as we are witnessing right now in this country, will do anything to hold power.

You've answered every one of my questions in one long answer, Rick. Now let's break it down a little bit. Should Democratic leaders—and I don't mean grassroots because I know the grassroots people and I talk to them—Democratic leaders, should they be talking about the threat this version of the GOP poses to democracy?

100 percent.

Should they be making that one of the primary issues going into 2022?

I absolutely believe that is the case, and I'll tell you why. They sense it viscerally, they understand it. They are seeing this happen in Florida, in Texas, in Georgia, in other Republican-led states right now, and again. it is not that a suburban Republican professional woman in Tampa, Florida, is a raving progressive, but when she sees that there's a bill that will forbid a teacher or a counselor in a school from talking to a kid about whether they're gay or not, that scares her. When they understand that if they want to go get an abortion, whether they think it's a great idea or not morally speaking, that there's a new government snitch program that will reward weirdos for stalking abortion clinics, that's the too-much level.

What the Republicans are doing [is] they're racing to make 2024 the very last election we ever have in this country. I don't want to seem like I'm exaggerating that. They don't want elections, they want power. They're going to do everything they can to gain and then retain that power, and that is starting to be an element where folks in the electorate are realizing it, it's making them feel uncomfortable, it's making them feel troubled, and if you can break out of the culture war bubble, you can snatch some of those voters.

Do you think that Democratic leaders so far have been raising the alarm bells the way they should on this issue in a loud voice?

No, I think they spent a lot of last year fighting over the budget bill, fighting over Build Back Better, and Joe Biden's progressive allies that had zero favors in that. One thing about Republicans is that when they get on a message and they get on a strategy that's dictated down from the leadership, they stay with that thing until it's dead.

You ended up with Biden getting shanked on the left side of his party by the progressives and shanked on the right side of his party by Manchin and Sinema. It was really shortsighted by a lot of those folks, both Manchin and Sinema and that wing of the party and by the progressives, it was shortsighted to say, "Hey, we're going to do everything we can to hamstring Joe Biden and screw him over for right now, because it makes it more likely that we're going to get what we want in some imaginary scenario." The people that were benefiting from that were Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and the cuckoo caucus that is going to be a much larger part of that Republican demo in the coming year.

What about the idea of Democratic leaders calling for Donald Trump to be held accountable for the coup attempt that we know about, the January 6th attempt? If a Democratic president did what Donald Trump did, every day on Fox News there would be a countdown to his indictment.

They would build a gibbet outside of the White House lawn. He would have been impeached 47 times already. There would be nonstop hearings every day. We would never have had a break in the hearings. They would have crushed every witness who tried not to testify. They would have subpoenaed everybody in sight, including the janitor. They would have interviewed the White House cat. They would have gone at this thing with 24/7 fists of fury. I'm glad the committee is subpoenaing a lot of people, but what I've been hearing from the beginning is they want to get this over with, they want to go on to Build Back Better, they want to go on to Green New Deal, they want to go on to prescription drug coverage. Stop it. It's a huge deal. They tried to overthrow a legitimate American election and engage in an outright act of sedition. If you don't, as members of Congress, seek to hold every single one of those scumbag weasels accountable, then you are absolutely abandoning your duty and you're abandoning a political angle that is a fundamental inflection point.

While there are still a lot of behavioral Republicans, there is a large number, it's not a majority, it's not a plurality, but there's a meaningful fraction of those people who did not like seeing people take a s**t in the White House rotunda, who did not like seeing the Confederate battle flag carried into the Capitol of the American Republic, who did not like seeing cops beaten, who did not like seeing the building that is the centerpiece of our representative democracy turned into a war zone.

If you don't hold those people accountable, if you don't crack heads on that ... Look, the Justice Department has its role to play in this and nobody can control that situation, unfortunately, but if you don't make a spectacle out of it, the Republicans will memory-hole it. They will rewrite history. They're great at it. They're enormously skilled at rewriting history, they will turn this into "ordinary tourists who were just upset by the stolen election." They will say it and they will say it, and they will say it, and they will say it a hundred-million times until Republicans all believe it, including the ones you have to get. You have to wedge out those people from the GOP, you have to drive a wedge in there, you have to block that wedge from closing back up.

What you're getting at is that message over and over, about how this is not partisan, this is about patriotism, this is about protecting our democracy, our democratic republic to make it clear that even for a Democratic president, you can never do that. That's the thing for me. A Democrat should be going like, "If a Democratic president would be doing this, we'd be calling for them to be held accountable, so when we're calling for Trump to be held accountable, it's not partisan, it's patriotism." It's remarkable to see the timidity among leading Democrats, with a few exceptions — Jamie Raskin, Ruben Gallego, a few others.

Raskin, Swalwell, Gallego, Liu and a few others have been fighting in that Truman-esque tradition of going up there and scrapping with bad people. I will say this: I'm not a Republican anymore. I left the Republican Party because it does not exist as a political enterprise that I can support in any capacity. I am still a constitutional conservative where I believe the Constitution is the law and the rule of the land and it must be followed and implemented appropriately. The Constitution sets out these standards and criteria for American elections. They were followed; only one side attempted to subvert those standards and those constitutional rules. They must be held accountable; they must be punished for it. If you don't think that putting Republicans on the back foot is good politics, you're out of your mind.

We've got three governorships up that are in key states.

Enormously important.

Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, GOP legislatures, the only thing thwarting their fever dreams of a Democratic governor. I just want to get from your point of view, as a former Republican, how important it is, because if they win those governorships, they will rig the election for 2024.

They won't even bother to rig it. The laws in all those states now that have been passed allow them to just, with the stroke of a pen, say, "No, the actual result is X." So it's important that we look at Georgia, Wisconsin — Florida is a long shot, unfortunately Ron DeSantis has a very good chance of being reelected right now, because God bless my friends in the Florida Democratic Party, but they cannot organize a two-car motorcade.

Michigan and Wisconsin are enormously important, and if you look at the margin of victory in 2020, it's 44,000 votes in those three states. You better do better, and holding onto those governorships is enormously important. I think Governor Whitmer is in better shape than she was six weeks ago, but that's one where we're watching very, very closely. Wisconsin's one we're watching very, very closely as well.

I want to touch on Ukraine, we don't know how it's going to play out, it's a snapshot in time as we're talking about it right now. But what do you think, do you think this ends up playing a role in 2022?

I think it probably does actually, because we're at a point now, this is another one of those inflection point questions. Democracy is under threat abroad by a rising and empowered class of foreign dictators and authoritarians. The difference between America in this moment in time and America in the past is that no matter what political party they were in, Truman, Ike, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush, Reagan, anybody would have said, "Hey, an authoritarian dictatorship invading a sovereign nation is a bad thing, especially in the heart of Europe. This is a terrible outcome and America will be safer if we reinforce our alliances and stand up against this kind of behavior." But now we have an entire political party that at best shrugs it off, at best goes, "Eh, it's his business, it's his backyard."

If Mexico invaded Arizona and said, "These people are more like us in Arizona than they are like the rest of America, we have a traditional historic relationship here" — that is the same exact argument Putin is using right now. I guarantee you there would be blood in the streets from those folks if that happened. But they have become very friendly to dictatorship, to authoritarianism, and to people like Putin. Putin has this deep appeal to the modern Republican Party, because again, he believes in power, he believes in wealth, he believes in control.

I tell my progressive and Democratic friends this all the time, I know some of you have this college dorm room desire to try true socialism somewhere, sometime. These people are not that. They are pure authoritarian kleptocrats. The Republican Party, it appeals to them because what is Trump? He's a pure authoritarian kleptocrat. He does what he wants, helps his friends, makes a lot of money. That's the world they're trying to build. That's why the Democrats need to fight the 2022 race, and thence 2024, with a pure understanding of who those people are and an understanding that they view the world in a very cold, clear-eyed, unequivocal way.

They're not ever fooled by their own bulls**t, they don't ever believe their own bulls**, believe, trust me. These guys don't believe in any of this stuff. They believe in power. When they're talking about abortion or gun control or climate or any other thing that makes Democrats think that's the central issue, they're really only doing it to get you into a culture war so they can beat you, because they recognize that most Americans are somewhere in the middle. They'll scare those people to death. "It's also the Communists, it's also the people that will take away your hamburgers and your airplanes and your cars. It's us versus critical race theory. It's us versus drag queen story time at your library." All the crazy culture war stuff that is just nuts, they know it works on their people. I'm always telling Democrats, don't give them the sword to cut off your head.

If you had one piece of advice for Democrats now, about 200-plus days from the election, what would you tell Democrats? I don't mean grassroots, grassroots are activated, they're engaged.

They're getting up there, for sure.

For leaders, what should they be doing right now? What should be the one piece of advice?

They should be making every Republican candidate, especially the ones who don't seem crazy on paper, they should be making them own January 6th, making them own QAnon, making them own the Putin love fest, they should be making them own all the craziest edges of the Republican Party today, because the craziest edge of the Republican Party is now a plurality of the Republican Party. Make those people, make those candidates own the craziness, make them own the evil, make them own the s**tty behavior.

You need to take, in a game of small numbers, and split off three to eight percent of the Republican vote. Those people will tend to be female, they'll tend to be professional, they'll tend to live in the suburbs, in a more affluent area of suburbs, or they will be independent men who are educated but behaviorally vote Republican. That's the two demos that you're really, really after, and in that regard, they don't want to be seen as associated with a 300-pound fat guy with a Confederate flag in one hand and an AR-15 in the other, yelling about being a Christian nation. They don't want to be that guy. They don't want to be the guy who's wearing the horns taking a s**t in the Capitol. They don't want to be that guy. They don't want to be the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Patriot Front weirdo far-right fascist militias. They don't want to be those people.

You have to associate the entire Republican Party with those kind of elements of it, which legitimately they are now a plurality or more of the party. It's not the party of John McCain, George Bush, George HW Bush, Ronald Reagan, Mitt Romney, or anybody else you've ever seen before. It is now a party of the kooks, the conspiracy theorists, the QAnon-ers, the nutcases, the bad guys, and the Big Lie people. In all those cases, it's important I think to link them together inextricably.

'Trump will get his comeuppance': Rep. Jamie Raskin promises consequences for Jan. 6

Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, opens his bestselling new book, "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy" by sharing "two impossible traumas" he suffered in the same week: "the shattering death by suicide" of his 25-year-old son, and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. As Raskin discussed during our recent "Salon Talks" conversation, these two losses obviously are not equivalent — but in linking them on some level, Raskin is also sharing his deep love for America.

I have interviewed Raskin many times for my SiriusXM radio show, and he has always been a thoughtful, measured person when it comes to talking politics of the day. The fact that he's a former constitutional law professor likely contributes to that professorial nature. That's also why we should all take heed of his words when he states point blank that today's Republican Party has launched a "fascist attack against the constitutional order." In his book, Raskin writes that the GOP is now "the party of Trump, authoritarianism, corruption, and insurrection."

That has become even more obvious in recent weeks as Donald Trump suggested he would pardon the Capitol attackers if returned to office, and the Republican National Committee approved a resolution describing the Jan. 6 attack as "legitimate political discourse." Raskin, who is a member of the House select committee investigating the events Jan. 6, shared his belief that the panel's upcoming public hearings could be the most important in American history, saying they will "certainly up there with the Watergate hearings." You can watch my "Salon Talks" with Rep. Raskin here, or read our conversation below to hear Raskin discuss the "maddening and frustrating" fact that Trump has yet to be brought to justice.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Your book "Unthinkable" went straight to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The book is a love letter to your late son Tommy, who took his own life last December, and on some level a love letter to our democracy and what this nation stands for. But I wanted to start with Tommy. You go into detail about his struggle with depression, writing, "Depression, it entered his life like a thief in the night and became an unremitting beast." What do you say to families out there where people are struggling with depression?

Well, I don't claim any particular medical expertise. But I will just say as a dad who's gone through this, that it's obviously important that each person who's facing a mental health struggle be in a therapeutic relationship with doctors and get whatever medication we have that might work. But also, build a close social network to stay on top of the situation. Obviously I've asked myself a thousand questions since all of this happened, but the thing I probably most regret is not talking about the topic of suicide and not confronting it directly.

I think parents probably have an instinct that talking about it will somehow conjure it into existence or cast some kind of spell that will make it happen. But that's obviously just superstition, and it really works in the other direction: To not talk about something is the risky thing, it's to endow it with more power and mystery than it should have. I say that about suicide and I also say that about the word "fascism" in the book. We can't be afraid to talk about that, like somehow that's a breach of etiquette or something.

Switching to politics here, right in the beginning of your book, you talk about how in the week between Dec. 31, 2020, and Jan. 6th, 2021, your family suffered two impossible dramas: One was your son's death by suicide, and the second was the Capitol insurrection. You're not equating the two things, but I can sense your love for this nation. Is that fair to say that: You have a deep love for this democratic republic and what it's supposed to stand for, and you feel compelled to defend it?

Well, I think that's right. It's kind of you to say that. I certainly feel it. And I have felt that Tommy's with me, and he is in my heart. He's in my chest. He was during the impeachment trial in the Senate. And unfortunately we didn't have enough Republican senators to join us in convicting Trump. I mean, it was the most bipartisan, sweeping impeachment result in a Senate trial in American history, but we still fell 10 votes short. And for that reason, we're still in the thick of this struggle.

Like I told the impeachment managers before we went out there, the facts are overwhelmingly on our side. The law is overwhelmingly on our side. I want to make sure that people understand that the passion for our country, the patriotism in your hearts is what's motivating the whole thing. So show your emotion about what just happened to us. They stormed our house.

You write about going into the Capitol on Jan. 6, bringing your daughter Tabitha and your son-in-law Hank with you. So during the siege, you weren't just worried about yourself, you had to worry about your family. We have the footage of this horrific attack on our Capitol by people dressed in Trump regalia and chanting, "Fight for Trump." Yet now we know, thanks to the work of your committee, that Donald Trump, for 187 minutes, watched that and did nothing, even when Ivanka Trump came in twice asking him to intervene. What does that say to you about how Trump viewed this event?

The violence was strategic and political, but it was also sadistic too. He had unleashed primitive impulses in this mass demonstration, which became a mob riot. I view the activities of Jan. 6 as being in three rings of sedition, Dean. There was the mob riot, which surrounded the ring of the insurrection. And that was the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the Aryan Nation, different white nationalist groups, the Militiamen, the First Amendment Pretorians, there were some religious cults in there. These people had trained for battle and they were the first ones to come and smash out our windows and attack our police officers. They helped convert the demonstration into a mob riot and an attack on the officers. But the scariest ring was the innermost ring, the ring of the coup, which is a strange word to use in American political parlance, because we don't have a lot of experience with coups.

We think of a coup as something that takes place against a president, but this was a coup orchestrated by the president against the vice president and against the Congress. And the whole purpose was to get Mike Pence to declare lawless, extra-constitutional powers, to exclude and reject and repudiate Electoral College votes coming in from Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania to lower Biden's total from 306 to below 270. That would have triggered, under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, a contingent presidential election. And you ask: Why would Donald Trump want Speaker Pelosi's Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to decide who's president? Well, in a contingent election, we're not voting one member, one vote. We're voting one state, one vote.

After the 2020 elections, they had 27 state delegations, we had 22 and one, Pennsylvania, was split down the middle. So even had they lost the at-large representative from Wyoming — my new best friend, Liz Cheney — they still would have had 26 votes to declare Donald Trump president and seize the presidency for another four years. I think they were also prepared at that point to invoke the Insurrection Act and declare martial law, and finally call on the National Guard, that had been held back, to put down the insurrectionary chaos he had unleashed against us.

Are you surprised that we don't even hear an inkling that Trump is being investigated by the Department of Justice for potential crimes?

Well, yeah. I mean, I'm a little bit softer on Attorney General Merrick Garland than some people are, because he's my constituent. I still remember, so bitterly, how they prevented him from even getting a hearing when he was nominated by President Obama to the Supreme Court. But look, people were on Garland's case about the fact that there had been no indictments for seditious conspiracy. And then there was a huge indictment on seditious conspiracy against the Oath Keepers, and presumably more to come. They obviously weren't the only group there. There were these overlapping circles of conspiracy to knock over the Capitol and take down our government. I mean, that was the interruption of the peaceful transfer of power, for the first time in American history, for four or five hours. And we didn't know which way it was going to go.

Trump will get his comeuppance. I know how maddening and frustrating it is to people. I share that feeling, having been an impeachment manager. I mean, he's as guilty as sin. He's a one-man crime wave, and it's amazing that his dad's money and this pack of lawyers he travels with have been able to get him off everything up until now. But I'm with Dr. King that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it tends toward justice. It's going to catch up with Donald Trump too.

You write in the book that we can now say that the Democratic Party, whatever its faults, is the party of democracy and that the Republican Party is the party of authoritarianism, corruption, and insurrection. Can our democratic republic continue if one party is embracing autocracy and fascism and the other party is playing by the rules?

It's a good question. If you look at it historically, liberal and progressive parties have never on their own been enough to defeat fascist and authoritarian coups. It's always the liberal and progressive parties, the left and the center-right together. And when they come together, they can reject and defeat a fascist attack against the constitutional order. And that is the importance of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and Mitt Romney. We had 10 Republicans vote to impeach in the house. We had seven vote to convict in the Senate. So that's like 14 or 15 percent of the Republican Party. If that block holds and comes our way, and we're able to build a cross-party coalition with a lot of Independents and Greens and Libertarians and Republicans and Democrats to defend democracy, we can do it.

The Democratic Party can't do it alone. It's going to have to be the base of it, but we also need to assemble all the other institutions in American life that are part of democracy, because democracy's not one thing. I mean, it is the legislative branch, yes, obviously. But it is courts. It is the states. It is the press, the media, the universities, the colleges, the schools, civil society. Everybody needs to stand up and reject authoritarianism at this point. When people ask what they can do: You can do things every single day to stand up for strong democracy in America.

After Watergate, Congress passed reforms to try to rein in a runaway president in Richard Nixon. I know some have been proposed now. Is there any hope of legislation that will curtail another potential Trump or another person cut from that cloth, regardless of party, who really tries to abuse their power?

In a certain sense, this is what we've been trying to do with all the voting rights legislation. We've been trying to solidify and protect the right to vote and protect the integrity of elections against these outrageous efforts to convert bipartisan or nonpartisan election commissions into partisan election commissions, or to put them directly under the control of GOP legislatures. The problem is that the Republican Party, which is a minority party and a shrinking minority party — remember, Hillary beat Trump by three million votes and Joe Biden beat him by seven and a half million votes. The young people are coming in our direction.

That demography is totally against the GOP, but they've got this bag of tricks that include the most anti-democratic instruments in the country. It's voter suppression statutes. It's the filibuster. It's right wing court packing and judicial activism. It's manipulation of the Electoral College. It's a race between the will of the majority, trying to defend democratic institutions and liberal democracy, against one-party rule, which is what they want. They are a rule-or-ruin party, and I've been calling that them that for a while. I was glad that President Biden picked that up in his democracy speech because they either are going to rule or they're going to ruin our ability to make any progress as a country.

With the Jan. 6 committee, you're going to have public hearings coming up at some point this year. I'm not sure if there's a schedule that we don't know about. Is there any sense of what we might expect to see, or the types of witnesses that you might bring forward in these hearings?

I'd hoped it would happen in March. I think because of all the obstruction and roadblocks thrown up by the entourage around Donald Trump — Mark Meadows, who's kind of doing the hokey pokey, one foot in one foot out, Steve Bannon, Roger Stone — that it's going to be later in the spring, April or May more likely. But I think these could be the most important hearings in American history, certainly up there with the Watergate hearings. I hope we will do them during prime time. I hope we will see them every single day, so we can tell a complete story to the American people about how this took place. It's obviously enormously complex. But people are following it closely.

The vast majority of Americans who we've approached as witnesses have testified. So most people, including people who participated, are cooperating. They understand that they've got not just a legal obligation but a civic obligation to help us figure out what happened. It's only when you get right to that bullseye core around Donald Trump and his innermost confidants that people think they're somehow above the law and can just give the finger to the U.S. Congress.

The way you envision this, it wouldn't be like the first hearings we saw with the Capitol Police, which was months ago? This would be more like lining up a bunch of nights in a row, as opposed to one hearing and then coming back three weeks later?

Yeah, it would not be episodic. We want to tell the whole story. I felt very strongly that we'd go to the police officers first. That was my great frustration about the Senate trial, that we weren't able to have them come and tell the story of what had happened. We wanted to shock the public into remembrance of what this was about. I mean, this was a violent assault on American democracy, a riot surrounding an insurrection surrounding a coup, and it was our officers who stood between us and losing it all. So there were a lot of heroes on that day and we can't forget who those heroes were.

Newt Gingrich literally said that you and others on your committee are going to jail if Republicans get control of the House. I don't know what the justification would be, but when you hear that, does that ring bells of fascism to you? The idea of threatening to put political opponents in prison simply because they're doing their job.

Well, of course that was the direction that Donald Trump took their party in, because the moment he got in, the Department of Justice was treated like a group of lawyers who were supposed to follow his orders in prosecuting his enemies and excusing and protecting his friends. It was like that from the very beginning, and all through the administration. It doesn't surprise me that Newt Gingrich, who's an utter chameleon and total moral invertebrate, would just follow Donald Trump down into that cesspool.

You mentioned that 10 Republican House members voted to impeach Donald Trump, and seven Republicans voted to convict in the Senate. We heard Kevin McCarthy go on the floor saying, "The president's to blame." But that same Kevin McCarthy now is sucking up. What do you make of this, in terms of that party losing its way? Is it just the pursuit of power at literally any cost?

Of course. I mean, the framers understood this. If you go back and read Federalist No. 1 by Alexander Hamilton, he says that the major threat to the Democratic Republic is going to be politicians who act as demagogues pandering to negative emotions who then come to power and go from being demagogues to becoming tyrants. So, exploiting negative emotions in people, racism, hatred, stereotyping, scapegoating and then becoming tyrants over the people. So that's an old story. It's obviously a different story than Donald Trump was telling, but it's one we can recognize immediately.

On another point, you have a documentary, "Loving the Constitution," coming out on MSNBC. It was shot over three years, following you through everything. What can you share about this?

Madeline Carter was someone who was a college classmate of mine, and she kept bugging me for more than a year that she wanted to make a documentary about me and Trump. The constitutional law professor who gets elected the same night as the would-be authoritarian dictator of America — following his story and mine. Of course history takes us places we never imagined going. But I finally relented, I said, "Fine, if you think there's something there, you can make the movie about us." Of course she ended up filming a lot of stuff I wish had never happened, along with some things I'm proud of and some things I regret. But it is what it is. I confess I have lived, as Pablo Neruda said. It is what it is, and I'm curious to see what it's all about.

When Justice Breyer had his press conference, talking about retiring, he mentioned the Gettysburg Address and talked about the experiment this country is. I went back and read the Gettysburg Address, and the very last line is that the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth. That was the hope of Lincoln. You get the sense that some of our fellow Americans just believe it won't perish from the earth and they don't have to do anything to preserve it.

I mean, I don't blame those people. Most of us grew up with the sense that there was stability and durability in our democratic institutions and that they would grow stronger over time. But of course there are people who also have much more of a tragic sensibility and understand the ebb and flow of history. There are periods of progressive evolution and change, and then periods of profound reaction and destruction, and we obviously just witnessed one of those with these nihilists who took over and tried to destroy everything that had been built for decades. I mean, they just put the civilizing movements of our time in their crosshairs: the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the LGBTQ movement, the human rights movement, the environmental movement, the climate movement and so on.

So yeah, I don't really blame those people. But I think Lincoln was trying to say, if democracy's going to survive, we all have to fight for it. And there will be a spectrum of sacrifice. Some people will give their lives, like the thousands who were killed in the battle at Gettysburg. But all of us have got to be engaged in this. I mean, that's what democracy is. It's something that we take care of together.

Lincoln was posing that as a real question, not as just some kind of rhetorical flourish. I mean, for most of the history of our species, people have lived under despots and tyrants and dictators and bullies and kings and queens and all that. So our American experiment began with some very high ideals. They were compromised from the beginning, with the viciousness of slavery and other kinds of repressive political features. But at least the ideals were there and successive social and political movements have been able to transform the country. And that has left us, even through Donald Trump, the greatest multiracial, multiethnic, multi-religious constitutional democracy that's ever existed. So that's our legacy. That's what we're fighting for now.

Pulitzer-winning reporter on the criminal Trump regime: 'This was thievery — plain and simple'

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston is not giving up on exposing how Donald Trump and his family fleeced America while he was in the White House. To that end, the bestselling author is back with a meticulously researched new book, "The Big Cheat: How Donald Trump Fleeced America and Enriched Himself and His Family."

I recently spoke to Johnston about his new book for "Salon Talks" and one thing is clear: His enthusiasm to see Trump held accountable has not waned just because the Trump presidency is over. In "The Big Cheat," he uncovers details on Trump's scams that began with his inaugural committee and ran straight through his "Stop the Steal" fundraising grift. In between, Johnston notes a range of corruption by Trump, such as stopping in front of his Washington hotel during the inaugural parade in 2017 to send a clear message: "If you want something from the Trump administration, you will first pay tribute to Donald." As Johnston writes, spending money at Trump's hotel was one way to do just that.

Johnston also takes aim at Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who saw their collective wealth rise by somewhere between $200 million and $600 million while working in the White House. This wasn't by happenstance, as Johnston details: It was because Javanka cashed in on Trump's presidency, with sweetheart deals from the Chinese government, the United Arab Emirates and more.

In our conversation, which you can watch or read below, the nearly 50-year veteran reporter also lays out safeguards that Congress should enact to prevent Trump, or another morally bankrupt president, from ever repeating this Trumpian fleecing of America again. But one of the best deterrents to future corruption, Johnston argues, would be the criminal prosecution of Donald Trump himself. "I would be eternally in favor of a long prison sentence," he told me.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Your book has granular details about Trump, some I knew and some I had no idea about. Let's start at the beginning: You go into great detail about the inaugural committee. Trump raised double the amount Obama did, and there are questions about where that money is. The D.C. attorney general is suing the Trump campaign right now about this very thing. Tell us more.

Well, Donald Trump raised $107 million for his inaugural, that we know of. The previous record was Obama in his first inaugural: $53 million. The inaugural for Obama had eight or nine balls. It had lots of events. They had numerous headline musical acts whose expenses had to be paid. Donald Trump had the skimpiest, cheapest possible thing you can imagine. Two balls, with almost nobody around, and yet all that extra money: $107 million. One of the key stories I tell is about Stephanie Wolkoff, who was Melania's best friend, and who is someone who puts on events. She's the person who puts on the biggest social event for the American elite each year, the Met gala in New York. And she was pulled aside and asked by Rick Gates, the corrupt deputy to the corrupt Paul Manafort, to take money off the books because they didn't want to report it, meaning foreign money.

It took her a second. She was so stunned by this. And then she said, "No, I'm not going to do anything like that." So that's why I say they took in $107 million, that we know of. I think they took in more money than that. And I hope we find out through the attorney general's investigation — but also the Trump White House dirtied up Stephanie when they knew this was going to become public. They said, "Well, you got $26 million." No, she got $480,000, which for the kind of work she did may sound to most Americans like a big fee. But that's, in that business, a more than reasonable fee. And all the rest of the money was directed to Trump cronies. She was told, "Here's the money. Now write checks to these people." And that's how the people around Trump were profiteering right at the start. That very moment, at the inauguration, they've got their fingers in there to grab the money.

Not only that, Trump used the inaugural parade to do a commercial for his hotel. I think people have forgotten it, but it was right in our face all the time.

None of the TV networks explained when this happened what was going on. I was astonished by that. When Obama was elected, the crowds lining the road to the White House were curb to building, packed thick as sardines. When Trump came, in many places there were more law enforcement and military guards than there were cheers. But when they got to a place about five blocks from the White House, the motorcade stopped and everybody got out, Melania in that beautiful ice blue dress that she was wearing. The family took a two-minute turn on the pavement.

What every lobbyist, every foreign agent, knew was they did it in front of the Trump Washington Hotel, the old post office. And Trump, by law, should not have had that lease. It should have been taken away from him. And I explained this, how the bureaucrats avoided this in the book and were later taken to task for it, though nothing happened to their careers.

But the message was very clear. If you want something from the Trump administration, you will first pay tribute to Donald. And his restaurant, in the first 90 days, took in money at the rate of $25 million a year. Anybody in the restaurant business knows the thought of being able to take in $25 million in a single restaurant is mind boggling. The Saudi government took out two floors at rack rates. When the head of T-Mobile's American division wanted Trump to approve the merger with Sprint, he made a big show of repeatedly going there, sending his executives there, spending money there. There are parts of three chapters that talk about the $26 billion favor Trump did for this guy who made a big show of going there.

Right until the very end, it doesn't end and it continues to this day. Tell people about how Stop the Steal turned into a scam to enrich Donald Trump.

Donald Trump has raised somewhere close to a half a billion dollars at this point, through his "Stop the Steal" claims that the election was stolen. Of course there's no evidence of that and all sorts of Republicans have said there was nothing improper. We've had lots of audits and recounts and recounts. It's all nonsense, but he's raised a lot of money off it. He said, "I need the money to hire lawyers to stop the steal." He spent $9 million on lawyers. Well, that's a lot of money, except that he took in close to a half a billion. And Donald can spend that money on himself under our laws. So I call Donald today America's "beggar in chief." I don't know if you get these, but every day I get texts and emails from Donald Trump asking for money. I love the ones from Don Jr. that start off: "I just spoke to my father. You're the only person in America who didn't respond to my note earlier today, and Dad asked me to call you since you've been such a generous supporter in the past." It's just a con.

And we're supposed to believe that Donald Trump Jr. didn't tell his dad about the meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower, with the person who announced that they were there on behalf of the Kremlin to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. It isn't just that they were Russians, They said they were proposing a criminal scheme under American law in which — you're a lawyer, you know what I'm about to say! The duty of any American made that offer by a foreign power, especially a hostile foreign power, is to pick up the phone, call the FBI and say, "I need to speak to someone in counterintelligence."

The lack of accountability in all of Trump World is what is so concerning going forward. You document that Jared and Ivanka had unpaid jobs in the White House, but they made somewhere between $200 million and $600 million while in the White House. As you know, Jared was not a good businessman going into the White House. Let's start with him: How did Jared make all this money while in the White House?

Well, before Donald Trump took office, Jared had this problem with 666 Fifth Avenue, which is right down the street from Trump Tower. He paid $1.8 billion, 99 percent of it borrowed money. And the building two years later was worth maybe only $600 million. Talk about being underwater in a disaster. So he goes to the government of Qatar. America's most important military base in the Middle East is in Qatar. Our central command base is there. And he says, "Wouldn't you loan me $800 million under very favorable terms?" And the Qataris said, "No, we're not that stupid." What happens next? Donald Trump is president. He turns against Qatar. He begins arguing in favor of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who are scared to death of the Qatar government. Trump accuses the Qataris of financing terrorism. They finance two terrorist groups, they absolutely do. But the Saudis finance 60 of them, the State Department says, and with vastly more money. So this is absurd, and it's indicative of Donald Trump's total ignorance about these matters.

But in Jared's case, he got people from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to bail him out of his problem, and that's why they went on the attack against Qatar. Later, the Kushner family — who are very much like the Trumps, they're both white-collar organized crime families — got 18 sweetheart loans guaranteed by a federal loan agency. You or I would never have gotten such loans, interest-only for 10 years, which increased the Kushner cash flow and increased your and my risk as taxpayers.

We would never have gotten these deals, and nor would they but for Donald Trump being in the White House. And, Dean, to make a point here, these facts that I report all came out, one way or another. But something was in the Washington Post, and then the Wall Street Journal, the L.A Times, the Seattle Times. But you never saw pictures. So I took all these threads and wove them into a tapestry, a narrative, so you could understand it. In fact, the Washington Post gave me a rave review on Dec. 5, including the line pointing out that I long ago predicted Donald Trump would not leave the White House peacefully. I was told it was crazy for me to say that. I was vindicated.

I think with what we went through with Trump, that at this point if anyone says you're being over the top, they're denying reality. Your book is one-stop shopping for some of these scandals. Share a little more about Ivanka. It seems to me she has escaped the spotlight out in the post-Trump world, but she may have profited more than anyone beyond Donald.

Well, Ivanka, with whom Donald has an incredibly close relationship, got these trademarks in China in rapid time. If you want a trademark, a service mark, a patent from the Chinese government, you have to spend a fortune on the right Chinese lawyers who are members of the Communist Party, and then you still might not get it. When President Xi was coming to meet with Donald at Mar-a-Lago, there was just rapid-fire approval of these things, the functional equivalent of overnight. And among the patents and other intellectual property rights Ivanka got, some were for voting machines. What a strange thing to get from a country that's a dictatorship, not a democracy! Now, she had a clothing business, and my younger daughters who are in their 30s tell me that her dresses were actually quite nice, but they weren't selling in the department stores. So they were all taken out of the stores, they tore out the labels and put in different labels and put them back in the stores. And they all sold, because they were basically good dresses.

But most of her business enterprises failed because she's incompetent. There have been lots of reports, especially in Vanity Fair, that she thinks she's going to become president of the United States. And there's a wonderful YouTube video of her with Christine Lagarde, the head of the European Central Bank, and several women who are foreign ministers or finance ministers of foreign governments. It's very clear, when she tries to walk into their crowd that their body language says, "You have no reason to be with us. We're accomplished women. Go away."

"The Big Cheat" also discusses how Trump and his family cheated not only in terms of personal profit, but cheated us out of things. One that jumped out is Steve Bannon. As you know, we didn't get justice for Steve Bannon. Could you remind people, who may have forgotten completely that he was charged with federal crimes by the Justice Department. He earned his pardon for what he did in the post-election stuff.

One of the very first organizations to report about this charity scam was the one I run, DC Report. There was a seriously disabled veteran of the Middle East wars named Brian Kolfage who was raising money to build the wall: "Congress is not going to fund the wall, we'll raise the money." Never mind that it would cost tens of billions of dollars. There's no possibility of that. His promise was, "Not one dollar will go to me or anyone else. It'll just be to build the wall." Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, fly out to New Mexico to a fundraiser for this, to raise more money. They show off this thing they've built, which is inconsequential garbage that wouldn't stop anybody on the Rio Grande. Steve Bannon is involved and Steve Bannon steals $1 million from the charity. The government has the documentation. Kolfage bought himself a yacht and jewelry and spent $350,000 on himself.

The Justice Department indicted these people, and Donald Trump gave Steve Bannon a pardon for his million-dollar theft from charity. Of course Donald Trump stole from charity, as I show in the book repeatedly. And the other three guys, by the way, the ones who weren't part of Donald's coterie, they're going to go on trial and they're probably going to get prison time once they're convicted. But there's no shame among these people. Absolutely no shame. Donald Trump, if he steals money from a baby, would say, "Well, it's my money. What are you complaining about? It's my money." Donald creates his own reality. In his own mind, he shouldn't just be president for life with total powers. He talked about that: "I have the power to do anything as president." He believes he should run the whole world, because everybody else is an idiot.

Be glad you're not Donald Trump, Dean, because I've known the man for 33 years, and he is a miserable human being. Try to find him laughing when it isn't forced or for dramatic effect. It doesn't happen. I've tried to get him to tell jokes in the past. He can't tell a joke. He's a miserable, sad story.

It's a lack of humanity, when you can't tell jokes and can't laugh at jokes about yourself. I think it's great that you point on the book that Steve Bannon stole from Trump supporters, who sincerely were giving money to build a wall because they believed in it. We could debate the policy there, but it doesn't matter. They were giving money because they believed in the wall, and Steve Bannon stole it. We know from other reporting now that Bannon played a huge role from Election Day in November to the insurrection on Jan. 6. He earned that pardon, and this was a quid pro quo relationship if you ever saw one. Trump only pardoned one guy in that scam, his BFF.

Donald is even more corrupt than Steve Bannon, hard as it is to believe that. During his campaign, there were people who sent in money. Rush Limbaugh told the story of one man, Stacy Blatt. He's dying. He's in hospice care, his monthly income is $1,000. He sends $500 to Donald Trump, after Rush Limbaugh says Trump needs money to overturn the election. The next thing that happens is the Trump people tap his bank account again and again and again and again until they take every penny the dying man has. He meant to give one contribution, a very generous one. They did this to thousands of people, thousands of them. If you or I did that, we would be arrested. I don't know why Donald Trump and the people around him haven't been arrested for this. This was thievery, plain and simple.

It's like RICO. This is a racketeering plot. It's remarkable. What happens if Donald Trump somehow gets back in the White House? Based on you knowing him for 30 years and writing about him, what do you think he does?

Oh, this time around he will not be holding back at all. He will put people in place and it will be the end of American democracy. He will make himself our dictator, which I've been warning about since 2015, when he first announced. He won't need the support of the military to pull it off, because he'll do it in a soft way. But he will see to it that all your rights are gone. And right now, you're seeing the Republican Party — which is no longer the Republican Party, it's the Trump party — passing all these laws, including, in some states, where if Republicans in control and don't like an election because Democrats won, they can throw out the results. That's inherently anti-American. At the same time, Donald keeps pressing about why he should be back in the White House, and making up ridiculous lies about what's going on.

And in all this, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the Mueller report, even with all the shackles put on Mueller — which most people, I don't think appreciate, where he disclosed that they were not allowed to pursue lots of things — the opening line of that report says what they found was systematic interference in the 2016 election by the Russian government. It's the very first thing they say. And Don Jr. and Trump's campaign manager and his son-in-law and others took part in a meeting with someone who declared they were an agent of the Kremlin trying to win the election for Donald Trump.

There's a foreign power here that has benefited. And it's not that Vladimir Putin wanted Donald Trump. That's not his goal. He didn't want Hillary Clinton, because she was going to make him give up Crimea if she could, the only violent takeover of property in Europe since World War II. But he wants to get rid of democracy. And he's on the record all over the place about this. Vladimir Putin believes all countries should be run by dictators, and Donald Trump was an instrument to help Putin. And by the way, Russian state TV, which is totally controlled by the Kremlin, said that Donald Trump was Putin's puppet. And the hosts on that show, the producers, they're all still doing really well, which tells you that was just fine with Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump is his puppet.

Are you surprised the Justice Department has not charged Donald Trump? And if he's ultimately not charged, what is the message that sends to Donald Trump and Trump-like Republicans going forward?

Well, I am very troubled by this, because if the law applies equally to everyone, then it shouldn't matter that he was president. On the other hand, it's pretty clear that Merrick Garland has taken the position that, absent something he has to act on, he doesn't want to get in the business of indicting a former president, because that road leads to a lot of problems we don't have. But Israel indicted Benjamin Netanyahu, the French have indicted former presidents, and a number of democratic governments have put former leaders in prison.

With Donald Trump, I think they should pursue the case that Michael Cohen went to prison for. They have a perfect case. I don't know how a jury would do anything but convict Donald Trump. My guess is, though, that the internal argument is, "Well, it's relatively small potatoes." They brought the case against Michael Cohen to punish him for breaking with Donald Trump, as part of the effort to control him.

I'm confident, however, that the Manhattan district attorney — who has hired the best expert on RICO in the country — will indict Trump under the New York state RICO law. A tax charge he can get out of by saying, "I didn't understand what was going on," even though he claims to be the world's greatest expert on taxes. But a state RICO charge — ordinary people can understand racketeering. They've got plenty of evidence of it, so why haven't they done it yet? Well, when they got the document dump, Trump held it up for four years, and it turns out it wasn't a million pages — it was 5 million pages. And you know, as a lawyer, they've got to look at every single page. So something doesn't hit them as a surprise at trial. That's a lot of research.

That's a lot of Bates stamping, as we used to say.

A very little story about this. Thirty years ago, after I revealed Donald was not a billionaire, there was a particular document I knew he was going to have to put in the public record. And the morning of the day that was to happen, a bunch of guys wheel in an entire wall of banker's boxes, the whole wall, like six high. And Donald taps me on the shoulder and says, "Lots of luck, pal." So anyhow, I go to the men's room at one point, when I see one of the detectives go there. We stand in the urinals and he says, "Box 14, J69." Because everybody knows what I'm looking for.

So when the meeting ends, I go to the flack for the Casino Control Commission and said, "I want to look at the files." He said, "Oh, it's going to take us months to sort through." I said, "No, no. I just want this." I pulled out box 16 and said, "I just want to look at J69." He looked at me and said, "Oh God, you're going to make my life miserable today." I said, "Sorry about that." That's what Donald does. He dumps all sorts of stuff to avoid you seeing the thing you wanted.

And he hopes you don't find it. What's your reaction to Trump's media platform, Truth Social. It's gotten a billion dollars from investors. Does it smell like another scam to you?

I think it is. In fact, the news just broke that the SPAC, the special purpose acquisition corporation that they're using, is under investigation. A lot of these SPACs have turned out to be frauds. Why doesn't Donald just do it an upfront way? In fact, why doesn't he just fund it himself, given all the money he's taken in? Well, he's going to need that money to pay criminal defense lawyers when he's indicted, and to live on. But I also don't think it's going to be successful.

Donald's audience is in fact shrinking. His audience is intense, people are willing to die for him. Somebody said the other day that the difference between a religion and a cult is that in a religion your savior dies for you and in a cult you die for your savior. But it is shrinking, and over time will continue to shrink, barring some unexpected development. But the people who remain, they're intense and some of them are dangerous, as we saw on Jan. 6. They will literally kill people in Donald's name.

One last thing, David: After Watergate, there were a vast amount of reforms put into place by Congress, ethics reforms, campaign finance reforms. As of now, there have been some introduced, but nothing really passed. First of all, are you surprised by that? And second, what would you like to see, in broad strokes, to prevent Trump himself — or another Trump — from doing what he did in office?

Yeah, I've been at this so long. After Watergate I was covering the reforms and they've all backfired. They made our campaign finance situation vastly worse than it was when Nixon was in office. They weren't carefully thought through in how they would be manipulated. In the end of the book, I provide solutions for a whole variety of issues. And many of them are actually quite simple. I'll give you one example. There are people who say, "We should pass a law making people who run for president reveal their tax returns." You can't do that. The Constitution doesn't allow that. What we can do is pass a law saying that once you reach some threshold — let's say you came in first or second in two primaries — the IRS is required to release your tax return. Congress has the power to do that. That's an easy, simple solution which we should impose, and we should release six years at least of tax returns, plus any record of audits that resulted in additional payments being due.

On campaign finance, there are all these side ways that foreign governments put money into our political system. We ban foreign corporations and foreign individuals from donating money, but Toyota USA contributes because it's an American company. We've got to fix that. We have to tighten up those laws and we need absolute transparency. And we also need to take away many of the defenses. Let's say you took in money and it turns out it came from Vladimir Putin's lackey. OK, if you promptly go to the government, tell them you found out and give it right back or, better, give it to the government, then you should pay a fine. But if you lie, deny, hide and collaborate, you should go to prison and we should take away most of the defenses for that.

If you say, as the Trump people would say, shove off — well, I would be eternally in favor of a long prison sentence. And I generally don't like long prison sentences, I think they're bad policy. But these are threats to national security. This administration, as I show in the book, again and again submarined our national security for money. Nobody did that before, nobody. We didn't have any president who's ever done that. Remember, Jimmy Carter had to put his little two-bit peanut warehouse into a trust. He didn't run his business. We should never again have someone in the White House who is operating a business.

Donald Trump and his family fleeced America: Why aren’t they being held accountable?

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston is not giving up on exposing how Donald Trump and his family fleeced America while he was in the White House. To that end, the bestselling author is back with a meticulously researched new book, "The Big Cheat: How Donald Trump Fleeced America and Enriched Himself and His Family."

I recently spoke to Johnston about his new book for "Salon Talks" and one thing is clear: His enthusiasm to see Trump held accountable has not waned just because the Trump presidency is over. In "The Big Cheat," he uncovers details on Trump's scams that began with his inaugural committee and ran straight through his "Stop the Steal" fundraising grift. In between, Johnston notes a range of corruption by Trump, such as stopping in front of his Washington hotel during the inaugural parade in 2017 to send a clear message: "If you want something from the Trump administration, you will first pay tribute to Donald." As Johnston writes, spending money at Trump's hotel was one way to do just that.

Johnston also takes aim at Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who saw their collective wealth rise by somewhere between $200 million and $600 million while working in the White House. This wasn't by happenstance, as Johnston details: It was because Javanka cashed in on Trump's presidency, with sweetheart deals from the Chinese government, the United Arab Emirates and more.

In our conversation, which you can watch or read below, the nearly 50-year veteran reporter also lays out safeguards that Congress should enact to prevent Trump, or another morally bankrupt president, from ever repeating this Trumpian fleecing of America again. But one of the best deterrents to future corruption, Johnston argues, would be the criminal prosecution of Donald Trump himself. "I would be eternally in favor of a long prison sentence," he told me.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Your book has granular details about Trump, some I knew and some I had no idea about. Let's start at the beginning: You go into great detail about the inaugural committee. Trump raised double the amount Obama did, and there are questions about where that money is. The D.C. attorney general is suing the Trump campaign right now about this very thing. Tell us more.

Well, Donald Trump raised $107 million for his inaugural, that we know of. The previous record was Obama in his first inaugural: $53 million. The inaugural for Obama had eight or nine balls. It had lots of events. They had numerous headline musical acts whose expenses had to be paid. Donald Trump had the skimpiest, cheapest possible thing you can imagine. Two balls, with almost nobody around, and yet all that extra money: $107 million. One of the key stories I tell is about Stephanie Wolkoff, who was Melania's best friend, and who is someone who puts on events. She's the person who puts on the biggest social event for the American elite each year, the Met gala in New York. And she was pulled aside and asked by Rick Gates, the corrupt deputy to the corrupt Paul Manafort, to take money off the books because they didn't want to report it, meaning foreign money.

It took her a second. She was so stunned by this. And then she said, "No, I'm not going to do anything like that." So that's why I say they took in $107 million, that we know of. I think they took in more money than that. And I hope we find out through the attorney general's investigation — but also the Trump White House dirtied up Stephanie when they knew this was going to become public. They said, "Well, you got $26 million." No, she got $480,000, which for the kind of work she did may sound to most Americans like a big fee. But that's, in that business, a more than reasonable fee. And all the rest of the money was directed to Trump cronies. She was told, "Here's the money. Now write checks to these people." And that's how the people around Trump were profiteering right at the start. That very moment, at the inauguration, they've got their fingers in there to grab the money.

Not only that, Trump used the inaugural parade to do a commercial for his hotel. I think people have forgotten it, but it was right in our face all the time.

None of the TV networks explained when this happened what was going on. I was astonished by that. When Obama was elected, the crowds lining the road to the White House were curb to building, packed thick as sardines. When Trump came, in many places there were more law enforcement and military guards than there were cheers. But when they got to a place about five blocks from the White House, the motorcade stopped and everybody got out, Melania in that beautiful ice blue dress that she was wearing. The family took a two-minute turn on the pavement.

What every lobbyist, every foreign agent, knew was they did it in front of the Trump Washington Hotel, the old post office. And Trump, by law, should not have had that lease. It should have been taken away from him. And I explained this, how the bureaucrats avoided this in the book and were later taken to task for it, though nothing happened to their careers.

But the message was very clear. If you want something from the Trump administration, you will first pay tribute to Donald. And his restaurant, in the first 90 days, took in money at the rate of $25 million a year. Anybody in the restaurant business knows the thought of being able to take in $25 million in a single restaurant is mind boggling. The Saudi government took out two floors at rack rates. When the head of T-Mobile's American division wanted Trump to approve the merger with Sprint, he made a big show of repeatedly going there, sending his executives there, spending money there. There are parts of three chapters that talk about the $26 billion favor Trump did for this guy who made a big show of going there.

Right until the very end, it doesn't end and it continues to this day. Tell people about how Stop the Steal turned into a scam to enrich Donald Trump.

Donald Trump has raised somewhere close to a half a billion dollars at this point, through his "Stop the Steal" claims that the election was stolen. Of course there's no evidence of that and all sorts of Republicans have said there was nothing improper. We've had lots of audits and recounts and recounts. It's all nonsense, but he's raised a lot of money off it. He said, "I need the money to hire lawyers to stop the steal." He spent $9 million on lawyers. Well, that's a lot of money, except that he took in close to a half a billion. And Donald can spend that money on himself under our laws. So I call Donald today America's "beggar in chief." I don't know if you get these, but every day I get texts and emails from Donald Trump asking for money. I love the ones from Don Jr. that start off: "I just spoke to my father. You're the only person in America who didn't respond to my note earlier today, and Dad asked me to call you since you've been such a generous supporter in the past." It's just a con.

And we're supposed to believe that Donald Trump Jr. didn't tell his dad about the meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower, with the person who announced that they were there on behalf of the Kremlin to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. It isn't just that they were Russians, They said they were proposing a criminal scheme under American law in which — you're a lawyer, you know what I'm about to say! The duty of any American made that offer by a foreign power, especially a hostile foreign power, is to pick up the phone, call the FBI and say, "I need to speak to someone in counterintelligence."

The lack of accountability in all of Trump World is what is so concerning going forward. You document that Jared and Ivanka had unpaid jobs in the White House, but they made somewhere between $200 million and $600 million while in the White House. As you know, Jared was not a good businessman going into the White House. Let's start with him: How did Jared make all this money while in the White House?

Well, before Donald Trump took office, Jared had this problem with 666 Fifth Avenue, which is right down the street from Trump Tower. He paid $1.8 billion, 99 percent of it borrowed money. And the building two years later was worth maybe only $600 million. Talk about being underwater in a disaster. So he goes to the government of Qatar. America's most important military base in the Middle East is in Qatar. Our central command base is there. And he says, "Wouldn't you loan me $800 million under very favorable terms?" And the Qataris said, "No, we're not that stupid." What happens next? Donald Trump is president. He turns against Qatar. He begins arguing in favor of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who are scared to death of the Qatar government. Trump accuses the Qataris of financing terrorism. They finance two terrorist groups, they absolutely do. But the Saudis finance 60 of them, the State Department says, and with vastly more money. So this is absurd, and it's indicative of Donald Trump's total ignorance about these matters.

But in Jared's case, he got people from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to bail him out of his problem, and that's why they went on the attack against Qatar. Later, the Kushner family — who are very much like the Trumps, they're both white-collar organized crime families — got 18 sweetheart loans guaranteed by a federal loan agency. You or I would never have gotten such loans, interest-only for 10 years, which increased the Kushner cash flow and increased your and my risk as taxpayers.

We would never have gotten these deals, and nor would they but for Donald Trump being in the White House. And, Dean, to make a point here, these facts that I report all came out, one way or another. But something was in the Washington Post, and then the Wall Street Journal, the L.A Times, the Seattle Times. But you never saw pictures. So I took all these threads and wove them into a tapestry, a narrative, so you could understand it. In fact, the Washington Post gave me a rave review on Dec. 5, including the line pointing out that I long ago predicted Donald Trump would not leave the White House peacefully. I was told it was crazy for me to say that. I was vindicated.

I think with what we went through with Trump, that at this point if anyone says you're being over the top, they're denying reality. Your book is one-stop shopping for some of these scandals. Share a little more about Ivanka. It seems to me she has escaped the spotlight out in the post-Trump world, but she may have profited more than anyone beyond Donald.

Well, Ivanka, with whom Donald has an incredibly close relationship, got these trademarks in China in rapid time. If you want a trademark, a service mark, a patent from the Chinese government, you have to spend a fortune on the right Chinese lawyers who are members of the Communist Party, and then you still might not get it. When President Xi was coming to meet with Donald at Mar-a-Lago, there was just rapid-fire approval of these things, the functional equivalent of overnight. And among the patents and other intellectual property rights Ivanka got, some were for voting machines. What a strange thing to get from a country that's a dictatorship, not a democracy! Now, she had a clothing business, and my younger daughters who are in their 30s tell me that her dresses were actually quite nice, but they weren't selling in the department stores. So they were all taken out of the stores, they tore out the labels and put in different labels and put them back in the stores. And they all sold, because they were basically good dresses.

But most of her business enterprises failed because she's incompetent. There have been lots of reports, especially in Vanity Fair, that she thinks she's going to become president of the United States. And there's a wonderful YouTube video of her with Christine Lagarde, the head of the European Central Bank, and several women who are foreign ministers or finance ministers of foreign governments. It's very clear, when she tries to walk into their crowd that their body language says, "You have no reason to be with us. We're accomplished women. Go away."

"The Big Cheat" also discusses how Trump and his family cheated not only in terms of personal profit, but cheated us out of things. One that jumped out is Steve Bannon. As you know, we didn't get justice for Steve Bannon. Could you remind people, who may have forgotten completely that he was charged with federal crimes by the Justice Department. He earned his pardon for what he did in the post-election stuff.

One of the very first organizations to report about this charity scam was the one I run, DC Report. There was a seriously disabled veteran of the Middle East wars named Brian Kolfage who was raising money to build the wall: "Congress is not going to fund the wall, we'll raise the money." Never mind that it would cost tens of billions of dollars. There's no possibility of that. His promise was, "Not one dollar will go to me or anyone else. It'll just be to build the wall." Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, fly out to New Mexico to a fundraiser for this, to raise more money. They show off this thing they've built, which is inconsequential garbage that wouldn't stop anybody on the Rio Grande. Steve Bannon is involved and Steve Bannon steals $1 million from the charity. The government has the documentation. Kolfage bought himself a yacht and jewelry and spent $350,000 on himself.

The Justice Department indicted these people, and Donald Trump gave Steve Bannon a pardon for his million-dollar theft from charity. Of course Donald Trump stole from charity, as I show in the book repeatedly. And the other three guys, by the way, the ones who weren't part of Donald's coterie, they're going to go on trial and they're probably going to get prison time once they're convicted. But there's no shame among these people. Absolutely no shame. Donald Trump, if he steals money from a baby, would say, "Well, it's my money. What are you complaining about? It's my money." Donald creates his own reality. In his own mind, he shouldn't just be president for life with total powers. He talked about that: "I have the power to do anything as president." He believes he should run the whole world, because everybody else is an idiot.

Be glad you're not Donald Trump, Dean, because I've known the man for 33 years, and he is a miserable human being. Try to find him laughing when it isn't forced or for dramatic effect. It doesn't happen. I've tried to get him to tell jokes in the past. He can't tell a joke. He's a miserable, sad story.

It's a lack of humanity, when you can't tell jokes and can't laugh at jokes about yourself. I think it's great that you point on the book that Steve Bannon stole from Trump supporters, who sincerely were giving money to build a wall because they believed in it. We could debate the policy there, but it doesn't matter. They were giving money because they believed in the wall, and Steve Bannon stole it. We know from other reporting now that Bannon played a huge role from Election Day in November to the insurrection on Jan. 6. He earned that pardon, and this was a quid pro quo relationship if you ever saw one. Trump only pardoned one guy in that scam, his BFF.

Donald is even more corrupt than Steve Bannon, hard as it is to believe that. During his campaign, there were people who sent in money. Rush Limbaugh told the story of one man, Stacy Blatt. He's dying. He's in hospice care, his monthly income is $1,000. He sends $500 to Donald Trump, after Rush Limbaugh says Trump needs money to overturn the election. The next thing that happens is the Trump people tap his bank account again and again and again and again until they take every penny the dying man has. He meant to give one contribution, a very generous one. They did this to thousands of people, thousands of them. If you or I did that, we would be arrested. I don't know why Donald Trump and the people around him haven't been arrested for this. This was thievery, plain and simple.

It's like RICO. This is a racketeering plot. It's remarkable. What happens if Donald Trump somehow gets back in the White House? Based on you knowing him for 30 years and writing about him, what do you think he does?

Oh, this time around he will not be holding back at all. He will put people in place and it will be the end of American democracy. He will make himself our dictator, which I've been warning about since 2015, when he first announced. He won't need the support of the military to pull it off, because he'll do it in a soft way. But he will see to it that all your rights are gone. And right now, you're seeing the Republican Party — which is no longer the Republican Party, it's the Trump party — passing all these laws, including, in some states, where if Republicans in control and don't like an election because Democrats won, they can throw out the results. That's inherently anti-American. At the same time, Donald keeps pressing about why he should be back in the White House, and making up ridiculous lies about what's going on.

And in all this, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the Mueller report, even with all the shackles put on Mueller — which most people, I don't think appreciate, where he disclosed that they were not allowed to pursue lots of things — the opening line of that report says what they found was systematic interference in the 2016 election by the Russian government. It's the very first thing they say. And Don Jr. and Trump's campaign manager and his son-in-law and others took part in a meeting with someone who declared they were an agent of the Kremlin trying to win the election for Donald Trump.

There's a foreign power here that has benefited. And it's not that Vladimir Putin wanted Donald Trump. That's not his goal. He didn't want Hillary Clinton, because she was going to make him give up Crimea if she could, the only violent takeover of property in Europe since World War II. But he wants to get rid of democracy. And he's on the record all over the place about this. Vladimir Putin believes all countries should be run by dictators, and Donald Trump was an instrument to help Putin. And by the way, Russian state TV, which is totally controlled by the Kremlin, said that Donald Trump was Putin's puppet. And the hosts on that show, the producers, they're all still doing really well, which tells you that was just fine with Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump is his puppet.

Are you surprised the Justice Department has not charged Donald Trump? And if he's ultimately not charged, what is the message that sends to Donald Trump and Trump-like Republicans going forward?

Well, I am very troubled by this, because if the law applies equally to everyone, then it shouldn't matter that he was president. On the other hand, it's pretty clear that Merrick Garland has taken the position that, absent something he has to act on, he doesn't want to get in the business of indicting a former president, because that road leads to a lot of problems we don't have. But Israel indicted Benjamin Netanyahu, the French have indicted former presidents, and a number of democratic governments have put former leaders in prison.

With Donald Trump, I think they should pursue the case that Michael Cohen went to prison for. They have a perfect case. I don't know how a jury would do anything but convict Donald Trump. My guess is, though, that the internal argument is, "Well, it's relatively small potatoes." They brought the case against Michael Cohen to punish him for breaking with Donald Trump, as part of the effort to control him.

I'm confident, however, that the Manhattan district attorney — who has hired the best expert on RICO in the country — will indict Trump under the New York state RICO law. A tax charge he can get out of by saying, "I didn't understand what was going on," even though he claims to be the world's greatest expert on taxes. But a state RICO charge — ordinary people can understand racketeering. They've got plenty of evidence of it, so why haven't they done it yet? Well, when they got the document dump, Trump held it up for four years, and it turns out it wasn't a million pages — it was 5 million pages. And you know, as a lawyer, they've got to look at every single page. So something doesn't hit them as a surprise at trial. That's a lot of research.

That's a lot of Bates stamping, as we used to say.

A very little story about this. Thirty years ago, after I revealed Donald was not a billionaire, there was a particular document I knew he was going to have to put in the public record. And the morning of the day that was to happen, a bunch of guys wheel in an entire wall of banker's boxes, the whole wall, like six high. And Donald taps me on the shoulder and says, "Lots of luck, pal." So anyhow, I go to the men's room at one point, when I see one of the detectives go there. We stand in the urinals and he says, "Box 14, J69." Because everybody knows what I'm looking for.

So when the meeting ends, I go to the flack for the Casino Control Commission and said, "I want to look at the files." He said, "Oh, it's going to take us months to sort through." I said, "No, no. I just want this." I pulled out box 16 and said, "I just want to look at J69." He looked at me and said, "Oh God, you're going to make my life miserable today." I said, "Sorry about that." That's what Donald does. He dumps all sorts of stuff to avoid you seeing the thing you wanted.

And he hopes you don't find it. What's your reaction to Trump's media platform, Truth Social. It's gotten a billion dollars from investors. Does it smell like another scam to you?

I think it is. In fact, the news just broke that the SPAC, the special purpose acquisition corporation that they're using, is under investigation. A lot of these SPACs have turned out to be frauds. Why doesn't Donald just do it an upfront way? In fact, why doesn't he just fund it himself, given all the money he's taken in? Well, he's going to need that money to pay criminal defense lawyers when he's indicted, and to live on. But I also don't think it's going to be successful.

Donald's audience is in fact shrinking. His audience is intense, people are willing to die for him. Somebody said the other day that the difference between a religion and a cult is that in a religion your savior dies for you and in a cult you die for your savior. But it is shrinking, and over time will continue to shrink, barring some unexpected development. But the people who remain, they're intense and some of them are dangerous, as we saw on Jan. 6. They will literally kill people in Donald's name.

One last thing, David: After Watergate, there were a vast amount of reforms put into place by Congress, ethics reforms, campaign finance reforms. As of now, there have been some introduced, but nothing really passed. First of all, are you surprised by that? And second, what would you like to see, in broad strokes, to prevent Trump himself — or another Trump — from doing what he did in office?

Yeah, I've been at this so long. After Watergate I was covering the reforms and they've all backfired. They made our campaign finance situation vastly worse than it was when Nixon was in office. They weren't carefully thought through in how they would be manipulated. In the end of the book, I provide solutions for a whole variety of issues. And many of them are actually quite simple. I'll give you one example. There are people who say, "We should pass a law making people who run for president reveal their tax returns." You can't do that. The Constitution doesn't allow that. What we can do is pass a law saying that once you reach some threshold — let's say you came in first or second in two primaries — the IRS is required to release your tax return. Congress has the power to do that. That's an easy, simple solution which we should impose, and we should release six years at least of tax returns, plus any record of audits that resulted in additional payments being due.

On campaign finance, there are all these side ways that foreign governments put money into our political system. We ban foreign corporations and foreign individuals from donating money, but Toyota USA contributes because it's an American company. We've got to fix that. We have to tighten up those laws and we need absolute transparency. And we also need to take away many of the defenses. Let's say you took in money and it turns out it came from Vladimir Putin's lackey. OK, if you promptly go to the government, tell them you found out and give it right back or, better, give it to the government, then you should pay a fine. But if you lie, deny, hide and collaborate, you should go to prison and we should take away most of the defenses for that.

If you say, as the Trump people would say, shove off — well, I would be eternally in favor of a long prison sentence. And I generally don't like long prison sentences, I think they're bad policy. But these are threats to national security. This administration, as I show in the book, again and again submarined our national security for money. Nobody did that before, nobody. We didn't have any president who's ever done that. Remember, Jimmy Carter had to put his little two-bit peanut warehouse into a trust. He didn't run his business. We should never again have someone in the White House who is operating a business.

Former federal prosecutor insists we'll see 'a tidal wave of criminal charges against Donald Trump'

Former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner has been speaking the blunt truth about Donald Trump's criminal conduct for years. He's not stopping now just because most of the media, and most Democrats in Congress for that matter, have moved on. I spoke to Kirschner, who is now an NBC News legal analyst, in a recent "Salon Talks" episode about Steve Bannon's indictment and more.

During our conversation, we kept coming back to is Kirschner's conviction that the disgraced former president is still a very real threat to our nation. And Kirschner, who served for more than 30 years as a federal prosecutor, is adamant that the only way to neutralize that threat is by prosecuting Trump for his crimes, ranging from those he may have committed in his effort to overturn the 2020 election to possible crimes arising from his mishandling of the pandemic.

Kirschner believes there's actually a case to be made against Trump for all the lies and misinformation he spread about the coronavirus and how to defeat it, from his intentional falsehoods about the nature of the threat to his disgraceful conduct designed to undermine safeguards, such as mask mandates, entirely because he believed it helped him politically. Kirschner, who formerly headed up the homicide unit of the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C., told me that Trump's "grossly negligent conduct was reasonably likely to result in death or serious bodily injury to another."

Regarding the possible crimes arising from the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Kirschner said this about Trump's apparent role: "If you don't punish an attempted overthrow of the government, an insurrection, a rebellion, we're going to get more rebellions. That's just common sense." Watch my Salon Talks interview with Kirschner here or read a transcript of our conversation below to hear him lay out the case for manslaughter charges against Trump himself, and discuss the likelihood that prominent Trump allies are on their way to prison.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Let's start with Steve Bannon. He's been indicted. Can you explain why there was a delay in this indictment? What do you think actually prompted the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney in D.C to finally indict him?

We were on Steve Bannon indictment watch for 22 days from the day he was voted in contempt and referred for prosecution to the D.C. U.S. attorney's office until the U.S. attorney finally presented it to the grand jury and the grand jury indicted him for two counts of contempt of Congress. Twenty-two days. We know historically it's been done in as few as nine days. It was done to a Reagan-era EPA official named Rita Lavelle. Twenty-two days may sound like a long time. First of all, it wasn't that long. It takes some time to put a quick investigation together, present it to the grand jury and have them vote out an indictment. But I really think the holdup was because there was an acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia in place at the front end of that 22-day period.

I've worked for more than 10 U.S. attorneys in D.C. Some of them were acting, some of them were interim, some of them were presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed. Ordinarily when you have an acting U.S. attorney, that person just tries to keep the trains running on time, not make a lot of waves, not take on a lot of high-profile decisions. The new permanent U.S. attorney was confirmed by the Senate and took over one week before Steve Bannon was indicted. His name is Matt Graves, a former colleague of mine. He's a good man. He's a thoughtful man. He was a public corruption prosecutor when he was in my office. One week after he arrived, bam, Steve Bannon indicted. I think that's an important tell and some foreshadowing about how promptly the new D.C. U.S. attorney is going to go about his business.

Steve Bannon said at his press conference, after going to court for the first time, "They took on the wrong guy this time." He said, "It's the misdemeanor from hell." You know the new U.S. attorney in that district. How do you think he's going to respond to that?

Steve Bannon has a rude awakening coming, because he's going to be convicted if he opts to go to trial. Why? Because the offense he committed, contempt of Congress, requires the prosecutors to prove that he was served a lawful subpoena and that he failed to appear. The fact that he is raising executive privilege — first of all, he doesn't have any. He could say, "I am invoking magical unicorn privilege," and it would be equally persuasive.

I don't want to get down into the weeds of executive privilege, but when you get a subpoena, you have to show up. If you have any privilege — executive privilege, attorney-client privilege, parishioner privilege, doctor-patient privilege — you begin answering questions. If the questions begin to make their way into privileged information, you say, "I hereby invoke the privilege." The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, for example.

The way you don't handle it is to thumb your nose at a subpoena and refuse to show up. This is going to be a very easy criminal case to prove. Steve Bannon will be convicted. And under the statute, if he's convicted of contempt of Congress, each count carries a minimum of one month in jail and a maximum of one year in jail. He will see jail time in the event he's convicted.

In your view, it's clear he has no legal defense. What about the case of Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff? He seems to be communicating, through his legal counsel, with the Jan. 6 committee, but he seems very reluctant to respond to a subpoena. Does Meadows have a potentially more valid defense?

Mark Meadows has no defense for failing to appear on the subpoena. Now, he may have a more legitimate, more viable executive privilege claim, because he was actually part of the administration at the time these communications were had. But what he was required to do under the subpoena is to appear and assert, question by question, whether he was invoking executive privilege or not.

I'll give you an example, Dean. The first question is going to be, "Sir, please state your name." "No, I invoke executive privilege." Mark, you have no executive privilege over your name. And the questions would have progressed in that fashion until maybe questions involving executive privilege got asked. That's when you invoke the privilege. What that does is it creates a record and defines the parameters of what the witness is actually invoking executive privilege on, and then that can be litigated.

You make a great point for people who think, well, maybe Mark Meadows has executive privilege, as he was White House chief of staff until the very end. You've got to go there, and you or your counsel invoke the privilege. You don't just blow off a subpoena. I saw you tweeting about Stephen Miller, yukking it up on Fox News. He was served as well. Maybe Meadows sends a message to Miller, Kayleigh McEnany, Bernard Kerik and all the rest, because I imagine they're going to follow suit. If nothing happens to Meadows, they're going to claim the same things.

You are far more likely to see the McEnanys and the Stephen Millers appear on the subpoenas now and then maybe try to invoke whatever privilege they believe they have. I do predict that, as you say, other witnesses are now going to begin appearing and they're going to challenge the subpoena in other ways. That's why this was a really important step for both the House Select Committee and the Department of Justice to have taken against Steve Bannon.

I want to shift gears a little bit. A lot of people have talked about the potential criminality of Donald Trump in connection with Jan. 6, which we'll talk about in a minute. But everyone has just forgotten or not even addressed the idea of Trump's potential criminal culpability for his lies and what could be manslaughter charges around COVID. You just put out a video on this very point. Please tell people why you think, as a former federal prosecutor who was chief of the homicide unit in D.C., why Trump may have committed crimes in connection with his handling of COVID.

If you look at a relatively low level of homicide, every jurisdiction, every state has its own laws, its own statutes. They call the crime different things. Some jurisdictions call it negligent homicide. In D.C. we call it involuntary manslaughter, but it's a relatively low level of homicide. Donald Trump's conduct, even just what we've seen publicly reported, satisfies — in my opinion as a former career homicide prosecutor — the three elements that we're required to prove to hold somebody accountable for involuntary manslaughter.

Those are that somebody acted in a grossly negligent way. Donald Trump acted in an intentionally criminal way when he lied to the American people about the nature, the transmissibility and the way that you can protect yourself against contracting COVID. He lied to the American people about that. We can prove that because he told Bob Woodward, on tape, the true state of affairs and then he walked right out to the cameras and he lied to us.

The one incident that really sticks with me, that I think would be a marquee piece of evidence in a Donald Trump prosecution for avoidable COVID deaths, would be when he told Jeff Mason, wonderful reporter standing in the Rose Garden during a press conference. He told him, "Take off the mask." And Jeff Mason said, "Mr. President, I choose to protect myself. I'll speak up my more loudly but I'm not going to take off the mask." Trump then mocked him and said, "Oh, I guess you want to be politically correct."

Dean, what message did Donald Trump's base, the people who for whatever reason, decide to listen to and credit what Donald Trump says, what message do you think they took away from that? "Oh, the president just told me I don't need a mask. And beyond that, he would mock me. He would belittle and demean me and call me 'politically correct' if I wore a mask. I am not wearing a mask." Donald Trump put people in harm's way unnecessarily.

The three elements: that he acted in a grossly negligent manner. He did. That his grossly negligent conduct was reasonably likely to result in death or serious bodily injury to another. When we're dealing with a deadly pandemic, you can check that element off the list. The third element is the one that sounds more complicated or harder to prove, which is that your grossly negligent conduct caused the death of another. But causation has a legal definition. It is that your conduct is a substantial factor in bringing about the death of another. And Donald Trump's conduct was a substantial factor in people declining to protect themselves against the coronavirus. That is a strong case for involuntary manslaughter. It just takes some strong, brave prosecutors to bring the charge and then put it in front of a jury. As long as it's a fair and impartial jury, they will hold Donald Trump accountable, in my opinion.

To remind people, because so much has gone on since then, on Feb, 7, 2020, Trump told Bob Woodward point blank that COVID-19 was "deadly stuff," noting it was five times more deadly than even the most serious flu. Then, on Feb. 26, Trump goes before the cameras, when America's looking for answers, and says, "We view this the same as the flu." He lied to the American people, knowing the risks. That's really where the crux of the criminality could be in this: knowingly misleading people when you know the risk, you know people are looking to you, you have an obligation. You're not some random guy. You're the president of the United States and people are misled to their death because of this. What would it take for a prosecutor to have the courage to file that complaint against Trump?

If I were still at the D.C. U.S. attorney's office, working murder cases on Jan. 21, I would have begun presenting evidence to the grand jury of Donald Trump's responsibility for avoidable COVID deaths. The Department of Justice could not have stopped me. They could have fired me. That's the only way they could have stopped me, because it's the right thing to do to honor the victims and to the community.

What is it going to take, Dean? I think nobody, no prosecutor in New York or Georgia, at the Department of Justice or elsewhere, wants to be the first person to bring criminal charges against a former president. I predict, though, he will be charged and then every prosecutor will want to be the second one to bring charges, because the white-hot glare of media and political and citizen attention will be on the first prosecution. But because Donald Trump committed crimes in virtually every jurisdiction in our nation, anywhere someone died of COVID and they didn't have to, there is criminal liability. You're going to begin to see a tidal wave of criminal charges against Donald Trump, I suspect, once the first jurisdiction indicts him.

There's two other buckets of potential criminal liability against Donald Trump that I want to cover. One is the lead-up to Jan. 6. We've learned more about what we saw that day. We keep learning more and more information about Donald Trump behind the scenes, working with people, trying to get the DOJ to help him overturn the election based on a lie. There was no good faith. It was corrupt. It was bad motive. What potential criminality could Trump face?

There is one overarching conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States that I believe Donald Trump and Jeffrey Clark and John Eastman and Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani, Mo Brooks — all the people who participated in not only the run-up to Jan. 6, lying to the American people to gin them up, to get them upset about their vote being stolen when in fact it wasn't stolen, but then also participated in the events of Jan. 6 and beyond. I believe there is a very easy charge and it's been brought in the recent past by Bob Mueller. It's called conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States.

I urge everybody to go to the DOJ website because it sets out in a paragraph, in layman's terms, just how broad and sweeping a criminal offense that is. Remember Bob Mueller indicted the Internet Research Agency in Russia on that charge. Why? Because they interfered in our free and fair elections. That is precisely what Donald Trump and company did. They tried to overthrow election results, overthrow our democracy.

That is one overarching conspiracy charge that they're on the hook for. There are lots of other pigeonhole crimes. There is a seditious conspiracy, rebellion. There are any number: Inciting an insurrection is a crime I maintain that Donald Trump fulfills all those federal criminal statutes. I'm optimistic that the Department of Justice is quietly, the way they should be, investigating all these crimes. It's not just a House select committee. I believe in my heart of hearts, knowing many of the people at the Department of Justice, that they're quietly going about their business. How can you not? When you see all this evidence of criminality and there's clearly what we call adequate predication — enough evidence to open a criminal investigation — I don't believe for a minute DOJ is turning a blind eye and saying, "We're happy to give our republic away to Donald Trump. We're not going to investigate these crimes." I don't believe that for a minute.

For Jan. 6, you touch on the idea of seditious conspiracy, which is a crime. But what about the simplest one, incitement to riot? Because we're learning more and more that it seems that it really was, I'm not going to say organic. Those people showed up because Trump lied to them for two months. He radicalized them like an ISIS recruiter. They came there for that but it doesn't seem they planned it, "We're going to attack the Capitol this way or that way." Trump's speech, the fact that he brought them there, incited this. That was what lit this fuse. What rises to the level of inciting a riot? Which was on federal property so it would be a federal crime.

I think one of the most important evidentiary components of what Donald Trump did on Jan. 6 that makes him criminally responsible for what his supporters did after he ginned them up is that everything he said and did came from a place of fraud and lies and deception. He took that group of people and he said to them, "Your vote was stolen from you. Your election was stolen from you. Your president is being stolen from you and if you don't go up the street and fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."

Then Rudy Giuliani said, "Go down there, trial by combat." Mo Brooks, Don Jr.: They said, "Go down there, kick ass and take names." This all came from a platform of lies, fraud and deception, which gives not only the act that you need but gives the mental state, because he lied to the people about all of it. He basically used that angry mob as a weapon in his hand. He pointed that weapon at the Capitol and pulled the trigger. And that bullet headed up the street and they attacked the Capitol. To do what? To stop what was going on in the certification of the Electoral College vote count.

That's what Donald Trump told them to do. He gave them a directive, an action word: Go up there and stop it. And the fact that he called it a steal, he was saying, "Stop the vote count" — that is an attack on our democracy. He used the word "steal," which is a fraudulent word. That's what gives him the corrupt intent necessary to hold him accountable for those crimes.

And think about what came before this: His Department of Justice officials telling him, "Mr. President, there is no systemic fraud that undermines the election results." Donald Trump said, "I don't care. Just say there was and leave the rest up to me and my Republican friends in Congress." Dean, what I've just described in the last three minutes is the opening statement in the trial of Donald Trump for inciting the riot and the insurrection. It's right there plain as day, we just need to present it to a jury.

Let's take it a little broader. Right now we're seeing violence from people on the right against school board members, against nurses and doctors over COVID mandates, even against Republican officials who speak out against Donald Trump. If Trump is not prosecuted criminally for his actions — the fact that he's not been prosecuted so far, is that emboldening his people to do this?

Yeah, not only is it emboldening everybody because, listen, if we didn't punish bank robbers, we'd have a whole lot more bank robberies. If you don't punish an attempted overthrow of the government, an insurrection, a rebellion, we're going to get more rebellions. That's just common sense. But even beyond emboldening people, here's how Donald Trump will spin it if he is not indicted by the Department of Justice for the many crimes he inarguably committed. He will say, "The Department of Justice has given me a stamp of approval for everything I did because if it was a crime, they would have prosecuted me. They didn't. That means they vouch for me in everything I did. It wasn't criminal and I'm going to do it again." Again, this is not rocket science. This is just common sense law enforcement.

When you take a big-picture look at where we are now as a nation, how concerned are you for our democracy given that Trump has not been prosecuted and people on the right are celebrating, including Republican elected officials. We're seeing Republicans who are more upset with other Republicans who vote for the infrastructure bill than with Congressman Paul Gosar, who put out a video cartoon where he's literally killing AOC. It seems that the GOP has embraced violence or at least has no problem with it. And at the same time, they're passing laws — at least 33 laws in 19 states — to make it harder to vote.

Here's something that I think is a positive that is likely to come out of all of this. I think the Republican Party is writing its own obituary because I don't believe that what they're doing is sustainable. I don't believe it's a way to grow the party or even to keep the Republicans that have thus far not walked away. When everything you're banking on involves voter suppression laws and demonizing minorities, whether immigrants or African Americans, or when you have no actual agenda to offer, all you have is hate and division and propping up a criminal former president, that's not a winning formula for the future. It may be the only thing they feel like they have at this moment to try to retain power, but it's not a long-term winning strategy.

I think the Republican Party falls and there's probably a new version of it that is born from the Liz Cheneys and the Adam Kinzingers of the world, who retain their conservative principles but they also retain their morality and their love of country and their defense of democracy. That is where the future of the Republican Party is. But the old Republican Party is dying. I think it has to die completely and then a new Republican Party has to come up from the ashes to replace it. That is what I see as the long-term strategy, as long as we can keep our democracy up and running in the meantime. That, I think, is the challenge.

Adam Schiff warns that Biden's DOJ is letting Trump off the hook far too easily

Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, is not the type of person who uses hyperbole just to create soundbites. This former prosecutor has a clear record of sober, measured public rhetoric. So we should all take note when Schiff states that the Department of Justice "should be doing a lot more" when it comes to investigating "any criminal activity that Donald Trump was engaged in," as he did in our recent Salon Talks conversation. In describing the former president's long list of possible or apparent crimes, Schiff said, "I don't think you can ignore the activity and pretend it didn't happen."

I spoke to Schiff about his new book, "Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could," which is currently at No. 1 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. The clear message Schiff has for America is this: "We came so close to losing our democracy," and that threat is far from over. One of his main motivations in writing the book, Schiff said, is a sense that most people don't "feel a sufficient sense of alarm" over the threat posed by Trump and much of today's Republican Party.

To that end, Schiff opens the book with a gripping retelling of the Jan. 6 act of "domestic terrorism," as the FBI has officially labeled that attack. Schiff says he felt compelled to give that personal account in order "to bring the reader inside that chamber, let them know what it was like to hear the doors being battered, the windows breaking as this mob was trying to get in."

Schiff also discussed what it was like to become a "villain" in Trump's world, as the recipient of a barrage of crude insults launched by the former president and his supporters. Schiff says his sense of humor helped him cope with those slings and arrows, but it was more difficult to face the death threats from those incited by Trump.

Watch the full interview with Schiff here, or read a transcript of our conversation below to hear more about Schiff's warning and call to action. "We don't have the luxury of despair," he told me. "It needs to motivate us to be active."

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Your book opens with a retelling of Jan. 6. You paint a great picture — first of all with your sense of humor, but also of the fear involved and how this was very real. Can you share a little bit about what you went through, and other members went through, with gas masks being handed out and everything else. There are Republicans, as you may have heard, who are trying to depict Jan. 6 as a "tourist visit." So I think the reality needs to be relayed to people about what really went on from the inside.

This is one of the reasons that I wanted to write this down. I wanted to bring the reader inside that chamber, let them know what it was like to hear the doors being battered, the windows breaking as this mob was trying to get in.

I wasn't on the floor the whole time. I had been assigned by the speaker to be one of a handful of managers to oppose the Republican efforts to decertify the election. I really was focused on what I was speaking, what I was saying, what the Republicans were saying. Then I looked up and the speaker was missing from her chair, which struck me because I knew from the preparations she planned to preside the entire time. Soon thereafter two Capitol police rushed onto the floor, grabbed [Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer, and whisked him off the floor so quickly. I remember thinking I'd never seen Steny move that fast.

It wasn't long before we started to get messages from the Capitol police, one after another, of increasing severity, that they were rioters in the building, that we needed to get out the gas masks from under our seats, that we should get prepared to get down on the ground, and ultimately that we needed to get out, and that a way had been paved for us to get out. But I still hung back because there was now a real scrum to get out the door behind the chamber. I still felt relatively calm and was waiting for other people to go ahead. A couple of Republicans came up to me on the floor and said, "Basically, you can't let them see you." One of them said, "I know these people, I can talk to these people, I can talk to my way through these people. You're in a whole different category."

At first, I was kind of touched that they were worried about my safety. And then, you know, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if they hadn't been lying about the election, I wouldn't need to worry about my safety. None of us would. One of them, when I finally did head to the doors when they were really starting to break glass to get in, and I walked out with a Republican who was holding a wooden post — it wasn't just the Democrats were worried here — he was holding a post to defend himself. And I said to him, because he had a member pin on, but I didn't recognize him, "How long have you been here?" He said, "72 hours. I just got elected."

As you mentioned I used my sense of humor in dark moments to try to alleviate the stress. So he says he'd been there for 72 hours. I looked at him and I said, "It's not always like this." But I tell you, the anger after that day only grew. What I was most angry at was not the insurrectionists who really believed the Big Lie, although I was furious at them too. It was what I described as the insurrectionists in suits and ties, these members that I work with that knew it was a big lie. And even after that brutal attack, when we went back in the chamber with blood still on the floor outside of the chamber, they were still trying to overturn the election. That to me was unforgivable.

To watch it play off from our side, on TV, was stunning. For me, I'm Muslim and the same people on the right had demonized my community for years, saying we knew who the terrorists were and we weren't turning them in because we were soft on terrorism. All of these are lies. Now we actually have Republicans literally defending terrorists by name. You have Donald Trump defending the terrorists, the same man who wanted to ban Muslims from entering the country. I find that hard to process intellectually because it's just so devoid of any decency whatsoever. You mentioned a Republican congressmen saying to you, "These people might hurt you or kill you." They know their base, they know how dangerous they are. So what do we do?

I thought the most powerful speech that day came from a source I was not expecting. It came from Conor Lamb [a moderate Pennsylvania Democrat], this former Marine, generally very soft-spoken. When we went back on the floor after that insurrection to finish the joint session, he talked about how these people had come in and attacked the Capitol and they'd done so because of the big lies being pushed on the other side of the aisle, and how a lot of them had walked in free and walked out free. And he said, "I think we know why they were able to simply walk away."

What he was saying, of course, was that because of their color, because of who they were, because they were white nationalists and not people of color, that they were treated very differently. It was an inescapable truth. This was not just an insurrection against our form of government. It was also a white nationalist insurrection with Confederate flags and people wearing Auschwitz T-shirts. This too was a very sobering thing for me, which was to see where this was coming from and realizing just how far our country still had to go.

In your book, you share things about your family and growing up. One thing stuck out and it's a small thing: You write that in 2010, you were on a plane flight with Kevin McCarthy, a fellow member of the House from California, a Republican. It was before the midterms and you had a conversation. Then he literally goes out and fabricates something, claiming you had told him, "Republicans are going to win this." That was a lie and you went and confronted him. And I was stunned by his reaction, considering this is the man who might be the next speaker of the House. Can you share a little bit about that story?

Yes, and I tell this story because sometimes little vignettes tell us a lot about what people are made of. One of the most frequent questions I get from people is: When you talk to Republicans privately, do they really believe what they say publicly? And the answer, all too often, is no, they don't. They don't believe what they're saying publicly and they will admit it. In this particular case, I was seated next to McCarthy just by coincidence on United Airlines, flying back to Washington. We were having a nothing conversation about who was going to win the midterms. I said I thought Democrats would win. And he said he thought Republicans were going to win. Then the movie started and I was like, "Thank God the movie started."

So we get to D.C. and we go our separate ways and he goes off and does a press briefing and he tells the press, "Oh, Republicans are definitely going to win the midterms. I sat next to Adam Schiff on the plane and even he admitted Republicans were going to win the midterms." The next morning, when that came out, I was beside myself and I went up to him, I made a beeline for him on the House floor. And I said, "Kevin, I would have thought if we're having a private conversation, it was a private conversation. But if it wasn't, you know, I said the exact opposite of what you told the press."

He looks at me and says, "Yeah, I know Adam. But you know how it goes." And I was like, "No, Kevin, I don't know how it goes. You just make stuff up and that's how you operate? Because that's not how I operate." But it is how he operates, and in that respect, Kevin McCarthy was really made for a moment like this, when the leader of his party had no compunction about lie after lie after lie. You say what you need to say, you do what you need to do. The truth doesn't matter. What's right doesn't matter. And someone like that can never be allowed to go near a position of responsibility like the speaker's office.

You also write about being the brunt of Trump's attacks, over and over. Were you able to laugh it off? What was it like to be a Trump villain? Was it more fun to be villain than a hero like they say in the movies?

You know, much of the time I was able to laugh it off, and my family helped me laugh it off. In fact, I remember walking down the street in New York with my daughter, who lives in Soho. I was wearing blue jeans and a canvas jacket and sunglasses, and I was getting stopped. And I was astonished that I was getting stopped and eventually it started to get annoying to my daughter, because there's only one center of attention in our family, and it's her, not me. So finally, Lexi says, "Enough already." I said to her, "I'm just shocked that people can recognize me." She looks at me and she says, "Well, you know, Dad, it's the pencil neck." This is what you get from your own kid.

I do want to say, on a more serious note, that I found it so upsetting that he would demean his office by engaging in these kinds of juvenile taunts. It just brought the presidency down. But the more serious thing were the not-so-veiled threats he would make, calling me a traitor and saying, "Well, we used to have a way of dealing with traitors." At one point he met with, I think, the president of Guatemala and said, "Well, you know, you used to have a way in your country of dealing with people like Adam Schiff." Something along those lines. And, you know, that reaches people that are not well. I get death threats, and that part, you really couldn't laugh off.

In the book, you write that after Jan. 6 there was no need for impeachment hearings before the vote: "No investigation would be necessary given we were all witnesses to his crimes," speaking of Trump. When you think back on that now, do you think the Department of Justice should be doing more in terms of criminal prosecution of Donald Trump and the people around him?

I do think the Justice Department should be doing a lot more than what I can see — which is, with respect to some things, nothing at all. What I would point to most specifically is Donald Trump on the phone with the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, essentially trying to browbeat him into finding 11,780 votes that don't exist. I think if you or I were on that call, or any of my constituents, they would have been indicted by now. I understand the reluctance on the part of the attorney general to look backward, but you can't have a situation where a president cannot be prosecuted and when they leave office they still can't be prosecuted — that they're too big to jail, somehow.

I think that any criminal activity that Donald Trump was engaged in needs to be investigated. It may be ultimately that the attorney general makes the decision after investigating that for what he thinks is the country's best interests it makes sense not to go forward with a particular charge. But I don't think you can ignore the activity and pretend it didn't happen.

Last week we had the vote in the House on charges of criminal contempt against Steve Bannon. Then it goes to the Justice Department. Do you have any sense what they will do? If they choose not to indict Bannon or to prosecute him, would you be calling for changes in the DOJ?

Well, first of all, I think they are going to move forward. That's my personal opinion. It's my hope and expectation. I say that because of a couple of things. They have repeatedly made it clear now, as they did to Mr. Bannon but in other contexts as wel,l that they are not asserting executive privilege, that the public interest here far outweighs any claim of privilege. So Steve Bannon had no basis in which to simply refuse to appear. I also think that because the Justice Department itself has not resisted our efforts to interview high-ranking, former Justice Department individuals, they understand the importance of this. Should he not go prosecuted, it will essentially send a message that the rule of law doesn't apply to certain people close to the former president. And I just cannot imagine that's a message that the Justice Department wants to send.

Rolling Stone recently reported about certain members of the House, including perhaps Rep. Paul Gosar [of Arizona], meeting with some of the Jan. 6 organizers. It's not completely clear because it's coming from anonymous sources, but there was an allegation that Gosar promised blanket pardons to people through Donald Trump. I know you're on the Jan. 6 committee. Will you be investigating that?

Yes, we will be investigating these issues to see whether the public reports are accurate or not accurate, what role members of Congress played or didn't play. We are determined to be exhaustive. Nobody gets a pass, so yes, we will be looking into all these things. Look, you can't dismiss those allegations as being too incredible to be true because Donald Trump was dangling pardons to people like Paul Manafort. He was attacking those who did cooperate, like Michael Cohen, calling him a rat. The idea that they would dangle more pardons cannot be excluded. And if members of Congress played a role in that, then the public has a right to know. Ultimately Congress and the Justice Department will have to figure out what the consequences need to be.

There was reporting in the Washington Post on the Willard Hotel war room with things I had never seen, including the claim that in early January, after all the appeals were done, recounts had been done, the Electoral College had voted and we were days away from the electoral vote count, Trump was on the phone with over 300 state legislative officials in battleground states, telling them essentially to decertify the results. Could that potentially rise to a crime?

That ultimately would be a decision the Justice Department would have to make, whether it violated specific statutes and whether they could meet their burden of proof. But what we are most focused on is this violent attack on the Capitol, just the last stage in an effort to bring about a coup. When all the litigation failed, when all the efforts to coerce the vice president failed, when the efforts to get Brad Raffensperger to find votes that didn't exist failed, then that was the plan: Use violence to intimidate the vice president or the Congress into not doing their job, to interrupt that peaceful transfer of power. Was that the plan all along? What role did the president play, and people around him?

I think the biggest black box in terms of unknowns, is what the president's role was in all this. We know he incited the insurrection, and that was sufficient grounds to impeach and remove him. But what role did he play? How much was he aware of the propensity for violence, the participation of white nationalists? How much was he celebrating as he opened those doors and windows and heard the sound of the crowd the night before, saying they would use violence if necessary to make sure that he stayed in the office?

You're a former prosecutor. If Donald Trump is not punished some way criminally for his actions, what would stop Trump or another president from mimicking the same conduct, thinking you can get away with this? This was a two-pronged coup attempt, one behind the scenes and one right in our face on Jan. 6. How could this be permissible in the United States of America?

It's a very good question, and I think you can draw a straight line between Trump's Russia misconduct, in which he invited a foreign power to help them cheat in an election and then lied to cover it up — and feeling he had gotten away with that after Bob Mueller testified — and that leading the very next day to his Ukrainian misconduct and new and different ways to try to cheat in the next election. When he got acquitted and escaped accountability for that in the first trial, you can draw a straight line to the insurrection and even worse ways to help to try to cheat in the election.

If he were to ever take office again, where does that straight line continued to go? So, yes, I think the danger is real and what's going on around the country right now, in which the Republicans are running with the Big Lie to strip independent elections officials of their duties and give them over to partisans, seems to be the lesson they learned from the failed insurrection — which is that next time, if they couldn't find a secretary of state in Georgia to come up with votes that don't exist, they'll be sure they have someone there who will. That's why I titled the book "How Close We Came to Losing Our Democracy and Still Could." Because the danger that we still could is all too real.

In the book, you quote from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," talking about what we saw and went through with Donald Trump. If this were a play, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction, but unfortunately it was real, we lived through this. At this point I'm thinking of "Hamlet" and our democracy: To be, or not to be. It really seems that's where we are, that it's that dire. Do you get a sense that enough Democrats, enough people in the media, share that dire view of the trajectory of our nation? Where just because this republic has been here for 240-plus years doesn't mean it will be here for eternity, and that something needs to be done to save it?

I don't think people feel a sufficient sense of alarm. It's one of the main motivations for me to write this book. I got together recently with a couple of friends of mine. They're a husband and wife married for decades. They're in their mid 90s. And I asked them, "Have you ever seen anything like the present?" And they told me, "Look, we remember World War II, the Great Depression. We remember Korea and Vietnam, the civil rights struggles, the Cuban missile crisis. We've never been more worried about the future of our country and democracy than we are today. Because during all those former crises, we always knew we would survive as a democracy. But right now we just don't know." People do need to feel that sense of urgency — not a despondent state, not despair. We don't have the luxury of despair. It needs to motivate us to be active.

I paint a portrait of a lot of the heroes that came through this period of time, Marie Yovanovitch and Fiona Hill and others. We need to use them to inspire us to act. We can't all be Marie Yovanovitch, but in our own way we can figure out what we can do to come to the rescue of our democracy in this dark hour.

Republicans would 'rather end democracy' than turn away from Trump: Harvard professor

It can happen here. The "it" ought to be obvious by now: an authoritarian or even fascist regime in the United States. That was a big reason why Harvard professor Steven Levitsky, along with his colleague Daniel Ziblatt, published the 2018 book "How Democracies Die." They wanted to warn Americans of the dangerous signs they saw in Donald Trump's presidency that followed the authoritarian playbook.

So where are we now in terms of our democracy? I spoke with Levitsky recently for Salon Talks, and here's one line that really stood out: Levitsky told me, "Five years ago I would have laughed you out of the room if you suggested our democracy could die." But today, he added, we see the Republican Party apparently focused on breaking our democracy. In a nutshell, Levitsky believes the threat to our democracy is more acute today than when Trump was in the White House, since the GOP is desperate to retain its fading power in the face of hostile demographic change.

Levitsky describes today's GOP as "clearly an authoritarian party." Worse yet, it's no longer all about Trump. He sees the GOP continuing on its anti-democratic path for years to come, saying that even the contested term "fascist" is becoming more defensible given the GOP's defense or denial of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

You can watch my Salon Talks episode here, or read a transcript of our conversation below to hear Levitsky's suggestions about how Democrats can strengthen our democracy while they still control the White House and Congress, and why that might involve progressive swallowing some of their policy goals.

As always, the following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

In 2018, when your book "How Democracies Die" came out, on a scale from zero to 10 — with 10 being the most dire concerns about our democracy and zero being, no, everything's fine — where were we then in terms of your concern about our democracy?

I would say if 10 is most concerned, we were at five or six. We wrote the book because we were concerned. We wrote the book because we saw warning signs. But where I'm going is that I think we were too optimistic because we blamed the Republican Party for dropping the ball and allowing Donald Trump, a demagogue, an authoritarian demagogue, to be nominated. We thought they should have broken with Trump in defense of democracy. They obviously didn't. But we believed at the time — not long ago, three years ago — that the bulk of the Republican Party was minimally committed to small-D democracy.

We believed there was a faction in the Republican Party, particularly in the Senate, that would be able and willing to draw a line that they wouldn't let Trump cross. And we were wrong about that. The speed and the extent to which the Republican Party has been Trumpified is way beyond anything that we expected.

It's enough to have an authoritarian president — that's threatening. One of the two major parties has now basically given up on playing by democratic rules of the game. That's a new level of threat. And so now I would say— it's hard to put a number, but I would say seven or eight.

I'm afraid to see what nine looks like, if this is seven or eight. You mention in your book the idea of using democratic methods to save our democracy, one being the election. The idea was that defeating Trump through the election might help preserve our democratic institutions. I imagine you could never have predicted what Trump would have done after losing the election, or what happened on Jan. 6. So even though we had a democratic election, are democratic institutions actually weaker now, after November 2020?

Let me answer that in two parts. First of all, we did have elections as an escape hatch, and we used them. And it's a damn good thing we did. We would be much, much worse off had Trump managed to retain the presidency and stay in power for four years. The fact that we sent him to Mar-a-Lago is very important, and shouldn't be understated. Now that said, I don't predict things accurately very well. One thing I did predict, I knew would happen.

I knew that Donald Trump would not accept the results of the election. What I did not anticipate is that the vast bulk of the Republican Party would go along with it. And of course, I didn't anticipate anything remotely like Jan. 6. So yes, things have gotten much worse, because not only has the Big Lie taken hold among the vast bulk of the Republican Party, to the point where you can't be a member of the Republican Party in good standing if you don't adhere to the Big Lie.

And they're acting upon that, right? They are now taking steps in various important states — Texas, Arizona, Georgia — to make it easier to overturn an election. So I think there's a good chance that the Republican Party, not just Donald Trump but the Republican Party, tries to overturn the results of the 2024 election. And that is, again, a worse place than we were a few years ago. But we would be even worse off had Trump remained in power.

If Trump ever got back in office, I don't know if he would ever leave. If you look at the GOP now from an academic point of view, how would you describe it? People throw around terms: It's autocratic, it's fascist. But how do you look at it?

I think ideologically it has evolved into something fairly similar to European far-right parties. It's primarily an ethno-nationalist nativist party. It is essentially preserving the identity of a white Christian America, and that is fairly similar to what we describe as far-right parties in Europe. The thing about far-right parties in Europe is they win 12, 15, 17, 18 percent of the vote and they're at the margins of politics. At best, they're a junior partner in a coalition government, but mostly they're in opposition. So they're kind of at the margins throwing rocks at the boat of the system, but they're not in power. There's no country, no established democracy in the world, with the exception of India, in which one major party is an extremist ethno-nationalist party.

That's frightening. So they are sort of like the AFD in Germany, let's say.

Yeah.

AFD didn't do well in the last election in Germany, they are nowhere close to electing a prime minister or chancellor. But we have a party here that's knocking on that same door that controls more of the governorships. When there's no resistance within the GOP to Donald Trump, drawing on history, what alarm bells does that raise about what could happen in the future?

It means that the Republican Party, as has been the case since 2016, will be following and acting in service to an authoritarian leader. I mean, there are many, many leaders past and present in the Republican Party who I may disagree with on policy, but I know at the end of the day, they're going to play by democratic rules. That's not true of Donald Trump. And we know very well, more than we did three years ago, that the vast bulk of the Republican Party will line up behind him. They stuck with him even after he instigated Jan. 6. I mean, that's worse than shooting somebody on Fifth Avenue. It's now crystal clear that they will follow him to whatever authoritarian destination he takes them. And that's more dangerous than just one guy. He has a party behind him.

In America, there's this sense by some that it can't happen here — whatever that could be, an autocracy, a dictatorship, a fascist regime. I think it is happening here. And I think a lot of people are not equipped, in the Democratic Party or in the media, to see what's going on right now. Is Donald Trump how democracies die?

Potentially. I mean, interestingly, we may have an election in 2024 where the election is stolen by the opposition party. That doesn't happen very often. But look, we wrote "How Democracies Die" precisely for the reasons you said. Americans take our democracy for granted, all of us. Me growing up until five years ago, I would have laughed you out of the room if you suggested that democracy might die. For 99 percent of Americans across the political spectrum, we took for granted that no matter how recklessly our politicians might behave, we couldn't actually break our democracy.

We wrote the book because we started to see, yeah, well, we might break our democracy. And even though at the time we may have only seen the risk level as a five or a six, we thought it was worth trying to raise the level of awareness, which I think we've done. Americans are much more worried than they were five, six, seven years ago, but I think you're right. We in the media, most Americans and most in the establishment and even the Democratic Party, even the Biden administration, doesn't quite have the level of urgency that we need to have.

I've never heard an American president talk about the battle between autocracy and democracy the way President Biden does. A lot of times it's talked about in the foreign context, but he brings it home domestically as well. There was a CBS poll in July in which 55 percent of Trump supporters — not Republicans, but Trump supporters — viewed Jan. 6 as an act in defense of freedom. How alarming is that for you? Are we getting to the point where if the GOP base is saying they're OK with violence, then they can be called a fascist movement and it's not hyperbolic?

I've always personally resisted the "fascist" label. I think it gets thrown about for right-wingers we don't like way too much. I think the label is growing more defensible now than a couple of years ago. But I think it's more straightforward and more defensible to say that this is now clearly an openly authoritarian party.

There are different kinds of measures you can use, but a couple of clear indicators that scholars of regimes all agree on is a party that embraces, condones, accepts and promotes political violence and a party that does not accept electoral defeat, that can't accept defeat. On those two criteria, especially between November 2020 and January 2021, we saw the bulk of the Republican Party swing and miss on those two criteria: Always renounce violence, always accept defeat. They are no longer doing either of those things. So I wouldn't have said this to you when we first published the book, but I think the Republican Party can be legitimately labeled an authoritarian party.

After Jan. 6, I was as surprised as you. I actually thought the GOP was going to jettison Donald Trump and go, "He's gone. He lied for two months. He clearly incited this attack. It might be a criminal violation, it might not be, but it was clearly, it was him. He did it." A week later on the floor of the House, Kevin McCarthy was denouncing Donald Trump. Then time went on, and now they celebrate the people who did that. Worse, they're making martyrs of people like Ashli Babbitt, who was killed jumping into a secure area against the directions of an officer who knew there were elected officials behind him in the area. What does that mean to you? What concerns do you have when you hear Donald Trump defend the attackers, calling them persecuted, calling them political prisoners and defending Ashli Babbitt by name?

I mean, this is what authoritarian political movements do. I don't want to go rushing to the comparison to Italian fascism or German Nazis, but this is the kind of stuff that fascist parties did. They glorified, defended, promoted violence. And violence is the path to power, so they became OK with it from top to bottom, from grassroots activists to voters to leaders. They became OK with violent seizures of power. How else do you read Jan. 6 and the reaction, and now the glorification of Jan. 6, other than these guys are going to be OK with a violent seizure of power?

I had the same reaction as you did in the days after Jan. 6. I really was hopeful, listening to Mitch McConnell on the floor of the Senate, listening to McCarthy, that finally this would be the turning point. But I think that the Republicans took a few days, put their finger to the wind and realized that the base was still with Trump. And because of the existence of primaries and because these guys are just too small to stand up for democracy over their own political careers, they went where their base was.

They were unwilling, for whatever reason — with the exception of Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney and a small handful of others, many of whose careers are over — they were unwilling to stand up to the base. Standing up the base means probably ending your political career and they just didn't want to do it. They'd rather end democracy.

It's their pursuit of power at all costs. It's something that you read about in history books. I'm reading "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" and "The Gathering Storm" by Winston Churchill at the same time, which is scaring the crap out of me with what we're going through. It's actually cruel to look at Germany and the rise of the Nazis, where Churchill says, "We had numerous opportunities to stop this and we didn't do that." I'd love you to share what has worked in other countries, and maybe could be a model here, where even competing political parties join together to form essentially a pro-democracy coalition — not ideologically aligned, but at least pro-democracy.

First of all, let me say there is no magic solution. When you're in a situation where one of the two political parties representing almost half the country is committed to an anti-democratic project, there is no easy out. And we're going to be in this battle, I think, even in the best of cases, for 10, 15, 20 years. This is not something we're going to put to rest in the next couple of years.

The good news is that we're probably not on the brink of sort of long-term, single-party rule. The U.S. has a lot of things going for it as well. The small-d "democratic" opposition, mostly the Democratic Party, is strong. It's well organized, it's electorally viable, it's well-financed. This is not an opposition that can be steamrolled like in Russia or Hungary or Venezuela. So even in the worst case, even if the Republicans steal the 2024 election, ending democracy momentarily — and that could happen — that's not going to be the end of the story. We're not going to slide into 30 years of authoritarianism. The Democrats are going to fight back. There will be protests in the streets. There will be another election. It may not be an entirely fair election, but the Democrats will continue to contest for power. It's more likely that we reach a period of sliding in and out of crisis than sliding into outright long-term decay.

What do we do? I personally think that the key, and this is a lesson we've taken from other cases, particularly in Europe, is a broad small-D democratic coalition that has to range from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to include democratic conservatives. As many Republicans as want to join, have to be embraced. Now, that's not an easy message for progressives. It means swallowing some policy goals and programmatic goals and getting into political alliance with people you really do not like, and you've really disagreed with in the past.

Liz Cheney is nothing compared to some of the people who might end up being in the democratic coalition. But it's the only way that we ensure that we win, that we build a coalition that includes as many Republicans and as many conservatives as possible: evangelical Christians, business people. It's got to be a broad coalition. If it's a blue-state coalition, it's not enough.

It's almost surreal to be having this conversation in America in 2021. It's like something out of a Philip Roth book. This is real, it's happening right here. Are you optimistic? You mentioned certain things that give you hope. On a practical level, while Democrats control Congress, would it give you more hope if they passed a voting rights act, a "freedom to vote" act or something along those lines?

Oh yeah. I mean, I look back to the Lodge Act of 1890, right before the consolidation of Jim Crow. There was a law to establish much greater federal oversight of elections that passed the House, that had a majority in the Senate and was blocked by a filibuster. But that majority eventually cracked because the Republican Party, which at the time was the more pro-voting rights party, disagreed over trade and had other priorities. They gave up and didn't pass the bill, and immediately the former Confederate states, Southern states, started enacting constitutional forums and electoral forums that disenfranchised African Americans, who were almost half the population in the South. It ushered in 80 years of authoritarianism in the South because we didn't pass that democracy bill in 1890. I don't think things would get quite as bad this time around, but it is consequential if we don't take steps to combat voter suppression and election subversion.

What gives me hope? I mean, a couple of things. I think the raw materials for democratic survival exist in the United States. The kind of extraordinary imbalance of power between one side and the other that you see in Russia or in Venezuela or in Turkey or in Hungary doesn't exist in the United States. It's a pretty evenly matched fight. It could get ugly, it could slide into some pretty nasty crises, but the Democrats are going to continue to have a fighting chance for years to come.

What really gives me hope is I think that we're actually on the brink of establishing an unprecedented multiracial democracy. That's a really hard thing to pull off, and arguably no other society has really pulled it off. We have not, but we're on the brink of it. We got there in a formal sense in 1965, and we've been inching in the direction of making that real for half a century. That's what this war is about. That's what this Republican reaction is about. But if we prevail — and it's not going to be easy, or be quick — if we prevail, I think on the other side could be a remarkable democratic experiment that could be a model for the world. That's what allows me to sleep at night and get up the next day and keep going.

A lot of people talk insist that Donald Trump should be prosecuted for Jan. 6. Does that actually end the threat or at this point does it transcend Donald Trump?

I think it definitely transcends Trump and pervades the GOP overall. Trump could go into exile to Iceland tomorrow, he could pass away tomorrow, and that's not going to end this. This ideology is going to persist, whether it's out of Tucker Carlson or someone else. There are many, many political entrepreneurs who, now that Trump has gone there, now that he's crossed that line, now that he's established that identity, I don't think there's any putting it back in the bottle.

Trump is a unique figure and certainly nobody will replicate him. I think there is a good argument to be made for prosecuting Trump. It's double-edged, but I think a pretty good case can be made. But even if they did, it's not over with that. The Republican Party will continue to be in essence, a Trumpist party, I think, for a while to go.

Recently Democratic members of Congress, Adam Schiff and others, introduced legislation to reform the system so when they looked at what Trump did in the White House. Not about the election so much as about how he exercised power. We had a lot of reforms after Watergate. Do you think the Democrats should make that a priority, as well as voting rights? Understanding that the next president might not be a Democrat — it might be Trump, or it might be another person like Trump — should they enact reforms now?

Absolutely. Obviously, enacting reforms is really difficult now because it's difficult to peel away even a single Republican vote. It's much easier said than done, but what Adam Schiff is saying makes a lot of sense to me. In our system, as we wrote in "How Democracies Die," for years the rules were actually under-specified and we relied a lot on the restraint of politicians.

We trusted that politicians wouldn't go there. They wouldn't blatantly make millions of dollars out of being president. They wouldn't pardon their friends or people who conspired with them. And now it's clear, given the level of polarization given the example that some have set, that we're going to have to formalize what used to be informal norms. We can't rely on self-restraint anymore. We can't rely on forbearance. We need to create hard guardrails, rather than soft.

Obama aide Ben Rhodes explains why he wasn't surprised by the dark path the GOP had taken

An MSNBC anchor, who will remain nameless, recently called the new book by Ben Rhodes, who served as Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, "dark" in its description of where our nation's democracy finds itself today. Rhodes's book, "After the Fall: Being American in the World We've Made," is actually not dark. It's just a brutally honest look at where our nation is heading. Everything Rhodes writes, and everything he shared in our Salon Talks conversation, should be seen both a warning and a clarion call to action for those who believe in our republic.

In defense of that MSNBC anchor, many people still don't fully grasp the nature of the threat democracy faces today. Not just from Donald Trump, but more broadly from today's Republican Party, which, as Rhodes and other experts have documented, have been embracing the autocratic playbook long before Trump slithered down that famous golden escalator to launch his 2016 campaign. It's just that Trump made it impossible to ignore, especially given the Jan 6 act of "domestic terrorism," as the FBI has defined it, and which himself Trump incited.

As experts on democracy noted in the fall of 2020, the GOP now less resembled an American political party than it does the authoritarian ruling party in Hungary headed by Viktor Orbán. Indeed, in his book, Rhodes lays out how Orbán's right-wing party and today's Republicans utilize similar methods to attract support, from culture wars to the rejection of political correctness to an overt embrace of a right-wing interpretation of Christianity. As Rhodes explains, "None of this happened because of Donald Trump."

Rhodes also detailed how other authoritarian regimes, such as Russia and China, mandate teaching students not the accurate history of their nation but a mythology that helps them remain in power. This should sound familiar, since Republicans have recently been enacting laws to ban "critical race theory," but what they're truly doing is copying the Chinese Communist Party tactic of only allowing the teaching of "history" that helps them politically.

Rhodes said something that has stayed with me since our talk: For the first time in his life he had "to consider what it meant to be an American while living in a country that no longer made sense to me." I share that sentiment. Neither of us is being "dark." We are simply being direct about where our nation finds itself.

Watch my Salon Talks episode with Ben Rhodes here, or read a transcript of our conversation below, lightly edited for length and clarity.



Ben Rhodes writes about why democracy is threatened around the world in After the Fall"After the Fall." It's intense. You went to several continents to write this, and it was written over four years, up until the pandemic. Share a little bit about that.

Yeah. Well, it's not enjoyable. The subject matter is why things are moving in the wrong direction in the world. But I hope what's enjoyable is it's told through the stories of other people. It's not just analysis. And the root of it for me essentially was, I was kind of knocked on my back after the 2016 election. I wanted to make sense of what's happening in America, what's happening around the world. And I started to travel and meet people. I ended up going to Hong Kong and immersing myself with the Hong Kong protest movement there, talking to Alexei Navalny and opponents of Putin in Russia, talking to democracy activists in places like Hungary. And through their stories, trying to understand: Why is the world all moving in this direction, and how is America connected to it?

The jumping off point for me was when I was meeting with a young anti-corruption activist from Hungary. Hungary has gone from being a democracy to a single-party autocracy in a decade. And I said, "Hey, how did this happen? How did Viktor Orbán, your prime minister, do this in 10 years?" And he said, "Well, it's simple. He got elected on a right-wing populist backlash to the financial crisis. He redrew the parliamentary districts to entrench his party in power. He changed the voting laws to make it easier for his supporters to vote. He packed the court with far-right judges. He enriched some cronies who then bought up the media and turned it into a right wing propaganda machine. And he wrapped it up in a national us vs. them message. Us, the real Hungarians, against them — Muslims, immigrants, liberal leaders, George Soros."

And I'm listening and I'm thinking, "Well, he's describing America." So what I realized is, by traveling to all these places and kind of inhabiting all these stories, I can understand not just why democracy is threatened globally, but why it's threatened in the United States, what we may have done to contribute to that, and what people are doing to fight back?

You have a great line, "In 2017, I was forced for the first time to consider what it meant to be an American while living in a country that no longer made sense to me." From your point of view, why didn't America make sense to you at that moment?

It's interesting because I mean, for me, that line also speaks to the fact that I've known people who live in countries where they're repulsed by their own government. They don't see themselves in the power that represents them. But even though I didn't agree with the Bush administration, it wasn't the same kind of visceral reaction that you have to someone like Trump, where you're like, "This person stands for the opposite of everything I believe in, and he's in the highest office." A part of what I had to realize in writing this book is that I came of age around the end of the Cold War. That's where my first political consciousness happened. And the narrative was that everything was moving in one direction. The history was settled that freedom and democracy and open markets were going to kind of continue to spread.

What we've experienced since then is the recognition that, "Well, no. History never ends." And the same conflicts over nationalism versus democracy, authoritarianism versus the capacity of people to have individual rights, those things are constantly playing themselves out through history. We're fighting those battles today, just like people have had to do in the past. While America doesn't offer the promise that that's all settled, it at least gives us the opportunity to have the fight. But it speaks to why we can't be complacent, given the threats to our democracy around us.

Your former boss and your good friend Barack Obama was on CNN talking about how democracy is not self-executing, and informing us you can't take things for granted. Oddly enough, that conjured up Ronald Reagan's famous line, "Freedom is just one generation away." The idea we'll be telling our children one day what freedom was like.

And if Ronald Reagan were alive today, might say the same things, if he was not part of TrumpWorld. Freedom House says Hungary is no longer a democracy. At one point it was. Where do you think we're sliding, objectively as a nation and in terms of our government now? Not so much under Biden, but when you look at the Republican states and their continuing effort to make it harder to vote, to suppress peaceful protests, to ban what kids can learn in school unless it fits their mythology, which I can't believe. If you read about it in another country, you'd go, "That's not a democracy. That's some kind of authoritarian and fascist state." What is going on?

One of the things I did was to trace how the Chinese government has gotten even more authoritarian over the last several decades. And one of the principal ways was beginning to control the curriculum in the schools. We have to recognize these kind of common tactics of authoritarianism in different places. You mentioned Obama. He's kind of a character in this book. He comes in and out of these conversations we've been having. And I relayed the eerie timing. He gave a speech to the Democratic convention, as people may remember, where he said, "Don't let them take your power away. Democracy is on the line here." I describe watching that speech and then I'm looking at my phone and getting the news that Alexei Navalny, the opponent to Putin in Russia, has been poisoned. And in a way, that kind of drove home the stakes, that the extreme darkness where this strain can lead was evident in what happened to Navalny.

I think the takeaway from this book is, you've got people like Orbán, who kind of represent how nationalism has gotten a foothold again all over the world. People like Putin, who represent the lengths that autocrats are going to in the world today, the kind of steadily escalating behavior that we see on a regular basis from authoritarians. And then you look at China, and they have an alternative way of organizing society. That's kind of where the future is going, where you blend together capitalism and technology with this really totalitarian and intrusive government. America was the one force that was supposed to figure this out, to set an example of multiracial, multiethnic democracy.

And when you talk to people in all these other places and ask, "What do you need from America?" It's less our foreign policy and more like, what are we modeling at home? What are we doing? When you see people methodically passing laws, trying to prevent people from voting, when you see people methodically trying to set the premise that elected officials could actually overturn a democratic election.

If America can't get it right, then I don't think anybody else can. Not because we're perfect, not because we're so much better than everybody, but because we're supposed to be the place that, again, figured out how to do this. And we're the country made up of people from everywhere. So I think the stakes are incredibly high and they're going to stay high. Joe Biden's election obviously didn't end this. The stakes are going to stay high for a few years here.

Florida just banned critical race theory, even though they don't use that term. We've seen more than 20 Republican states introduce legislation to ban a topic because they don't like it. You touched briefly on China and authoritarianism and education. How was that intertwined? Why should people be concerned this is not just culture-war stuff, where you can roll your eyes at it?

If America can't get it right, then I don't think anybody else can. Not because we're perfect, not because we're so much better than everybody, but because we're supposed to be the place that, again, figured out how to do this. And we're the country made up of people from everywhere. So I think the stakes are incredibly high and they're going to stay high. Joe Biden's election obviously didn't end this. The stakes are going to stay high for a few years here.

Florida just banned critical race theory, even though they don't use that term. We've seen more than 20 Republican states introduce legislation to ban a topic because they don't like it. You touched briefly on China and authoritarianism and education. How was that intertwined? Why should people be concerned this is not just culture-war stuff, where you can roll your eyes at it?

And where I end this book is saying that American identity is supposed to be, not that we were born perfect, but that in America we do the work. It's about trying to live up to the story that we tell about ourselves. So in every way, shape or form, banning critical race theory and trying to look away from the darkest parts of our past, that makes it more likely to happen again in the future. And it actually negates what I think is the better American story, which is that those things happened and people tried to make it better.

I find it alarming that we're seeing the people who claim they want academic freedom, who say they despise "cancel culture," have no problem literally defunding school. The Idaho law is to defund schools if they teach you about systemic racism. I find this deeply distressing.

I mean, this is why I ended up having the subtitle of this book "Being American in the World We've Made." What the "Being American" refers to is that we have to figure out what our national identity is. That's not settled. I think the reason why you see such intensity in our politics right now is that people can sense that's kind of what's being debated right now. And by the way, this too is something that's happening everywhere. It's a common political trend. But the reality is, when you hear, "Make America Great Again" — when only certain people were in certain rooms and had certain amounts of power — and then they're looking at a future where this is going to be a majority nonwhite nation, unless they arrest immigration entirely.

Which is part of what Donald Trump was trying to do, in the relatively near future. Is it a coincidence that the Republican Party is trying to entrench itself through minority rule, essentially leveraging the courts and the Senate and voting laws and other things, right when that demographic shift is taking place? I'm not sure that's a coincidence. One of the points I make in the book is that, in a way, we've always lived this competition. And Trump and Obama kind of represent them perfectly in opposition to one another. Is America's story of progress and greater inclusivity and extension more rights to more people? Or is it "We want to wind back the clock," and this is an exclusively white Christian nation that is only for some?

We've been living these two lives throughout our history. I mean, the Declaration of Independence says that "All men are created equal," bit it was written by a guy who owned slaves. At every step of progress, there's been a reaction. So I think that is happening right now, and that speaks to one reason why the political debate is so intense right now.

Initially, President Biden kept talking about, "America's always been a push and pull between these two forces." He's right. We're seeing it now. Maybe it's not that new, what's going on, it just seems more intense because I'm living through it as an adult who follows politics closely.

Yeah, I think the stakes are higher right now. Again, part of why I wrote this book is because one reason why the stakes are higher is that this is happening all around the world right now, and things are moving in the wrong direction. I mean, while I'm writing this book, the Hong Kong protest movement that I was kind of profiling, gets swallowed up essentially by the Chinese Communist Party. Alexei Navalny gets poisoned and put in prison. America has Jan. 6. This is happening and it's not a coincidence. It's happening because there is this kind of drift towards nationalism and authoritarianism, for a lot of reasons that I described in the book.

I focus on the 30-year period after the Cold War. I feel like the Cold War was one particular period where America wasn't perfect, but we were for freedom and the Soviets were for the other thing, for communism and dictatorship. Then you have this 30-year period of American dominance. Trump clearly was a bit of a pivot point. Now we have to decide who we're going to be next. I think that's a very hotly contested question right now.

You write about the way the GOP became the one we see today, and you say, "None of this happened because of Donald Trump." Share a little bit more about that idea.

Well, it's kind of the mirror image of that story I told about Hungary. I know people can go back and look at Newt Gingrich and look at the things that Bush did. But this particular virulent strain of the Republican Party, I'd have the starting point be the Tea Party. And if you make it the mirror image of what happened in Hungary, the collapse of the financial system in 2008 generated a lot of anger and a sense of grievance, like, "Hey, this whole system is just kind of rigged." People, I think, were open to different kinds of appeals than they might've listened to in the past. You get all this anger and then you compound thap with the fact that there's a Black President, and there's clearly a racialized component.

The Tea Party demonstrations, they're chanting, "Take our country back," and we're being told that it's about deficit spending. I'm not sure you "take your country back" because you're concerned about the deficit. But it breeds this kind of new and much more belligerent Republican Party, the people who got elected there. And at the same time, you have Citizens United, which takes away any guardrails on dark money in politics. So this kind of bottom-up anger is being fueled by a lot of top-down money from people like the Koch brothers, who are just dumping money into politics, at the same time that you have Republicans getting much more aggressive in passing voter suppression laws. I talk about this in the book, there were like 25 passed at the state level while Barack Obama was president. The Supreme Court that the Republicans had designed guts the voting rights legislation, which allows those sorts of suppression laws to go forward and have a greater impact.

At every turn, the Republicans are busting norms and not even confirming a Supreme Court justice if they're nominated by a Democrat. And by the time Trump rides down the escalator at Trump tower, he was the logical nominee. Of course he was the nominee. He was the frontrunner from the time he came down. Because the other thing that happened in this period was that with the collapse of traditional media, you have not just Fox News but the explosion of Facebook and people getting fed, just on talk radio and online, more and more conspiracy theory-based garbage about what's happening in the world, about Barack Obama, about Democrats.

So by the time Trump comes down the escalator, he's like the product of that. It's like suddenly the Fox News viewer is the head of the party. And ever since then, at every turn, people are surprised when the Republicans take the dark path. "Oh, my gosh, I can't believe that they still believe the Big Lie. They won't even have a commission." Well, of course. Who do you think these people are? They've been telling you who they are for the last decade.

What do we do? Near the end of your book, you write, "We live in a time when the world is emerging into a single history, and we can feel the currents of that history moving in the wrong direction." So how do we move this in the right direction?

I have lessons that I took away from all these people I talked to around the world. What are people doing that is working in different places? One thing for instance, in Hungary, is for the first time there's an election next year. They do have elections. Orbán dominates the media. It makes it hard for people but the opposition has their first real chance of beating him. And one of the reasons why is they've completely united. They've said, "Look, we have differences, but everything is on the line here. We're just going to put a big tent over all of our differences and we have to win this election." And I profile a young person who started a political party, but it's a very strange kind of polyglot coalition. But that's one lesson for us too, because part of what autocrats need to do is keep the opposition divided, apathetic or cynical.

I think we have to stay, despite all our differences, from the center to the left in our country. On the core things, particularly when it comes time to vote, people need to be absolutely united because there are more of us than them. If we vote and don't give up and don't get apathetic and stay with this, we will win. So one of those things is unity. Another is, if you look at even failed movements, like the Hong Kong protest movement, movements fail and fail and fail until they succeed. And they usually succeed in a big way when they do. They create a kind of culture around democratic participation and a culture around standing up for your rights. This can't be left just to politicians. Joe Biden alone can't fix this.

I think we need that kind of whole-of-society commitment to democracy as well. If you look at Navalny, the reason he was such a sore spot for Putin, the reason he's in prison, is that he'd found this huge vulnerability in exposing Putin's corruption. I think corruption is a common thread between all these autocratic movements, including the Republican Party. Because a lot of those voters that supported Trump are angry at a corrupt system. This is why Trump always talks about the "deep state."

Trump always talks about the system being rigged, but he is the ultimate beneficiary of the system. He's a white guy, a fake billionaire who can do whatever he wants, who's fabulously corrupt. We need to continue to drive home the message to some of those Obama-Trump voters about the absolute corruption of a political party that speaks one language and then just shovels tax cuts to corporations and breaks the rules themselves all the time. I think that's the most potent argument we have to make. The last thing I'd say, though, is that the bigger structural problem is that the reason people are having an insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the reason people believe in QAnon, is because of the radicalization that's happening online. We have to get our arms around that in this country, social media and disinformation. I'd like to see the Biden team take that on more. Because so long as our entire media is structured to mainline rage and conspiracy theories to people, we're going to be in this spot.

Former GOP chair Michael Steele talks saving post-Trump party: 'Terraform' it or destroy it?

Michael Steele is a man without a political party. True, Steele served as chair of the Republican National Committee from 2009 to 2011 and still considers himself a Republican. But as he discussed recently on "Salon Talks," unless things change, Steele and other more moderate Republicans grasp that they don't belong in this iteration of the GOP, which is increasingly embracing white nationalism and appears untroubled by the use of violence to achieve its political goals.

I asked Steele a simple question he's heard many times before: What is the future of the Republican Party? The MSNBC political analyst bluntly analogized the current GOP to a cancer patient. If the patient wants to get better and seeks treatment, that's one thing. But as Steele put it, today's GOP appears to be rejecting "treatment," and instead allowing the "cancer" of bigotry to metastasize throughout the party.

The only course correction Steele sees happening will come after GOP suffers horrific political defeats. Then perhaps it will be reborn and led by Republicans like him, who still believe in the core conservative principles that attracted him as a young man to the party of Lincoln. He seemed deeply troubled, in our conversation, by his apparent powerlessness to prevent the party he still loves from slipping into white nationalism, conspiracy theory and flat-out grift, citing the ascent of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as an obvious example.

This should be of concern to all Americans. We only have two major political parties, and it impacts all of us, regardless of our political views, if one of these two parties fully morphs into a white nationalist movement that uses the type of violence we saw on Jan. 6 as a tactic to acquire and retain power. Watch my "Salon Talks" interview with the former RNC chair below or read the following transcript, lightly edited as usual for clarity and length.

Years ago, when you were RNC chair, if I asked you what the GOP stood for, you could tell me. I say this sincerely: From your point of view, what does today's Republican Party stand for?

Right now it stands for whatever Trump wants it to stand for. The party leadership has given itself over to a very small faction of the base, that sort of drives the overall narrative. When you look at it from a policy side, you see how we've walked away from long-term alliances, our friends and allies abroad. We've turned our enemies into our buddies and our buddies into our enemies. When you look at domestically what we've done on the economic front, a party that once stood for some level of fiscal balance and conservatism has now gone hog-wild.

That's kind of been the narrative for some time. This is nothing necessarily new with Donald Trump, in terms of government spending. We saw it under the Bush years, and of course the backdrop for that was terrorism and 9/11. In this instance, it's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. I like a good tax cut, but I prefer that tax cut be placed in the hands of people who actually need it, and can make the most of it, which of course is the middle class. We've walked away from the middle class. We beat our chest with great bravado about being out there for workers, but that's not necessarily our narrative.

The party right now is all over the map. It has no central moorings, no foundational idea. In fact, it has no platform that we can put out in front of the country and says, "This is what we philosophically orient toward. These are the things that matter and what we want to pursue." I think it makes it very difficult to engage the country around governing principles when you have not governed, and you have no principles that you can really put in front of them that don't sound like Donald Trump.

I can sense the rudderlessness of the party, as it goes from Dr. Seuss to immigration and back to cancel culture. In the past month we've seen things that perhaps, with different Republican leadership, would have led to a pushback. We saw Rep. Paul Gosar from Arizona as a keynote speaker at a white nationalist conference. We saw Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin tell us point blank that he was not worried about the Trump supporters who were carrying Confederate flags and other images of Nazis and white supremacy, and then Rep. Chip Roy from Texas waxed poetically about lynchings. He may or may not have said something inappropriately, that he didn't mean it that way, but we saw little pushback from the leadership of the GOP. There was a time when Paul Ryan would at least push back a little on Donald Trump. Now I don't hear it.

Even through the three examples that you gave, I wouldn't even mitigate against those. Those were consistent with what we've seen — the party's recent embrace of white nationalism, sort of this fake populism that's born out of the Southern strategy of Richard Nixon in the 1960s. Ken Mehlman when he was chairman, myself when I was chairman, declared that was an anathema to the party's basic philosophy and ideas. What we've been pushing has been pushed aside for an embrace of this. So having those members of Congress and senators go out and say these things, it's just an affirmation of that.

To your point about the broader response of the party leaders, no, they're not going to push back against that, because they don't want to get primaried. They don't want a nasty soundbite from Donald Trump, or a member of the Trump family or Lindsey Graham or somebody who's going to side against them. They don't want to see what happened to Liz Cheney and others who stood on principle and supported taking down the insurrectionist acts of certain members of our community and leaders in our party. They find themselves in this very uncomfortable space where you have a Marjorie Taylor Greene and you've got a Gosar. You've got others out there saying and doing things, and the leadership is feckless. They're inept. They have been emasculated in many ways because they are not willing to risk that leadership, nor are they willing to risk their elective position, to go against those who are undermining the very fabric of who we are as a country, because there's more value in grifting off of that, raising money.

You look at the moment Ron Johnson says this stuff, he goes out and plays the victim, and he sends out a fundraising letter. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the same thing. The party has become one big grift in many respects. That's unfortunate, because that's not who we are. But we've been in that space for 21 years now. This goes back to the 2000 election. You can almost pinpoint those transformative moments in the '80s and '90s, as well. So, there's a history here that is in many respects an ongoing march by the party, and it's going to end in a not so happy place. When it does, it will resolve itself, and out of that will be born a new effort, a new party or something different. We will terraform the party in such a way that we free ourselves of this ugliness and right ourselves, or we give into it completely.

I wonder what the legacy of Trump is going to be. Is it the idea that if you're a Republican you can say whatever pigheaded thing you want, because there's really no penalty in your party? In fact, it might make some in your base, the more extreme ones, send you money. You might get more Twitter followers. You might get booked on Fox News or Newsmax. It seems that's potentially the legacy that Trump left us. Do you agree with that, or was that there before Trump?

It was there before Trump, in many respects. Trump just knew how to animate it, to bring it to life, to make use of it. But, actually, I'll take it one step further. I think in order for us to get to a different level of discussion, I'm prepared to set Trump aside. I'm tired of talking about him. I'm tired of talking about the future of the party. You can talk about the future of a cancer patient. If that cancer patient, wants to have a future free of cancer, then all right. But if they give up and give in to the thing that is killing them, there's not much more you can do. There is no further conversation you can have.

In many respects, all of us, particularly those inside the party, have to wait and see how this plays itself out. It will define itself. It will tell you what it is or what it wants to be. Then, as Maya Angelou says, accept it. Don't try to fight against it. Don't try to change it, if it doesn't want to be changed. I am past the point in the discussion of trying to figure out the future. I don't have that crystal ball. The only thing I can do is wait and see what the leadership does, what the base does, such as it is, what actions Trump takes, how people respond to it, and to see exactly what this party is going to be. In the meantime, what I and many others will continue to do, is put in front of it those Lincoln ideals that drew me in as a 17-year-old kid, many years ago, to this principle, understanding that the words in our Constitution apply to everyone. As a party, what we conserve is that fight, that power, those rights. All the other stuff is just ancillary, whether you're pro-this or anti-that, whether you're up or down on this policy.

If you're not about the foundational idea — what we're seeing happening in the voting space, by states like Georgia and Arizona. where Republicans in those states are trying to disenfranchise people. That's antithetical to the very founding ideas and principles laid out in the Constitution, even though they were written by men who did not include me in that conversation at the time. Well guess what? I'm in it now, and dammit, you're not going to take me out of it, Republicans in Georgia and Arizona — that's the fight. I'm waiting to see how that plays out, because that will tell you whether or not this party is of a mind to move off this or they just embrace it and go deeper into it, in which case then we know what we've got in front of us.

There was a new Monmouth Poll last week that asked Americans if they think white nationalism is a problem in the United States. Sixty-four percent of all Americans said yes. That actual number was actually dragged down by Republicans, because only 38 percent of Republicans thought it was a problem. When you just put independents and Democrats, you're way over 70 percent of Americans who think it's a problem. Sixty-two percent of Republicans don't think white nationalism is a problem. Either they don't believe it exists — like Tucker Carlson, who calls it a hoax — or they're down with it, or whatever, they don't really care. Everything's fine with their life.

That's because a lot of them are white. A lot of them have embraced this, and look, the thread that's kind of driving this narrative is this decision that was made at some point in this evolution to just stick it to Democrats. If the Democrats are for something, they're going to be against it, because they want to stick it. They want to screw Democrats. They want to defeat Democrats. This, for me, kind of goes back to how our politics devolved into a red versus blue, us versus them, "They're our enemy," with Democrats going from being our opponents to being our enemies.

When you have that kind of transformation in the political dialogue, you've now gone to a level of ugliness. That kind of poll makes sense, in that regard, because a lot of that is this idea that, well, you're just pushing back on white folks, because you don't want to recognize how we've been disadvantaged. This whole mindset is just turned upside down and that's what makes this discussion that much harder, because we want to inject our political biases into the conversation. When you do that, you're going to see this kind of result. It's just reflective of how broken the politics have become.

I don't know how you get around that, other than to go through it. You just got to go through it, and the country has to state declaratively — and this could mean the end of the party, in one sense, that we don't want you governing anything until you get on the page with 70 to 80 percent of the American people, who see white nationalism as a problem. You send us Marjorie Taylor Greene as your nominee, guess what? You're not getting elected. I think that's the space we're kind of moving into now, which sets up 2022, as a particularly interesting battleground, I would say almost on par with 2020. Which was important for a whole lot of reasons That we know.

While 2020 was about the election of one man, 2022 is about the election of an idea, an ideology, because there are a lot of candidates carrying this particular water into those fights. How does the nation respond on a congressional level, on a statewide level, on a state legislative level, to candidates who espouse that white nationalism is OK, white people are victims, Black lives don't matter? In fact, Blacks shouldn't even be allowed to vote in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, etc., because we don't like the way they vote. To help make that point, we're going to pull back on the privilege, on the right to vote in these areas. So that's going to be an interesting narrative for the Republicans to defend, and an interesting one for the country to decide that they reject it or not.

I'm not as optimistic that white nationalism isn't a winning strategy, given the demographic change happening in this country. There might be more white people who don't admit it in polls.

I agree.

That's what concerns me, that the GOP is not going to fade away and die. It's going to grow. Polls have even showed some Republicans and numbers I've never believed to be true. There was an AEI poll, from the American Enterprise Institute, which is right wing, that showed 56 percent of Republicans said it's OK to use force to stop the decline of the traditional American way of life. Where are we going?

What is the "traditional American way of life"? See, that's what we need to peel back because the traditional way of American life is very different for me and you than it is for some white guy from Alabama, who is hearkening back to a time that, quite honestly, was not good for any Americans. This idea of, "We want to return to the way America used to be," well, when I hear that, what that says to me is what you want to return to segregation. You want to return to lynching. We've heard a member of Congress say, "Hey, that's OK, because that's how we enforce the rule of law." What are you saying when you hear that and when you say that? That's what we need to drill down on, because when you just ask that question generically, people have this red, white and blue, star-spangled kind of view of America. Well, America has never been that. It's an idea on a postcard, but it has never been the lived experience of Asians, African-Americans, Jews, lesbians and gays, etc., in this country.

If Donald Trump were criminally charged, prosecuted and went to jail before 2022, how do you think that impacts the midterm election? Because it could happen. In New York, he's being investigated. In Georgia, he's being investigated. We've heard they are looking into him on the federal level. Do you think it helps the GOP if Trump is in prison. Does he become this martyr?

I think anything that happens to Donald Trump, by the system, by the "deep state," sets him up to be a martyr and he'll make himself to be a martyr. Look, the man is out there trying to create his own social media platform. Let us not fool ourselves. There will be a bazillion people who will sign onto that platform. Let's not act surprised when it happens. Let's not start wringing our hands again because, like you've just said, there are a whole lot of people who line up with Donald Trump and are down with what he says and what he's done. How do we know that? Well, 7 million more of them voted for him in 2020 [than in 2016].

You can't sit back and pretend that somehow this is an aberration. It is not. It is part of the natural course of things, and so to your point about anything, legally or otherwise, that befalls Donald Trump: He will wear it like the best victim could ever wear it. He will milk it and make the most of it, and he will drive dollars and drive supporters and ultimately drive votes behind it.

Mitch McConnell is threatening scorched earth against Democrats if they end the filibuster. What do you think?

You better listen to McConnell.

You think he's being sincere?

Of course he is. I mean, he was sincere after they got control of the Senate and Merrick Garland's nomination came up. He warned Harry Reid that's what he was going to do. He made it very clear. "I'm all about the judiciary, and I'm going to do everything I can to reshape it for conservatives and undermine it for Democrats." Now he's just broadened the warning. He's saying, not only is it not just the judiciary, it's going to be everything else.

That's not to say, however, that Democrats don't have a strategy they can employ, and that they should cower in the corner and fear the man who presumably should have no power, but does. They can still go in and play the game in a way that — look, pick and choose your battles. You don't have to eliminate the filibuster, period. You can just eliminate it on certain votes.

Stacey Abrams has talked about an exception for voting rights or civil rights.

Yeah, exactly. So, there's a way to do it, and then use that to pivot off to build the narrative for why you need to have more than 50 votes in the Senate in 2022. Give us a Senate that will support the policies that 70 percent of the American people want. We're not the party saying no. We're not the party saying, "You can't recover from COVID." We're not the party saying, "You can't have shovel-ready jobs in your community." We're the party that's trying to work with workers in unions, so America can rebuild itself. We're not the party standing in the way of those things. So give us the Senate that will allow this president to do the things that clearly you like him doing, Republicans, independents and Democrats out there across the country. Make the case.

When you talk to Republicans who are not Trumpists, where do you see yourselves in the future? Do you have a decent chance of fighting and changing this party and pulling it back?

It's a good question. It's one that a lot of us are grappling with. There are a lot of conversations being had in that regard. You fight the battle in front of you. Can't fight the one that's behind, that's done. We either won or lost. In some cases, we won, and in others we lost and we lost big. Right now the battle in front of us is over what this party will be. Is it the party of Lincoln, or is it the party of Trump? For me, it's a very straightforward question to ask. I'd like it to be the party of Lincoln. But if others prevail, and say, "No, we want Trump and Trumpism," then guess what? Brother picks up his bag and moves on. Look, you can only stay so long in a place you're not wanted.

At the end of the day, they've made it very clear. There is no going back to Lincoln-style philosophies and policies that are oriented around the freedom of individuals, and the rights of citizens. Instead it's sort of this hodgepodge of whatever Donald Trump feels on the day he wakes up. So, OK, that's the choice you've made as a party. It will fracture. It will break. It will re-shatter and reform, or shatter and reform into something else, and the rest of us will move on. Some have already moved on. I may have told you, well over a year ago, that I look at it as someone coming into my house and breaking my furniture, writing on my walls, and threatening my family. So, do I leave or do I stay? I stay as long as I can, and to the extent that they get the upper hand, OK, I collect my family and I go.

In a nation where we only have two major parties, all of us have to be concerned about where the GOP is going because it impacts our entire nation. If it becomes truly a white nationalist party embracing violence going forward, that affects all of us.

Yeah, it does. And I think an important thing about that, Dean, is the fact that more and more Americans are now open to the idea of expanding and broadening the opportunities for the creation of more than two parties. I think more and more Americans need to embrace that. I have advocated that since I was a county chairman. Why? Because I love the idea of competition. It gives you a chance to hone your thinking and reasoning skills around the philosophy that you articulate for, and it gives you a chance to declaratively say, "This is what we stand for. This is what we believe." When you can no longer do that with the embrace of the American people, then it's time for the American people to look at other alternatives, and those alternatives are there. Now it's just a matter of how they take shape and form.

There are Republicans who are actively pursuing those alternatives. I've been in those conversations and will remain in those conversations. There are Republicans who are also actively trying to do what I call terraforming the current party. That is tearing up this old dirt, that has grown incapable of bearing good fruit, and laying down some new seeds. If we are unsuccessful in that, then we will have someplace else to go. There is a lot of traction and traffic going on right now in this space, and I think that's a good thing for the country in the long run.

NYT columnist argues there's an obvious pathway to empowering Black Americans

Charles Blow, the New York Times columnist and author of the provocative new book, "The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto," is tired of begging others for justice and is urging Black Americans to empower themselves by moving en masse to Southern states.

Blow candidly told me during our "Salon Talks" conversation this week why his radical reverse migration idea is a mechanism for Black people to seize power on a legislative level. Currently, Black people "have to convince the people who hold the power — predominantly white people — to see you, acknowledge your equality, and grant you justice," Blow said. "I keep saying to Black people, "Aren't you tired? Aren't you tired of that? Aren't you tired of begging them and them still saying, 'No'?"

Blow's overall goal is to elect officials in Southern states who are focused on solving problems that bedevil Black communities, like gerrymandering, but I wanted to go deeper and understand the root of his argument, which he agrees is a matter of life and death. "There's white supremacy and also anti-Blackness. You're fighting both of those things," Blow said. And waiting on the browning of America relies on the premise that everyone who is not white shares a common sense of objectives, which, Blow argues, they simply do not.

Will masses of African Americans follow Blow's call to move to the South, as he has done, uprooting himself from New York City and relocating to Georgia? Possibly. Is Blow correct on the resilience of white supremacy in America? Absolutely. Watch my "Salon Talks" with Blow or read a transcript of our conversation below to hear more about why he believes that in order for Black people to get what they advocate for and protest for, they must first obtain power on their own terms. This interview has been edited for length and clarity, as usual.

In your book, you have a great quote by the late activist Stokely Carmichael. He said, "If a white man wants to lynch me, that's his problem. If he's got the power to lynch me, that's my problem." Clearly, we are talking about a sense of power. Power is not just electing members to Congress or electing people to the governorship, in the case of the Black community. Power is often about life and death.

Yes.

Why did you use that quote, and what does that mean to you?

Well, particularly in Stokely's case, in that quote he's expressing power as a means of protection. Power can also be a means of agency and equality, right? What I'm suggesting to Black America is that you don't have enough of that. You have very little, if any, of it on a state level, most of your power is municipal. You're able to elect representatives to Congress, but even that representation is suppressed because of gerrymandering. And that gerrymandering is done by states, by the way. If you really want a solution to solving many of the problems that bedevil Black people, that Black people go into the streets and march about that, they go online and complain about, much of that is controlled at the state level.

There's a mechanism by which you can change that and basically seize that power, which is reverse migration into states where you increase your power in those states, as you increase the percentage of Black people live there, and you could get back to the position that Black people held at the end of the Civil War when they were the majority of the population in three Southern states and near a majority in three others. They had large percentages of the population in all Southern states.

Is your revolutionary idea about encouraging a reverse of the Great Migration and going back to the South

Absolutely.

I understand that it's about Black power. Why now?

Well, there's a fatigue that sets in when you see Black person after Black person after Black person killed, and you see that the mechanisms that would deliver justice cannot because basically the states, and to some degree the federal government, has made it illegal for this to happen. The reason they don't get arrested and the reason they don't get charged and convicted is because in most cases what they are doing is legal — and that legal framework can be changed.

You don't have to be powerless. You don't have to march every time there's a killing. And the marching itself, as powerful as it can be as a social connector, as powerful as it can be as a congregational, spiritual awakening for people, a thing that changes the narrative, it is still, as far as power is concerned, a pleading. It may be an active, in-the-streets position for you, but it is a knee-bent position before power because you are asking power, "Recognize that something wrong has happened here and do something about it." If you had the power, you wouldn't have to go to the street. You can simply demand of your representatives, "This can't be, this guy has to go." It would be over. But you don't have that power.

What is preventing that power from happening in the framework we have now?

If Eric Garner is killed in New York and you're only 11, 12, 15, 19 percent of the population, you don't have the power to change it. You are still in a pleading position. You have to convince the majority of people in New York state to do something about that. You know, if you are in California and someone is killed, you are 5 or 6 percent of the population of California. You don't have the power yourself to say, "This must stop." You have to convince the people who hold the power — predominantly white people, predominantly white, rich men — to see you, acknowledge your equality, and grant you justice. I keep saying to Black people, "Aren't you tired? Aren't you tired of that? Aren't you tired of begging them and them still saying, 'No'? 'Please see me and recognize my equality and my humanity,' and them still saying no?"

What have Black people said in response to you urging them to move to the South? You make a compelling case about how this isn't just about political power. It's about life and death. It literally is about saving our lives. What's the reaction you get?

I don't get a lot of pushback on the principle. People worry about feasibility. Can I make a living? If I'm used to a liberal environment, will I be able to express myself in the same way? I talk to them through those issues. It's not going to be right for everyone. Not everyone moved during the Great Migration to the North and West, out of the South. In fact, most Black people did not move. So people won't move, but there'll be people for whom it makes sense. And I was speaking to those people.

Are you offering prizes at all? [Laughs] I mean, because I'm Muslim and we're a teeny community, right? But if one of the big Muslim leaders in America said, "We're all going to move to Dearborn, there's already a lot of us there," I'd be like, "It's cold. I live in New York. I like New York. I'm down with Muslim power, 100 percent. I'm not kidding. But do I really want to move?" I don't want to drill down to practicality. I'm more interested in the actual reaction of people in your community.

I mean, the answer to your question is complicated by the fact that I am on a virtual book tour. The entire book tour has been in this room, so the responses I get are online. Because that's how we connect with people during a pandemic.

People ask about poverty in the South. And I explained to them about how concentrated poverty is where you actually are. And in fact, New York City has a higher percentage of Black poverty than all of the state of Mississippi, which is one of the poorest states in America. I think people don't even see their suffering because they live in the shadow of prosperity.

At its essence, is this truly about white supremacy in our nation? And the fact that it is unbeatable unless you just mass your own forces, to be blunt, to have your own power base?

I think there's two things on both ends of that spear. There's white supremacy and also anti-Blackness. You're fighting both of those things because if it was just white supremacy, you probably could wait for allies to help you out who were non-white, but in every society across the world where there are people in those societies where people express differently physically, and there are darker people and lighter people, invariably the darker people are assigned the lower caste. Invariably. The anti-Blackness part of it must be equal to the anti-white supremacy part of it.

I say to Black people, "You can't wait for white people to evolve into your liberation." And also you cannot be completely dependent on the browning of America to deliver your liberation because people make the false assumption that everyone who is not white shares a common sense of values and policy objectives. They simply do not. These are not perfectly overlapping circles. When you think about it half a second, it makes sense that they wouldn't be. But it also means that for you to be able to advocate for your particular set of policies, you need to have the power to do that on your own.

I think what you're saying, Charles, is that minorities don't naturally ally simply because they're not white. There's a concern around Black and brown people being used in the same sentence to talk about vastly different problems. Do you get a sense that there is there a zero-sum game mentality between some minority groups that if you move up, you hurt us, as opposed to we're all in this together?

I'm not sure if that is the way I think about it, but rather that white supremacy has been such a global phenomenon, as well as here in America, that whiteness has become aspirational, right? People aspire to that lighter skin. That's why people walk with umbrellas and women wear face masks to the beach with bikinis because they aspire to keep it. White supremacy taught the world through their oppression that there would be a value to whiteness. The insidious thing about white supremacy in America is that whiteness continued to expand itself to protect its majority in this country.

There was a time when not all the people we consider white today were considered white, but whiteness expanded to include them because it helped them maintain majority. It is not inconceivable that whiteness will continue to expand itself to include some of the people who we now consider to be Asian or Hispanic because it needs to maintain its numerical advantage. There are people within communities who aspire to that. That is part of the reason I believe that you saw nearly a third of all Asians and a third of all Hispanics in 2016 vote for Donald Trump, even after he had had this racist campaign against Barack Obama, even after he had said "ban all Muslims," even after he had called Mexicans rapists. Within immigrant communities, according to the New York Times analysis, that was where his percentage of nonwhites really skyrocketed. My concern is that you could replace a white supremacy with a light supremacy.

You talk about in your book about how race is not real, but racism is and the idea that race is a social construct. I'm the living, breathing example. Pre-9/11, I was white and was raised to be white. My dad wanted to name me Salah ad-Din. My mom was like, "No, we're going to name you Dean." Then 9/11 happened and society made me a minority. Now I'm very proud to be a minority, frankly. But to your point about people who are minorities and aspire to be white — it is vitally important to remember that. James Baldwin talked about people who are not white when they came here and they earned their whiteness.

And I want to say this too, Dean, I talk about that from a place of familiarity within the Black community. It's not like Black people are casting stones at other racial and ethnic minority groups. We have experienced our own passing for whiteness within our own Black community. There has been, to a lesser degree now, but to still to some degree, a light-skinned privilege within the Black community. We speak out of that, or I speak out of that, from an experience of having seen how people who get a close enough proximity to whiteness will, if given a chance and if they are so inclined, try to merge into it.

I didn't want to lose my whiteness and after 9/11 and I fought to keep it. I didn't know what the other side was, but I had an idea it was not going to be as good. I understood America was designed for white people and so did my parents. That's why they raised me to be a white guy, to be blunt. You write that whenever Black people make progress, white people feel threatened and respond forcefully, which is the history of our country. When white supremacy is threatened it will always use violence. Why? It is as simplistic as jealousy, or is there something deeper at play?

It's not jealousy, it is always power. It is always power. It has always been power. I think you have to think of power broadly. It is loss of political power. It is loss of the economic guarantee that America granted to white people, that we will always make sure you succeed at the expense of other people, right? It is loss of cultural power that you get to write the narrative of America where you are the heroes and everyone else is the villain, or you are the elite and everyone else is the subordinate. All of these areas of power are threatened when you do not have the supremacy to demand that you exist at the top of the heap.

When you look at what happened on Jan. 6 with the insurrection at the Capitol, in your view was a white power manifesto come to life?

I do believe that it is that same fear. Fear of political, economic and cultural displacement.

This might sound naïve, and it's not intended to be. I'm a minority, but I'm not Black. The more I read about Black history, the more I see movies, the more I read books, I think of James Baldwin's quote about how if you're a conscious Black person, how can you not be constantly in a state of rage? Thinking about the history of this country and what it's done to Black people and the struggle that you articulate today for Black power. Are things changing for the better?

I don't even want to get into the progress argument because you can't take 400 years to inch out of a thing that should never have been done and hope for me to pat you on the back. I'm not going to do that. But what I will say is there was this brief glorious moment called Reconstruction in which Black people did have that power, right? And they wielded it. But they weren't as armed as their white countrymen. They didn't have the same wealth as their white countrymen. And they were subject to attack. The case that was just filed by Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi last week using the anti-Ku Klux Klan Act, well, that act is a Reconstruction-era act. During Reconstruction, the federal government helped to protect Black people so they could exercise the power that they had. They allowed the federal government to mobilize troops into the South to protect those people who had the right to vote and were the majorities in some of those states.

You had a glimpse of what power could be. The only reason you don't have it in those numbers right now is because of the Great Migration. Up until the Great Migration 90 percent of Black people in America lived in the South. I'm saying there is nothing preventing you from having the power that they had from 1865 for about 12 years.

If your thesis plays out, what's to say white people won't use violence to prevent your success? Look at Wilmington in the 1890s. The council there was biracial, but essentially it was Black people in power and a white supremacist coup-d'état actually happened. You'll look at the Tulsa riots, a sense of jealousy and fear of power. What if you are successful? Do you fear there will be a backlash of white supremacists?

Fear has no real place in liberation. Either you want to be free or you don't. If you want a cakewalk, I can't promise you that. I am suggesting a revolutionary act and there are no such things as revolutionary acts without resistance or risk. I will say this though, when white terror helped to scare and chase Black people out of the South, they won that battle. I believe that morally and historically, they cannot be allowed to win that war. As a moral issue, right has to win that war.

What would Black power look like from your point of view?

It would look a lot like Georgia. And Georgia is not even a Black majority state at this point, but Georgia increased its Black population. It doubled his Black population from 1990 to 2020. Thanks in large part to diverse reverse migration. It went from 1.7 million people to now 3.4 million people. If you could just get back to restoring the majorities you had post-Civil War, which would only take about half the Black people in the North and West returning South, by the way. It wouldn't take everyone.

If they still had those states, they would control up to 14 Senate seats. They could control more Electoral College votes than New York and California combined. If they voted over that same period the way they vote now, they wouldn't have had a Republican president in the last 50 years. And the last time I checked, I don't think there's a single person on the Supreme Court who was appointed more than 50 years ago. The entire court would be different. You would have enough power to demand of politicians and political parties that they pay attention to your issues and move on advancing them because you would be able to deliver states.

Fascism expert: Donald Trump’s coup is not over — and his enablers aren’t done

Dismiss Donald Trump and the GOP's attacks on the 2020 election at your peril, warns Ruth Ben-Ghiat, historian and author of the new book, "Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present." In our recent interview for Salon Talks, Ben-Ghiat — a professor of history and Italian studies at NYU — observes that Trump probably hasn't actually studied other leaders in history who transformed functioning democracies into authoritarian regimes. Nonetheless, his actions line up almost perfectly with many who have done just that, from Benito Mussolini in fascist Italy to Vladimir Putin in contemporary Russia.

"For the strongman, politics is always personal," Ben-Ghiat explains which may sound ironic given that "strongmen" are all about displaying virility. As she explained in our conversation, they tend to take every slight personally, and that's certainly the case with President Trump, who constantly complains that he's a victim who has been treated unfairly, which for some reason has endeared him even further to his supporters.

Even with Trump on his way out in January, Ben-Ghiat makes clear the threat of authoritarianism in America is not over. She explains that the Republican Party is increasingly embracing undemocratic methods to acquire and retain power, from voter ID laws to blocking Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. Some GOP elected officials — thankfully, not all — even enabled Trump's efforts to overturn or delegitimize the 2020 election results.

Ben-Ghiat's book it serves as a wake-up call for any who believe what we are seeing is nothing more than an extra dose of our "normal" hyper-partisan politics. If we as a nation don't attempt to rein in the use of undemocratic or anti-democratic tactics, the U.S. may end up featured in future history books as a former democracy that slid into authoritarianism. Watch my Salon Talks with Ruth Ben-Ghiat below or read the following transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length.

Your new book on authoritarianism, "Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present" is a scary must-read. Not because of the past, but because of the present. Let me first get your reaction as an expert to what we have seen recently in the headlines, with Donald Trump literally trying to overturn the results of this election.

I turned in the book in the summer of 2020, and I was just reading over the ending chapter. I found a sentence that said that Trump might try to stay in office to avoid prosecution and to keep his grifting going. I said it in a more elegant manner, but what we're seeing is not at all surprising, because today authoritarians come to power through elections and then they manipulate elections to stay there.

Some journalists are hesitant to use the word "coup" because to them, that conjures up tanks in the street. But would it be fair to say what Trump is trying to do is an electoral coup or political coup, where he clearly lost the election, but he's spreading misinformation to overturn it and keep himself in power?

Yeah, I'm very glad that a third of the book is about the age of military coups. And then what happens where we get to the age where they're coming in through elections. This qualifies as what's called an "auto-coup" or a self-coup, where somebody who's already in power tries to manipulate elections and uses propaganda and threats to stay there.

For a classic coup, you need law enforcement and the military. And that's why, I was quite heartened that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, went out of his way and made a pointed declaration, saying that the armed forces are going to obey the Constitution and not an individual. We all know who that individual is. I don't think he's going to succeed by traditional military-coup means, because that's not what you do anymore. It's more like law-warfare, where you use lawyers and bureaucracy. Paperwork can kill democracy today, basically.

Clearly Joe Biden and many leading Democrats have made the strategic decision not to join this battle, to stay above it. Maybe on Twitter, you see some members of Congress, but they certainly have not flooded the zone calling this out. It concerns me that it almost feels like an unintentional appeasement of Donald Trump, letting him say what he's going to say because democracy is going to win out at the end of the day. Does history tell us that's a good or bad strategy?

I'm really glad you made that point, because I think one of the hard truths we have to face is that the GOP is an authoritarian party. The other day they issued a very aggressive declaration, saying they're going to fight to liberate the country from tyranny, which is this old right-wing line that democracy is tyranny and authoritarian government is freedom. So they went out in a new aggressive way, saying they're going to back [Trump] all the way to the end.

We're in a situation where Erdogan in Turkey and Modi in India, who are not liberal rulers, have called Biden to congratulate him on the election, but the GOP will not concede. In this situation, it's very important that the Democrats come out very strongly, because the history of authoritarian shows that Trump is a bully and if you don't push back against him, he will take more advantage and consider you to be a lesser opponent. I think they're going to have to change their messaging, because things are getting very, very frightening, very, very serious. Being above it all is not going to work.

I get the sense from Democrats in power that if they join this battle, then it makes it partisan and maybe antagonizes the Republicans who are not on board. A little over 50 percent of Republicans think Trump is the rightful winner, and about 30 percent think Joe Biden is. The Democrats actually almost seem happy with that 30 percent. I fear that each day this goes by and you don't see Democrats on Fox News or on Newsmax making the counter-argument, it gets more and more traction.

This is the same framework that has hampered the media from adequately responding to Trump. Here's the issue. Very early on, before Trump was inaugurated, I published a CNN op-ed saying that Trump was following the authoritarian playbook. Now, it makes sense that Americans would only have a democratic frame of reference, because we've never had a dictatorship. We've never had a foreign occupation.

But seeing Trump in anything less than an authoritarian frame allows you to make a lot of strategic mistakes. He's never been in office for democratic means or goals. He's been in office to make money for the Trump Organization, to build a personality cult to keep people loyal to him and to prolong his power. Staying in office to avoid prosecution, etc., becomes an end in itself. So if we see it that way, this is why the media needed to call this out immediately and not do the both-sides thing.

In a parallel way, the Democrats thinking that they may look partisan is futile at this point. They have to really think about what role they want to have in history. Being silent, to kind of be above it all, there's a lesson from history. When Mussolini was pushing, he hadn't declared dictatorship yet, but it was very clear he was actually fixing an election. The opposition in the Italian parliament did a noble thing. They left. It was called the "Aventine secession," because they went and met on the Aventine Hill in Rome. They didn't want to engage with these thugs. They were trying to be above it all. You know what Mussolini did? He said, "Good, they're not here." They were unable to enter back into parliament when they wanted to return, and he declared a dictatorship. So it doesn't work to be above it all when you have somebody like Trump.

I think you make a great point that our media, and even the Democrats, are not well equipped to deal with a person like this. It took almost two years for many in the media to use the word "liar" to describe Donald Trump. I was writing it in articles and I would get editors crossing it out. Then after a while, they're like, "OK." I feel like the same thing now is happening now in mainstream media where they can't say there's a coup happening in the United States because there aren't tanks.

The book goes through a hundred years of history and there are these recurring patterns. One of them is that people have been in denial. They don't want to take the leader seriously. Even now you have people saying, "Trump's not so bad, he just golfs all the time." They're already saying, "Well, what we need to worry about is someone who's going to be much more competent in the future."

But we are now in an emergency. I've been making videos every day about the transition, and I'm making it very clear that we are in a crisis state. The minute that Biden won and Trump and the GOP didn't recognize the results, this opened a window for a kind of state of exception. So the time is now to worry about an authoritarian, not in 2024. But it's very upsetting for some people to recognize what's in front of them, because then they think, "Well, maybe I have to do something about it." This is a pattern that's been repeated over a hundred years.

If Trump were somehow able to stay in power for four more years, setting aside that we have a 22nd Amendment that says he can't serve another term after that, do you think the GOP would support his efforts to remain in power beyond four more years?

I do. It's a great question, because the reason the GOP is going along with this is that there are many people who have invested a lot to put America on this path. And let's be very clear, it's a project of taking America out of the realm of democracy, including all the world alliances, and putting it into what I called in 2016, Axis 2.0. Look at who Trump is dealing with. Erdogan and Putin, these are the people he admires, and Viktor Orbán in Hungary. So people like William Barr and Mike Pompeo, we're not talking about hacks on Fox News. We're talking about the apex of power.

They have invested a lot, and each one may have his own agenda. Like for Barr and Pence it's white Christian hegemony, but they don't want to give it up because they're coming very close to being able to consolidate it in ways that are very frightening for liberal democracy. So I would caution anybody to think that just because you see Trump going to play golf or he doesn't have any public events on his schedule, it doesn't mean people are not digging in for this desperate endgame.

My fiancée, who's originally from the Middle East, was reading some of Trump's recent tweets and she goes, "He's not leaving. You understand that?" I go, "He's leaving." And she goes, "He's not leaving. He really is tweeting like he has won." She doesn't look at it through the American lens. Bassem Youssef, who's the Jon Stewart of the Middle East, he's saying, "This doesn't end well." I think a lot of Americans are uncomfortable with that talk, but I think people like that are being blunt because they're looking at this through what they've seen in the Middle East.

Yes, and I think one of my strengths as an analyst has been that I grew up here in America, but my parents are immigrants. My mother's from Scotland, my father was born in Jerusalem and my grandfather was from Yemen. So I also work on global history. I started with Italian fascism, studied empire, and I turned that global lens — and also my whole family culture, where there's no relatives in the States — onto America. I've been able to see things very clearly. And I'm also getting lots of messages from people in the Middle East, family or not, people I don't know, saying the same thing you just said.

There are countries that you go through in your book, where it's not like 1930s authoritarianism or even like Gen. Pinochet in Chile, with people disappearing. It's more almost like an oligarchy. If Trump were able to stay, I don't even think it'd be like Putin. For instance, I could still do my comedy. I could still bad-mouth Trump and they might lash out at me a little bit. It would have the trappings of democracy, but we'd have backslid to where Donald Trump and the oligarchs have an inordinate amount of control over the power of this nation.

We're still searching for a language. I talk about this in the introduction of the book, to describe this new form of autocracy. Some people call it electoral autocracy, where you don't totally get rid of the opposition, you don't need a one-party state. We have that only in North Korea and in China. But if you're not communist, you keep the trappings of democracy, but it's fixed. The game is fixed.

Sadly, during the years I wrote the book, several people on the world leadership scene have consolidated their power. Many people think we would drift toward an Orbán scenario, although I think it would be much more violent. Orbán has domesticated the judiciary and the media without much physical violence. Orbán rules by decree now. Putin amended the Russian constitution — here we go with the law-fare, right? Death of democracy by paperwork. He amended it so he could stay in power till 2036 if he wants. So in each case it's going to look different in every way and it's not going to look like the old fascist dictatorships. That's why I don't use the word "fascist" for Trump, although he uses a ton of fascist tactics, including a personality cult.

In your book, you had a line about it always being personal for the strongman in politics. And I can only think of Trump. Why is it that politics are always personal for these people? Is Trump's embrace of victimhood part of that as well, where he's constantly complaining about how unfairly he is treated?

Yeah, it's all about him, right? And he always has to be the biggest victim. So unfortunately, this too is out of the playbook. Mussolini was the victim, Hitler was too. And what it is, is that they don't represent the nation like democratic leaders, they embody the nation. So they become the embodiment of the nation's sufferings and dreams and hopes. When he first came in in 2016, Trump said that the world system was rigged against America and he was going to save it. He was going to be the voice. Now, he also said that the election system was rigged. He started saying this in 2016 in case he lost, but he didn't lose. This is very old rhetoric, and even if he leaves office, this victim cult will only grow among his followers.

And the thing about it is, it connects to their masculinity. I have a whole chapter on virility because on the one hand they're supposed to be alpha males, right? Trump is retweeting his face on the body of Sylvester Stallone. We can laugh at that stuff, but it's deadly serious. On the other hand, they're victims, whining all the time about being persecuted. And this actually makes people feel tenderly toward them, it's even endearing. So you go to Trump rallies and journalists will get these quotes, like a woman will say, "I'd wade through a sea of COVID to save Trump." Stuff like that. All of them have done this over a hundred years, and this is why women are a big fan base for these men who are definitely not working toward women's rights.

You have a whole chapter on endings, and it's not surprising that most authoritarians leave office involuntarily and for different reasons. Berlusconi finally lost an election in Italy. Others die from natural causes or unnatural causes. If America is able to get rid of Trump on Jan. 20, is it in our best interests to try to create legal impediments to prevent another Trump? You can't pass laws and say, "No one named Donald Trump can run for office." We can't do that. It's unconstitutional. It's not democratic.

Or any other Trump. [Laughter.]

But should Congress, pass laws that might keep someone like Trump off the ballot, or at least limit his powers if he gets in?

Oh, absolutely. So Silvio Berlusconi is a big protagonist in the book, and he is quite similar. Trump is much more dangerous, but Berlusconi was so corrupt that he had laws passed that were tailored to his individual situation — talking about the personal is political. If he was accused of bribery, he had a law passed that made bribery a lesser offense. He was finally voted out in 2006 after five years. But the center-left that came in, the reformist left, they didn't do enough about corruption and about what you're talking about, safeguards against ruining democracy and creating accountability.

People got very angry and this was the birth of right-wing populism in Italy. He was voted back in, in 2008, and then he was worse than ever. So the lesson is, if we can get rid of Trump and we don't use this window that opens up with the Biden administration to be very vehement in our pushback and have much more rigorous vetting of candidates and address all the things Trump has exposed, we're doing ourselves a huge disservice.

When you mentioned corruption with other leaders, were their children corrupt as well? Because we've seen Ivanka Trump, who literally got trademarks registered on the very day her dad was meeting with the leader of China. She got countless trademarks from China, and even in Japan when Mike Pence was over there. The list goes on. I can't speak to Donald Trump Jr., he's not in the administration, so that's a little different. But is that a typical sign of these authoritarian leaders?

Yeah. One of the reasons they are the last to know that they should be leaving, is that they make these — I call them cocoons, their inner sanctums. They have flatterers and family around them, and this is also because family can be trusted to be part of the corruption. And usually, it's a family game. The same was true with Pinochet and so many rulers. I have a paragraph in the book on the special role of sons-in-law, from Mussolini's son-in-law, who he made foreign minister — and then later had executed — up to Orbán and Putin's sons-in-law. Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary was in business with Putin's son-in-law. And up to our own Jared Kushner. So what we're living through, what we've been living through for four years, almost everything is part of a historical pattern.

How does Trump stack up in terms of the other strongmen? I don't mean in terms of the atrocities that they committed, because it's a different time. So not in terms of actual outright violence, but just how they acted and their signature moves, where does Trump fit in?

Unfortunately for us, his personality, the impulsiveness, the need to humiliate others, even those who work for him, his grandiosity, his anxieties, his fears of his insecurities, all of it matches up 100 percent to all the other rulers. The outcomes are different, as you say. We're not in a one-party state fascist era. He didn't come to power through a military coup, but the personality type, which leads to these dynamics of government from the inner sanctums to not wanting to leave to humiliating others, is the same.

In 1931, Mussolini's head of the fascist party learned he was fired by reading it in the newspaper. And Mobutu in the Congo used to have, I call them "sadistic dictator games." He used to have rallies and everybody had to be assembled, with his officials in the first row. Then he would announce, live on television, which ones were fired. Rex Tillerson in 2018 was scrolling through Twitter while on the toilet and that's how he found out he was fired. So again, the dynamics are the same, even if the outcome — like what happens to the people who get fired — changes.

We have less than two months until Jan. 20. is there anything in history that we should be on the watch for, even more than we are? Anything we can do to make sure we end this authoritarian regime?

It's a time right now to be very watchful, to conserve your energies. Of course we have a pandemic and we're all extra tired, people have children at home, schools were just closed again in some places. So this is very difficult. But there may be a moment when mass nonviolent protest needs to be activated. That has been extremely effective at pushing back, because it not only tells the leader of the depth of hostility — and we did this in the summer with the Black Lives Matter protests — it also does so to his enablers. Now, whether that's going to move the needle with the GOP, I don't know. We'll have to see what happens. It's a very unpredictable time, which is the nature of these states of exception.

Ex-White House communications director is on a mission to stop Trump: 'Something's wrong with him mentally'

"I'm out there trying to educate as many people as possible at the systemic danger that Mr. Trump represents to our democracy." Those were part of the opening words of my conversation earlier this week with former Trump White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on "Salon Talks." And it went downhill from there for Trump.

I can't recall another presidential election where as many former officials from a White House administration and members of the president's own political party came out so vocally to defeat that very president. But then again, nothing has been normal in the time of Trump.

In our conversation, Scaramucci, a successful Wall Street investor, shared why he turned on Trump, citing events such as Trump's family separation policy and, finally, when Trump led the "Send her back" bigoted smear of the four Democratic female members of Congress known as "The Squad," saying they should go back to their own countries. As Scaramucci noted, this vile line of attack by Trump was personal for him; his own Italian grandparents heard the same hateful nativist comments when they first came to America.

The son of blue-collar parents who made it to Harvard Law School and onto the White House staff admitted he had been intoxicated in 2016 by Trump's celebrity status. Now Scaramucci wants to make amends for those past sins by leading the charge, along with other Republicans, to defeat Trump.

Some may never forgive Scaramucci and other Trump voters who helped elect him in the first place, but experts on authoritarianism will tell you that the key to saving a democracy is not just having an opposition party, but members of the wannabe fascist's own party standing up to him. Watch my conversation with Scaramucci or read a transcript of our chat below to hear more about his regrets around working for Trump, his continued relationships with General Kelly and Michael Cohen and why he's supporting Joe Biden.

Many know you as a successful Wall Street executive, entrepreneur, lawyer, author, founder of SkyBridge, and of course, for serving 11 days as Donald Trump's communications director in the White House in 2017.

That 11 days feels like it was like 500 years ago, Dean. Thank you for inviting me on.

In 2019, you made a famous break from Trump. You wrote an op-ed in of August 2019 for the Washington Post in which you wrote, "While it's difficult and embarrassing to admit my errors in judgment, I believe I still have the ability to make amends." You're talking there about breaking ranks from Donald Trump. Remind people if you could please, why, and how you got to that point?

Well, I don't want to make this story too long, but here's what I would say. I was a lifelong Republican, but a moderate Republican. I was in the Jeb Bush, Nelson Rockefeller quadrant of the Republican party, sort of agnostic on issues like gay marriage and women's right to choose. Certainly think that they should be able to live their lives the way they see fit, but was more free-market based, but recognize that you need an energetic government. I'm not a hardcore conservative, but I was more center-right, if you will. Mr. Trump slayed all of those people.

I was with Jeb Bush [then Trump] recruited me into the campaign, and this is a shortcoming of mine which I'm open to admit: I got intoxicated by the idea of working on a winning campaign. Mr. Trump was a celebrity. I started normalizing him like many people did and said, "OK, well, he can't be that abnormal. He's running for president. He's going to sit in Abraham Lincoln's seat, he's the successor of Dwight Eisenhower." You start to normalize somebody that is actually very abnormal, and that is a mistake I made, but I did make it alongside of 63 million other people. And then what happens is he wins, which I didn't think was going to happen. And we should talk about that because the election's coming up in a few weeks. But he wins, and then he asked me to go work for him. And then I make the fatal mistake there. And that's due to the intoxication related to working in the office of the presidency and the notion I'd be working in the White House.

I grew up in this blue-collar family and I've lived a pretty good element of the American dream. And so I started this narrative in my head, and I think I've said this to you, that is very ego-based. You got to be very careful when you're making egocentric decisions based on your ego and pride. Your emotions go up and your intelligence goes down, and you got to be very, very careful. And my wife, who probably hates Trump almost as much as Melania hates him, was dead set against it. We started fighting, almost got ourselves divorced. It was a really rough period of time. But I went to go work for him. Then when I got fired abruptly, I always tell people that was my fault. I said something to a reporter I shouldn't have said that caused me to get fired.

Now I'm outside of the White House, lifelong Republican, let me do my best to try to be supportive of the President and his agenda. And then it just became impossible, so I had to separate myself related to the child separation issue. I had to break from him on denigrating our intelligence agencies, and he's praising Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. He's then saying that the press is the enemy to people. I wrote an op-ed saying that it wasn't. That's actually the last time I talked to Mr. Trump — that was Easter Sunday, April 2019, he called to yell at me and tell me I didn't know what I was talking about and that the press is the enemy of the people, sort of demagogic nonsense.

But then by July, he wants to throw the Congresswomen [four members of Congress known as The Squad], he says he wants them to go back to the countries that they originally came from. And so that is a racist nativist trope. They said it to my Italian-American grandparents. I said, "I am done. There's no way I can support this guy." I disavowed my support, I wrote that article. I wrote many articles subsequent to that. And I'm out there trying to educate as many people as possible at the systemic danger that Mr. Trump represents to our democracy.

So it's a sad thing for me. It's not like I'm all happy about it. I mean, it's sad to listen to the President of the United States ask for the Governor of Michigan, who 10 days ago her life was threatened, they were trying to kidnap her, a white militia group, and possibly execute her. They had to have that broken up by the FBI. And then 10 short days later, the leader of the free world is in her state saying "lock her up." I mean, it's sort of bizarre.

And then, Anthony Fauci, who's been in the American government for 36 years, has dedicated his life to science and healing, he has to now go on his power walks at age 79 with armed federal agents because of death threats related to him because he's just really just trying to tell people the facts about the pandemic and his observation of 6,000 years of scientific discovery on Planet Earth, and what we need to do to protect ourselves. But now he's being threatened as well.

And so there's an evil in our world, you and I both know that. It's important for good men and women to reject evil. We know from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that evil people can get ahead mostly based on the silence of good people and the inaction of good people. I feel compelled to speak out about it and I'm going to continue to do that. And by the way, if Mr. Trump is defeated, which I predict he will be in two weeks, you still have a problem in the country because there is a systemic issue related to a very large group of people that are angry and they feel left out of the system. Mr. Trump has preyed on their anger, trying to divide the country. We have to work with those people to see if we can calm things down and bring them back. So it's a sad situation, Dean.

You're still friends with John Kelly, who was chief of staff for President Trump and is a retired U.S. Marine Corps general. CNN reported last week that Kelly told his close friends the following about Trump."The depths of his dishonesty is just astounding to me. The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it's more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life." You're friends with John Kelly, can you share anything more about this comment?

I think he's made a decision — alongside of HR McMaster, who I interviewed on Friday for SALT Talks, and for General Mattis — I think they've all made the decision that they are going to stay consistent with what George Washington wanted for the military, and Eisenhower, and Marshall, was the separation of military men from the political system because they want to adhere to the civilian nature of the democracy. And they don't want to use their uniforms and their brass, if you will, to make any undue influence.

Having said that, they've all spoken out. They've all said that the President is unfit to serve. They've disagreed with the President's use of force in Lafayette Square. They have said that the President is a threat to the constitution. They have said that he is trying to divide the nation, he's not trying to unite the nation. Because of their roles in the military, as former military general officers, they don't feel that they should be out on a platform or a podium. But having said that, I'm friends with all three of them, including Admiral [William H.] McRaven who has spoken out a little bit more voraciously than them. They've all said to me, "Hey, this is your civilian duty to get out there and speak truth to power related to this." So Olivia Troy, Miles Taylor, myself. I guess what should upset the American people is that there's a very large group of people inside the administration that know how dangerous President Trump is. There's also senators that know how dangerous he is. John Cornyn is now saying, "Well, I broke from him privately." So what's going to happen is this ship is sinking, all the rats are going to climb over to one side and say, well, yeah, we didn't really like him that much.

It speaks to the cowardice and the political expediency and the selfishness of people, because when Mr. Trump was flying high they wanted to be around him. And it was speaking to their power of personal preservation and so forth. I broke from President Trump, it turned out, at the height of his poll numbers. If you look back July of 2019 into August of 2019, he was at the height of his poll numbers, he was at the height of his popularity and approval rating. And many people said to me, "Well, that's a kamikaze mission, and you're going to be rejected soundly by your fellow Republicans." But it's not a kamikaze mission today. It's a mission loaded with aircraft carriers and squadrons.

General Kelly knows this man is unfit. He knows this man is dishonest. General Kelly knows that he called his son who died for our country a sucker and a loser. General Kelly would tell you if he would come on your show that that's the tip of the iceberg of the way Mr. Trump talks about our servicemen and women. He's just, unfortunately, an unfit guy. He's an unwell guy. Something's wrong with him mentally. You don't have to be a psychiatrist to see that there's something wrong with him. The guy is very sick. He's an unwell person.

I'm going to work over the next 16 days to get rid of him. But then over the next several years, we have another project, we have to heal the country. We have to figure out why the country got to where it is right now. And God forbid, look, there's a chance he could win. If he wins, we're going to be heading into an American winter, Dean. And it's going to be a sad four years for America. This guy's going to try to really disrupt and destroy the institutions of our democracy.

Healing is so appealing to me down the road, but winning right now is everything because it has to be. Right now we've got 11 million Americans who have still lost their jobs. You're a finance guy. Last week, we get our weekly unemployment claims. We had almost 900,000, the highest since mid-August. We're going the wrong way on unemployment claims. Trump is not talking about any job creation program whatsoever. From your point of view, forget politics for a second. You look at our economy right now, is it getting sicker, and do we need some federal leadership to make things better for people?

We need two things, actually. We need a coordinated public health and safety policy where the federal government in coordination with the 50 states really follows a process. If you look at what's going on in China right now, they were successful in doing that. Their economy is growing and there are people sitting in Wuhan where the virus originated from without masks on, they're in restaurants. The virus has almost been completely eradicated from the area that it originated from. The virus can be contained, the virus can ultimately be destroyed, and we can move on from the pandemic like we did the Spanish flu and other pandemics throughout history.

You're not going to contain it by lying about the science. You have a science denier in the White House that's saying, "Don't vote for Joe Biden. He may listen to the scientists." Now, what the president is trying to say to his supporters is, "Well, if he listens to his scientists, he's going to shut down the economy and we're going to tip further into a recession." I don't believe that's the case. I think we can explain to people what they need to do to protect themselves. We can get the economy moving. We can offer up, hopefully, more stimulus. We certainly need it.

If you go back to my writings in early March, I was saying we have to go very, very big on this stimulus. We are at war and you have to look at it that way. And so therefore deficit spending needs to increase when you're at war. We can afford it. We have some flexibility in the economy. We're about to enter an amazing growth phase, technologically, for America and the rest of the world. This will unleash another great wave of prosperity.

Now, we have to figure out a way to even it out. That's been one of the dilemmas. We have too big of a wealth divide now. So you need public policy people that are less focused on left and right issues and more focused on what's right and wrong for America. And if we do that, we're going to enter into a golden age for America. Having said that, we got to get the virus behind us. You can't have somebody like Mr. Trump telling you, "Let's just let herd immunity go." We'll have four and a half, 5 million people dead. Why would we do that as a society? What is the case for "economic growth"? You won't have it, by the way, because what will happen is you will scare the living daylights out of every person in the country.

If you offered a coordinated, responsible plan that was national, you could fix this thing. And so, yeah, I'm worried about the economy, but I'm not overly worried about it. I think we've got tremendous resources in the country. We were at peak economic performance in the fourth quarter of 2019. We can get back there. It's not the end of the world. We have to rebuild these cities. All of these things are possible, but they're not going to be possible under a President Trump, they're not. And I'm not saying that Joe Biden is the panacea for our civilization, but at least he's a step towards re-fortifying the institutions of our democracy and the semblance of our government that has made all of us have this great peace and prosperity and this great opportunity in this country.

Over the weekend, Donald Trump said that if he loses he might leave the country. When you hear him say, "Maybe I'll have to leave the country," what does that indicate to you about Trump's thought process now?

Well, he said, "You may never hear from me again if I lose, and maybe I have to leave the country." I think those are both statements by him that should not be taken lightly. I mean, he's got serious problems. His business is under threat, he's got tremendous amounts of debt. There are people that think, though, that he's been paid by some foreign leaders and autocrats to move our foreign policy around, and that that stuff is hidden which will offer him some financial protection. I don't know if that's true or not any more than I... I shouldn't even be saying that because who the hell knows what's going on.

But I will say this. He is a guy that is unstable, and he's a guy that is unfit for the presidency of the United States. To just imagine that he's saying to people, "Well, I may not accept a peaceful transfer of power." After 244 years of the American experiment. And then he's saying he may have to leave the country. And it's never a joke with him. Michael Cohen has said that; I have said that. People that know him know he doesn't know how to joke. He doesn't laugh. He has almost like an Asperger's way about him where he can't pick up the emotional cues and know when to laugh and when not to laugh. He's very rarely joking, if ever.

Your friend Michael Cohen was on MSNBC recently talking about this whole idea of Hunter Biden and the laptop that Rudy has and Cohen said that Rudy is "drunk all the time," making him more easily swayed by Russian disinformation. Is Rudy being used by Russian disinformation forces?

Obviously, you may have read the New York Times article about the New York Post article about Hunter Biden, how the journalists didn't even want to be involved with it because they didn't have enough evidence and they felt the stuff was specious and illusory. Additionally, I choose to think about the mayor the way he was at 9/11 and the way he was from 1993 to 2001. The mayor today is not frankly the same guy that I recognize from 30 years ago and it breaks my heart. It also obviously has an impact on his children. And if you think about what his daughter is saying, "We've got to get rid of Mr. Trump." I mean, it's scary. What Michael is saying about Rudy is true, unfortunately.

At a recent rally, Donald Trump had the crowd cheering, "Lock him up" about Joe Biden. Crowds also cheered "Lock her up" about Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan. He's gone back to [talking about] imprisoning his political opponents. Not just defeating them, but actually putting them in jail. In this case, there's not even evidence Joe Biden's done any wrongdoing whatsoever. How alarming is that to you? Is that just Trump being desperate?

There's a great book out, the title is "Active Measures" [by Thomas Rid] about what the Russians do in terms of disinformation. One of the things is lock up your political opponents. That's a clear message from them. Now, another one is this disinformation, and then it's always pedophilia, by the way. You always want to go with pedophilia. You're going to go with pedophilia because pedophilia is by and large repulsive to 99.5 percent of the population, or hopefully more than that. And so if you accuse somebody of pedophilia and you get people to believe that, it'll engender a lot of hate and create some negative activism. And so they've even tried that now.

I think the good news is that both Facebook and Twitter, which were easily manipulated by Russian intelligence, the GRU, and these troll farms last time, a lot of that stuff has been contained. But I just want you to imagine that the American president, instead of denouncing this sort of activity and denouncing foreign interference, is welcoming the foreign interference. And my liberal friends have a point when they say to me, "Well, you supported that last time." And I have to own that, unfortunately, because I did support it last time, unfortunately. I have to own that.

I admire your honestly there. The stakes are too high. When this is over, if Trump is defeated, do you think that you, Rick Wilson and other Republicans like yourselves might return to the Republican Party and try to reshape it? Or has the party become that of QAnon and Trumpism and wild conspiracy theories and white supremacy?

Yes, I think it'll cause the end of the Republican Party as we know it. And the party already is this aging white demographic. It's going to be a party that buys catheters and CPAP machines and MyPillows in between a Fox News commercial. I mean, it is a weird thing going on right now and the party needs a reset and the party needs a tent expansion and it needs to look like the wonderful, colorful mosaic of America. And it's not going to look like that in its current configuration. Could he pull it off again? Could he have this one last gasp of win, of an aging white America that wants this aging white demagogue to run America? That's possible.

I hope that's not the case, but all I can do right now is fight against it. I can get out there and speak about it. I can offer my opinions on social media. On Friday, I was 10 hours on the radio. I did radio in Michigan, Florida. I did radio in Pennsylvania, radio in Wisconsin. And some of it was tough on me. It was talk radio, conservative talk radio, where these guys have got their callers coming in and lighting me up, and I'm a traitor and I'm a two-faced guy and can't be trusted. I said, "No. I'm not a traitor. I'm just abiding and I'm loyal to the country and I'm loyal to democracy and loyal to the constitution. I'm not loyal to a person."

I would also caution people. You have to have symmetry in loyalty. I tell that to my children. You don't have unconditional asymmetrical loyalty. That's what got Michael Cohen in trouble. Once Trump realized that Mr. Cohen was out to please him any way, anyhow, he kept moving the goalposts on Michael. And so Michael said, "Okay, well, I'm not loyal if I don't pay this porn star. Or I'm not loyal if I don't pay this Playboy model. I'm not loyal if I don't do this. I'm not loyal if I don't do that." Which is why I think Michael named his book "Disloyal" because he's trying to point out that the person that's actually the most disloyal is Mr. Trump. He doesn't care about anybody but himself.

I agree.

When he's doing a news search, Dean, he's not searching USA. And he's definitely not searching you. He could care less about you. But he's searching Trump, that's it. And so hopefully we can defeat him. And by the way, I will point out when I'm on conservative radio, they want me off in a hurry. I did Steve Hilton's show last time I was on Fox News, Trump was going crazy lighting me up on Twitter because he doesn't want people like me breaking through the vessel of his reality distortion. So what are they going to say to me? How are they going to argue? "Oh, no, Trump is a conservative." "No, he's not. You got a $3 trillion deficit." "Oh, Trump is patriotic." "Tell me how so? He's destroyed the country. He's pitting the country against each other. The first name of the country is United. He's trying to dis-unify the country. So tell me what he's doing that is so patriotic?" By the way, when is bullying been a pro-American value? When has that been a pro-American value?

Let's assume for a second that Trump loses. Michael Cohen testified that he feared if Trump loses in 2020 "there will never be a peaceful transition of power." We don't have to speculate because Trump said maybe there won't be. You know the guy, you know what he's about. He loses, he loses soundly. Do you think he resigns? Do you think he leaves quietly, he does the right thing and shakes Joe Biden's hand on January 20th and escorts him out like Obama did and transfers power? How do you think it truly ends, knowing Trump?

I'm a little bit of a contrarian on this. It has to be a big enough margin. I think if it's a tight margin, I think Michael's going to be right, we're going to be in for a fight. But if it's a big enough margin, if it looks consistent to what the polls look like and what Nate Silver is suggesting, I'm a contrarian because I think Trump is a baby. I think he's a keyboard warrior coward. He's not a confrontational guy. He couldn't handle a confrontation if his life depended on it.

Anderson Cooper said to me, "Wow, you guys are like in a bar fight" last August. I'm like, "We're not at a bar fight." I mean, first of all, this guy's never been in a bar fight. And by the way, with somebody like Trump, I would have dragged him into the street. I would have never left him in the bar. I mean, in the bar, you got the risk of a bouncer intervening in what you need to do to the guy. So no, this guy has never been able to handle conflict like that. He's an over blustering, overcompensating, arguably one of the most insecure people I've ever met in my life. I think the humiliation will cause him to retreat. And I think he'll slink away. And I think he'll want to surprise people by offering some level of conciliation end of power.

Now, if I'm him, I'm trying to negotiate with Biden right now my pardon. I'm trying to figure out a way: "Hey, you're going to be the president. I need a pardon and it'll be better for the American people if I'm pardoned. And I need you to pardon my family as well." And I know people will hate me for saying this, but if you really study political history, you don't want that yoke on the American people. I just want to make this point. Edward Kennedy, he wrote it in his book in 2009, before he passed. He said that he was very upset with Gerry Ford when he pardoned Nixon. And then he reflected upon it. He was pardoned in September 1974. He was writing the book 35 years later. And he said that ultimately Gerry Ford was right. That it actually helped heal the country and allowed the country to move forward and it was a statesman's thing to do and he regrets his criticism of Gerry Ford. And so, I'm just telling my liberal friends to have that historical perspective, let's move on from Mr. Trump and move on from his criminality. We're bigger than him as a country and we need to figure out a way to unify now.

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