When Did We Become So Polarized? A History of the United States Since 1974

When Did We Become So Polarized? A History of the United States Since 1974


– Good evening. Welcome to this Brennan
Center for Justice event at New York University Law School. We’re so glad to have all of you here. I’m Lisa Benenson, vice
president for communications at the Brennan Center for Justice. As many of you know,
we’re a non-partisan law and policy institute that works to reform, revitalize, and defend systems of justice. Our organization has been deeply involved in addressing what we
see as a new and alarming assault on the norms of
constitutional democracy. You can keep up with our work online at brennancenter.org, you
can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram,
you can watch our videos on YouTube, and you can
listen to our podcast, “Brennan Center Live,” on iTunes. American society is
fractured along economic, racial, and partisan lines. Today, we don’t even
believe the same facts. But this didn’t start in 2016. In their new book, “Fault Lines: A History “of the United States Since 1974,” Princeton historians Kevin
Kruse and Julian Zelizer trace nearly five decades of division. They start the story
in 1974 when Watergate, the defeat in Vietnam, racial conflict and economic convulsions, began an unsettling new political era. How did this cascade of traumatic events forge a path for the divisions that today threaten to tear us apart? To dig deep into this recent history, I am thrilled that here
to host this discussion is Soledad O’Brien, CEO
of Starfish Media Group and the public affairs news magazine, “Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien.” Please welcome Kevin, Julian, and Soledad to the Brennan Center for Justice. (applauding) – Good evening, everybody, welcome. So what I thought we would
do is have a conversation for about 40, 45 minutes,
that’s moderated, and then we’ll open it up to questions. And just a reminder, as we get into our question portion, we want
to hear from as many people as possible, so I’ll ask you
to keep it a little bit tight and there should be a
question in your question. Or I’ll stop you. And we’ll pick another question. So let’s begin with 1974. Why that specific year? – Well, ’74 is, we’re
political historians, so the natural answer is Watergate. We’ve got the president
of the United States, who’s reelected by a landslide in 1972 who’s thrown out of office
less than two years later. But that’s just one shock of
many that happens at that time. If you look across the board,
in terms of the economy in 1973 is when the
OPEC oil embargo happens and really shakes the country’s foundation in terms of its economic strength. The war in Vietnam comes
to a frustrating end for Americans in 1975. You’ve got Roe V Wade in
1973, the busing riots in ’75, so there’s a lot of kind of shaking up of the old order around
1974, that seemed like a good starting point for us. – And when you look, when you were starting work on this book, when I opened it, I assumed
that this was something you’ve been working on as
soon as President Trump was elected, many people
were trying to figure out how do we have all the
divisions that we have today? Can we trace them back to 1974, and I was surprised to see that, in fact, you’ve been working on this book before the president took office. – Yeah, we did it without
imagining that Donald Trump would be President Trump,
that was not in our vision. And it started as a course–
– And so many others. – It started as a course at Princeton, where we really were trying to
cover the contemporary period and a lot of it really became about the conservative movement, about changes in the media,
about political polarization, and we finished the first draft before the Republican primaries. And then we would add a
chapter and add an epilogue once he was elected and
everything that followed. But in some ways, that
is the frame of the book. It’s a foundation of what’s
happened in the last few years rather than simply here’s the president and we’re going to
explain the year of Trump. We’re really explaining a bigger period that explains how we
got to this presidency. – So when people think that this fracture, this unhappiness, this division, all sort of started in
the last four to 10 years, they’re completely wrong. – Completely wrong. Again, we’ve always had fault
lines in American society. What we trace here are a
particular set that really come into focus after the ’70s. And have gotten incredibly
worse, as time has gone on. And what’s different about this period than the earlier period
is in the postwar period we had forces that pushed back against the divisions in American society. So you had political institutions. The parties were much more
ideologically diverse, there was a strong faith
in the federal government, people thought it was working, the economy was working for people, the union movement was lifting people up and papered over some of
these lines of division. The mainstream media really was a thing. You had the big three networks, you had a couple of major
newspapers that really started everyone out on
the same set of facts to begin with, and those
forces were kind of centripetal forces that pushed back against these lines of division. – And is that true across all races? Like, sometimes I think
when people harken back to the comfort, you’re describing, really, a comfort with institutions, you know, you sort of say, yeah, how about the black people, or
how about the Latino people, often that comfort is really describing sort of white Americans. – No, you’re absolutely right. But it’s real to the union movement. The union movement,
something like the UAW, the United Automobile
Workers, really was a union that was committed to civil rights, that really did a lot to
paper over racial divisions in places like Detroit and throughout Ohio and really help lift a
lot of African Americans and Latinos into the middle class. As that goes away, you find it’s more of an every worker for themselves philosophy that really pits these
races against one another. – We don’t start with a nostalgic
look at the period before. I think some people assume that because we’re writing
about divisions since 1974, but you know, we have
both written a lot about racial conflict, about Vietnam, and so we’re really just
trying to understand how we get out of the turmoil of the ’60s, end up, in some ways, tearing
apart some of the institutions that worked against that, to some degree, and then create new ones,
that actually push us further and further, creating incentives for more polarization and division. And it’s really just the
story of how that happened. But we don’t start from
a period of euphoria. Well, we had “Leave it
to Beaver” and everything went all the way down to Donald Trump. – How did we get here?
– How did we get here? So yeah.
– So, this, as you mentioned, was a book that was gonna
be a textbook for a course, and the course that you originally taught was from the 1920s and
you decided to sort of chop that up more. When you were teaching your
students about this era, did they understand, you’re
laughing at my question before I even say it, so maybe no, they don’t understand, what
did you think the students, and what do you think the
students need to know about their history that they just don’t know? – Well, they need to know that
it wasn’t always this way. That may seem like an obvious
thing for a historian to say, but they really do come of
an age in which they assume the political parties were
always arrayed this way. They assume, or they
take things for granted. Like, they were born, we’ve
been at war in Afghanistan their entire lives, right? They were born into the
age of the Internet. They take this stuff for granted. They don’t quite understand
how we got to this point. So that’s some of the
tasks we had in that course was to try to help them
understand their world. – And it’s also, you know, it’s funny, for us, we lived through this period, we’re both born right before it started, he’s a little younger than me, but this was our own history. So part of the challenge
for us is the same as for the readers. For us, it’s more about
trying to remember events and issues and moments we lived through, but as historians, trying
to make sense of them. Trying to see things that at
the time were not remarkable, but now, in retrospect,
were real turning points or important causal
moments in our history. For students, you have to remember, when we taught our course,
when we would do our lectures, we would have to just
remind them the context, the feeling of moments
we are all familiar with. I started my lecture on 9/11 by showing, I still do this, by showing,
they come into the room, and there’s a video
playing of the morning news starting with the weather, right through the tower collapsing. And for them, it’s very dramatic. Because most of them were
born right when that happened, but they don’t know what it felt like. And I think part of the
book and part of the course was an effort to really give
them that feel of history for a generation that doesn’t, this is really old history for them. – Whenever I talk to college students, I tell them that it was illegal for my parents to get married. And that, in fact, that
their marriage wasn’t legal until my little brother,
who was their sixth child, after his birth, you
know, and I think it just kind of bringing to life
those stories around historical timeline
kind of freaks them out. Because I think they
think of all those things as very, very, very, very long
ago and sort of irrelevant to the lives that they’re leading. – And even issues like, sorry to jump, just dealing today with
race and criminal justice, you know, this is an
issue, the Kerner reports talking about this in the ’70s, we write about this already
being one of the fronts for the civil rights movement, in turning of these questions
of institutional racism, and for students and readers, it’s important to understand just how long these battles have been going on. And we’ve been going
around these issues over, and these are deeply rooted problems, and we’re trying to capture that. – You mentioned Watergate
as sort of a pivotal moment in 1974, I remember as
a kid when Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. I can’t even remember the details. I just remember what a big thing that was. What was the impact of that
moment upon sort of the culture? – It was a huge impact. Ford comes in and people, at
first, regard him as a healer. He promises our long
national nightmare is over. His polls numbers are
what, you’ll know this, in the ’70s, right, people
see him as he’s really kind of restored dignity to the office, and it was a tough thing for him to do, because remember, he hadn’t
been elected vice president. He was a congressman, he’d been in from Grand Rapids, Michigan, he gets thrown into the vice presidency when Spiro Agnew was forced out. So Agnew was resigned in disgrace in ’73, Ford comes in, Nixon
resigned in August of 1974, and suddenly this guy
who no one nationally had voted for is the president. And so he has to really
rely on their goodwill, and at first it seems he’s gotten it. And then just a month later, almost exactly a month
after Nixon’s resignation, he announces that he’s going
to pardon the president. He says to spare the nation
the trauma of a trial. We have to put the wounds
of Watergate behind us and look forward to healing. Well, the nation erupts
because they didn’t want this. I think Ford legitimately believed, I think we both do, that
Ford legitimately believed that this was in the
nation’s best interests. People see this as a corrupt bargain. That he was only appointed vice president on the promise that he would
then spare and pardon Nixon when the time came. And we’ve got examples
in the book of, you know, the outrage about this. People are protesting
outside the White House. You know, somebody burst into
a White House press conference to scream, “Jail Ford, jail Ford.” So they’re furious about it. His poll numbers tank. And it just becomes yet another sign of the distrust of government. You can’t trust Ford, either. – Well, that’s the start
of the chipping away at these institutions that people felt at least would deal fairly. When the movie “Network” come out? – 1976. – And was that a direct
or indirect correlation to all of this happening? – Absolutely. It captures, certainly, the
level of anger that exists. The movie is about anger and outrage. And those are words that perfectly capture the feeling of 1970s America. Not only about government,
but also another story about the economy, where
the manufacturing sector that had been so central
to the growing economy of post World War Two is
starting to fall apart and not being replaced yet by
something that was comparable. And the movie “Network,”
with Howard Beale yelling and screaming, you can
see it on Broadway now– – [Soledad] And on cable. When it’s a Friday. – That’s also great on the media. I mean, this is a key moment in the media. This is when the news is
in a period of transition and the familiar story is
investigative journalism has really made its mark with Watergate and a lot of young
students want to replicate Woodward and Bernstein,
but the movie also captures another big change that’s gonna happen with both television news,
the commercialization of news, and in general, not just
television, everywhere, this new spectacle that emerges. So the movie was a great way to talk about some of those changes, in
addition to being relevant at the time. – Talk to me about when
resentment and anger starts to breed around a
sense of economic inequality and how women and women
going to work in the 1970s kind of fit into that picture. – That’s a great question. It starts right away in this period. And I think one of the things
that we push back against in the book, and that part of it is, the common misconception
a lot of people have that feminism meant women
suddenly decided to go to work. And it’s the other way around. It’s women finding themselves
forced to go to work by the economic crisis of the time. In 1976, only about 40% of jobs in America pay enough to support a
family of four on them. You have to have both parents work. And so women find themselves
going into the workplace. And as a result of that,
whether they were a feminist before or not, they confront
gender discrimination, they confront unequal pay,
all the things on the job, sexual harassment, of course. And so then that mobilizes
them to speak up. From those outside of that perspective, they see this just as
women are looking for a job just because they want to
for fun, they don’t need to, and they resent them. They see that this is taking
a job away from a man. There’s a whole set of,
and it applies in race, it applies in politics,
it applies in economics, there’s a zero-sum
mentality that really sweeps across the country in this period. You can see it in a variety of spots. And certainly this place,
and women in the workplace, is one where it really comes to the fore. – And there’s a great story, this is not so much about
gender, but about, in general, the falling apart of the economy. There was an article in 1977, and I’m forgetting, it’s in our book, if it was Fortune or
Forbes, which is about Youngstown and how there are areas where the jobs are totally depleted by 1977. There’s these images, one
picture is a guy at a bar who’s lost his job and has nothing and the photographer captures
perfectly the desperation, but the whole article is about
issues we read about today. So you can see how long this
gutting of what’s called the Rust Belt is happening. – And I was gonna ask you. Are the conversations,
I mean, obviously during the 2016 election, there
was a lot of conversations about economic insecurity, right, and sometimes I read that really to mean just out and out racism at times, and it was used sometimes interchangeably, are those economically
insecure conversations from the 1970s different than the ones that we’re hearing today, or
is it part of that same line? – I think it’s part of that same line. It’s become much more pronounced. And so one of the fault
lines we track in the economy is that growing economic
inequality, right? It starts in 1980, but it
continues apace in the ’90s, which we remember as this boom period, but really the inequality
gap continued to grow. And it continued to grow into
the 2000s and on to today. What changes, though, is the way in which the rage is funneled. In the early ’70s, there’s
still, you have a strong, not a strong, you still have
a viable union movement. And they’re pointing
the fingers in, I think, the right direction, they’re
pointing it at corporations, they’re pointing it at politicians
who are cutting corners. As the time goes on, though,
increasingly they start pointing the fingers at each other. And so, as the union movement breaks down, again, as it papered over
those old social divisions, you start to find more whites and blacks at each other’s throats. – And is that intentional? I mean, often, as we
know, those conversations sort of shift, where
people attack each other when somebody else comes in
to kind of maneuver that. – Well, this was intentional. I mean, this was the
so-called Philadelphia Plan that the Nixon administration embraced. And they take what had
been an affirmative action pilot program launched by
the Johnson administration in 1967, but they embrace
it because they see, bless you, they see that if we do this, oh, hey, we’re gonna have
the NAACP on one side, and the labor unions on the other side, and they’re gonna be at
each other’s throats. So these two component parts
of the Democratic coalition will start fighting, that’s good for us. They’re very explicit about this. – So, when you read these
stories from the 1970s and economic insecurity, even back then, and even
through then to now, there was a sense of American optimism. I know from 30 years
of reporting about it. There was always this undergirding, even in disasters, right,
there was a sense of, well, we’ll rebuild because
this is what Americans do. It seems in the last few
years that that optimism is collapsing a bit and it’s correlated to people understanding that their
children won’t necessarily do better than they will. – Yeah, I mean, part of
it is the ’70s and ’80s are still not removed
very much from that post World War Two period,
which goes into the ’60s, where there was a strong
assumption about your children. There was a logical
and rational assumption that you, if you had
some kind of education and training, you would
have access to a secure middle class job, a factory job, that would give you access
to healthcare, pensions, and longterm stability,
so if you’re in the ’70s and ’80s, even the early
’80s, you’ve just been through stagflation in the
’70s, the energy crisis, that was still very fresh and real. And that’s the famous Reagan ad in 1984 is the morning America ad where he plays exactly on what you’re talking about and many of you remember
the ad where you see families coming out onto their lawns, white suburban families,
who are very happy that everything’s fixed
after a long decade. It wasn’t. The trends are not over. The instability of the middle class and the widening economic
divisions, that trend line is still continuing, but
that optimism was there. And I think there’s an
argument to be made, certainly in recent
years, that’s gone away, at least from the political rhetoric. I don’t know, national polls. I’m sure it’s diminished.
– We have a great poll that you reference in
your book where Al Gore had pledged that he would raise
taxes on the top one percent and the poll that you
referenced determined later that 19% of Americans
felt like, well that, they were either in the top one percent, or they were about to be
in the top one percent. – No, it’s even better. It’s 19% think they’re in it, 20% think they will be in five years. – In five years, I mean, so
the optimism of, you know, like, hey, that might be a
problem for the really, really rich because I’m gonna be one of them soon really speaks to an optimism that has disappeared, I think, today. – Yeah, I think that’s true. And I think, I guess
what we’re saying, also, is certainly with President Trump, and I don’t want to turn right to him, because he will kind of take
the oxygen out of the room, but you do see a political
strategy which is an interesting contrast with Reagan, where there’s no real
effort to rekindle that. Instead, it’s like partisan division. Right now we have a president
who fully embraces that. And plays to it. Whereas back in the ’80s,
even in the political class, you could see there were still efforts to not just speak to that element of society. – And does that happen on the
left and the right equally or is that one party has
decided that they’re gonna leverage that and it’s not
happening on the other side? – We really do push
back against the kind of both sides frame that you often hear. – Thank you, Jesus. Appreciate that. – But I mean, I’ll thank Jesus, too, but that’s really our job has historians is not to simply say, yes,
this side was to blame, this side has an equal share of blame, but rather to really sort out who were the driving forces in this? Who were the real engines of change? This is a period in which
for most of the time we’re talking about,
conservatism really does set the agenda, for better or worse, and it does so to a lot of ways and it really does push things and it’s much more pronounced, both in terms of politics,
in terms of the move to the far right, and the
willingness to override institutions that have
been there for a while, but also in terms of the media, the move to the far
right, really is set by people like, we talk about
Rush Limbaugh, or Fox News, the Drudge Report,
Breitbart, they really are the ones that are kind
of pushing the envelope. There are efforts on the
left to catch up with them, they’re not as, I think, far to the left as they go far to the right,
and they’re not as successful in changing the tone. – The both sides-ism, you
get the sense that people sort of embrace that because
they almost feel like they don’t want to contribute
to division, right? That they want to be like, both sides, because it makes it nice and easy. Is it problematic, does
it worry you when you say, it’s conservatives,
we’re looking at drivers, and this is what it is, that you’re not helping close divisions? – No because our job, we’re historians and we’re capturing the period, and our job is not to solve the problem. And if you present a history
that actually isn’t accurate, it makes, I think it won’t
do any service to people who are trying to deal with it today. A lot of people respond, do
you blame both sides, they ask. Do you blame both, do you blame
Democrats and Republicans? For this or that. And thinking of history that way is not a healthy way to do it. There are moments in
history when one party, one ideology, is more
pronounced than the other. They can be a driving force. It would be weird to write
a history of the New Deal that focused exclusively
on the Republican party, or try to make an
equivalency argument there. This is an era, and we start
the book with conservatism and a movement that did reshape America. That’s not a normative
statement, they did. And then there’s tactical innovations. There’s ideological innovations right through the ’80s and 1990s, which we think had a bigger
effect in many realms of American life than what
liberals were achieving. Although we actually bring
liberals back into the story, that’s part of what we try to do. But it would be a mistake to
do what you see in journalism, to step back in fear and
say, well, it’s both sides. That’s not accurate history. That’s an inaccurate, and
it won’t get you a solution of a better place today. – And the problem with that
kind of both sides approach, and I know they do it in order to present, well, we’ve heard all
sides of the issues, right? But in saying we’ve
got this side over here and this side over here,
what you’re doing is you’re saying well there’s a
huge chasm between them and they can’t agree and
really it almost reifies that sense of division
when they try to avoid it. – So, when you talk about fractures, it’s hard not to think about TV news, and I’m curious about
what has been happening in the 1970s that leads
us to where we are today. One would think, since
part of the shift was more voices in media, more
democratization, if you will, of media, more platforms,
that sounds like amazing, amazing, amazing, why
does it feel terrible? – Well, and again, in the
’70s, there was this idea, there was gonna be hope. Like the movie “Network”
was about a fourth network. There was, at the time, a
drive to create a number of new fourth networks. They all failed. But this dream is out there. We’ve got a great quote from
Jann Wenner of “Rolling Stone,” who says, “We’ve got to break up “the big three monopoly in media.” Like we’ve got a big
three monopoly in Detroit. We want to have all these
new media outlets out there, wanted to have all these news networks. Wouldn’t it be great
to have a news network just for the elderly, just for the young, just for African Americans,
just for Hispanics, wouldn’t it be great
to have a news network that was solely conservative,
he’s very excited about this. I don’t think he would be as excited today about what happened. But what happens is the
technology catches up and makes it possible to do this, through satellite, through cable. And it leads to this
incredible new fracturing and you do see, first in
radio, with Rush Limbaugh, but then, really, with
Fox News starting in 1996, this real pronounced shift to the right and an embrace of a
partisan slant on the news, which went against everything
that had been kind of the norm in the post war period. The post war period is
a little bit unusual, but it was a departure
in the ’70s and ’80s from what had happened before, certainly. – How did the repeal of
the Fairness Doctrine play a role in that? – So that happens in 1987, and that’s FCC rule,
which required both sides of an issue to be aired on a radio station and a television station in
exchange for having access. And it didn’t always work. It was challenged constantly in the courts and in practice, but it did create a norm. It created a countervailing
source of pressure to radio hosts, primarily,
who wanted to go on air and just rail from one
political perspective on every institution that was out there. And it goes away in 1987. Ronald Reagan doesn’t support it. He thinks it’s a bad regulation,
like many regulations, and he believes the media
is biased toward liberals, even though they don’t say it. And there are a lot of
conservatives who felt that way. He puts into place an
FCC chair Mark Fowler, and Fowler says, “We’re done with it.” And you can see the growth
of conservative talk radio is a really amazing between
1987 and about 1994. With big national figures
emerging and even some of the more shrill voices on radio, many people here will remember Bob Grant, you can listen to him in the period after the Fairness Doctrine, and
he gets much more vicious, much more open in his political views. So that’s an important policy change that opened the doors to
some of the partisan news we have today. There’s other things we talk
about that are important. I mean, two is one the
commercialization of the media. Not just television, but
the pressures all media starts to face after the
1980s to make revenue. You have cable stations, which
depend on their advertising and viewership for their revenue. Newspapers lose the classified ads. So now they’re also seeking revenue. And then the era of social
media, another pressure is a kind of filterless
world, public square. Where all voices can get on pretty easily. So all that is surrounding
this new partisan era and I think explains where we are today. – How come liberals have
never been able to pull off the powerful talk radio conversation in a way that conservative
radio media’s been able to do? – That’s a great question,
and one we wrestle with in the book. Because there is an effort,
there is an effort to push back against kind of the success
that Limbaugh had had on the right, as an
opposition force in the 1990s. When the 2000s come,
George W Bush is in office, there’s an effort of
liberals to recreate that. Most famously, there
was Air America, right? And they had an incredible
amount of talent. They have Sam Seder and Al
Franken, Janeane Garofalo, they had a lot of really
great people on there. The business wasn’t well
run, that was part of it. But what a lot of the
reviews say is just that this format doesn’t
quite fit for liberals. Liberals can certainly get angry, but not to the kind of white hot rage that made Limbaugh or Hannity
or others work on the radio. It’s much more, in terms of an ideology, it’s more suited to sarcasm and satire, and so talk radio fails,
but you get the Daily Show, and you get the Colbert
Report, and on TV it works a little bit better. – At the same time, you
start seeing primary systems shift, as well. And all of these things
are not really happening all at the same time, but kind
of one right after the other. Talk to me about the changes
in the primary system that helped fan the
flames of partisan ship that were already seeing
big fan by all of these other things that you’ve
already spoken about. – Yeah, that’s another change
in how the process works. It happens in the early ’70s,
right when our book takes off and the Democrats are
the first movers here. And the McGovern Reforms change the system of selecting presidential candidates where the convention
and the party machinery loses its hold and we switch to a primary and caucus system, where that really is, it’s a Democratic idea. That voters will have
the ability to decide who should run for president. But in primaries and
caucuses, it’s often the most active and politically
active people who are gonna come out to vote, and so
early on, this is an effect that’s seen, you’ll have
candidates who are playing both to those voters, to the organizations that will be active, and to
reporters who are covering this instead of the old party machine, and Republicans quickly replicate it. Reagan in ’76 challenges
Gerald Ford in the primaries, almost wins, but he’s
also trying to capitalize on this new primary caucus system. So that’s a very concrete
thing that changes and is part, like the end of
the FCC Fairness Doctrine, of the world we have today. – When you look back and
talk to especially older elected officials, right,
they all harken back with great love and
wistfulness of the days when it was more them against the voters versus them against each
other in a partisan way. When did that start to happen? And what were the big drivers of that? Right, they all say, we
used to all go have lunch and play golf and we all loved each other. Was it as simple as as soon
as CNN starts setting up cameras and Fox News had cameras, everybody was incentivized differently or was it the fundraising
element that suddenly shifted that you had to always be
selling, what was the driver? – Yeah, historians will
always say yes to everything. It’s all of the above. But that’s actually true. It’s, again, we’re back to
this decade of the ’70s, which many people don’t
think of very seriously, it’s not simply the changes in the media. In the ’70s, there’s a huge
effort to reform Congress. To really change the
way that Congress works. And to break the power of the old alliance between committee chairs,
who primarily were Southern and Republicans, and they worked in tandem since the ’30s, through back rooms, through the committee system, to really rule the roost on Capital Hill. And younger reformers who come into office after Watergate and after Vietnam, and they’re like, no way,
we’re not doing that anymore. They bust open the system. They change the rules
of the House and Senate, they strengthen party leaders. They want more partisanship. That’s a key part of the ’70s. Strengthen party leaders in Congress. Give them more money, more
authority through the rules to make sure everyone votes the same way. And that was seen as a good thing. So there are internal changes to Congress. There are then the changes in the media, and finally, there are
campaign finance changes, where private money
becomes more pronounced, Congress doesn’t reform itself
in terms of fundraising, they say everyone is gonna be limited in how much they can
give, yet still raise, and have to raise, lots of money. So these single issue
groups gain immense power by the ’70s and ’80s to
hold onto legislators and make sure they vote the right way. So all these things work
together and are quite important. In addition to other
factors like gerrymandering. – Is racism more at the
center of our divisions today or were they just as much at
the center of the divisions in the 1970s through today? – Oh, we’ve always been racist. There were racist divisions
that run throughout the ’70s to today. They just take different forms. So, in the ’70s, one of
the things we talk about is the fight over busing. This famous moment in which
an African American lawyer is literally stabbed with an
American flagpole in Boston, which really drives home
the drama over that. There’s the fight over affirmative action, which again, as I noted, is very much seen as a zero-sum game. We have X number of
spots at this law school, if a black candidate
gets one of those spots, it is taken away from me. That sense comes out. And that really has come– – But when did it move into politics? I mean, in the sense that– – Oh, always.
– I always felt that, but often politicians would, you know, John McCain comes to
mind, and others, right, who would tamp down, they sort
of knew where the line was. To me, and obviously, President
Trump started his campaign launched it, you know,
basically, criticizing Mexicans. So, and it’s gone downhill from there. But I think that this is the
time now where you really see people saying we see
the line, and actually, let’s jump over it, because
there’s a value to that. That seems to me to be different. Am I reading that wrong? – It’s got more pronounced, certainly. So, if you look at what Trump
does, there’s certain clear examples in the past we can draw on. His rallies always reminded
me of George Wallace. If you look at a George
Wallace rally from 1968, it’s the exact same. The calling out of the
protestor in the crowd, the whipping up the crowd
into kind of a frenzy, the going between these
really dark moments to almost this kind of
comic presence on stage. The issues he raises are
largely the same, too. So, in some ways, it’s just like that. In other ways, though,
it has steadily evolved. And so if you look at
the way in which Nixon would have handled issues of race, it’s always done kind
of quietly and softly. It’s benign neglect. We speak for a silent majority. It’s always very soft. Or look at what, as it gets darker, as these politics get darker in the 1980s, Lee Atwater running in the 1988 campaign for George HW Bush, the Willie Horton ad is one that I think a
lot of people remember. That ad was something that they pushed, but they insisted that they
had nothing to do with it. So Atwater in a press
conference would say, “Oh, we don’t have any Willie Horton ad, “I don’t know what you’re
talking about, heaven forbid.” But it was done through a
third party independent group. But it had his fingerprints all over it. When Trump pushes this
issue, he does it himself, from his own personal Twitter account, he pushes out ads that
are exactly the same. The caravan ads that
he did were a lot like the Willie Horton ad, but
they came with his name on it. And so it shows you just
how less toxic these things have seemed as we’ve normalized
them over the decade. So in that way, it has
gotten, I think, much worse. – And what about integration
and desegregation? I mean, you know, again,
the vision of what America could be sort of centered around integration and desegregation, today we look at any school in America, and for the most part, it’s
as segregated as it was in the late 1960s. – Yeah, I think this is an
area, not just residential or educational segregation, but all sorts of racial
segregation that are, we talked about this
earlier, very deeply embedded in different institutions
in American society. Whether we’re talking about prisons, or whether we’re talking
about how people experience criminal justice or how
people experience where they can or can’t buy property, these were issues on
the table in the ’70s. This is not a new issue. But that’s kind of a very
flat line from the ’70s through today, in which the
progress has been halting. And you can make an
argument that in some areas such as criminal justice
with the proliferation with the private prison system, and the weaponization of local police, it’s actually gotten worse
and you can make a case, Kevin can talk more about it,
on residential segregation. But there’s not a lot of
ups and downs in this story. And you could argue we’re
moved in the wrong direction. – Yeah, one of the things that
I argue this in my first book and we repeated it in
“Fault Lines” is that you have to remember that
desegregation integration are not synonyms, OK? Desegregation means taking
away the legal barriers that are thrown up between people, that force them apart by law. That doesn’t mean once those come down, Americans suddenly integrate, right? That was the hope of a lot of the leaders of the civil rights movement,
that we would tear down these walls and Americans
would come together. What we show in the book,
though, is from the ’70s on, they increasingly go apart. And a lot of it is due
to the racism of people who don’t want to be around
people who are unlike them. Some of it also comes
from communities that resort to cultural nationalism. And build up their own society. To a larger sense of
wanting to have diversity. That’s the new value we celebrate, right, and something that white ethnics embrace, as well as Latinos and African Americans, and all other varieties of Americans. And so it really does crop
up in that there’s no common square, that there’s no common
kind of public square anymore and so the belief before had been, we’ll tear down these
walls of racial division, we’ll all come together in harmony, and instead, we find
Americans really going off into their own camps. – And I do think, I’m just gonna jump back to the question before,
that you asked Kevin, is the two are connected. So you have that, and you
have those tensions continuing in this big area of
civil rights unresolve. And I think it’s important
when thinking of this question with President Trump or Steve
King or whoever you want to talk about, politicians have
been playing with this fire all the time through the
period we write about. And so, Lee Atwater’s just
a quintessential character in that he understood what he was doing. He understood the need,
though, to cover it up or to walk away from it after elections. But never, never was he
hesitant to use and play into those hatreds and
divisions when it came time to win office. And I think you’ve seen that. You’ve seen Democrats. You have seen Democrats do it. Bill Clinton did that, in different ways, but he also was open to
playing with those feelings. And so what you see
with President Trump is he’s dropping the pretense
and he’s often willing just to kind of say exactly what your
worst suspicions might be. But the foundation of him doing that has been created over the years. During this divisive period over race, this unresolved period in
the civil rights movement, many politicians were
creating a path for him, for someone, to eventually just say it. Don’t be like, there’s no
need for Lee Atwater anymore. Just go out and blast out a Twitter and turns out there’s
not a lot of pushback. – And you said there’s
no public square today, but in an environment where, we’re all sort of, our lives
are ruled by social media, I mean, isn’t sort of, don’t we have these points of commonality? Right, like Netflix, Amazon. And I mean, maybe in even more ways than in the 1970s where
every single person when you talk about
something on your smart phone knows exactly what you’re talking about and probably even covering an age range that is greater than you
might have been able to find in the 1970s, how come that doesn’t have a mitigating effect? – Well, it does, to some degree, and so, and we talk about
this, the way in which people across the country
are consuming things in a lot of the same ways. Not just in terms of
media, but actual products. Amazon’s a good example. Or Starbucks, or think about, you know, a variety of things in
which you can get things in, you know, a small town in
Iowa that you wouldn’t have been able to get before. It can be mailed to you, you
can find it on the internet, you can find like minded
communities across the world. But then there’s that
instinct of once you’ve got access to anything, Americans, or people, they sort out like minded communities. So Twitter gives you access to anyone, but you don’t follow everyone, right? Or the internet gives you
access to all sorts of varieties of things, but
you pick out the things that largely reinforce what
you already believe. So there’s an opportunity out there, but it’s always just overwhelming, you have so many choices,
so people tend to pick the things that are like themselves. – Talk to me about your Twitter feed. Because that’s how we met. I don’t know if you’re following
Kevin Kruse on Twitter. Man, that man, no rest for the weary. Literally, he’s like, OK, let me explain slavery to you again. Starts again. And Dinesh D’Souza, you’re
constantly fighting with him. Why do you think, I
mean, I’m sure you have literally 5,000,000 things
that you’d rather be doing than to explain the history
of slavery to Dinesh D’Souza, I’m curious, in all seriousness, why do you continue to
go back to this medium over and over again to spell things out? – It’s just so financially
lucrative for me. (audience laughing) – Well, that explains it, thank you. – I am cashing it in. I mean, I do feel that we
historians have a responsibility, and Julian does this,
too, in op-eds and on TV. We all have a responsibility
to be out there in the public sphere to correct
these deliberate falsehoods. The same way in which scientists
have a responsibility, I think, to fight against
those who deny climate change or doctors have a
responsibility to fight against those who are pushing the
anti-vaccine nonsense. We have a special set of expertise and if we don’t correct the record, people are gonna assume that
what’s out there is right. And in fact, D’Souza used
to do that all the time. He would say in these
threads, and this is what finally got me out, he
would say in these threads, “Well, no historian’s ever corrected me.” And I was like, OK, this is on us, then. If we don’t step up and say,
no, this is actually wrong, then he’s allowed to say
no one’s corrected me. – And you two did not
realize that for the rest of your lives you will be
correcting Dinesh D’Souza. Has the truth decay, as they call it, at the RAND Corporation, sort
of called it truth decay. Is that new to the last five years or is that something that
really we think of the ’70s as people having great
faith in institutions and at least agreeing on a set of facts. Even if they took a different
position on the facts, there was a data set of
facts that everybody agreed were in fact, facts. We’ve moved way off of that. What caused that? What were the drivers of that? And did that exist at all in the 1970s? – Sure, this is also the
decline of faith in expertise is a big story of the 1970s. That’s not just a conservative phenomenon. Many liberals came out of the ’60s believing you couldn’t
really trust all the people who you were told you could believe in. Whether it was your professor,
whether it was the president, or whether it was your parents. And I think that was
a pervasive sentiment. The hope still in the
’70s, I think, still, was that you’d move to
a place where you could reestablish sources of trust. But that’s not what happened. And I think we kept moving in a direction where that essential
distrust that emerged in that decade only got worse. You had people who play to the distrust. I do think part of conservative politics has been about perpetuating
some of that sentiment in areas like the university or the media for partisan objectives. And then you have literally
had technological changes, which aren’t always connected to politics, which have also exacerbated
the sense of a source of information that we can all rely on. We do have a very fragmented,
not just fragmented, uncontrolled public square. That’s how I think we see it. There is a public square. But not only is it
divisive, no one’s really in charge anymore. Or no one was ever in
charge, but you don’t have big forces that are the dominant
sources of our information. And I once saw an interview with, I saw something that President
Obama actually said that one of the challenge of
climate change is on Facebook you can have a, you know,
award winning scientist write a whole paper about
why climate change happens and what the problem is, and
then someone in their basement, and I don’t know, you would
know if he actually said this, but another page where
it’s someone just write, that doesn’t exist.
– I’m a seventh grader and I don’t believe in climate change. – The point is in our public square, you can’t tell the difference. And so that is added to this
story of where we are today and I think it’s a huge political problem. But it isn’t new. Look, our chapter on Bush
in the Bush Administration, WMD, there’s a term
that we can talk about, in terms of when truth became
disconnected from policy. The climate change battles
were happening there, go back to the ’80s with acid rain, and you had similar debates
and questions over expertise, but we’ve moved farther and farther away from a place where we are
debating a common set of issues and facts to a place,
I think, we both agree, where everyone has their
own facts and point of view. – I did an op-ed for the New York Times. They had me do one for
election day in 2012. They said, “You can write
about whatever you think “is the big thing in this election.” And I said, well, to me,
the big thing in 2012 is just how truth doesn’t matter anymore. And I wrote this. We had the Unskew the Polls guy, and we had Jack Welch from
GE saying he didn’t trust the job numbers because
they went against his guts. How we lost such a grasp on the truth. It reads now so naive. It’s like looking back
to reading something from Victorian England
where they’re scandalized by seeing a woman’s ankle, you know. How could we go that far? And it’s four years ago. It’s amazing how quickly we
have gotten off the rails. – How does that shift into culture wars, which almost seem to now be
on the American calendar, right, we know six weeks before Christmas, we’re gonna be debating
the war on Christmas, which I never really thought was a thing, but every year, I’m drawn into– – The war on Christmas comes
earlier every year, doesn’t it? (audience laughing) – And it just starts, right, actually, it starts with a Starbucks cup. The Starbucks cup comes
out and it’s almost like, why are there only Christmas
trees and no Christ on the cup, but it kicks
off this conversation that truly leads into, and
I’m being completely serious, right, it is now
televised around the clock about the war on Christmas. And it used to be just Fox would do that, but now it’s not just Fox. The people have a conversation
about a war on Christmas that always ends at the end of Christmas, and we don’t continue to talk about it. And just like MLK Day’s on the calendar, we know that over
Halloween, we’re gonna have conversations about black face, right, these seem to be cycling
and it seems to be this conversation about culture, right? It’s a way to highlight how divided we are in these cultural conversations. – Well, we’ve institutionalized
cultural outrage and made it a routine. And we’ve taken very real
tensions that exist broadly and have been going on
about issues such as gender, race, the family, for decades now, and somehow, in our
mechanisms of the media, and politicians, they now have incentives to keep telling that
story at certain moments. That’s also in “Network.” It’s funny. I can’t remember, to be
honest, if it’s in the movie as much as the play,
but part of the play is Bryan Cranston comes out
and he gets the audience to chant I’m mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore. And he keeps doing that. As the show becomes, has you
chanting the outrage over until the point you realize, oh my God, it’s just like, it’s another routine. And I think that’s part of
what you’re talking about. And an underlying important story is that a lot of incentives that
we have, both in the media and politics, are to do just that. And so there’s reasons people
keep going back to that. It works. And so it’s hard to get out
of these kinds of debates. – I want to open our
questions up to the audience. You see a microphone here
and a microphone here. I invite anybody with a
question to please come up to the microphone. When you come to the microphone, I’d love to know your name. I’d love your question. Anybody who doesn’t have a
question, in their question, we will move on to the next person. Come right on up. We’re gonna start right over here. – Yeah, hi, my name is Pia Sonne. And my question is about
you mention how the rules have changed in Congress during the ’70s to give leaders more
power within each party. So, today, given
polarization that we have, would you have recommendations
for what kinds of changes we might see–
– Policy wise? – Policy wise, but in
rules committees, you know, in Congress.
– Great question. So what do you think has
to happen policy wise that could maybe make a difference? – Look, for the House of Representatives, it’s not about inside of the House, but there’s clearly a case to be made that the intensity of gerrymandering
needs to be reversed. If you really want to
deal with this issue. Meaning a shift to
commission, non-partisan based determination of districts
back in the states. Some states are experimenting with this. But this would be really
essential if you don’t want House members constantly
worried about being primaried by someone more
extreme than they are. Within the House, I think,
money is where you start. The power of the leaders is
they have these huge pools of money that all the
members are desperate for. And if you don’t vote the party line, that money is gone, and
you’re facing, certainly, in the House, bad districts. So campaign finance reform,
and there’s different variations, from moving
to small donation models, to public finance models, is
gonna be an important part of the conversation. A third, kind of more boring
one, that people disagree on, shifting to a system where
committee chairs, again, have more power and autonomy
from the party leaders to do things the leaders don’t want. – [Soledad] Question over here. – Yes, my name is Barbara
Hill, and I’d actually like to ask if you could
talk a little bit about, from a cultural perspective,
how we can, perhaps, make strides in reducing the polarization. – OK, so then moving off of policy, and into maybe more people centric, what do you do, since it
sounds like you’re saying, hey, listen, this polarization
has been in the works or if not in effect for
the last almost 50 years. – Well, this goes back to
a question we get a lot, which is should we bring back
the Fairness Doctrine, right? That ship has sailed. The Fairness Doctrine worked because you had a limited number, in
fact, the rationale for it, you had limited bandwidth on the radio and on broadcast TV, and
the government had a role in regulating it. Cable obliterated that. The Fairness Doctrine
never applied to cable. It certainly would not
apply to the internet. So we can’t really go back
to that kind of regulation. Instead, the responsibility
rests with all of us, the choices we make as consumers of media, as consumers of culture, it
really does depend on us. Because those broadcasters
are ultimately after the bottom line of money. And wherever they can find that. If there’s something
that is less polarizing, more of a, I don’t know, a centra, I sounded like Howard Schultz, more of a centrist kind of appeal, in terms of the way in
which stuff is presented or more diverse or less strictly partisan, if they see that that’s a
model that’s gonna win them dollars, then they’ll pursue that more. – And some of the issues
won’t be resolved. There are real divisions. And sometimes it’s important to say, well, this is a fight that has to be had. And certainly on an
issue like immigration. You can argue we don’t
necessarily need to find some kind of consensus that incorporates all points of views. I think there’s many people would say move toward restrictionism and nativism is really not, shouldn’t
be on the table in 2019 and you can’t resolve this
until that’s pushed aside. And there are lots of questions like that where I’m not sure, until they’re resolved one way or another, you’ll ever
get out of the polarization or one group kind of supporting one side starts just to lose political power. That’s the other way something’s resolved. – Where do you guys see,
where are you optimistic? What do you see in the culture
or what do you even see in the political sphere
where you say like, now that thing, if we could
elevate that, expand it, could be useful? – Well, the book really
tells a story of all these social movements that
bubble up from the ground and really do change things. So in the ’80s, as much as it seemed like the Reagan revolution had
swept across the country, and that was an image
they consciously created, that this wasn’t just another election, this was a revolution,
we’ve changed things. There was a great book by Meg and Julian that really shows the
way in which liberalism survived that period,
and one of the things that we talk about in the
book is new waves of activism from the grass roots change things. So AIDS is something that’s
not on either party’s radar. It’s literally being laughed
at in the Reagan White House. The Democrats are really
scared to touch it. And so it relies on
folks like Larry Kramer and ACT UP to really take
the protest to the streets, to really put it to politicians,
and put it on the table. And the changes there are dramatic. If you look just 15 years later from when they’re in their heyday, George W Bush is proposing
billions of dollars of funding to fight AIDS on a global scale. It’s a remarkable change
from being laughed at in one White House to another
Republican White House being embraced, and so there
are social movements today that I think we see the
seeds and maybe the sprouts of new movements here. So think about what’s
happened, just in the last couple years, with Black Lives Matter, with the Me Too movement. With the Parkland students
putting gun control back on the table. New politicians like
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talking about taking the
top marginal tax rate back up to 70%, where it
had been before Reagan. Where it had been higher
than that under Eisenhower. These are things that
would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago, and yet
they’re now in conversation because a new generation of
people are really pushing them to the fore. So that gives me a little optimism. – Question here. – Hi, my name’s Ria. So my question is, can you
speak a little bit about, from ’74 going on, the
weaponization of religion, and looking at how religion has evolved and it seems to continue
to morph and continue to be weaponized and particularly
how that weaponization has been leveraged, for lack
of a better way of saying it, by political parties going, by parties as we go through
these election cycles. – Great question. – Sorry, Julian, I defer
all congressional questions to him, I wrote a book on
the religious nationalism, so I’m gonna steal this one. It has become much more pronounced. And at first, these
organizations really presented themselves as speaking for a
broad variety of Americans. So the Moral Majority,
in its original form, that name comes from the
realization that hey, Protestants and Catholics have
been at each other’s throats, all sorts of Protestants
are, you know, Baptists hate the Methodists, on and on, and said, let’s paper
over those divisions, and out there there’s a moral majority that believes in the 10 Commandments. And so, however divisive
they were in politics, in terms of their
religion, there really was a coming together across faiths. We’re gonna bring together
all conservative Catholics, Protestants, and Jews,
into one religious body. And so there was hope there,
at least on their part, that they were gonna
bring people together. It proved to be much more divisive. Obviously. But as this goes on, it becomes less of this is a movement that
is aligned with politics, the Moral Majority had
really been associated with Reagan from the outside, but through Reagan’s terms,
they find themselves frustrated. They’re not getting what they wanted. Roe V Wade is still the law of the land. There isn’t a national prayer amendment that they constantly fight for. And so they start to take
over the Republican party. You see this with the Christian Coalition, the next big movement that comes
about in the ’80s and ’90s. Pat Robertson runs for president in 1988. But the Christian
Coalition, under Ralph Reed, captures a lot of state and local Republican party apparatuses. And so they are now not
telling the Republicans what to do, they are
the Republican leaders, at the conventions. And so that really does
transform the party to a considerable degree. And you see this, really, with George W Bush’s administration. When he really does, from his own belief, but also, I think, out
of political necessity, realizes he has to reach
out to these people. What’s happened today is
they become so tied to the party leadership, but they’d forgotten that old morality that they
used to brag about, right? And so, I think one of
the interesting things is to contrast all the statements we have in the book from religious right leaders condemning President
Bill Clinton for having an extra-marital affair
and you have failed as a moral leader and
therefore you need to resign to now, Jerry Falwell
Junior, is posing with Trump in front of his Playboy
cover, the magazine that’s banned on Liberty University’s campus, are laughing off extra-marital affairs, and charges of much worse. And basically saying
it’s no big deal, right? Because they’re getting what
they want in terms of policies out of this, and so there
really has been a shift, even within that small
subsegment of religious right. – [Soledad] Question over here, thank you. – Hi, Samuel. One place I’ve seen polarization
grow incredibly strong is on college university campuses. In and out of the classroom giving way to things that extend far
beyond just heated discussion. What can students do to help
combat among their peers? – So that’s a common, familiar complaint. And I think it’s debated
how extensive it is. Is the first question we have to know. Are we talking about a
few high profile instances where things flair up,
over what a student says, what a professor says,
or a certain speaker who is protested, or do
we have a mass phenomenon where you have some kind
of not just dysfunctionally divided student body? I’m not sure that’s where
we are at this point. I think there’s a lot of
evidence college campuses are pretty healthy, in
terms of that front. But obviously, there’s no
secret to how you do it. Ultimately, to encourage,
there, to encourage fragmented public squares, meaning,
within the universities is absolutely vital. The university could be one answer, and we say this with a bias,
to encouraging new ideas and new kinds of debates generationally, that older generations, like
us, simply can’t see anymore. And certainly, in the classroom,
that’s gonna be vital. But a part of it’s just the students. I mean, part of, look, colleges
are always contentious. Colleges are always gonna
have lots of angry debates. I think we both like that to
some extent, that’s healthy. We both like a classroom where
students have a point of view and they don’t agree,
that’s a good division. And we don’t want to go
in this other direction with these fears that I
think are often stoked by a few high profile classes where everyone kind of withdraws. So those are healthy
divisions that may answer some of the questions
that are being raised. – [Soledad] Over here. – Hi, I’m Miss Tia Parrell. I’m curious, you kept saying, a few times, we are historians, as if you still believe that you can be encoded in
an objective perspective. And my question to you is to what extent when somebody listens to
your point of view now, telling history, how much
is it seen as history, and how much is it seen just as another polarized view of history? And you, yourself, have been recuperated within the very polarization. Like other scientists. – That’s a great question. I mean, I think, maybe Julian
would answer this different, but I think objectivity is,
itself, kind of an illusion. No matter what an
historian chooses to study, you have made certain
choices that lead you there. And they come from your own set of beliefs about what is worth
studying, what is worth drawing attention to, the ways
in which you’ll go into it, what sources will you look at, so I think the idea of,
kind of an introduction historiography class here, I think you would find that
most historians would agree that that’s really, to
some degree, an illusion. All we can do is follow the
evidence, as we find it. And admittedly, again,
it’s not an objectivity when we find this stuff,
but as we find it, to present it as honestly as we can. With the assumption that,
through the stuff we write will outlive us, those books
last a little bit longer than human beings do, and
hopefully that when people come back and find them, they
find that we treated it fair because that’s our goal. – [Soledad] Question here. – Hi, Sarah. Speaking of objectivity,
my question is related to the way you start your
book about how there was a huge loss of trust, shattering
loss of trust, in 1974, because of government
malfeasance and how that extends to all institutions
in the federal government, and, in particular, I wonder
about the Supreme Court. And whether the loss in
trust of the Supreme Court is something that can be reversed, especially now that there
seems to be a consensus that it is a very political body. – The Court did better than
other political institutions until recently, so simply
if you look at polling, Congress and the
presidency fall much faster than the Supreme Court,
although, seeing the Court as a political institution
is something that’s already on the table
with the Warren court, which is a focus of
attack for conservatives, and then you could fast
forward to the fights over Robert Bork in 1987, when
Reagan appoints someone who’s very conservative to the Court. It’s not as if no one was
thinking of the politics. It’s become a much more,
an institution seen in a more partisan light,
and where the actual decisions over justice
is much more partisan, but we’re now in a, I
think, certainly since Bush V Gore, which is probably
a turning point in 2000, when the Court makes its
decision to stop the recount, that combined with very
active political efforts to make court selections
at the federal level part of the political
agenda, has brought us into a new realm, where
people are just talking openly about the Republican or Democratic courts. And that is hard, look,
if we take the presidency and Congress as models,
we don’t really have an optimistic story to tell, because those are not gonna be reversed, and we might be in a place
now where the courts are. The only kind of medicine
is to somehow insist on confirmation processes
and selection processes that are not shaped by partisan outlooks. But it’s very hard to
do that at this point. – [Soledad] Question over here. – Thank you. My name is Cheryl. I was particularly interested
in your conversation when you were talking about the, maybe it’s an illusion, maybe it’s not, of a liberal bias in the press. In my public squares that I’m in, it seems to be that everyone’s
talking about this bias of liberalness in the media. I’m wondering if you could
weigh in on that historically before 1974, if you were seeing, if there’s resources or
books that talk about it or kind of what you’ve seen. – This is one of the
drivers of that attack on the Fairness Doctrine is
that the purveyors of media said, “Look, we’re playing
it right down the middle.” And yet conservatives
said, “No, you’re not. “You’re presenting liberalism
as down the middle, “and it’s really not, and our
voices aren’t heard in this.” So that was certainly
the resentment about that is something that is age old
and is still there today. Sarah Palin railed against
the mainstream media in 2012. – Lame stream.
– Lame stream. Lame stream media, sorry, yes. No, no, thank you, thank you, I forgot. Such a way with words. (audience laughing) But what we have, sorry, I’ve
forgotten with Palin now. Palin wiped my brain,
that was appropriate. – Media bias.
– Liberal bias, OK. That’s OK, no, no. – I can jump in.
– You jump in. – While your head unfreezes. Look–
– The Palin effect. – The argument was the
Walter Cronkites of the world and correspondents living in Washington had a certain world
perspective and at some level that probably clashed with
some of the new voices on the right, you know, from
the ’50s through the ’80s. But what’s interesting is
there were things that were happening that made it hard
for that to be the way in which news was conveyed. So the norm of objectivity was something that existed in journalism. It was imperfect, it
wasn’t always followed, but it was something that
editors kept an eye on, producers kept an eye on, in addition to something
like the Fairness Doctrine, it was just how the profession worked. And there was an
expectation you just didn’t go on the air and spew your views. Politicians often were putting out stories that worked favorably for conservatives. And even if you think of the
structure of television news, as another example,
these were three networks that were playing to very broad audiences. And that was not a
structure that could afford to just put out news for a very, you couldn’t Fox News it back in the ’60s because it wouldn’t really work. And it was also a public
service for the network. But that changed. And so I think that liberal bias, probably not totally wrong. Certainly back in the early year, but it doesn’t capture how
the news was then delivered. And liberals hated the news in the ’60s. Because it was basically
quiet on the Vietnam war until ’68 and ’69. – And that brings me back, that brings me back to what
I was trying to get to. Is that there is still
complaint about the liberal bias in the media, but I think
they really misunderstand what liberalism is when they make this. There are certain things
in which the media certainly is liberal, if
you look at their stances, say, on issues of gay and lesbian rights, they’re far to the left of where the general public would be. Look at them on issues of labor. Unions. Corp CEOs are on the news all the time. I don’t see a lot of labor leaders. Howard Schultz got a week
plus of nonstop news coverage because the great
Starbucks CEO had come down from the mountaintop, and
let’s hear what he had to say. There wasn’t really a
constituency for that, and yet that didn’t stop ’em, right? So I think on certain
levels, the media is liberal, on certain levels, it is not at all. – [Cheryl] We just, sorry,
is there scholarship on this? – Yeah, there is. There’s actually a new book. There’s two books, one book
is about the argument of this. This argument among conservatives, historian Nicole Hemmer, it’s called, “Messengers of the Right.” And there’s another one
by, I haven’t read it yet, Matthew Pressman, that also
deals with this question. So there’s more books coming
out on that on this question. – Our final question
is going to go to you. We are out of time. But I know that these gentlemen
are selling their book and you could throw your question at them while they are sitting behind the table selling their book, and
you’ll probably get an answer. – And Soledad, some people
would say the book is actually 400 pages of answers. (audience laughing) – That’s right. So why don’t you go
ahead with your question. I’m gonna ask you guys, if you don’t mind, to take your seats again, and
then for our final question. – I’m Miranda Yaver, I’m
a political scientist. So, we have seen, obviously,
a lot greater polarization over the court, the
elimination of the filibuster for the judicial nominations,
and with the 2020 cycle, we’re seeing discussion
about the elimination of the legislative filibuster
and in some sectors of the left, court packing. And I’m curious what you
think accounts for this being a moment where we’re
arguing not just over the substantive agenda,
but the pretty entrenched institutions in which we
advance the policy agenda and what you see as the
potential consequences for this ongoing partisan escalation and changes into institutions themselves. – I mean, liberals have
been fighting for the end of the filibuster since the 1940s. Hubert Humphrey’s first
speech in Congress, in 1948, was about the evil of the filibuster, which subverted democratic institutions. I think part of it is liberals have reason to fight against parts of our politics that favor the minority. Not racial minority,
the political minority. It’s often stacked against
liberal majoritarian ideas. And so those have also, those have often been really important. The electoral college, the filibuster. The way districts worked for a long time, they were totally biased
toward rural areas, until 1964. Where urban areas would
have one representative for thousands and millions of people, where a rural area with
like two people would have the same amount of representation. So, I think part of the fight
is an outgrowth of that. It’s a tradition. Part of it, though, is a
frustration with very successful conservative strategy
in the last, certainly, 10, but really 20 years, of
using the procedures we have in this era that we wrote
about, to their advantage. So, I think, you know, someone
like Senator McConnell, who has been quite ruthless, and that’s not, he’s
ruthless in how he uses the powers that he has accorded, has led some, in the Democratic party, even further in how far they want to go. And it’ll be interesting to see
if they go through with that because they’ve also suffered
because President Trump has had no check really on nominations because of Reed’s willingness
to start this process of weakening the filibuster. – Final question for you gentlemen. Optimistic or pessimistic
that we ever get to a united America that I think
we’re all very aspirational about and there’s a gajillion
cheery little quotes that we post on Instagram about, but I think most of us would
say we don’t necessarily see it day in and day out. (audience laughing) And I think I have my
answer, thank you for coming. – Are you going to be optimistic? All right, I’ll be pessimistic then. – No, I want your real, honest answer. Are you genuinely, in your
heart, are you optimistic? – I mean, look, as a
historian, I find myself– – As a human being, forget the historian. As a human being, are you
optimistic about America? – My view as a human being
is informed by my view as a historian, which
is that I know how bad things have gotten in
the past and how really, really, really bad they’ve gotten. I don’t think we’re
quite at that depth yet. Not quite a bloody civil
war with millions dead on both sides, so that’s
not quite that bad. – This is your optimistic take? – This is my optimistic take. This is as sunny as historians get. We wade in people’s dirty
secrets in the archives and dwell on conflict
and crisis all the time, so we’re a real cheery bunch. But again, to go back to my earlier point, I do think I see signs
of real change here. I don’t think we’re ever
gonna be wholly united. I think it’s a mistake
to believe this country was ever totally divided. This country has always been
a series of contested debates. I think we can do that
a little more civilly, I think we can do that
a little more politely, I think we can maybe
disagree in ways that aren’t quite as full throated
screaming at one another, that would be nice, but the
fundamental disagreements are gonna always be there,
but I think that we do see these new movements
that are gonna, I think, get us out of this dark moment. How is that for optimism? – I’ll give a mix. I don’t have optimism
that we’re on the cusp or even close to any point of unity, but part of the fun part
of writing this book was to see, it’s not all a bleak book. It is about division and divisive aspects of American society, but
a lot of amazing things happen in the period we study. Whether it was the ability
of social movements, right and left, to change the
fundamental terms of debate, in American politics, whether it was the computer revolution,
which we write about, which is just amazing to
see the origins of the PC, and where we ended up
today, which has done many good things, in terms
of our communication there and our commonality as a country. To politicians who, at moments,
have been able to inspire. The ’80s was fractious,
divisive, and angry, but Ronald Reagan was able to hit moments when a lot of the nation, you
know, found him aspirational. Barack Obama, that 2008 night
should not be forgotten. Even though we didn’t get over, certainly, or we’re not even close to
the issues of racial division, something happened that
night, and that was a moment in this contentious period,
that I think signaled something good, so my optimism, actually, doesn’t come from a resolution, but it just comes from looking
back at the good things and we made progress on issues like AIDS. Really did. You know, our book starts at
a point where Larry Speakes, the spokesman for Reagan, is laughing when a member of the
press asks him about it. Ha ha, we don’t have that
here, no one here has AIDS. To the point where George
W Bush, a more conservative Republican, launches a
massive initiative in Africa, to really curb the disease. So my optimism is, there are good things that even happen in the moment we are in, they can happen again. – The book is called,
“Fault Lines: A History “of the United States Since 1974.” A big thank you to our
historians, Kevin Kruse– – Thank you.
– Thank you. (applauding) – One quick housekeeping note, if I may. You can keep up with the
work of the Brennan Center for Justice by following them online. Brennancenter.org, follow
them on Facebook and Twitter. You know how to find them. Videos on YouTube, listen to the podcast, which is called “Brennan
Center Live,” it’s on iTunes. And a big thank you and a big
thank you to everybody here at NYU Law School and people
who are listening online this evening, thanks guys, for coming. We appreciate it. – Thanks for having us.
– Thank you. – Thanks for the questions.

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