JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION, on the first day of 2017, a look at America.
On this New Year’s Day, we’ll explore the challenges facing our divided country and what can be done to forge more unity in 2017.
First, a book panel with Isabel Wilkerson, who wrote “The Warmth of Other Suns.” JD Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” actor Diane Guerrero, author of “In the Country We Love,” and Amani Al- Khatahthbeh, who wrote “Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age.”
Then, a panel discussion with journalist Michele Norris of The Race Card Project; Jeffrey Goldberg, editor of “The Atlantic,” “Washington Post” columnist Michael Gerson; and “Atlantic” columnist, David Frum.
It’s all ahead on FACE THE NATION.
JOHN DICKERSON: Good morning and welcome to Face The Nation. I’m John Dickerson. Happy New Year. We begin 2017 with a look ahead to what’s in store for our nation. We’ve gathered four authors who’ve written about the many faces of America, about the differences that divide us, as well as the common experiences that can unite us as one. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson is the author of “The Warmth of Other Suns,” a history of the great migration of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North in the 20th century. J.D. Vance has written “Hillbilly Elegy,” a memoir of his upbringing in the rust belt heartland, the part of the country that proved crucial to Donald Trump’s electoral victory. Diane Guerrero is the author of “In the Country We Love,” a memoir of her experience as the child of undocumented immigrants who were deported when she was a teenager. She’s an actor. You might recognize her from the Netflix series “Orange Is The New Black” and has served President Obama as an ambassador for citizenship and naturalization. And Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is the author of “Muslim Girl,” a coming of age about life as a Muslim woman in the aftermath of 9/11. She’s also the creator of the MuslimGirl.com website that showcases the writing of her fellow Muslim millennials. Thank you all for being here to share your parts of the American experience. J.D., I’m going to start with you. You call yourself a hillbilly. What is a hillbilly?
J.D. VANCE: Well, I think it’s somebody with some attachment to the broad region of Appalachia, whether they grew up there like my grandparents or sort of are the descendants of people who migrated from there. And of course it’s a pejorative in some ways if it’s used by people on the outside, but as Mamaw, as I called my grandma, always said, “If it’s used by people inside the family then it’s okay.”
JOHN DICKERSON: Diane, you say-- you write in your book, “Deported. Long before I full- fully understood what that word meant, I’d learned to dread it.”
DIANE GUERRERO: Yeah. It was a topic of conversation in my household-- every day. And-- since I was a kid. I mean my parents didn’t shield me from it at all-- because I had to be prepared and aware of-- the possibility of them being deported one day. And so I live-- I lived my life that way.
JOHN DICKERSON: And Amani, you write that-- “After nine--” you were nine years old-- after 9/11 -- And it was obviously traumatic for the nation. But what was it like for your family?
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: Well-- I mean that year was the same year that I heard my first racial slur. So-- it was definitely a very huge turning point. For my family, our house got t.p.’d and egged. The flea market where my dad worked launched a petition to kick all of the Muslim vendors out -- And it ended up resulting in my family and I moving to Jordan for a short period of time. And I discovered in writing the book that my dad did so to shield us from Islamophobia.
JOHN DICKERSON: And Isabel, let me ask you. You write about the great migration. So much that was changed in America as a result of that. Everything from jazz to the blues to the way the neighborhoods are designed-- This line really stood out to me, though. “And more than that, it was the first big step the nation’s servant class ever took without asking.” How does that start? How did this millions of people moving, why did it start?
ISABEL WILKERSON: Well, I think that, first of all-- any migration is not really about migration. It’s about freedom and how far people are willing to go to achieve it, which is what binds all of us together as Americans if you think about it. But this-- this great migration that I’ve written about gives you a window into a caste system that existed in the South and actually has-- radiates also throughout our culture and even into the North. And in that world it was actually against the law for a black person and a white person to merely play-- play checkers together. You could go to jail. It was-- it was against the law for-- for-- for-- African Americans to pass a white motorist on the road. These are examples of the arcane nature of the caste system that we live with even to this day in many respects.
JOHN DICKERSON: Amani, let me ask you. You-- you moved away because of-- Islamophobia. And then the family came back. Why?
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: My family ended up coming back because my mom became ill while we were in Jordan. So we wanted to reunite the family here. But-- I-- I think that that experience really opened my eyes to the stark contrast between reality in the Middle East, how things were on the ground, as compared to how they are being misrepresented in Western media. And upon my return, that was kind of my personal goal. Was, “Oh my god. I have to open people’s eyes to this.” You know, “I have to do something to kind of create change in that way.” And then also when I returned from Jordan I was wearing a headscarf, which was a huge difference for me, because I noticed a -- a major shift in the way that people treated me, the way that my friends regarded me-- and the way that total strangers would behave towards me in public.
JOHN DICKERSON: Diane, when you write about-- growing up in-- a family where you were always under this-- because of-- your parents were undocumented, this kind of sense of fear. That word “deported” always hanging over. What did the American Dream look like from inside of that-- growing up period?
DIANE GUERRERO: A path for citizenship. Immigration reform. I always hoped that my parents could-- could find that-- so that we could stay together. And I always hoped that we wouldn’t be separated.
JOHN DICKERSON: the American Dream was basically just citizen-- citizenship. I mean it’s--
DIANE GUERRERO: It was just-- yeah, it was-- the -- it was very simple. It was just staying together. Sometimes it’s as basic as that.
JOHN DICKERSON: J.D., you say-- in the introduction of the book you write that, “Those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of life that we left behind continued to chase us.” What does that mean?
J.D. VANCE: Well, for me it means that you don’t just all of a sudden get maybe money or a nice credential and all of a sudden everything that you learned, every habit you acquired, every familiar relationship that you had just sort of goes away, because both the people that upward mobility brings you in contact with, whether it’s professors or new social circle-- circles, but also the people who you moved away from in some ways, they continue to pull and push in different ways. And so you always feel in some ways, I think, like you’ve left people that you love the most behind, but also that you’re not totally an insider in this new place that you’ve joined.
JOHN DICKERSON: Your history is always attached to you?
J.D. VANCE: Yeah. Absolutely. And you want it to be attached to you. That’s the-- that’s the-- the contradiction. Right? Is you don’t want to leave that behind, but you also recognize that that history makes you a little bit different to some of the people that you’re coming in contact with.
JOHN DICKERSON: Isabel, does that sound familiar to the-- the thousands of people that you interviewed? That feeling of having a history in one place but being, as you said, desperately anxious to get away from that place?
ISABEL WILKERSON: Absolutely. When these people left they went along beautifully predictable streams of migration, which is what immigrants do throughout the world. They-- often-- they had to plot-- plan and strategize in order to leave. It was also awfully, difficult and dangerous for them to leave the Jim Crow South, because there were efforts to keep them there because they served as the-- the backbone of the economy. And they often were faced with-- with violence and arrest if they sought to-- you know, to board some of those northbound trains. So they were-- when they left they-- they-- had to experience great dislocation and then try to find and make a way for themselves in these alien, you know, big cities of the North and the Midwest and West. And many of them carried the same -- their culture with them.
JOHN DICKERSON: I was struck when you talked about the American Dream. You said, “by their actions they did not dream the American Dream. They willed it into being by a definition of their own choosing.” This idea that the American Dream is not something you-- sort of are on your drive to, but something you have to make yourself.
ISABEL WILKERSON: That is a critical-- part of the-- line in the book, because this is the only group of Americans that had to act like immigrants in order to be recognized as citizens. And their dreams and their goals and-- and what they were leaving for and what they were hoping for is the same thing that any American that’s ever lived on this soil has wanted. And I think that the goal that we are facing right now is to see our shared humanity. And, you know, we talk a lot about diversity, but I think we should talk more about commonality. I think we’re very aware of the things that make us different. I don’t think we realize enough what makes us the same and what makes us-- our hearts beat the same and the things that we want are so similar.
DIANE GUERRERO: I’m going to give you a snap for that.
ISABEL WILKERSON: Thank you.
DIANE GUERRERO: Love that.
ISABEL WILKERSON: Thank you.
DIANE GUERRERO: I love that. Thank you.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let’s see if we can put together a collection of things that we would say make us all similar across these different experiences.
DIANE GUERRERO: Well, I think we all want to be happy. And I think that-- you know, I-- I don’t think we should look at equality as oppression. I think that’s what we’re-- we’re all struggling for. It-- is-- is to be equal. To be recognized as-- as-- that-- that we’re all in this place together and in-- and-- and going through the same things. I love my family.
JOHN DICKERSON: Right.
DIANE GUERRERO: That’s one thing.
JOHN DICKERSON: Yeah, yeah. Family. J.D., you-- families-- you write a lot about family, although it’s some-- some incredible family ties, such strength that-- and bonds and rules and code. And you talked about hillbilly justice. And yet, on the other hand-- conflict within family.
J.D. VANCE: Yeah, absolutely. And what I-- I think of-- that really ties us together is something aspirational about being an American. Right? So whether you’re a black American moving from the rural South or from South America or from an Islamic country, like, whether it’s our parents, our grandparents or even further back, it’s this idea that we want something better for our kids than we have right now. And there’s this sense, I think, that’s built into that whole idea of the pursuit of happiness. Right? That we’re going to keep getting better. Things are going to keep on improving. And I think, frankly, a lot of the problems we have in our politics are in some ways rooted in different groups thinking that things aren’t continuing to get better. I think that pessimism, that cynicism, is a real problem in our politics and our society more broadly.
JOHN DICKERSON: Is-- do-- is that something everybody signs up to, the idea that things can get better? Or-- because there is some skepticism among some group-- groups in America that the idea of hope and the next generation’s going to be better is a dream and an idea that only a certain class or a certain kind of America can have.
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: As long as we continue to give space to voices that are under-represented or might be marginalized in these conversations, especially conversations that focus on them in which they were usually neglected from-- I think that that will allow us to really just make those commonalities more apparent. I’m so curious to know whether you grew up with-- any Muslim friends? Right? Because there have been so many polls that a majority of Americans have never met a Muslim person or haven’t had a Muslim friend before. A lot of them from the greater Appalachian region. A lot of them who voted in the next president on policies that he’s been, you know, parading around about the Muslim community. So it’s, like, you know, for a lot of people, we-- we just aren’t able to humanize each other.
J.D. VANCE: Yeah, that’s-- I-- I think it’s a really important point. And to answer your question, the answer is no, not until I went to college did I actually meet-- a Muslim American. And to your point, part of it is just because we were so regionally isolated. Right? There were basically three groups of people that I saw growing up. The people who were like me, the middle class white people, and maybe the working class black people who lived in my city. And that was pretty much it. And, you know, there’s a lot of evidence that when people actually spend time around people who are different from them, a lot of these biases and a lot of this-- this-- frustration sort of fades away. And that’s a problem with the fact that we’re so isolated right now.
DIANE GUERRERO: And then there’s this fear of losing something. That-- you know, instead of seeing this as an opportunity to gain so much. By uniting, by-- by seeing that if we all sort of, you know, kind of lived in a more balanced world that it would be better for all of us. And-- and-- and that no one’s here to take anything away from you.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. We’re going to pause right there. We’re going to take a short break. We’ll be back in a minute with our panel.
JOHN DICKERSON: And we’re back with our panel of authors. Amani, I want to talk to you about this notion of stories there is this balance between, “How much of the old do I hold onto and how much of the new do I embrace?” Is there any of that in your experience -- where you looked at your own-- family and thought-- “Gee, they need to-- assimilate a little more.”
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: I don’t think that I have ever looked at my family from a place of they-- they need to change, but of course growing up immediately after 9/11 and through the height of Islamophobia it did cause a lot of discomfort for me as a child. I remember-- that summer, right? I was nine years old. Like, right after 9/11 happened. And-- my dad, he had a store on the Jersey Shore, so we decided to go to the water park one day. And my aunt, who was-- a Muslim woman visiting from Jordan for the first time, she was visiting the United States, she decided to come with me. And she comes onto the tallest water rafting slide in the entire park, fully clothed in her Islamic outfit, you know, from head to toe, covered. All of the families, of course predominantly white, were just, like, staring at us in, like, sheer confusion and possibly horror. Like, “What is going on here?” And I just remember in that moment wanting to disappear. Like, I could not wait to rush down the slide and then run off to the boardwalk and then go to my dad and tell him, “Oh my god. Do you understand what my aunt just put me through?” You know? But when I told my dad he looked back at me and he said, “Wow, that was-- that was pretty cool of her, wasn’t it? That took a lot of strength. That took-- that took a lot of guts.”
JOHN DICKERSON: J.D., you would talk about being-- feeling like a tourist at Yale. But then now when you go home you feel like an outsider. So you-- you’re caught between.
J.D. VANCE: Yeah, I-- you know, sometimes I feel like an outsider at home. Sometimes I probably feel more at home there than I will at Yale. I remember when I went home-- and it was actually the first time that I’d introduced my now-wife but then-girlfriend to my family. We were at a gas station in Middletown and I had on a Yale t-shirt. And a woman at the pump next to mine said, “Oh, did you go the Yale? My nephew goes there too,” or my son or something. And I-- and I go-- I, like, had this really intense moment of cultural conflict in my mind. And I’m thinking, “Well, if I fess up to being a Yalie, then she’ll, like, think I’m an outsider. She’ll sort of-- you know, maybe she’ll-- if she’s from the Yale side of the divide she’ll judge me and say, ‘Oh, look at this simpleton from Middletown, Ohio.’” But of course that was stupid, because I was in Middletown, Ohio. So I looked at her and I said, “No, but my girlfriend does.” And then I got in my car and drove away, because I didn’t want to admit to having gone to an Ivy League school back home.
DIANE GUERRERO: Well, if I had gone to Yale I’d say I’d gone to Yale.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Well, you can say for the purposes of this show that you went to Yale.
DIANE GUERRERO: I went to Yale!
JOHN DICKERSON: See, now you-- right in main-- the mainstream then. Let me ask you a question about hope, because you-- you write in your book, “Someone-- once said that hope is the best medicine. In our family and our community, in that attorney’s office, hope wasn’t just the finest remedy. It was the only one we knew.” You talk about hope, but tell me-- tell the story about that attorney that your father went to to try to get legal status. And what happened.
DIANE GUERRERO: So this lady had given us a card and said, “Look, this-- this person is helping people with their green cards and-- you know, people who’ve had worse situations than you guys.” And--so we went to this-- to this attorney. And my-- my dad had-- had high hopes. And he was desperate at this point. And-- we gave him money. He said he could help. And-- he stopped calling. And we went back and-- and his office was gone.
ISABEL WILKERSON: Wow.
DIANE GUERRERO: Everything was gone. And-- and that was a breaking point for my father. And that was sort of-- the beginning of sort of the end of our family unit. And-- and I was there with him. I was there with him every step of the way. And it was-- it was heartbreaking-- because we-- I-- you know, I-- it could have been a lack of education. It could have been hope. I-- it-- it was our last-- it was our last string of hope. And we just held onto it. Maybe this will be the day, maybe this will be the time that-- that things do go well for us.” And-- and it-- and it didn’t happen. And-- and so we just sort of-- everything sort of collapsed after that. But my parents always taught me-- to have hope and-- and to dream, and that’s-- that’s why I think I’ve made it-- from whatever happened to my family. And I think that’s why I’m here, sitting with you here, because I-- I have hold-- held onto that. To that humanity or to my dreams or to that-- that things are going to get better. And if I do try really hard and if I participate and I do my part, then maybe something good can happen.
JOHN DICKERSON: Does that sound familiar, Isabel, to the people who left-- the migration leaving the South? Obviously hope was-- part of it was leaving the--
ISABEL WILKERSON: Yes.
JOHN DICKERSON: --Jim Crow, but part of it was also that hope. And the hope in the things unseen.
ISABEL WILKERSON: Yes. Well, hope and desperation. And a desire to be recognized as citizens in the country that they had helped to build. African Americans, you know, have been on this soil since six-- 1619, longer than many, many people who are currently here. And yet, when they migrated out to what they hoped would be freedom they were met with tremendous hostility and-- resentment. There were-- there’s a story out of-- Chicago in which this family-- tried to-- find a home, make a home in-- a place called Cicero. And when they moved in-- it turned out that-- that the people who were living in that neighborhood, rushed the building and they-- tore out the-- all of the fixtures. Threw out the-- the piano. Threw out the-- the sofa. Threw out the-- even the-- the faucet and-- and-- sinks from the walls. And then after they did that, they burned the building-- which meant that even the-- the residents who had been-- who were white were left homeless. This is what happened in the 20th century. I mean this happened within the lifespan of people alive today-- in-- in the 1950s. And that is what they were met with. And we still in this country live with the after-effects of that level of-- of unresolved history, unresolved resentments, unresolved-- and misunderstandings of who we are and what we all want for ourselves.
JOHN DICKERSON: You’ve all written books, you’ve-- about trying to get people to understand something that they are not familiar with. That’s not an easy thing to do. J.D., when you wrote your book-- what was the reaction to that?
J.D. VANCE: By and large I thought the reaction has been pretty positive. And one of the things I was worried about when I wrote the book, you know, there’s this classic hillbilly stereotype, the sort of toothless guy playing the banjo from Deliverance that I really wanted to present a different image of what I thought-- my particular culture represented. And that of course was most embodied by Memaw. And folks have responded pretty positively to her. They tell me that she-- they think she’s a hero or that she’s a very powerful, funny woman and--
JOHN DICKERSON: This is your grandmother?
J.D. VANCE: That’s right. And of course that’s how I feel about her. And I’m glad that people have that reaction to her, because I think that she’s much more representative of what I saw back home than maybe what the stereotype is.
JOHN DICKERSON: Amani, what has your reaction been to people who can reach out to you through the-- through a MuslimGirl.com and ask questions? And do you find people seeking understanding? What do you-- what’s the reaction been?
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: Absolutely. I think that people are always fascinated that my mom doesn’t-- chooses not to wear a headscarf, while I do. Or my dad, who is a Muslim father, was very encouraging of me and was the one that, like, pushed me forward my entire life. Things that clash with stereotypes of preconceived notions that they have about how Muslims really are -- but mostly I think that people have been surprised that things are really this bad for us. You know, especially as a Muslim woman, you know, especially for a Muslim woman who chooses to cover, we’re one of the most visible religious minorities in the country. And as such, we’re literally the lightning rods for a lot of this hateful rhetoric that’s happening on a national scale. So for me, you know, my-- my whole goal has been just to show how that hateful rhetoric doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It trickles down and it impacts our livelihoods. It results in a real life or death-- crises for a lot of us. And, you know, I think that that’s something that a lot of people had difficulty grasping before the-- they read the book.
JOHN DICKERSON: What about you, Diane? Did you-- a similar experience? And what was the reaction to your book?
DIANE GUERRERO: Well, it-- you know, at first I feel it-- it was so surprising to me that people didn’t really understand-- because I-- it was-- I-- I feel like-- immigration and-- and immigrants are so embedded in this country’s fabric. So for me it was like, “What do you mean you didn’t know?” I got some hateful stuff, but I think for the-- for the most part, I think people are really supportive and understanding. They don’t believe that 11 million people should be deported or families should be separated. And I-- I-- I-- I think there’s-- there’s a minority who feel that way who fear the growing diversity or-- or feel-- or-- or-- or fear-- maybe a path for citizenship or all these notions of people just rushing this country. And-- but I don’t think they understand that what we really want is a path for citizenship for the people who are here and an updated visa system. So these are things that people didn’t really understand, but I think that we’re starting to have more conversation. And-- and I know-- I know this year has been tough for a lot of people. Everyone’s, like, you know, not really happy with 2016. I know it’s been a tough year. But-- I think--
AMANI AL-KHATAHTBEH: Good riddance.
DIANE GUERRERO: Yeah, right? Goodbye. But I-- I think it’s opened up-- dialogue. And I think that for that we-- we need to be grateful. But-- and-- and now we just, more than ever, need to-- move forward and-- and-- and have these conversations and keep having them.
JOHN DICKERSON: And Isabel, what’s the reaction been to your book since you wrote it?
ISABEL WILKERSON: One of the purposes of the work that I did was to reach the human heart. I mean I really believe that that heart is the last frontier. I was actually at-- had a book event in-- on Long Island. And it was a rainy, miserable day, but lots of people had come out. And at the end of it there was a signing line. At the front of the signing line was this-- diminutive grandmotherly figure. And her-- her eyes had already been welling with tears as she stood before me. She said, “If I-- if I start talking about the book I will cry for sure.” She said, “I can’t talk about the book because the book is my story. You see, I’m an immigrant from Greece, and this book is my story.” And hearing that from her was confirmation to me that the mission of this work was accomplished in some way. Meaning that someone who had a completely different experience could see herself in people that many-- you know, that our culture would say she would have nothing in common with. But that she saw it, she felt it, and she was there standing before me sharing with me that these were the stories of her-- of her own experience.
JOHN DICKERSON: Thank you all for being here to help us share these stories, and perhaps cross some boundaries. We’ll be back in a moment.
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JOHN DICKERSON: Welcome back to Face the Nation. I’m John Dickerson. We continue with our look at America with a group of familiar faces to our Face the Nation viewers. Journalist Michele Norris heads up the Race Card Project and works with the Aspen Institute. Jeffrey Goldberg is the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic. Michael Gerson is a columnist for the Washington Post. And David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic. Jeffrey, I’m going to start with you. I want all of you to take this assignment, but I’m going to start with you because it’s-- it’s your job, Jeffrey. I want you to--
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: What did I do wrong?
JOHN DICKERSON: Well, in the new year, we want to-- we want to target you with this question, which is: You are an assignment editor. And you have to assign coverage for the year 2017. How do you deploy your forces? What’s the story?
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Well, the story is-- there’s one overarchingly huge story. A very big league story, as Michele might say. The-- the-- the story is-- the-- the story is the upending of American politics. The story is of the outs coming in and the ins going out. --The story is trying to explain to the American people what’s happened to their two main parties. And-- and the deeper story, also, I don’t want to forget this -- the deeper story is globalization, and technological disruption, and anxiety born of-- of rapid change, rapid, destabilizing change, the fragility of institutions. All of that is-- is there undergirding the larger, more immediate story, which is how did Donald Trump become president of the United States and what does it mean for not only the way America understands itself but the way the world understands America. I mean, I would just add one more point, which is that the rest of the world is watching with bated breath. Because we-- we are at a hinge moment in history. Since 1945, we have played a certain role in the world. And it’s not entirely clear that after January 20th we’re going to play that same role.
JOHN DICKERSON: They should make you an editor. Michele, what’s your--
MICHELE NORRIS: Well, I think it’s interesting that at the end of the year Merriam Webster-- Webster told us that they chose the word ‘surreal’ as the word of the year for 2016 because it describes so much of what we’re seeing right now. I want to pick up on one of the things that-- that Jeffrey said about the technological disruption. In this country, we’ve always assumed that technology was a good thing. We embraced it. We assumed that it was propelling us forward and that it would perhaps even though it was displacing jobs, that it would make for a better society, a better flow of information. I think we’re going to start to really question that now-- on-- on a lot of levels because of what it’s done to democracy, because certainly what it’s done to the level of American discourse. And as journalists, you know, we have to learn how to operate in a world where there is no longer a common set of facts. People get their news in such a way that it usually affirms or confirms everything that they already believe. We have someone who is about to occupy the Oval Office who is dismissing many of the publications that we work or have worked for and is trying to bypass us and go directly to people. So as we try to explain this surreal universe, we find ourselves in-- in almost a room of funhouse mirrors trying to figure out how to describe what’s going on.
JOHN DICKERSON: David?
DAVID FRUM: A neo-fascist party may win the presidency of France this year. Democratic institutions in the countries liberated in 1989 are falling apart in Hungary, and Poland, and other places -- Croatia, elsewhere. The European Union is cracking apart. And the United States has a new president-to-be who has made it clear he’s not going to be bound by traditional rules against corruption, traditional rules against foreign influence, traditional rules in just about any way, traditional rules against the president having his own private bodyguard paid for by himself rather than by the state. We are living through a crisis of democracy not-- unlike anything seen since the second World War. So that’s the story. And it’s not an American story. It’s a global story. It’s a story of American non-exceptionalism. And because what is going on in the United States is happening elsewhere, and it’s a story about globalization coming home. Because it’s-- it’s hard -- Americans are used to, as the world’s strongest power, being the country that influences others. The idea that a foreign power has reached into the United States, and tampered with American democracy, and maybe chosen for Americans a president that the larger number of Americans didn’t want for themselves--
JOHN DICKERSON: Russia in this case.
DAVID FRUM: --that’s an experience that other countries, weaker countries, smaller countries have had. Americans, since the great -- since the greatness of this country have arrived, have never had to worry about that. That has happened. So it is going to be a very difficult year, a year that is difficult both because of what’s happening and because it’s-- it’s not in our nature to think about it. One more thing. You know-- I-- I have the experience again and again, and many of you may have it, too, of being in a coffee shop or something. Someone I know a little bit will come up to me, and say hello, and then say, “Tell me that everything is going to be okay.” And what I realize is, I can’t give you the assurance you want. I am not sure that everything is going to be okay. But here’s what I do know. The only way that things will be okay is if we all understand how not okay they are. If we are sufficiently inflamed, we may be able to put the fire out.
JOHN DICKERSON: Michael?
MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think there’s a pretty much even chance that we’re going to have a constitutional crisis or have a completely incompetent presidency that doesn’t know how to exercise power, which is, I think, another possibility in this circumstance. He has a White House-- Donald Trump has a White House with almost no skill at governing. He has a chief of staff that’s never been in government, which is absolutely extraordinary. He’s elevated people, generals and--a corporate heads, that have no experience in this extraordinarily complex business of how you put together an administration, run a bureaucracy, produce ideas. So there’s-- I think there’s a deep concern about the possibility of overreach. But I think we should be also concerned about the possibility of an entirely ineffective government that doesn’t value governing experience, that doesn’t value, you know, what government should do and what it can do under the right circumstances.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: That side of the table is very depressing. (LAUGHTER) I mean, don’t you have any hope at all that America is somehow resilient, that the institutions will overcome whatever temporary challenges-- sorry. I just - I just - I’m struck by --
JOHN DICKERSON: But if the idea is that the structures of democracy-- where do you think the--
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I fully agree with Michele that-- that-- that technology and social media, these-- these pose unique challenges to the way we communicate with each other, the way we organize democracy. But we’ve been in business for a long time in this country. And-- and - we’ve survived worse things than whatever we’re facing at the moment. I’m just-- you know, keep hope alive. I don’t know what the-- the-- feeling is, but--
DAVID FRUM: I am hopeful that Americans will rise to this challenge. I think the message they do not need to hear is, “Don’t worry. Your grandparents rose to the challenge. And therefore you can stay on the couch because you face--”
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I think you can tell them--
MICHELE NORRIS: I think the--
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: You can tell them that--
MICHELE NORRIS: I think the--
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: --there are past examples of bravery, and fortitude, and--
MICHELE NORRIS: The answers is, “Your grandparents survived this, and you will, too, if you don’t stay on the couch--
DAVID FRUM: But you need to take the measure of the-- the threat to democratic institutions in this country and around the world. And I-- I don’t think we do people a service by saying, “You know, there have been bad things in the American past before.” There have been. This is our bad thing, and it’s about as bad a thing as has happened in any of our lifetimes.
MICHAEL GERSON: It-- it also concerns me -- we do have this entirely new set of economic and social circumstances. That the normal reaction would be to propose the politics of the future. How do we adjust? How do we compare-- prepare people for the new economy, give them the skills and social capital they need to succeed in an entirely different world? And you look at the message of “Make America Great Again.” And that is a backward-looking message. That is kind of a return to social patterns and economic, you know, approaches of the past. We can’t undo globalization. That’s not possible. And then you look at Hillary Clinton in this last election. She had a very backward-looking message as well. It was not, the-- you know, the forward-looking, prepare America for opportunity, you know, address the deepest problems of our country. So we have two parties that in our last political experience are not addressing the future. They’re actually talking about nostalgia.
MICHELE NORRIS: Well, and they’re not in some ways addressing reality, you know, also. I mean, in the phrase “Make America Great Again,” there is one word that if you are a person of color that you sort of stumble over. And it’s the word “again.” Because you’re talking about going back to a time that was not very comfortable for people of color. They did not have opportunities. They were relegated to the back of the line. And this is a country that, you know, to be honest, was built on the promise of white prosperity above everything else. And for a lot of people when they hear that message, “Make America Great Again,” deeply encoded in that message is a return to a time where white Americans can assume a certain amount of prosperity because--
MICHAEL GERSON: And that’s true of gay people. It’s true of women who want leadership roles in this society. It’s a - It’s a fairly-- large, you know, group of people who are not - don’t like nostalgia in that sense.
JOHN DICKERSON: Michele, did you-- since the Race Card Project, you’ve spent a lot of time looking at the conversation about race in all of its different forms in America. Did you - when you saw the racial aspects of this campaign, say, “That’s what I’ve been hearing,” and that’s been bubbling under the surface for the last four years or six years you’ve been working on this? Or--
MICHELE NORRIS: More particularly in the last two years. I--I don’t want to say that I told you so, but I was not as surprised by Donald Trump’s victory because I saw a lot of these sentiments coming in, you know, over the transom. A lot of people feeling a lot of vertigo in this country for a lot of reasons. Some of it is, you know, racial fragility and not necessarily feeling like their feet touch the floor, feeling that they’re not at the front of the line. But also technological disruption. Even though the economy, all these indices of the economy, suggest that we’re doing fine, people don’t necessarily feel it. And Donald Trump was able to tap into a message where people felt a lot of discomfort. And-- and that again is somewhat retrograde. I mean, fear is not our brand, you know, in America. And-- and that is so much sort of the bright vein that ran--
DAVID FRUM: But the reason these --
MICHELE NORRIS: -- through this campaign.
DAVID FRUM: -- things are happening, and not just here but everywhere else, is-- look, we’ve-- we’ve had a period of quite slow growth since the year 2000 for most people at the same time as we have had convulsive levels of migration. Migration is one of those policies who-- that has-- we’ve lost sight of what it’s supposed to do. We have it whether we need it. We have it when the economy is good. We have it when the economy is bad. We have it when jobs are-- when jobs are looking for work. We have it when workers are looking for jobs. And it is profoundly destabilizing to people. And look at what-- in Europe it is connected to extraordinary physical insecurity. These levels of violence and disorder that are connected to the immigration. And so it is-- that’s also not surprising.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me take a pause there. We’ll be back with more from our panel.
JOHN DICKERSON: And we’re back with our panel. David, I want to ask you -- Barack Obama has been saying to Democrats who are nervous about Donald Trump, “The office constrains the man.” He says the White House will keep Donald Trump from doing all of the things he promised he would do in the campaign. Do you buy that theory of the presidency?
DAVID FRUM: No. Not at all. I’m not sure that Barack Obama would really buy it. I think it’s just the sort of thing that an outgoing president says. Especially to a party that feels maybe that outgoing president didn’t do all that he could have or should have done to assure his-- the preservation of his own legacy. The power of the-- the presidency is very powerful. It’s more powerful than it used to be. And it’s especially powerful when it is joined to a Congress of the same party. And a Congress that’s full of people who are doubters of Donald Trump but who have made a bargain. That there are things that they want badly to do. They look to this president to sign those things. And he’s made it clear the things you in-- the Republicans in Congress care about most he will do. And all he asks in return is that they leave him alone to do the things that he cares about most. So we’re going to have an agenda from Congress that is pretty unpopular in all of the country that is able to passed into law only because this unpopular president is there by accident to sign it. So they are dependent on him. They know if he falls, they’re doomed. And he meanwhile has a highly individualistic agenda I believe that is focused mostly on self-enrichment and also self-protection against investigation of the extent of foreign involvement in his election.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I-- I will attach myself to David’s negativity in this case. The presidency is a very powerful office. And what we’ve seen in the run-up to inauguration is that the man has the power just through his use of Twitter to destabilize among other things the most important bilateral relationship between two countries in-- in the world, the China-US relationship. So his ability to create chaos is--is-- is really quite remarkable. And-- and-- and-- one could say, yes, when you’re really frightened, when-- when the intelligence people come in and say, “You can’t do that, or this war is going to break out,” well, then-- well then a lot of presidents get constrained. But this is a guy so far that won’t take intelligence briefings. So that’s--
DAVID FRUM: Well --
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: -- problematic.
DAVID FRUM: But China is big and can look after itself. He also has the power to identify, “Hey, you, union president in small town America, you, everybody on Twitter, hate him and bring him death threats--” So that power--
JOHN DICKRESON: Yeah.
DAVID FRUM: --has been used once. I don’t think (INAUDIBLE)
MICHELE NORRIS: But that’s where the bargain may fall apart though. You know, the grand bargain that he has allegedly struck with Republicans. Because I think you may start to hear this phrase, “Country first.” And if people are really concerned about democracy, it’s a moment where people will really have to think about-- what is -
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: But an awful lot of Republicans have bent in his direction though. They have moved in his direction--
JOHN DICKERSON: Michael, would you--
MICHAEL GERSON: And the problem is not just chaotic management theory. It’s actually a weird cycle by which people stay on message for seven days. And then all of a sudden, 3:00 in the morning, he reads InfoWars, and, you know, sends off a tweet, and goes off. And then everyone has to go to the family and say, “Can you get him back on the wagon?” And then there’s another crisis like-- process like this. The presidency can’t work that way. You can tank markets. You can invite incursions. You can do a variety of things. And the manner in which he both manages and his lack of control -- impulse control when it comes to his own message, I don’t know how that works in the presidency. It’s going to be fascinating.
MICHELE NORRIS: Well, he-- the president -- he may not change, but his responsibilities will change. And so you have someone who-- who obviously has a certain amount of impulse control walking into an office that has great physical and mental demands. And it will be really interesting to see how the office perhaps doesn’t constrain him in terms of power--
DAVID FRUM: It’s interesting --
MICHELE NORRIS: --but just the reality of doing that job, which is a full-time job that you never, ever let go.
DAVID FRUM: Let me give you an example of something we should all be very frightened of. And this may be the single most dangerous thing for world peace that happens. It’s very bad when a president, as Barack Obama did, draws a red line and the red line isn’t actually there. That’s humiliating. That leads people to misunderstand. What is much more dangerous is if the president says the red line isn’t there and it really is. Trump is everyday signaling-- signaling that red lines aren’t there, that NATO doesn’t matter.
JOHN DICKERSON: Meaning that America has withdrawn--
DAVID FRUM: Meaning that--
JOHN DICKERSON: --within its borders.
DAVID FRUM: --But he-- he is wrong about that. That there are--
MICHAEL GERSON: The Baltic states and others.
DAVID FRUM: There’s an American armored brigade taking up a position in Poland. There are NATO -- nuclear-capable NATO armies in Estonia-- and-- and there’s a nuclear-- there are nuclear-capable NATO powers that are in Estonia, and there are NATO armies in Latvia and Lithuania. There’s a big buildup happening in Bulgaria. You give the Russians the idea that the United States is not serious--
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Look, Saddam had this in Kuwait. Saddam felt that the U.S. was signaling that it would have been okay to invade Kuwait, take it as your own. There were mistaken signals sent. Saddam went, and then there was a reaction. And we all know what the reaction was. So this is-- there is precedent in the presidency for this to-- to happen.
MICHELE NORRIS: You know, John, you asked Jeff as an assignment editor what would he be looking for. Where is he positioning people now? The questions that we’re not asking, one of the big questions, I think is-- is in regard to our military, and its capability, and its footprint right now. You know, a much more hawkish administration is going in because of the conflicts that you’re talking about, because of the things that we don’t fully understand. I mean, one of questions I have is: What is our military footprint going to look like? You hear generals quietly talking about a return of a draft, a return of a draft that might include females. You know, these are big questions that I think need to be considered as we go into 2017.
JOHN DICKERSON: Michael, let me ask you this question about the constraints the Republican Party could put on Donald Trump. Clearly one of the stories of 2016 was that there were no constraints in the primary that a party could put on its nominee. And so Donald Trump-- it is now Donald Trump’s party. But in Congress, there are-- Paul Ryan is one example -- David makes the good point that Paul Ryan is getting a lot of what he wanted and is going to try and stick to his lane and not-- and let Donald Trump sort of exist over here. Is that the way you see it in terms of the relationship between Donald Trump and the Republican Congressional leaders?
MICHAEL GERSON: Well, in kind of the Venn diagrams, there’s a -- there’s a middle in which they both agree, which is undoing executive orders, and, you know, maybe tax reform, or, you know, certainly environmental policy, or other areas. So those things will get done. I mean, he has control. And the Congress will support him in--in those things. But, I-- you know, on-- on items where they do not share that agenda, you know, I don’t know. The president has a tremendous ability to set the priorities, the national priorities. And the problem here is, you know, I think that he is signaling an agenda, tax cuts, massive infrastructure, defense increases, balanced budget, that are completely inconsistent. There’s no budget you could put together that actually includes all the priorities that he’s talked about. They don’t know how to put together a budget. That’s going to be a fascinating initial test of whether he actually has a realistic budget and--
DAVID FRUM: And he has the least competent OMB director in the history of the office.
MICHAEL GERSON: Right. So it’ll be interesting whether he can lead on that or where they are just overwhelmed by the reality of governing in a way that may empower the Congressional wing of the party.
JOHN DICKERSON: Michele, do you see in response-- you know, two big forces -- there are often big opposite reaction forces. We saw it in Barack Obama’s election, that the birther movement, Donald Trump being the leading proponent of the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Do you see that kind of shock reaction in a way that becomes formalized or-- or that tries to match Donald Trump in the power and success that he had with his tactics?
MICHELE NORRIS: I-- it would probably come from the Democrats. And one of the challenges there is the Democratic Party is very complex. And it is a party of-- it is truly a big tent party. And so it’s unclear exactly how that will happen. Right now because the Democratic Party also seems to be doing a little bit of introspection and still-- you know, we’re still sort of adjudicating what happened in November of 2016 and not necessarily looking forward to what will happen, I think we’re going to see that, though. And I think some of it might actually possibly come not just from the Democrats but from Republicans. Donald Trump made a lot of promises that are going to be very difficult to deliver. And the people that he pumped up at all these-- these rallies during his campaign and now, you know, as he’s just completing his victory tour, people have great expectations. And, you know, when you ask people to pick up their pitchforks and march behind you, if you can’t deliver, those pitchforks wind up being aimed at you in the end.
DAVID FRUM: There are a lot of things Donald Trump doesn’t know. But he does know how to dominate, bully, and provoke. And one of his goals, I think, in 2017 will be to drive people on the left to do self-destructive things that will damage them and empower him.
MICHAEL GERSON: If that works, we will have no center-right party and no center-left party in America. It will be the institutionalization of the extreme polarization --
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: But the enormous assumption David is making is that the Democrats on the left will have the discipline to respond to this--
DAVID FRUM: Well I didn’t make that assumption.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Well no, no, no --
JOHN DICKERSON: And there is no incentive for the left --
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: But the implicit assumption is-- there’s no possibility that this party that has no senior leadership at the moment, that has no plausible candidate to run against Donald Trump in four years. It has a bunch of semi-plausible candidates--
DAVID FRUM: But that party’s going to spill out beyond leadership. I mean, yes, there will be the Nancy Pelosis and all of the other aged Democratic office holders. But there will be-- there will be then this frenzy of activity. Occupy Wall Street but for real and purposeful out in the streets. And-- and the question is: Will they do--
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: And that will lead to the crackdown.
DAVID FRUM: --wise things? Or will they do foolish things? Will they march with Mexican flags and burn American flags? Or will they-- or will they say, “We are here to defend not in an ideological way but to defend American institutions”? And that will be a test of discipline. And I am anxious as to whether people--
MICHELE NORRIS: But defending American institutions--
JOHN DICKERSON: Last word --
MICHELLE NORRIS: I think, you know, when we’re talking about protests, you have to remember that people have a right to protest. And sometimes defending American institutions is actually challenging them.
DAVID FRUM: What I mean by defending American institutions is that the president shouldn’t have his own private band of bodyguards. He should use the Secret Service. What I mean by defend is the president shouldn’t extract bribes. What I mean by defending American institutions is the president should tell the truth. He should release his tax returns. Basic norms of how a democracy with a strong executive and weak checks on corruption, which is unfortunately something that has always been true in the United States. How it polices itself. Those are the things. I don’t mean-- I’m not telling anyone to be quiet. I’m telling people to understand the nature of the threat they face. And it’s-- it’s-- it’s not because you’re going to have conservative appointees to the Supreme Court. That is not-- if I were a liberal and a Democrat, which I’m not, I-- I would hope I would have the discipline to say, “You know what? The Republicans, they won the election. They get to have their Supreme Court appointees.” They don’t get to have, however, their private presidential bodyguards. That’s not okay.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. We’re going to have to end it there. Thanks to all of you for joining us. And a happy 2017 to you, what you’ve said today notwithstanding. We’ll be right back in a moment.
DICKERSON: That’s it for us today. Thanks for watching on this New Year’s Day 2017. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I’m John Dickerson.