Some people binge on “Succession” or a sit com. My wife and I never miss “Fareed Zakaria GPS” Sundays on CNN, and I advise everyone I know to watch, too. It’s the best in-depth TV examination I know, and it covers the most important issues facing the US and the world – except for the danger now facing our democracy.
Fareed Zakaria is public intellectual, prolific author, columnist, Davos interviewer, and political moderate. He seems to be on a first-name basis with most every high-ranking official in the world and an impressive array of academic and journalistic experts.
Check out last Sunday’s show, rich in content about how dismayed foreign leaders he’s recently interviewed are with Joe Biden’s “America First” protectionist industrial and trade policies. Then came a frightening interview with Geoffrey Hinton known as “the godfather of Artificial Intelligence” about AI’s present ability to spread disinformation and the future “existential threat” that AI could become smarter than humans and out of our control. Also: the first interview as the new president of the World Bank, Ajay Banga, on how devastating the COVID pandemic, the Ukraine war, and climate change have been on the world’s poorest people.
But most arresting for me was the best summary I’ve seen of the potential national security dangers presented by Donald Trump’s careless storage of highly classified national security documents at his estate in Florida. If obtained by spies from a hostile foreign government, said Timothy Naftali, an intelligence historian and former CEO of the Nixon Library, the results would compare to a Nazi discovery that the allies had broken its military codes during World War II.
According to the 96-page federal criminal indictment of Trump just released, Naftali said, the documents stored in ballrooms, bathrooms and bedrooms included names of US spies in hostile countries, potentially putting their lives in danger. Additionally, there were US and allied war plans, US and foreign military assets, and information derived from US code-breaking and satellite surveillance.
“This is not high level gossip,” Naftali said. “This is about our ability to protect ourselves and our allies. One cannot imagine a collection more valuable than those that Donald Trump considered his trophies.”
Naftali also summarized the charges that Trump was required by law to turn the documents over to the National Archives but systematically refused to, knew they were classified, knew that a former president could not declassify them, engaged in a conspiracy to keep them hidden from the government, and showed some off to people not cleared to see them.
Unfortunately, Zakaria did not discuss the political implications of the Justice Department’s indictment, which is already exacerbating divisions in our country and, considering that Trump is the leading Republican candidate for president, have the potential of destroying democracy.
Trump and many GOP leaders and followers fundamentally are seeking to upend alleged domination of the country by “elites” – universities, highly-educated liberals, the media, big corporations – and the federal government’s “deep state” and the Democratic Party, which he used to allege is “Socialist” and lately has called “Communist.” This collection is in the process of “destroying our country,” Trump says.
He claims that he alone can “Make America Great Again,” but that he and his party are being systematically persecuted by the deep state’s enforcers—the FBI, CIA, Internal Revenue Service—and that the Justice Department has been “weaponized” against him and potentially the ex-president’s supporters. His indictment, he alleges, is only the latest example of a plot to destroy him.
But what he’d replace the enemy regime with, the evidence shows, is an authoritarian regime basically serving Donald Trump himself. Exhibit A is Trump’s attempt to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden, culminating in the June 6, 2021 violent attack on the US Capitol.
Exhibit B, less recognized, is Trump’s “Schedule F” plan to fire 50,000 policy-making federal office-holders and replace them with people – now being identified by Trump aides – loyal to him. In effect, he’d “weaponize” the whole federal government to serve his personal political and economic interests, including prosecuting his political adversaries. He’d also make it easier to sue media outlets for libel, which he claims constantly victimize him.
And, whereas the FBI, Justice Department, and the US military are supposed to operate according to laws, Trump has inspired violent irregulars to protect him and attack his adversaries, such as Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Boogaloo Bois, armed militias, white supremacists, individual extremists, and conspiracist groups like QAnon, recently embraced by Trump.
Trump’s indictment has not affected his following among Republicans, and 67 percent say he should not have been charged. The indictment could actually enhance his support. In DC, House GOP leaders are defending Trump and shouting “weaponization,” while Senate leaders are mostly silent.
According to a just-published CBS poll, 80 percent of likely GOP primary voters think Trump should be able to be president even if convicted. His lead for the nomination is now 38 percent over his nearest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis says he shares Trump’s views, but “without the drama.” However, New York Times columnist Ezra Klein, after reading his book, The Courage to Be Free, argues that the Florida governor is likely to be even more of an authoritarian than Trump.
All this means that democracy is still in danger. I hope my TV favorite, Fareed Zakaria, who did a segment of his show last year on the anniversary of Jan. 6, will do a further show about the peril of our democracy now.