Civil Society | Yascha Mounk: How do we save democracy? | March 29, 2018.

Civil Society | Yascha Mounk: How do we save democracy? | March 29, 2018.


[music] Yascha Mounk: But what we’ve seen over the
last 20, 25 years is that nationalism is not going away as a political force. And so I think it’s a half-domesticated animal. If you leave it to its own devices, the worst
kinds of people are gonna come in. In the United States, they tend to be called
Steve, like Steve Bannon, and Steve Miller, and so on. [laughter] YM: And they’ll prod and they’ll bait the
nationalist beat until it runs wild. Until it’s the worst form of itself it can
be. [Music] Sabrina Nanji: You start off with defining
what we think of as democracy, and how maybe democracy as we know it is devolving into
aliberal democracy. Can you maybe just talk about what the difference
is between that and what you mean when you talk about liberal democracy, small ‘l’ liberal
democracy? YM: Sure. Look, I think there’s a lot of confusion about
what exactly we mean when we talk about democracy. Right? A little under 10 years ago, there was a big
referendum in Switzerland, in which people voted on whether or not it should be legal
to build minarets in the country. The tower from which we’re called to pray
as often done on the side of a Mosque. And 62% of Swiss people voted to outlaw the
building of minarets in the country. As a result, the Swiss constitution now reads,
and I quote, “There’s freedom of religion in Switzerland full stop. The building of minarets is forbidden full
stop.” YM: It doesn’t make much sense. Now, a lot of people in response called this
undemocratic. A lot of Swiss papers, Canadian papers, American
papers, said, “This is undemocratic.” And I think that’s the confusion, right? Because if 62% of people vote for this, it’s
strange to say this is not democratic, right? What then does democracy mean? I think we can clear this confusion up by
remembering that there’s two basic things that our political system tries to accomplish. It’s liberal and it’s democratic. YM: Now by liberal I don’t mean liberal and
conservative, I don’t mean Justin Trudeau versus Mr. Harper or anything like that. I mean a commitment to individual liberty. To the idea that you can say and not say whatever
you want, that you can worship in the way you want or not worship and that will be respected,
that you can be in a relationship with who you want to be in a relationship with. And in order to facilitate that, we need a
set of key things. We need the protection of individual rights,
but we also need the Separation of Powers and the Rule of Law, so that a dictator can’t
just punish people he doesn’t like. YM: So that’s one part of it. The other part is democracy. The idea of a rule of the people, which to
my mind has to mean that you’re actually translating popular views into public policies in some
kind of way. That the political system is actually responsive
to what people want. And what I argue in the book, one of the things
I argue in the book, is that these two things have been starting to come apart for a long
time. That for a long time we’ve had a political
system that isn’t sufficiently responsive to people, something you might call “rights
without democracy”. YM: And that in part as a result, we now get
politicians that are often quite popular, that are democratically elected or that even
pass what they want through referendum, the things that are democratic, but they’re not
liberal. They violate the rights of minorities, and
increasingly they concentrate so much power in their own hands that they undermine the
Rule of Law and The Separation of Powers. SN: Why is it that younger generations don’t
think it’s as important to have all of these liberties and freedoms or it’s not as essential
to live in democracies like western democracies that we think of today? YM: Yeah. I think it’s worth explaining where a lot
of my concerns in the book come from. When I was growing up, I assumed and political
scientists assumed, journalists assumed, citizens assumed I think, that democracy in certain
countries was safe. We always knew that there was some fledgling
democracies, often in poor countries, that might be embattled. Right now, there’s a real challenge to Kenyan
democracy and that’s tragic. Kenya is a very important country, but it
wouldn’t have surprised political scientists because it’s not a very affluent country. Democracy had never, in their terms, been
consolidated there. YM: But once a country had a GDP per capita
of more than about 16,000 Canadian dollars in today’s terms. Once it has changed government through free
and fair elections a couple of times, it was supposedly safe. It was supposedly consolidated. And the way that this was supposed to look
was that democracy had become the only game in town. That most people gave this huge importance
to democracy, that very few people were open to authoritarian alternatives to democracy,
and perhaps most importantly that there was no major politicians or political parties
that really violated some of the very basic rules and norms of how a democratic system
was supposed to work. YM: Well, a few years ago before Donald Trump,
before Brexit, before Doug Ford for that matter, though I believe that his brother had already
been mayor somewhere in the world. We started to look at that with a [10:40]
____. We started to look at, “Is that actually still
the case?” And what we found was pretty shocking. We saw that actually when you look at the
United States for example, over two thirds of older Americans born in the 1930s and 1940s,
say it’s essential to them to live in a democracy. Less than one third of younger Americans born
since 1980 do. YM: 20 years ago, one in 16 Americans said
that army rule was a good system of government. Now one in six do. And among young and affluent people in the
United States, it actually went from 6% to 35%. Nearly a six fold increase. Now perhaps sitting in Toronto you might be
tempted to say, “Well, that’s just the people who are south of the border. They’re a little strange.” But this is actually something that’s going
on in a lot of countries. There’s a lot of European countries in which
the number of people who like the idea of a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother
with parliament and elections has gone up a lot over the last 20 years. YM: So, the question is, why is it that this
has changed so much over time and why is it that young people are particularly prone to
that? Well, I think there’s a few reasons for that. One is, that young people don’t understand
the threat of non-democratic systems in the same way. If you were born in the 1930s and in 40s,
you have some life understanding of the threat that fascism poses, and you have some life
understanding of the threat that communism posed throughout the Cold War, of how horrible
life was for people in the Soviet Union. I think for a lot of young people that’s not
the case anymore; they look at the political system that we have today and they say, “Look,
there’s lots of things wrong with it. There’s all kinds of problems. So perhaps this isn’t working so well, perhaps
we should try something new. How bad could things get?” And they don’t have a life understanding of
how bad things could get. SN: That being said, what makes someone want
to vote for an authoritarian, strong leader? Someone who is going to make them feel secure
and safe and have a better future outlook, and make a better life for their children? Why is that promise… I know why the promise is appealing, but why
does a leader like that appeal to voters who might be feeling insecure or alienated? YM: Yeah. I think there’s two questions here, right? One question is what is the nature of the
appeal? And the other question is, why is there that
appeals now rather than in the past? Let me answer both of those. The nature of the appeal is always the same. And this word populist is used all of the
time and nobody quite knows what it means, and I was tempted to say let’s just never
use the term because it’s too confusing. But I think there is a core to it which makes
sense. So why do we call Doug Ford a populist? Why do we call Donald Trump a populist? Why do we call Recep Erdogan a populist? Why do we call Viktor Orban a populist? Why do we call somebody like Hugo Chavez in
Venezuela a populist? They don’t seem to have much in common. You may have noticed that the current president
of the United States is not overly fond of Muslims. When you look at Recep Erdogan, the president
of Turkey, he doesn’t appear to be overly fond of anybody who’s not a Muslim; so they
don’t have that in common. YM: There are some populists who are very
right wing on the economy, who say the real problem is that tax is too high and we’re
spending too much on poor people, and let’s slash the welfare state. There are other people who are actually very
left wing economically and who are saying we need to spend a lot of more on the welfare
state and so on. So what do they have in common? Well, one thing, which is the claim that politics
at its heart is really simple, but the only reason why you have political problems is
that the elite is corrupt and self-serving, and that it cares more about special interests,
or outsiders, or minorities you don’t like than it does about quote-unquote people like
you and me, and that I as a populist have a unique ability to embody common sense and
the real people. “I am your voice”, Donald Trump said at the
Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio in 2016. “I alone can fix it. Once I’m in office everything is going to
be better.” Well, once they’re in office, it doesn’t quite
turn out to be like that, does it? People suddenly say, “Who knew that things
could be so complicated?” “Who knew that health care could be so complicated?” I have a suspicion that you might read in
a tweet in a couple of weeks or months, “Who knew that negotiating with Kim Jong-un might
turn out to be complicated?” [laughter] YM: But of course they don’t actually want
to admit that they have failed to deliver on their promises and that it’s their own
fault. So what do populists do in the next step? They start to blame. They start to blame the media for telling
lies and propaganda and “fake news,” and they need to be regulated and brought to heel. They start to blame the opposition, whom they
don’t recognize as legitimate political adversaries, but they think of them as illegitimate enemies
and so they call them traitors, terrorists. And they start to blame independent institutions,
whether it’s courts, whether it’s institutions like the FBI or the Department of Justice,
who are enemies of the American people, or the Turkish people or the Hungarian people;
it’s the same rhetoric. So that’s the nature of the populist appeal,
and it is surprisingly consistent across context, and it’s dangerous in very similar ways. But that leaves open the question of why is
this happening. SN: Yeah, I guess why do we go from populism,
which I think is supposed to reflect popular will, and if the majority of people are feeling
this way, then why not? But how do we sort of go from populism to
authoritarian, or militaristic rule? Is that a slippery slope? And how does that happen? YM: Yeah. I think you can see it in the set of steps
that I’ve described. Jan-Werner Müller [17:08] ____, I think very
helpfully says, that populism is the exclusive claim to the moral representation of the people. That’s a bit of a mouthful, but what he means
by that is that, “I alone represent the people, and anybody who disagrees with me thereby
is illegitimate”; that is the crucial thing about populists. Now once you claim that, you can’t say, “Hey,
you know what? I disagree with what the opposition party
does, but if they have the votes to block a certain legislative proposal, that’s fine;
that’s a normal part of politics.” You can’t say, “Hey, I disagree with the way
that the court ruled on this particular thing, but that’s fine; that’s a normal part of politics.” Instead you start to undermine those institutions. Look at somebody like Viktor Orban in Hungary;
there’s elections very soon in Hungary. Somebody was elected in 2011, who immediately
started to say, “The judiciary is really inefficient. Court cases take too long and so on. I’m gonna reform it.” YM: And he took political control of the judiciary. He said, “Well, the state media, they’re telling
too many lies, so we really need to change who is allowed in television in the state
media.” Well, now it’s become a pure propaganda outlet
for the government. He started to say, “Hey you know what? Let’s put a little bit of pressure on the
private media companies so that they can’t be too critical of the government.” They are now essentially owned by Orban’s
friends and colleagues. And he took control of the electoral commission. So that in the last months the electoral commission
investigated every opposition party in the country and fined them the total sum of electoral
funding they had gotten, but miraculously it neglected to investigate Fidesz, the party
of the ruling prime minister. YM: So we now have elections in the heart
of the European Union. In a country which political scientists had
said had achieved a consolidated democracy just a few years ago, which are neither free
nor fair. And we see precisely the moment in which a
democratically elected prime minister is no longer able to be dislodged by democratic
means. And that’s an important thing to note. Look, when you think… When I ask you to think about when did… Sort of think of one case in which democracy
spectacularly collapsed, what are you thinking about? Well, I’m gonna take a guess, I think you’re
thinking about Berlin in 1943. That’s a dangerous comparison, not just because
all stupid arguments start with Hitler. [laughter] But because it’s meant to be alarmist,
but it’s actually the opposite. If you think that the way that democracies
perish is people doing Hitler salutes in the streets and having big shiny black boots and
running around with torches, then you’re gonna look outside today and say, “Well, none of
this is happening, so we’re fine.” But that’s not how democracies go to die. Hungary is how democracies go to die. SN: I had talked to, I guess a behavioral
scientist, about why a populist leader would appeal to an average voter in Ontario. And they suggested that those sentiments,
xenophobic, economic stress, us versus them, those feelings need to be nurtured and those
messages need to sort of be roused. And so, how does that happen today? And I guess, I’m asking specifically about
social media. Is that sort of making it easier to give rise
and to empower anti-system fringe political movements like populism? YM: So I think what’s absolutely clear is
that the sort of ugliest sentiments that come out in populism need to be nurtured by a capable
political entrepreneur, who preys on them and so on. But sometimes people in each country become
so obsessed with their particular populist that they think it’s all about the fact that
this guy, or sometimes girl, but rarely, suddenly appeared on the political scene. And say, “Well it’s just Trump was famous
and he had his platform and this and that, and that’s why we have it now.” But it’s a funny coincidence isn’t it, that
these people just appeared in all of these different countries at the same time. So, I don’t think it’s about them. I think it’s about things that are deeper
than that. That make it possible for somebody like Trump
to exploit a set of longer term developments in a way that Huey Long tried to do in the
middle of the 20th Century but couldn’t ride all the way to the presidency because they
weren’t as strong, they weren’t as deeply rooted. So if you allow me this slight excursion,
I’m gonna tell a story about a chicken to explain all of this. SN: Great. [laughter] YM: Now this is the kind of chicken that,
if I’m allowed to make a couple of presumptions about the audience here, you’d all like to
eat for dinner. Which is to say that it’s local and organic
and free range and those kinds of things. And all the other animals on the farm tell
it, “Hey, be careful. The farmer only seems nice, but one day he’s
gonna come and kill you.” And the chicken says, “What are you talking
about? Every day the farmer comes and feeds me and
he mutters some encouraging words. Why would things suddenly be so different?” Well, Bertrand Russell is who I’m stealing
this story from, the British philosopher in his nice, wry wit says, “That one day the
farmer does come to wring the chicken’s neck, showing that more sophisticated views as to
the uniformity of causation would have been to the chicken’s benefit.” [laughter] YM: What does he mean by that? What he means is that there are scope conditions
to how things work in the social world. So as long as the chicken was too thin to
fetch a good price on the market, he had a reason to keep feeding it. Once it was fat enough to fetch a good price,
he was always going to slaughter it. I think we should think about the scope conditions
of democratic stability. Why is it that democracies around the world,
at least in countries that are relatively affluent and so on, were so stable for 50
years, 60 years after World War II, and some countries even longer than that, and now they’re
starting to be so unstable? And I think there’s three big structural reasons. And social media is one, but I think the other
two are in someways more important. So the first is just the stagnation of living
standards for ordinary citizens. In most countries, the living standards of
people doubled generation after generation for most of the period of democratic stability;
and now, it’s flat, or at best slightly increasing. And that makes a real difference in how people
think about politics. YM: Look, when you go back to 1970, I don’t
think that people in Toronto looked at Ottawa and said, “I love the capital and everybody
who’s there is wonderful and the average MP is a paragon of moral virtue.” People always had their skepticism towards
their political leaders. But in the end we said, “You know what, I’m
twice as rich as my parents were, my kids are probably gonna be twice as rich as me,
let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. They seem to be sticking to their end of the
deal.” Now they say, “You know what, I fought really
hard all my life and I don’t have much to show for it. My kids are probably gonna be worse off than
me.” Am I allowed to swear in this space? Is this… Would it be a great affront against Canadian
politeness to swear? [laughter] I’m gonna go ahead and do it. It’s gonna be very disappointingly mild now
actually, “I’ve worked really hard all my life, I don’t have much to show for it. My kids gonna do worse than me, let’s throw
some shit against the wall and see what sticks. How bad could things get?” And that’s a really, really strong impulse
I think. The second thing is sometimes portrayed to
be in conflict with this. YM: There’s been this big debate over the
last year, is it about the economy or is it about culture and racism and immigration and
all of those things? Look, anything interesting that’s ever happened
in your life has had more than one cause, hasn’t it? If somebody has fallen in love with you it’s
probably for more than one reason, I hope. And if somebody’s left you, it was probably
for more than one reason as well. So in the same way, the two things actually
go together. Now in most democracies they were founded
as mono ethnic, mono cultural countries, or at least they had a self-conception as being
mono ethnic, mono cultural. When you go back to Europe and you ask people
in 1960, what makes a true Italian, a true Swede, a true Greek? They would’ve said, “Well, somebody who descends
ethnically from the same stock as I, and somebody who’s brown or black, somebody who’s Jewish
or Muslim, or Hindu, they don’t belong.” Now, thankfully that has changed, we’ve have
decades of immigration in those countries, and it has actually liberalized the legal
conception of who gets to be a citizen and the social conception as well. YM: But it shouldn’t surprise us that some
people are angry about that, because they had lots of advantages from the old system. If you are not the richest guy, you’re not
the best educated guy, you perhaps don’t have the most social respect in your society. It’s really tempting to say, “Well, at least
I’m Italian and not one of those foreigners.” Or, “At least I’m part of a majority group
and not one of those immigrants.” You get something from that, you get kind
of a status. Well, now the politician who represents you
in parliament might be an immigrant or a child of immigrants. Your boss might be an immigrant or a child
of immigrants. That’s something we should celebrate, but
it shouldn’t surprise us that some people will rebel against that. YM: Now, Canada and the United States in this
are sort of both similar and different; they’re different in that they’ve always been multi-ethnic
societies, they’ve always been countries of immigration, but they’re similar and that
has always been a strict racial hierarchy that gave big advantages to some people over
others. Let’s not forget how far we’ve come in overcoming
that. There’s no doubt that it’s better to a member
of an ethnic or religious, or sexual minority in Canada, even in United States, today than
it was 20 or 40 or 60 years ago. So we’ve made tremendous progress. But again, they are people who have something
to lose from that, who’ll have some of their privileges taken away, and it shouldn’t surprise
us that they’re rebelling against that. Alright. Social media. The thing that really makes the social media
development important is that there are these two things going on beforehand. YM: The people are already frustrated about
the pocket books and feeling like the system isn’t delivering for them. That they already have the impression that,
“Hey, perhaps something is changing and I’m a little worried about some of the cultural
transformation.” And now you add social media, which makes
it far easier for people to circumvent social gatekeepers. So, whereas 25 years ago, the owners of a
bunch of newspapers and television stations and radio stations could decide who gets a
platform, and sometimes they shut up important voices that are marginalized, but sometimes
they shut up racists and people who wanted to spread fake news. That’s no longer possible, because everybody
can put up their website and anybody can come to it. Everybody can spread opinions in social media
and if they appeal to a bunch of people, they get spread really, really quickly. YM: And that’s great in some contexts, because
it allows… Think of the admirable kids in Florida who
are standing up for gun control, because of their classmates that were murdered. They would never have the platform they have
today if it weren’t for social media. But at the same time, it obviously makes it
easier for people who are racist, for people who want to spread fake news and so on, to
have a real voice in the national conversation. When you add that to the frustration about
the economy and the fears about cultural change, the three things together become a very dangerous
[29:48] ____. SN: So I guess with this whole Campaign Analytica
scandal, did it work? Were they just capitalizing and stirring up
certain feelings and targeting people and potentially influencing how they’ll vote at
the ballot box, or were those feelings already there or did they create them, I guess? What came first? YM: So, as a kind of New Year’s resolution,
I started this Twitter thread, which keeps growing longer every couple of weeks, of controversies
that really aren’t controversies or debates that really aren’t debates. Ways in which we think, “It’s either this
or it’s that,” when really, it can be both at the same time. And there’s this really strange debate going
on where sort of one half of people are saying, “Russia influenced the election. Cambridge Analytica influenced the election. That’s really what it’s all about.” And the other half of people are saying, “No,
no, no. You just want to explain away what happened. You might be a shill for Hillary Clinton or
something like that. So, it’s really nothing to do with those things,
it’s because Hillary was a terrible candidate and we have to… ” That’s not an either/or… I think it may be that the obviously elicit
influence that Russia has had on the election, and the obviously elicit influence that Cambridge
Analytica and some of the illegal activities that they were clearly up to have had on the
election swung the election. In the end, Donald Trump won by 80,000 votes
spread among three states. It’s perfectly possible that he would not
have gotten those 80,000 votes if it hadn’t been for that influence. But you know what? If that was the case, he would still have
gotten really, really close to winning the election. SN: Right. M: And in a functioning political system that
doesn’t have some of the deep challenges that I’ve outlined, somebody like Donald Trump
does not get within striking distance of the Presidency. So, you can both think that Russia has had
a terrible influence on the election and that you need very urgent reforms to ensure that
that doesn’t happen again in the mid-terms and it doesn’t happen in 2020. You can both think that clearly Cambridge
Analytica was up to to no good and that Facebook was frankly complicit in it, and that you
need to have big reforms to make sure that that doesn’t happen again. And at the same time recognize that the drivers
of populism are much more long term and much more structural and that just dealing with
those things is not gonna save our political system. SN: Let’s talk about Doug Ford. I don’t know how closely you’re following
Ontario politics. YM: I try not to follow too much about Doug
Ford. [laughter] SN: Based on what you know, and I guess even
Rob Ford, you know the Ford family, would you consider them populist/authoritarian? How would you classify them as politicians
and their political approach and who might they appeal to? YM: So, I don’t know that I wanna make a judgement
about how populist they are, because I’m not sure that I quite know enough about that,
but I think there’s a whole bunch of very interesting things that come out of this. And the first one is that wherever I go in
the world, and you should all be proud of yourselves, wherever I go in the world, in
Germany, in Sweden, in the United States, a question that I get at every event I do
is, “But aren’t there some countries where the populists really aren’t making inroads? What about Canada?” [laughter] YM: Doug Ford. [chuckle] YM: So, I think it does show that no country
is immune from that. And there’s other examples of that. 10 years ago, Sweden looked like a great case
where this wasn’t happening. Now the Sweden democrats, who actually have
roots in the Neo-Nazi movement, are the second strongest party in a lot of polls in Sweden. So, nowhere is safe from that, and I think
you all know that at this point, but people in other countries don’t, so you should feel
flattered. The second thing I would say is that there
is this slightly naïve hope that many people have that you can beat populism by beating
and exposing a particular populist. So, in the United States, a lot of people
are saying, “Look, Donald Trump is this unique threat, but he’s a phony and he’s not really
delivering for his people and eventually people will realize that. And once they do, he’s gonna go down to terrible
defeat in 2020 and everything will be good.” Now look, I think it’s quite possible that
he goes down to ignominious defeat in 2020 and that’s partially because there is a kind
of populist playbook. There is an illiberal international and people
have become very sophisticated at how to do this. But if it was a populist Olympics, Donald
Trump, let’s put it politely, would not be close to medal rank. [laughter] YM: He’s not very good at it. So, I think he might well lose. But the idea that if Donald Trump loses in
2020, that’s the end of that kind of danger to American politics and it’s not gonna come
back, is absolutely naïve and we’ve seen it in lots of countries. In Italy, a man by the name of Silvio Berlusconi,
who has similarities both to Doug Ford and to Donald Trump, dominated politics for two
decades. By 2011, Italians were sick of him. He had a terrible economic record. He had all of these scandals and when there
was rumors that he might be resigning, thousands of people came into the streets of Rome to
celebrate. There was this great amateur orchestra and
choir that assembled in the span of half an hour, I have no idea how they did it, to sing
Handel’s “Hallelujah.” You can watch it on YouTube, it’s beautiful. Then seven years later, they had elections
a couple of months ago, Silvio Berlusconi is back. He’s the kingmaker in Italian politics again. And do you know what, he’s the least scary
of the populists in Italy now, because of the far right League party, which is truly
terrifying and Five Stars has even more of a vote, two thirds of people, nearly two-thirds
of people voted for a populist movement in Italy. YM: So I think you can see that quote in a
similar kind of way. I mean the Rob Ford experiment ended as it
did, and people thought, well that’s that. And now it looks like Doug Ford has a very
good chance of being the next Premier of Ontario. So it sticks with you. The third thing that it shows to me that’s
of relevance beyond Canada is that there’s a certain idea that populism is the last attempt
of a dwindling ethnic majority to sort of have their way. And that as countries become more diverse
you just can no longer assemble the majority you need for populists. In the United States, it’s often called the
idea of inevitable demographic majority. That eventually nice, tolerant, liberal Democrats
are just always gonna win because a majority of the population is gonna be made up by minorities. Well, Doug Ford shows that that’s not necessarily
the case. Ontario is an incredibly diverse place, and
yet a populist can have very large support among minority communities. So the idea that populism is somehow synonymous
with this sort of white identity politics and that it’s impossible for populist to expand
the base beyond that I think is naïve. SN: I think that’s the unique thing about
Doug Ford, and even his brother Rob, that they have high support and coordination among
visible minorities, so it sounds like you’re saying maybe Doug Ford is just an itch Ontario
needs to scratch or is that sort of heralding a new political world order? YM: I don’t know that I said that. I think it tried to scratch that itch with
Rob Ford, didn’t it? It’s very tempting to make some kind of drug
metaphor here, but I’ll leave that. No, I don’t think that these itches get scratched. I think that’s the point. I think there’s a hope that people have that… So look, there’s the model of populism where
populism is sort of this self-correcting mechanism, right? There’s big flaws in our politics, establishment
parties aren’t responsive enough, people feel disempowered by our politics, nobody listens
to what they really want, a bunch of that is true. And so populist are gonna correct the mechanism,
because what we’re gonna do is, that they push establishment parties to finally get
the act together, to some degree they themselves can actually make some real reforms. That means that the system delivers for people
again and things sort of calm down and we return to a sort of normal politics. That’s the optimistic vision. I think that often it’s the opposite. It’s a self-radicalizing mechanism where,
A, populists don’t help to address some of the underlying grievances, they often exacerbate
them. YM: Has Donald trump helped to make people
in the Midwest feel less like they are being screwed over by the political system? Feel
more like they actually have economic hope? I don’t think so. I don’t think his policies do that, right? And second, it makes it much harder for establishment
parties to actually do good work and to actually implement real policy reform that can deliver
for people. So my fear is that it’s self-radicalizing
and that when people one day come to recognize, “Hey, perhaps this particular populist actually
lied to me, he wasn’t very reliable and we should turn on him,” they don’t say, “Let’s
return to a more sort of moderate part of politics,” they might say, “Let’s go for somebody
who’s even more extreme or let’s go for somebody who’s a little bit like that guy, but just
doesn’t turn out to be a crook.” The guy over there seems honest. SN: I’m also curious about populism on the
left side of the political spectrum. I feel like we tend to talk about it in terms
of right-leaning, conservative politics, but I think someone like Bernie Sanders might
be considered a lefty populist of sorts. Do you think that movement has as much momentum
as maybe conservative populism? YM: Yeah, it’s a great question. I mean, I think it does have a lot of momentum
in certain parts of the world. So in Latin America traditionally a certain
form of left-wing populism has been powerful, think of Venezuela; in parts of Southern Europe
as well. But in the end, it strikes me that in most
contexts right-wing populism is gonna win against left-wing populism. It’s one of the things that makes me skeptical
of left-wing populism. I don’t understand what it is about the human
psyche that makes it harder to blame a corporation or a billionaire than it is to blame that
guy over there who doesn’t look like you. But whenever these two things have come up
against each other, that guy doesn’t look like you has turned out to have more emotional
appeal in most contexts. Then more broadly I think the question is,
is there something positive about left-wing populism or is it always dangerous? Well, I think it depends a little bit on what
you mean by populism. It’s not clear to me that in the way that
I’ve described populism earlier, Bernie Sanders is a populist, right? So, there is sometimes a temptation to call
anybody who has left-wing economic policies populist, and I think there can be people
who have left-wing economic policies and say “but a bunch of things have to change,” but
who recognize, for example, that people who disagree with them are legitimate. YM: What certainly does exist is a set of
left-wing populists who don’t accept that. And Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is a terrifying
example. He said Venezuela is rigged by political elites
and by financial elites, by oligarchs, and that was true. He said we need to do much more for Venezuelan
poor people, that was true too. But because he married those two things with
a claim that anybody who disagrees with him is illegitimate and that only people who are
Chavistas are true Venezuelans, he ended up becoming incredibly politically repressive
and turning a functioning democracy, if an imperfect one, into one of the most terrifying
dictatorships we see in the world today and one of the ones that have had the worst economic
performance. So I think as soon as you start people saying,
“It’s actually pretty simple, the only problem is the elites and what we need to do now is
just to push all these people who you don’t agree with aside, to get rid of some of these
institutional roadblocks, which make it more difficult for me to really go and deliver
for you, just trust me I’m gonna fix it.” That’s always dangerous and that can appear
on the left as much as on the right. SN: So I think we’re running out of time before
a quick Q&A, but how do we save democracy? I saved that question for the end. [laughter] YM: So I only have 30 seconds to answer the
question. SN: In a minute, yeah. In 100 words or less. YM: Sure, in 100 words or less. I think there’s three big buckets of what
we need to do and they come out of the things I’ve talked about. To understand how you can save our democracy,
you have to understand what’s driving some of the dangers to it. Now look, we gotta win some elections, but
we have to also fix some of the things that have made people angry in the first place. So the first thing is around the economy. I am sometimes asked whether we shouldn’t
just abolish capitalism. Isn’t the right answer just to get rid of
capitalism because that’s doing all these terrible things? There’s never been a democracy in a country
that hasn’t been capitalist. And by the way, if you’re on the political
right, you might say, “I only care about coal workers in the west of Canada who might lose
their job and I don’t care about anything else.” If you’re on the political left, you should
celebrate the fact that two billion people around the world have been lifted out of poverty
over the past 20, 25 years. People who didn’t have anything to eat, who
didn’t have electricity, who didn’t have access to education, who now lead middle-class lives. That is an achievement of capitalism, of free
trade and of globalization. But we need to fight much, much harder to
make sure that ordinary people actually get the fruits of that. YM: And not just within developed countries,
the top 1%. And we can do that with policies that aren’t
necessarily deeply ideological. The first thing we have to do is to make sure
that rich individuals and corporations actually pay the taxes that they owe. And we don’t do nearly enough for that. That’s actually possible if we hired more
people to look after them, if we’re more willing to pay for information about the money they
hide and if we’re more willing to lock some of them up if they’ve cheated on their taxes. The second thing is to actually increase productivity,
to make sure that we have much bigger investments in education and so on than we do, including
lifelong education that’s not just, if you’ve lost your job here’s a little retraining program,
but ways for all of us to keep actually learning and so on. And the third thing is that look, at the moment
if you’re in Toronto, you’re 28, 30, you have a pretty good job, you make a decent salary,
you probably have a less good life in certain ways than your parents or grandparents did
because housing has become so much more expensive. Because you have to pay such a huge share
of your salary in order to have somewhere decent to live. And that’s something where we actually just
need to build a lot more housing and get out of a weird addiction to trying to raise house
prices. YM: If a politician stood up for election,
say for Premier of Ontario and said, “I’m gonna make sure that the price of bread and
butter is going to be as high as possible.” Excuse me? But if they say, “I’m going to make sure that
your house price doesn’t go down,” people vote for it. So we need to make sure that we actually try
to make housing more affordable. So there’s a whole bunch of economic measures
which cumulatively allow people to do what the Brexiteers promised in the United Kingdom,
take back control. Take back control in the sense that I will
feel that I have control over my life and I feel that my nation is not against globalization,
is not against free trade, but it can stand for itself in the global economy. There’s ways that the nations that can do
that without having to leave the European Union, without having to give up on free trade,
that’s one thing. The second thing is around… And I know I’m way over 30 seconds. The second thing is about identity. We have to fight for an equal multi-ethnic
society. But I think that means embracing nationalism. I grew up as a Jew in Germany, and so it comes
very naturally to me to say perhaps we should just leave nationalism behind in the 20th
century where it was so cruelly shaped. I know. My family knows the dangers of nationalism
pretty well. YM: But what we’ve seen over the last 20,
25 years is that nationalism’s not going away as a political force. And so I think it’s a sort of half domesticated
animal. If you leave it to its own devices, the worst
kind of people are gonna come in, in the United States they tend to be called Steve, like
Steve Bannon and Steve Miller and so on. [laughter] YM: And they’ll prod and they’ll bait the
nationalist beat until it runs wild, until it’s the worst form of itself it can be. So if people who don’t like that either say,
“Let’s just get rid of nationalism,” or they say, “Let’s celebrate every sub-national identity
groups, whether they’re ethnic, whether they’re religious, whether they’re sexual and so on,
but not the national identity group,” I think that we don’t have anything to put in the
place of what the Steves want to offer. So what we need to do is to defend minority
groups against discrimination without footnote, without compromise and proudly. I also think we need to emphasize what unites
rather than what divides us across racial and ethnic and sexual and so on lines. And that means fighting for an inclusive nationalism
in which, yeah, we’re proud to be Canadian or American or German or whatever it may be. But we’re gonna to make damn sure that everybody
who lives in this country is included under that. YM: The third thing is how to deal with social
media, and how to deal more broadly over disenchantment that people feel. And one temptation there is to censor. It’s to say, “Let’s just regulate what happens
on social media.” And there are certainly some laws that we
need and some laws that already exist that we need to enforce more clearly, like we saw
with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. But I don’t think censorship is the way to
go. The Internet is so freewheeling that it’s
incredibly difficult to actually stop certain kinds of content from being offered without
being very heavy-handed and really restricting people’s liberty. It allows populists to present themselves
as martyrs who are being shut up and become all the more popular as a result. And so I think instead of trying to limit
the supply of noxious ideas, we have to limit the demand for it. And that means taking seriously fighting for
our values and taking seriously that, yes, there’s lots of things that are wrong in our
countries and we need to be upfront about that, we need to fight to overcome those injustices. There’s also some things that are right and
you know what, it is better to be a citizen of Canada or of the United States or of Germany
than it is to be a subject of the dictators in Turkey or Russia or China. And we should point that out proudly. YM: From Plato to Aristotle and from Machiavelli
to Rousseau, any historical thinker who’s fought about how to sustain a self-governing
republic has emphasized the importance of passing our political values down from one
generation to the next. But we’ve only paid lip service to that in
the last decades because we thought democracy was safe. So we’re not taking civics seriously in schools. In universities, we gripe about our political
system, but we never explain to students, and I know that full well teaching at Harvard,
we never explain to our students what it is in our political system that’s worth saving. So I think we should change that and each
of us can actually play a big role in that. SN: You sound hopeful. YM: Sorry? SN: You sound hopeful. YM: I am hopeful.

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