Leave your feedback
New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Amna Nawaz to discuss the year in politics, including the Jan. 6 insurrection and response, the social and political effect of the pandemic, how voting laws were affected, and how it all impacted democracy.
And now to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart.
That is New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.
Gentlemen, good to see you.
Let's have a pretty big discussion here on this final conversation in 2021.
I want to talk more broadly about the state of democracy. I know we have talked about it over the last year, but there's really no bigger story, I think, in 2021 and maybe no bigger question going into 2022.
So, David, I will start with you, because, as you know, our year began with an attack on the U.S. Capitol, the largest attack in over 200 years. And when you look at the numbers today of where Americans are, a September poll found 30 percent of Americans still believe that 2020 election was stolen, the reason that we know folks turnout on January 6 in the first place.
Our own October poll found nearly 40 percent of Americans don't trust that elections are fair.
David, we're talking about foundational parts of our democracy. So, when you look at those numbers, how worried are you?
I'm moderately worried.
I mean, what I see there is disillusionment, distrust and cynicism. We have a great electoral system. We just ran a major election in the middle of a pandemic, and we did it with record turnout, almost no fraud, in fact, for all effects, zero fraud, and we got a result.
And so the — we have more people active and voting than ever before. We have some problems, which we can talk about later, in counting the votes, in making sure the counting is secure. But the actual casting of votes, it's a pretty proud American institution. We should be a little more proud of the things that we have done well.
And so, when I see those votes, I see some partisans, Republicans, who think it was stolen because they're Trumpy Republicans, but also a sad sense of distrust and pervasive cynicism that actually wears down systems that are actually not failing.
And that cynicism can be corrosive to a country.
Jonathan, what do you see when you look at those numbers?
Well, I will answer your original question about how worried am I about our democracy, and I'm very worried.
I hear what David is saying about the participation that we saw in the last election, the millions of Americans who turned out to the polls, but we can't ignore the fact that, as a result of the big lie, we have poll numbers like that that you just showed.
But we also had state legislatures around the country pass restrictive voting laws that not only prevent people from being able to register to vote, but also go the extra length of turning what used to be independent state boards of elections into partisan — partisan bodies, where the state legislature can get involved if the state legislature doesn't like the electoral result or the vote cast by the people. So, the fact that we have that that's happening around the country is what gives me pause.
And the last thing I will say on this is that it wouldn't — what makes it even worse is that one of the two major parties in — political parties in this country is aiding and abetting that effort to undermine the foundation of our democracy.
David, what about that?
I mean, the big lie, the idea of the election was stolen, that is still pushed by arguably the most influential person in the Republican Party. And that is Donald Trump. And it is not forcefully denounced by many leaders.
So, in a two-party system, if one party is messaging things that undermine those foundational parts of democracy, can the system hold?
Yes, so it's an open question.
If you had gone back to Republicans in 2015 and told them what Republicans would be doing in 2021, they would be shocked. And so this is a party that has slid down the toilet. I don't know how else to say it.
And so that is a real problem.
My alarm is — I cut Jonathan's alarm in half just on this voting rights issue. The Republicans are trying to restrict voting. Given the history of our country, that reeks. That just reeks.
Some of the things they're going to do, like voter I.D. laws, are phenomenally popular. Eighty percent of Americans support them. But then the crucial thing to be said about the restrictions on the voting is that voting restrictions don't restrict voting.
This has been studied. And we have talked about this in the show in the past. Over and over again, by academics, they find, when states tighten voting restrictions, voter turnout is the same. When they loosen voting restrictions, turnout is the same. Voters vote.
And so I'm less alarmed by that than the second thing that Jonathan said, which is the state legislatures taking over after the votes are counted. And for that to be really problematic, it would have to happen in a purple state. There would have to be a Republican state legislature powerful enough to basically politicize the system in the sort of state Joe Biden would carry.
If they do that, then we have a real problem in our democracy.
David, just to put a finer point on that, for anyone not tracking over the last year, there have been massive efforts to restrict voting at the state level across the country in 2021, right, more than we have seen in modern history.
And when you look at the numbers, according to the Brennan Center, between January 1 and December 7, there are at least 19 states that passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. Heading into the next year, into 2022, 13 states will be considering bills that restrict voting access.
At the same time, we also know 25 states enacted new voter protections in 2021.
So, Jonathan, I will ask you about — that's at the state level. But, at the federal level, if the government cannot or does not codify voting access, what do you worry may happen?
This goes back to my original question — my original answer, and that is I fear for our democracy.
We saw with Shelby v. Holder sort of the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. And almost immediately after the Supreme Court decision was handed down, states, particularly Southern states, moved very quickly to institute voter restrictions.
And so if the federal government, if Congress cannot find its way to passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or the Freedom to Vote Act, I think, is the last iteration of the other voting rights bill — and I have been a longtime advocate of, do away with the filibuster in order for this — those pieces of legislation to get through Congress, and deal with the consequences later, because if the right to vote is undermine, if the right to vote is diminished in a way that allows for a party to overturn the will of the people, then any of those consequences that could come from doing away with the filibuster will pale in comparison.
That's how — that's how dire I think the situation is. And call me alarmist, but I'd rather be alarmist than complacent.
David, what would you say to that? I know you said we haven't seen them have the impact those voter restriction laws intended to in the past, but do we wait for them to have an impact or should protections go into place now?
Well, this is — states change their voter rules all the time.
And so we have studied this. And, as reporters, we just have to study — report the evidence. And the evidence from study after study after study is that voter restrictions don't restrict voting. And so that doesn't mean we say what is happening is fine. It just means we mitigate some of our alarm.
Now, the — again, this is where I join Jonathan in the alarm. And that's what's happened after votes. And, to me, there's a reform of the Electoral Count Act, which was put in, I don't know, over a century ago to make sure that, after the votes are cast, they're counted properly, the vice president has a proper role, the state legislatures don't overstep their authority.
And if there's one thing we learned from January 6 is, we have got some severe holes in the way we count votes. And that's where our efforts should be. And there's some — even some little glimmers of light that there's a bipartisan majority in Washington for reforming the Electoral Count Act.
And that would be an important first step.
I'm sure, I know, we will continue to cover all of these issues into the new year as well.
But while I have you on this last day of 2021, David, I have to ask, when you look ahead to the new year, where are you watching? What are you following? Are you carrying hope into this next year?
Well, maybe blissful optimism.
And so, in May of 2020, I was looking forward to a summer of joy. And that didn't happen. And I was shocked to learn today that more Americans died of COVID in 2021 than in 2020. So, 2021 was a rough year.
But I'm looking forward to a summer where we have, as — it's not going away, but where we learn to live and breathe again, where we learn to go to concerts again, where we have big meetings, and we don't have to be vaguely paranoid as we're hanging around each other in bars.
And so that's just what I'm looking for. It's a simple hedonistic wish. But I'm going with hedonism in 2022.
Jonathan, what about you?
Well, I'm not going to go that far.
But I do share David's response, because my response was also, I am looking forward to — I'm hopeful about the pandemic.
I'm hopeful in this regard, that we will learn how to live with this pandemic in ways that allow us to be with each other again, to do all the things that David said, even if you want to be hedonistic about it. Great. But at least we won't be living in a defensive crouch, afraid, afraid to go out of our homes, afraid to be with our friends and family, afraid to be with other people, for fear of catching this deadly virus.
So that's what makes me hopeful.
David, as you look into the new year too, I should ask as well big political things that you want to watch, setting aside your own personal social plans.
My personal hedonism while I'm in the hot tub?
Yes, I worry about abroad.
We have had an easy time in foreign policy over the last few years, and we have been blessed by not having major international disasters. I worry about Russia and Ukraine quite a lot. I worry about that China's a lot less stable than it seems, or that China gets into a conflict with Taiwan or somebody else in the Pacific.
I worry about the Middle East. Somehow, I just have the gut sense that the sweet ride for the most part that we have had internationally, we're pushing our luck, Amna.
I'm paying attention to the January 6 Select Committee.
I think that, all through December, they have been ramping up with the subpoenas, with the invitations to voluntarily testify to sitting members of Congress. Next year, we're going to see public hearings, televised hearings. We could very well see subpoenas of sitting members of Congress, and watching those sitting members of Congress defy subpoenas.
And so the January 6 Select Committee is on — is going down uncharted territory. But it is territory that needs to be forged. They are looking into an attack, not only on Congress, but on our democracy and its investigation and its findings. The investigation needs to go forward. The findings need to be made public. And the people who are found culpable need to be held accountable.
I'm certain we're going to hear a lot more on all of those topics from both of you.
I, for one, am looking forward to seeing you both in person in the new year. So, here's hoping that happens very soon.
Until then, please stay safe. Thank you so much. Happy new year to both of you.
Happy new year.
Happy new year to you.
Watch the Full Episode
Support Provided By:
Subscribe to Here’s the Deal, our politics newsletter for analysis you won’t find anywhere else.
Thank you. Please check your inbox to confirm.
Additional Support Provided By: