Jordan Klepper sees the future of GOP: 'Conservatives look to Hungary as a conservative wonderland'

Jordan Klepper, correspondent on "The Daily Show," has made a name for himself going to Trump rallies in recent years and cleverly getting Trump supporters to share their unintentionally comedic — and even alarming views. Now Klepper is traveling to the ghost of autocracy's future as he heads to Hungary in his new TV special for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." In "Jordan Klepper Fingers the Globe: Hungary for Democracy," premiering Thursday, April 21 at 11:30 ET/PT on Comedy Central, he explores the alarming connection between the increasingly autocratic government there and our own budding autocratic movement known as the GOP. In fact, America's Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) is holding a conference in Hungary this May.

As we discussed on our "Salon Talks" episode, which you can watch below, Klepper first became aware of this unholy love affair between America's right and Hungary's autocrats when he covered the most recent CPAC convention in Orlando for "The Daily Show." That event surprisingly featured Hungarian politicians who served up all the typical GOP red meat including saying, "Let's Go Brandon," which is code for "F**k Joe Biden." As Klepper explained, "It turns out conservatives look to Hungary as a conservative wonderland."

Why? Simply, Hungary's right wing prime minister Viktor Orban is passionately anti-immigrant, has demonized Muslims, passed vile anti-LGBTQ laws, controls the media, rigged elections, banned topics in school he doesn't approve of and has made George Soros his number one enemy. Sound familiar?

Klepper warned of "Americans' lack of imagination as to what can happen to our own democracy." He aptly noted that the backsliding of democracy happens slowly. "It's the frog that's boiling in a pot of water." That is what happened in Hungary and appears the trajectory the GOP wants to take the United States.

Klepper also shared his view on why people like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin fear comedy at their expense. "Sometimes you just need the clearest way of calling BS, and a joke is often the fastest way to that."

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

You've got this new special about going to Hungary, "Jordan Klepper Fingers the Globe: Hungary for Democracy," and it speaks to all different levels about what's going on in our country. You go to Trump events for "The Daily Show" and have sincere, earnest conversations with people, even though you're being playful. How do you get them just to have a normal conversation and not say "fake news" and that kind of garbage?

Trust me, I go to some rallies and I'm getting yelled at by folks who do say "fake news" and do want to cause a ruckus, but more often than not people want to engage at a rally. People are there to scream for Donald Trump or whoever's in front of them. And so the idea of engaging with somebody and screaming in front of a camera is appealing to many of them.

You either get the folks who see it and are like, "screw you" and walk off, or you get the folks who say, "Screw you. I want to heckle you for the next hour and a half," or you get the folks who say, "I know exactly who you are and that makes me want to engage," so we can go back and forth. Or you get people who have no idea who you are and just want to talk. They want to get their opinions out there in the public. More often, they're not ready for the follow-up to understand what's behind that opinion because a lot of these opinions are just plucked from a man who is making it up on the spot and he doesn't get a follow-up. I luckily get that follow-up and we start to see the gaps in information.

When you talk to some of these people, forget politics, do you get a sense that some of them just want to be a heard? And for some reason, in the case of Donald Trump, they feel that finally someone listens to them or sounds like them?

Well, I think the very human side of all of this, especially when you look at rallies, people want a community and a sense of belonging. I think you go to a rally where you're surrounded by 10,000 other people in a small town, it's a great event, it's why I go tailgating. It's why people join improv groups. It's a community.

They want a sense of meaning. And guess what? When the former leader of the free world says, "You are a patriot. These are the bad guys. Do what you can," you suddenly have meaning, you have meaning and community. I think a lot of these people feel empowered and I think that's very human. That's the most human thing there is. We all need this in our lives. When I engage with those folks, I think they are in a sweet spot where they feel like they are loved, they are part of something, and they are energized to speak truth to power. And also they want to try it out.

But for what it's worth, I think a lot of these people are engaging in the political world for the first time. I think that's also some of the issue, is it becomes all politics and governing completely gets left aside. So the actual issues that we engage with, those are just tools to talk about the politics. They're more interested in the "this did it wrong; that did it wrong – rah-rah" portion. The governing part, the thing that actually matters, that's something people are less versed in. And so that hasn't been thought through. I think you're starting to see people who are like, "Let me engage in this political argument. I am now a part of this. I've watched enough talking heads that I can talk about this thing, let's go. Oh s**t, you're still asking why I think that. Now we have a problem."

You mentioned some people heckle you. Have you ever felt concerned for yourself?

It definitely gets contentious. I saw a real shift after the election. Going out to rallies beforehand, people were confident because Trump was in office. He had won, and they felt very good about the election. After the election took place, even though the narrative was that they had won, people were wounded and they were angry. We were traveling with three or four security guards each place we went, and the Million MAGA March was the first time there was, I think, really palpable danger there. I was interviewing people and what happens when you interview people who are around other people who are bored, what you start to find is people are looking for things to do.

A funny story about Trump events is they're poorly organized. A the Million MAGA March, there were two stages a mile apart, with speakers. And what they didn't do was invest in a good speaker system. So if you were there to listen to the speakers, you had to be within 30 yards of the stage to actually hear it. And so what that meant is you had 40,000 people there and 39,000 of them couldn't hear any of the events so they were just milling about. And when you see a guy from "The Daily Show" starting to interview people, everybody gets activated.

Talking to one person became talking to five people, which became 30 people. And I have to be taken away because people start to charge at me. I'm brought down an alley by security, and they have to create a distraction to get away. And that was the first time it was like, "Oh things are getting palpably angry."

And that's called radicalizing people.

It is.

That's interesting for you that it gets real where you actually have to fear for your own safety. How does it affect the way you process it personally? Do you think, "I'm doing the comedy segment, but there's something deeper that's really troubling in our society going on"?

I love what I get to do. I think to go out and engage with people and hear what actually the narrative is on the ground. And more often, we walk out the door assuming one thing, but more often than not it's something else and actually this is what people care about, this is where their mind's at, this is the conspiracy that we hadn't read on the internet. But when you get there, somebody's going to talk to you about social distancing and the reason that it's six feet is because that's the sign of the devil. And you're like, "Oh, well, I guess I had to go there in person to understand the depth of these conspiracies." We'd like to reflect that in the pieces that we do.

I love finding the comedy there and I think the satire is really important to me, but I think it's also reflective of what's happening in this society. People don't get to see the conversations people are having out in the middle of America. So wherever we can bring some of that energy to the internet and to the show so people get to see, this is the conversations, this is the logic, this is sort of the anger that is there. We don't want to glorify people attacking a foe journalist, so we're not going to make heroes out of these people who are charging at me because I want to continue to have a job, but we also want to show that this isn't all just fun and games.

With this special, for example, we get a little bit more time to show what else is happening outside of here. Or even the last special I did where we showed what happened on January 6th, where you're like, "Yes, we find humor in the blind spots of Americans." I think there's also a lot of sadness in the way that it's weaponized, but there's also a lot of danger. When we can show all of that, then we're giving more complete picture.

In your special, you travel to Hungary. Before we talk about that, I wanted to mention President Zelenskyy, who we all know was a comedian, was interviewed by the Atlantic and said over the weekend that Vladimir Putin, he fears comedy because it's accessible and it's a tool that cuts through things. It's a shortcut to telling the truth. And I thought, what a great definition of it. Here we have seen Donald Trump literally call for "Saturday Night Live" to be canceled, as a candidate, and as President called for the FCC to investigate "Saturday Night Live." And he lashed out against the late night hosts and even before that, he went after Jon Stewart and Bill Maher and other comedians. Do you think there's a connection to the idea that Putin, according to Zelenskyy, fears comedy for his own reasons, and that Trump, a wannabe dictator, objectively fears comedy for similar reasons?

Look at Donald Trump, part of the reason he may have gotten into this whole thing in the first place was getting made fun of at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. That guy reacts more to jokes aimed at him than he does images of immigrants on the border, families separated, or COVID death tolls. Those seem to wash over him, but an "SNL" joke, that's going to haunt him for days. So there's something to it. One, he's a baby. That's what a child does. A child with no empathy reacts more to the jokes aimed at them, than they do the human suffering that he has a hand in affecting. That aside, I think it's emblematic of how effective humor can be. Laughter is a response of recognition and when you see a bunch of people laughing at a joke on "SNL" about Donald Trump or supporting that, it's because people see that BS that they see in Donald Trump and they recognize it. And it's a democratic response to bulls**t. Donald Trump isn't immune to that democratic response, as much as he tries to affect it in other ways.

Comedy is scary. It's also the language of the people. People understand comedy. Satire heightens the BS and the blind spots that we see in society, so that it's palpable and understood in the quickest, biggest, possible way. And in a media landscape where you're in your own bubbles, it can get overwhelming by the influx of information. Sometimes you just need the clearest way of calling BS, and a joke is often the fastest way to that. So, it depends on how you wield that, but I have no doubt. I understand why for giant men in power, whose power is based on the way in which they can control the narrative and control the people who hear that narrative, comedy is a great way to disrupt that narrative. And they should be freaking scared because these jokes are sharp, Dean, sharp.

They're sharp. Look, I have performed comedy in the Middle East and you cannot do jokes with the leaders of those countries. And not all want to truly be feared, but they understood that if you become a punchline, people might not take you as seriously. Instinctively, Trump is cut from that cloth. In Russia, there have been comedians who have been forced to leave the country. They canceled what was equivalent to almost like their "SNL" show. It's a puppet show, but it's well known. These guys don't like being laughed at.

It's power. These people are elevated by power, but it's the emperor has no clothes. And if you've created this world where you're like, "I am invincible because of all of these things that are mostly projections I put out onto the world, you shouldn't be able to criticize my position. I have reached this status." Why did you reach that status, Donald Trump? It's not out of things that you've earned or intellect. You reached that status because you were given money in a privileged society and allowed to fail and continue to fail up, and then bolstered by people who had other more moneyed interests and wanted you to play off of the fears of others to get into that position.

That's not earning something. That's a bulls**t institution that you've definitely benefited from. And so, you don't want people to point that out. You want people to treat you with the respect of somebody who's achieved something. But when you've achieved nothing, well then jokes are going to cut at that and point it out. And so, I don't think he's the smartest guy in the world, but he's smart enough to understand that that emperor is nude as all hell, and it ain't a pretty sight and it's not very big either.

Is there anything that you took away about where the GOP might be going?

Well, I think Americans lack imagination as to what can happen to our own democracy. I think it often gets hyperbolic and people will talk about the fall of democracy and imagine perhaps there's a militarized state and an overthrow. And that's hard for people to grasp, or it feels so far away that people don't engage with that as a real possibility. I think looking at Hungary is a great example. It's the frog that's boiling in a pot of water. It's part of the EU. It's a democracy, that you can vote. They have a free media, but like you just said, they've just been downgraded to a partly free society. And what that looks like is, smart little moves to keep people in power, in power. It means vilifying segments of the population as a way to one, push them out, two, change the constitution, and three, keep those people in power, continue to stay in power.

And so I think, when we look at what could happen in America, Hungary is a very fascinating place to look. And I think, what you see is things like gerrymandering, keeping people in power. You see, once Viktor Orban got in power and his party Fidesz got two-thirds, they started changing the constitution. They started to change what the definition of marriage looked like. So it's between a man and a woman. And that then means that there's no adoption for any kind of gay community there. They started to write vague LGBTQ laws that were vague enough to make essentially it illegal to put any kind of positive gay characters on television, because they start to conflate sexuality with pedophilia.

We start to see this game plan happening in America. I think what we saw with the "Don't Say Gay" bill in Florida, and what's happening now in places like Ohio and Georgia. This is starting to build a narrative that one, gets people scared and upset. Two, politicians start to run on. And also when it comes to immigration, Orban with Syrian refugees basically came up with the blueprint for what Donald Trump did with our border crisis during his tenure.

So I think, it's a really interesting country to look at and it is effective. And what you have is, you have a guy who's been in power for I think 12 years now, who just won reelection, is going to continue to stay in power. And you have these folks who are dissenters in what is happening in their country, losing more in power every election, because they've codified ways in which that party can stay in power. And those people who are part of minority communities have less and less say.

You visited essentially the ghost of autocracy future for America.

Well, I think as far as the culture wars go, the LGBTQ community is fascinating, and we've talked about how they're vilifying that. And I think it's vague laws that make it harder for people to know how to engage with culture without being penalized. They kicked out a university called Central European University. And that is, again, part of this whole woke war, is a George Soros-funded university. Guess what? Also a bad guy in Hungary, perhaps their original bad guy. And now that university, which is a progressive university, it's a global university, it's a giant campus in the center of Budapest; empty. It's completely empty right now. It's been kicked out and now it's in Vienna.

Why? Well, because when you have people in power, you can write very specific laws into your constitution that create ways in which that cultural institutions in your country, well, they can no longer be there anymore. So now they have to go overseas. And so I think they're effectively waging the war on higher ed. They've essentially banned the term gender in a way that has affected the culture and made it really difficult for people to protect those in need.

You start to see things like this, you're like, "Oh, this could happen with America." And again, it doesn't look like something on the surface. "What happened with CEU?" Well, when you get into the weeds about it, it has to do with accreditation, it having international status in America and what have you. And you're like, "Oh, OK. This is just a weird accreditation battle. That's going to happen with some colleges." Well, when you look a little bit deeper and what it is, is it's a progressive institution in the center of Budapest, and now it's no longer there, making way for more and more conservative ideologies. And so, I see that on the horizon in a country that finds effectiveness in its bureaucracy. You get somebody like a Ron DeSantis in office or a more competent Trump, and I think you put people in power who can control those decisions and they can affect culture in that way.

It's not enough now with the critical race theory bills, the next step would be closing down state universities or private universities that dare teach things that these leaders don't like. And that's the future.

Tucker Carlson goes there and they showed Budapest, which is a beautiful city. This is also when you imagine this like, "Oh, do I go to Hungary?" And it's this rundown spot. Budapest is a gorgeous city. And they applaud how, "Look there's very little homeless population in the downtown." And then you look into it and guess what? They've essentially made being homeless a crime. And what happens when you go to jail in Hungary? Well, they can put you to work, doing things like building a wall on their border. And suddenly you're like, "Oh, when you're criminalizing homeless people and now they're building your wall? Feels a little bit like slavery. Oh, yikes. Oh, these are blueprints we don't want getting out."

And that'll be in the 2024 GOP platform.

The crazy thing about that is you're right. Hungary has found sneaky ways to do it. I think the GOP platform in 2024 is just going to tell you, "Homeless people will build our wall for free." And if you can get that into a nice, concise, clever chant, that thing will be successful at whatever rally you go to.

It's remarkable to see the GOP, instead of having a conference like CPAC in America to bring revenue to American city, has brought it to Hungary because they're getting the access power to get there. This is like fascism. This is not the same as Germany and Italy under Mussolini and Japan, but we're getting close.

I think people have a hard time thinking of what does autocracy look like. Those ideas are so hard for us to grasp. What you're seeing in Hungary is not an autocracy, but it's a slide away from democracy and that's the dangerous place to be. That's what Americans need to be super vigilant about, because that's a scary, scary territory where things get dangerous.

Elie Mystal: Our Constitution is 'actually trash' — but the Supreme Court can be fixed

Elie Mystal, attorney and author of the New York Times bestseller "Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution," wanted actor Samuel L. Jackson to record the audio version of his book. Mystal's title, after all, is drawn from one of Jackson's famous lines in "Pulp Fiction." But if you've seen Mystal on cable news, you know he doesn't need Jackson to provide passion and emphatic delivery. Mystal gives you all that and more, as you will see first-hand in our recent "Salon Talks" conversation.

Mystal takes, shall we say, the controversial position that the U.S. Constitution is not only "not good," but that it's "actually trash." He notes that our founding document was drafted by men who owned slaves and enshrined that evil institution with the infamous Fugitive Slave Clause and the "three-fifths compromise." But Mystal's bigger point is that our Constitution is given too much deference: "We act like this thing was kind of etched in stone by the finger of God, when actually it was hotly contested and debated, scrawled out over a couple of weeks in the summer in Philadelphia in 1787, with a bunch of rich, white politicians making deals with each other."

Mystal also lays bare the myth that the motivation behind the Second Amendment was about self-defense or a check on the government. As he notes, George Mason — then the governor of Virginia and one of the drafters of the Constitution — flat-out said that the Second Amendment was meant to guarantee that Southern states could form a "well-regulated militia" to "fight slave revolts." Mason and other Southerners feared that the federal government wouldn't help them put down slave uprisings, and they needed to have guns close at hand.

Mystal also shared his views on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and her ongoing confirmation hearings. As Mystal explains, the GOP has "nothing on her record that they can attack" and only has one card to play: racism. "Because they can't find anything wrong, they go to all of these other kind of racist smear campaigns because, frankly, racism always works for them," Mystal said.


This following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

You were recently on "The View" talking about your book and created some controversy. The first line in "Let Me Retort" is "Our constitution is not good," followed up a few paragraphs later with "Our constitution is actually trash." You're obviously trying to challenge people. Tell people what your goal is there.

There are two things going on there. One, the veneration that this country has for the Constitution is simply weird. It's crazy. It's not what other countries do for their written documents. We act like this thing was etched in stone by the finger of God, when actually it was hotly contested and debated, scrawled out over a couple of weeks in the summer in Philadelphia in 1787, with a bunch of rich, white politicians making deals with each other, right? These politicians were white slavers, white colonizers and white abolitionists — who were nonetheless willing to make deals with slavers and colonists. No person of color was allowed into the convention. Their thoughts were not included. No women were allowed to have a voice or a vote in the drafting of the Constitution. And quite frankly, not even poor white people were allowed to have a voice or a thought in what the Constitution was.

The thought that this document, made by one class of people, represents the best we can do in America is just ludicrous. Of course it's not very good. You only let one kind of person write it. So that's one aspect of it. The second aspect of this, and how we go from "not good" to "trash," is that structurally there are a lot of stupid things in the document. There are a lot of things that you just wouldn't think we should do if you were starting again from first principles. Like the idea that we don't elect our own president; that's pretty dumb.

Pretty dumb.

You wouldn't do it that way, right? The way that voting rights have been couched as "We will not abridge the right to vote," as opposed to "You have a positive right to vote," that's dumb. The federal system has 50 different election systems instead of one federal system, that makes us have literally 3,000 police systems — that's 3,000 sheriff's offices around the country, instead of one national police system. That's pretty stupid. If you just go structurally through the document, you see — it's not exactly bad-idea genes, but you see quite a lot of bad ideas throughout the document.

The Judicial Crisis Network has been attacking you for your comments about this, tying it to the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. What are they saying? What did you say that they view as blasphemous in some way?

Again, here's another issue where there are two things going on. One, they have nothing on Ketanji Brown Jackson. There's nothing on her record that they can attack. They don't have a case. They don't have a law review note that she wrote. They don't have anything that she's actually done to attack her with, so they're trying to bank a shot against her off some of these other issues. And apparently, I'm one of the issues these idiot people think they can bank a shot off of, because these are the kinds of people who think that all Black people know each other — like we all go to the same barbecue and we talk about our plans for whitey and then we go out into our separate corners.

That's not how it works. I've never met Ketanji Brown Jackson. I've literally never been in the same room with her in my life. I have no idea. She probably hasn't read the book because she's busy. She's about to be a Supreme Court justice, right? I would imagine there are parts of my book that she doesn't agree with, and that's fine too. So that's part of what's going on.

The other thing that's happened is that there are people who take the Constitution as gospel without really examining what the document is — people who haven't actually read it, and even people who have read it but don't really understand what it's saying and what it's doing. So for instance, Dean — and you'll find this funny — there are people telling me the Constitution is not trash and is actually great because it's a living document that evolves with our times, which is an interesting thing for them to say because that's what I say. That's what liberals say the Constitution is.

It is the conservatives who say the Constitution is ossified in the original public meaning and intent of the slavers who wrote it. It is people like me who are like, "No, no, no, the document lives and breathes and evolves." So these idiot white people are literally trying to attack my position by restating my position, because they don't know any better, because they haven't actually read it or thought about it or understand it. And the big reason why I wrote the book is so more people could think about it, understand it. As we've talked about before on your show, I write in plain English so people can really get into what's happening and not be intimidated by the legal jargon. It's so you can understand why you'd want the constitution to live, breathe and evolve, for instance.

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Your book is written very accessibly. You don't have to be a lawyer, you don't have to know the Constitution, you don't have to be Black. I'm a lawyer and there are things I learned. For example, one thing I think is vitally important for Americans to know is the origin of the Second Amendment. Today they talk about the Second Amendment as something about defending your house, or when the black helicopters coming to chase you, that kind of stuff, or for deer hunting. Share a little bit about the true origins of our Second Amendment.

The Second Amendment was here to stop slave revolts. The "well-regulated militia," which is the first part of the Second Amendment, that was a thing was because in the South, the principal way of putting down revolting slaves was to bring out the well-regulated militia. It turns out it's kind of hard to hold Black people in bondage against their will, so occasionally you have to bring in the guys with the guns to do it. Well, in the original Constitution, without the amendments, it was unclear who had the authority to raise the militia. White Southerners thought that the Northerners would dominate the federal government, wouldn't raise the militia, and when Black people rose up for their freedom and rights, the South would be powerless to stop them militarily.

The Second Amendment is there to make it clear that everybody can be armed so they can raise this militia to go and fight slave revolts. That is not me theorizing or making things up. That is what George Mason, then governor of Virginia, said, when advocating for a Second Amendment. He literally made a speech where he said that, all right? People don't know that history, and part of the reason why people don't know that history is because Republicans have purposefully obscured it.

When you fast-forward 250 years, Antonin Scalia in D.C. v. Heller, invents a right to bear arms for personal self-defense that did not exist at the original founding of the constitution. Scalia quotes George Mason's speech, because at the beginning of the speech, a lot of it is about personal self-defense — again, personal self-defense from the slave revolts. Scalia leaves that part out and talks only about this right to personal self-defense, taking out the context. That's how Republicans be!

This is something that goes through all the way through my book. Originalists have this PR campaign that they're going back to the original definitions of the Constitution as understood by the founders, when really they're just making stuff up that's convenient for their current political agenda.

You also talk about how the right to vote gets abridged all the time. Tell people what's in the actual, original Constitution. What did the framers have in mind about for could vote in the early days of this country?

The framers did not think that the right to vote, or even citizenship in the country, flowed down from the federal government. They thought it flowed up from the states. Your right to be a citizen was to be a citizen of Georgia or New York or New Jersey. Your right to vote, therefore, was determined by Georgia or New York or New Jersey or Virginia. There was no federal right to vote because all voting was done at the state level, in the conception of the framers. They weren't worried about minority voting rights because they didn't think minorities were going to vote at all.

They weren't worried about women voting rights because they didn't think women were going to vote at all. They were only concerned with making sure that the states had the power to decide for themselves who could and could not vote. So even when you go forward to things like the 15th Amendment, which says that you can't abridge voting on the context of race, color or creed; when you go to the 19th Amendment, which says that you can't abridge voting because of gender, which of course did not mean Black women at the time the 19th amendment was ratified.

All these amendments did, technically, was to say that the states could not restrict voting based on racial or gender grounds. And let's not forget that the states looked at the 15th Amendment and thought, "That's a very nice try," put it in a drawer and ignored it for 100 years. The states restricted voting on the basis of race all the time after the 15th Amendment because courts wouldn't enforce it. So the Constitution is silent on the right to vote because our election system is dumb. And it's based on, like I said, at this point 50 state electoral systems — at the founding, 13 state electoral systems — as opposed to one unified, rational, intelligent federal election system, which is what they have in all the other democracies, by the way. Let's not forget that we're the outlier here; other advanced Western democracies have a federal election system, not province by province.

You make a very compelling point that four of the 17 amendments ratified after the Bill of Rights have to do with voting. That was nearly 25 percent of the updates to the Constitution, because the framers didn't give it much thought. Later in life, the Constitution evolved and people were like, "Let's do something about it." What does that say to you?

One, it says that no matter what you try to do with your written document, it can't survive bad-faith conservatives. The reason we've had to have four different voting amendments, and probably are going to need a fifth one at some point in our future, is because at every point conservatives have tried to restrict the rights of everybody to vote. And to be clear, I'm saying "conservatives" because I don't care what conservatives call themselves in the morning. After the Civil War, conservatives called themselves Democrats. Now, they call themselves Republicans. In the future, they might call themselves Whigs. I don't care. Doesn't matter. The conservative party, however they define themselves, has opposed the idea of universal suffrage at every point, and that continues today.

The reason why you have to have so many updates is because every time you try to extend the vote, conservatives come up with some new, crazy reason to restrict the vote. One lreally small way of, I think, pointing this out is that the 26th Amendment says that basically everybody over 18 can vote. Simple, straightforward amendment: If you're over 18, you can vote. The thought being, if you can go to war, you can vote on whether or not we have a war. Makes sense, right?

So what happens if you turn 18 after the election in November, but before the end of the year? The election happens in your 18th year, but you don't actually turn 18. Let's say you have a Christmas birthday, essentially. Now, the constitutional amendment is silent about that. So conservatives step in and say, "Nope, you have to be 18 by the time the..." Why? They just made that up. That's just an arbitrary cut-off. Why wouldn't you make the arbitrary cut off the end of the year, as opposed to the end of the election? It makes no sense.

Do we really think that the difference in the intellectual quality of a 17-year-old in November changes radically when he hits his 18th birthday at Christmas? Who thinks that? Liberals are like, "We should just vote if you're..." So this is what I'm saying: Conservatives, at every point, even in really small ways, try to restrict the right to vote.

You have a chapter called "Reverse Racism Doesn't Exist," meaning of course racism against white people. But how do you square that with the Pew poll that found Republicans are likely to believe that white people face more discrimination than Black people and Hispanic people or Asian Americans do? You've got a whole group of Americans out there who think they're suffering discrimination and ask why our legal system doesn't protect white people, even though they are technically the majority.

They're technically the majority. That's exactly why. I explain protected-class status as understood by our constitutional interpretation. I'm just the messenger, don't shoot me. Constitutionally speaking, white people are not, and pretty much cannot be, a protected class, because the way that we define protected class, you have to be a minority or somebody singled out for a special historical kind of torment. So again, I'm a liberal: I think poor people should be a protected class. I think that. It is conservatives who won't let me do that. I think poor white people should be part of the impoverished protected class, but conservative white people won't let me do that.

Instead, they want to say all white people are a protected class, which just doesn't make sense based on our protected-class jurisprudence. So yes, from a legal definition, reverse racism doesn't exist. And I would say that also, from that legal basis, that extends through any kind of understanding of our social power structure.

Here's the problem when you tell white people that they've experienced privilege. There are white people who are the beneficiaries of white privilege who still have crappy lives. And they think that because I say that they have privilege, then that privilege means that they shouldn't have a crappy life. No, that's not what white privilege is. White privilege is that if you take a white person with a crappy starting position and a Black person with a crappy starting position and kind of play out the string, what we'll see is that the Black person will have the same crappy life as the white person, only a little worse. It's the whole thing of whenever white America catches a cold, Black America catches the flu.

It's the defensiveness of white Americans who are struggling who go, "Where's my privilege?" I understand. Maybe the term — it's not literal in that way, but they take it literally. "Where's my privilege? Where are my happy days?" I get it. It's actually a minority burden, versus someone white who is just living a normal life, where you're not judged by the worst in your society and the worst in your community, and politicians don't demonize you for that and don't pass laws based on this mythical caricature that they've created about your community. The list goes on and on.

White people will look at me right now and be like, "Well, I'm not doing as well as that Black guy, so how am I having white privilege?" And it's like, because if I was white I would be the attorney goddamned general. That's how you know. That's the difference.

That brings us perfectly to the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. You had sitting senators, including Roger Wicker of Mississippi, call it a "quota hire," literally affirmative action. Ted Cruz called it offensive and said, "I guess if you're a white man or a white woman, you've got no shot at this." You're going to have one Black woman in the history of this nation and that's one too many for them, because they feel this is a zero-sum game.

There have been 115 Supreme Court justices in American history, and 108 of them have been white males. And Ted Cruz fixes his mouth to say, "I guess if you're a white man, you have no shot." It's an idiot statement, designed to play into the grievances of his idiot base, but also to be horribly offensive to everybody else because Ted Cruz doesn't care about being horribly offensive to everybody else. Again, all these attacks come because they have nothing that they can use against her. I have read her cases. They haven't maybe read her cases. She's been on the bench for nine years. That is more than four current Supreme Court justices had combined when they were elevated to the Supreme Court.

She has a deep legal record that these people could pick through and find something wrong. They picked through it, they haven't found anything wrong. Because they can't find anything wrong, they go to all these other racist smear campaigns because, frankly, racism always works for them. Show me, in the last 10 or 15 years, the white politician who got drummed out of office because they were too racist. I mean, Steve King in Iowa, maybe, after just doing some straight-up Nazi rhetoric, but that's about it, right? Ted Cruz knows that he's not going to lose a primary because he is too racist to the Black woman Supreme Court nominee, so he's just going to double down in that field. It's all he's got.

RELATED: Ted Cruz turns Ketanji Brown Jackson's Supreme Court hearing into rehabilitation of Brett Kavanaugh

You make a compelling case for reform. Having Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, if she's confirmed, that's not enough of a reform to make the Supreme Court what it should be. We can pass voting rights legislation right now, and this Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, might just strike it down after all the work. What do you think fundamentally has to be done to change that institution?

It's court expansion or bust. You expand the court or you cede the next 30 years of American law to six conservative justices. And as I try to explain throughout the book, nothing survives 30 years of six conservative justices. There's nothing. Anything you want, doesn't happen. John Roberts eviscerated the Voting Rights Act in 2013, as you mentioned, in Shelby County v. Holder. Roberts and Alito ganged up on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in 2021 in Brnovich v. Arizona. What makes anybody think the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is going to be upheld by this Supreme Court? Has John Roberts gone somewhere? Is he on vacation? No, he's still right there, and he'll knock it down just like he's knocked down everything else.

As long as you have six conservative justices, you get nothing on voting rights, you get nothing on gun rights, you get nothing on climate change, you get nothing on police brutality, you get nothing on health care, you get nothing. So you expand the court and take your chances there, or you resign yourself to getting nothing. And people will say, "Oh, well, if we expand the court, Republicans will just expand it right back." So what? How is that worse than where we are now? I would argue that if we expand the court, it makes it harder for Republicans to expand it back because it makes it harder for Republicans to control all of government, because when everybody votes, Republicans lose.

So I say, let's go. I'm on record, I think, in the book for plus-20 judges. I think there are other reform ideas. A greatly expanded court does a lot of nonpartisan reforms. It leaves the Supreme Court as powerful as it is, but it makes each individual Supreme Court justice less powerful. That makes confirmation hearings less go-to-the-mattresses kind of situations. So there are lots of reasons why I get all the way to 20, but more, at this point, is the only way to stop the next 30 years of conservative takeover.

CNN's Laura Coates dares the right to come after Joe Biden's Supreme Court pick

"The pursuit of justice creates injustice," is the paradoxical line that opens CNN legal expert Laura Coates' bestselling new book, "Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor's Fight for Fairness." I spoke to Coates for "Salon Talks" about her fight for fairness as a federal prosecutor, how she has handled criticism as a prosecutor and her take on the prospective Black female Supreme Court justice President Biden has promised to nominate.

"I always found it to be very shocking that people have the impression that you could either be an advocate and proponent for civil rights or a prosecutor," Coates said. "You have to be both and you have to wield the discretion that you have with an eye towards what is fair." She added that the true goal of a prosecutor should not be how many convictions you rack up, but how strongly you fight for fairness, because that, as she explained, "is the predicate for any real justice system." But in that pursuit of fairness, injustice can emerge.

Her work as a federal prosecutor also included a stint in the voting rights section of the Department of Justice, where she fought against efforts to disenfranchise voters of color. At that time, however the Voting Rights Act was in full force, and had not yet been gutted by the Supreme Court in the infamous Shelby County v. Holder decision of 2013. Coates made it clear that many of the voter suppression laws passed by Republican-dominated state legislatures since January 2021 would not have been permitted if the Voting Rights Act's pre-clearance provision was still in effect — the very section of the law invalidated by the Shelby County decision. As Coates noted, the GOP's attack on voting rights has made it feel like America has gone backward in time to the days before 1964.

On the issue of Biden's yet-to-be-named Supreme Court justice, Coates made a passionate case for why nominating a Black woman is an important move, not just for diversity's sake, but for substantive reasons. "When we're talking about voting rights cases, I want a Black woman on the bench," Coates said, and also "when we're talking about issues related to abortion bans that relate to and impact disparately Black and brown people." She acknowledged that the forthcoming nominee's integrity will be questioned: "We know it's coming, but I have to just sort of smile and put America on display and say I dare you to challenge the dignity of these particular women." Read my "Salon Talks" with Laura Coates below.


This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

In your book, you talk about leaving private practice as a civil litigator to join the Department of Justice. Share with us a little about that.

It felt like a calling for me because I had always been very interested in civil rights, not only because, of course, I'm a student of history and I revere those who have come before me, but also as a Black woman in America. I think about just how impactful civil rights have been over the course of my generation, my parents' generation, my grandparents, my children and their children as well. I knew the story of Ruby Bridges more than I knew the stories of Dr. Seuss and all of his characters because it was taught in my home. It was an idea of being a constant, fluid forward journey, not just an era confined to some particular decade. When I really thought about what I wanted to do with the practice of law, I was instantly drawn and compelled to go, and I was glad that the calling could be received.

The first line of your book is, "The pursuit of justice creates injustice." You give us an example right away, in the first chapter, of a man who was a victim of a crime. It turned out he was an undocumented alien.

You know, I think people often think to themselves, when I wrote that first line, how could the pursuit of justice create injustice? I mean, it just seems very counterintuitive to people. I myself did not realize that when I first went from being in private practice to a civil rights attorney's office to actually being assistant U.S. attorney. I can tell you that the reason I put it out there is because so often people think about justice as a binary outcome, right? It's either a conviction or it's an acquittal. It's not something that you ever contemplate, what happens in between. To use the words of John Lennon, life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. Justice and injustice occurs when you're busy trying to get a conviction or trying to avoid an acquittal.

I started with the story of Manuel. He had arrived in this country illegally as a teenager, had spent decades in this country, had not so much as sneezed in the direction of a police officer, was gainfully employed, was raising his family. And because his car was stolen and he did what we want people to do, which is to report a crime when society is offended by a criminal, it's what we have — the "United States versus" — he reports it.

And because I had to run a background check on any witness who may come into a courtroom to alert a marshal, if there's a security concern or otherwise, it came up as an active deportation warrant. In that moment, I had to try to figure out what to do. It was an obvious unfairness. It was an obvious injustice that here we are knowing that the criminal code is such as it is, but we don't think of the person who commits car theft, the person who has a long rap sheet of violent crimes to be a criminal on the same level, if at all, as somebody who has illegally been in this country, trying to make a better life for himself and his family.

Yet they're treated the same. In the pursuit of trying to get a conviction of this particular car thief, here I was having to work with ICE to get this man deported with this active warrant. And it was one of those moments, for me, that it became crystal clear that whenever I would say "Laura Coates on behalf of the people of the United States," that included the defendant, that included the people who were in the periphery, those who were going to have collateral damage, certainly the victims of the crimes as well. It's not that there was a viable alternative without consequences, but that should tell you something about the state of affairs in America. If we know that there is an imbalance between what is right and what is lawful, what is required and what ought never to have been the only choice, that's where progress begins.

As a prosecutor, your job is to put people in jail. But really, as you explain, the touchstone is justice. Can you touch on that a little bit, so people understand that prosecutors are not just hellbent on prosecuting for the high-fives you get in your office? It's bigger than that.

Yes. If your goal is simply to get and rack up as many attaboys or attagirls as you possibly can, I think you're in the wrong profession. We're supposed to be prosecutors who recognize that due process, the Fourth Amendment, all of our civil liberties and our constitutional rights, the idea of a healthy level of skepticism and the idea of ensuring that you can meet your burden of proof, not just rely on being a beneficiary of the benefits of the doubt that law enforcement get.

For example, the idea that an officer wouldn't get up in the morning to commit a crime or that an officer would not have stopped you had you not done something wrong. We think about these things. Or, hey, the government would not be prosecuting this person unless they really had a case. I was a beneficiary of that benefit of the doubt that's extended on my cases. The issue, though, is: Are you going to exploit that and not try to meet your burden, and rely on that to carry you through and put blinders on about injustices that might occur?

There are instances, of course, when you've got exculpatory material and you can't withhold that, things that could prove the person's innocence, just because you'd like to get a conviction. You have to hand it over. You can't try to stack the deck against the defendant in a way that they have no opportunity for a fair trial, if you really believe that we have a presumption of innocence in this country.

I mean, these are elements I always found shocking, in that people have the impression that you could either be an advocate and proponent for civil rights or a prosecutor. You have to be both, and you have to wield the discretion that you have with an eye toward what is fair. And the title of the book really was "Just Pursuit: A Black prosecutor's Fight for Fairness," not just for justice, because fairness really is the predicate for any real justice system.

So often we are a legal system trying to become a justice system. That linchpin is fairness and we profess to care about those things. Then in reality, in practice we say, well, the prosecutor's supposed to be this caricature, unfeeling, robotic, only interested in the kill, so to speak. In reality, you ought to be interested in fairness.

In your book, you share an exchange where a Black female defense attorney clearly feels some contempt for you and the idea that you're helping put Black people in prison. It's a funny chapter, the way you wrote it.

Yeah. Because I was minding my own business in a restaurant, having a nice quiet lunch!

Did you ever worry that you were not helping your community, or even that you were hurting your community? Or did you actually think you were helping your community, in a certain way, because of your pursuit of justice?

I knew that was the perception. But I also knew who I am and what I stood for. But the perception sometimes can really guide the way you approach different scenarios and can guide the way people receive you and the way they're willing to cooperate or not do so. And frankly you need not even go to officers about officers. We watched the woman sho is now vice president, who before that was U.S. senator and presidential candidate, where she had to face the ideas of, could you really be on behalf of reform or the people of a community if you were the top prosecutor in a state like California?

I found a kindred spirit in all the prosecutors in that notion, and it's really this fallacy that Black and brown people are only expected to fill one role in the justice system, either that of the defendant or maybe defense counsel and that what seat you have at the table is somehow going to convey who your allegiance is owed to and whether you have power.

That conversation we had was really about power. The idea of both of us feeling like we were in the right seats. I, as a prosecutor, felt like I was in the right seat because I had the opportunity to use my discretion, exercise it to, in many ways, be a gatekeeper, in many ways to bring my lived experience as a human being and Black woman and wife and mother and civil rights attorney to really question whether the Fourth Amendment had been followed, to question whether this was going to be a viable case, to question what was going on. And in the same instance, she thought that she was in the best position to react to those exercises of discretion.

This notion of whether to be proactive or reactive, we never can resolve it. But it does tell you why it's important to have Black and brown people and those who are civil rights advocates in all parts of our justice system, whether it's law enforcement, prosecutors, defense counsel, judges, whether it's members of Congress, state and local officials, community boards, mental health advocates, parole board. It runs the gamut on all these things.

It's interesting because I transitioned, as you know, from being in the voting rights section of the civil rights division. It was a foregone conclusion to people, no one questioned my allegiance then, no one questioned for whom I was a champion. Nobody questioned whose side I was on. And then under the same umbrella of the Department of Justice as a criminal prosecutor, that was immediately questioned, the idea of "Whose side are you on?" and the audacity for me to say that I believed in civil rights and then to be standing where the stereotypical man, the stereotypical white man would have been, was one that left me scratching my head at times. But I understood that because of the fundamental distrust that we have so often with the justice system in America.

The laws on their face are racially neutral, but with their application, there's a big debate about institutional racism. The data is all there. You're three times more likely be killed by the police if you're Black versus white. The bail you get will likely be higher if you're Black versus white for the same offense. It shows up in sentencing, in chances of parole. What do you suggest, as someone on the inside? How do we effectively address institutional racism in terms of legislation?

I think one of the big disservices of the justice system, and I know it sounds odd, is its mascot. This idea of a blindfolded lady justice because somehow that conveys that if we don't see it, then it really didn't happen, right? The idea of the three monkeys in a row: Hear no evil, speak no evil, say no evil. This has helped no one over the course of history. We have to actually see and actually say what we have seen and address it. And this idea of essentially blindfolding ourselves and pretending like the justice system is the one place in this country where race has no influence whatsoever, where gender and bias mean nothing, that's preposterous. But I think it makes people feel as though, if we say phrases like, well, "no one is above the law" or "justice is blind" or that we're "colorblind" or in a "post-racial" world.

These somehow make people feel as though America is no longer the experiment that say, Justice Breyer recently reaffirmed and spoke about, talking about the Gettysburg Address upon his retirement, or the idea that we feel safer if somehow we can hold ourselves as the America on paper, out to the world, as opposed to who we are oftentimes in reality. You hear phrases like, "This is not who we are." And then there are moments when you say, well, I want to know why you think that's not who we are, because it is definitely who we've been in some places. So I think the first instance of why I wrote this book was I wanted people, when you're trying to speak truth to power, to first know what the truth is. to actually acknowledge and understand the ways in which race and bias continue to infect and infuse and disrupt our areas of justice.

We have to get out of that mindset, just as it's not a binary system where it's conviction or acquittal, and then the end justifies the means. We talk about reform. It's not just about acknowledging the impact of race. It's not just about looking at police encounters. There are so many areas we can look at. For example, the judicial adoption of qualified immunity, the idea of the Graham v. Connor decision that gives officers the "reasonable police officer" standard, rather than the reasonable person standard. There's the idea of the power of unions. There's the idea of the presumption of innocence and our bail system, up to and including issues surrounding these slogans around how to reallocate resources to officers. There's so many different aspects of it, and I think that the conversation begins by un-blindfolding the nation.

You worked with the DOJ's voting rights division. In the Shelby County v. Holder case in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the pre-clearance provision, and since then Republicans have passed 34 laws restricting voter access in 19 states. If Shelby County had not gutted the Voting Rights Act, would you feel more confident in our election system, which would have required pre-approval of these laws to make sure there was not a disproportionate impact on people of color?

The majority of the laws that have now passed muster would not have under the pre-clearance requirements. And that's by design. It's no coincidence, right? When I was in the voting rights section, I had the benefit of Section 5 pre-clearance still being intact. I had the benefit of the Supreme Court not rendering it anemic through making it harder to challenge under Section 2, and even then it was difficult under public policy considerations, and perceptions of a political Department of Justice.

In our pandemic, we talk about prevention being better than cure. Well, you're asking people to simply treat the symptoms after someone's already been infected when it comes to voting rights cases. If we are going to actually hope to have a strong democracy, then you can't be weak on voting rights. You can't be. And you know as well as I do that it's no coincidence that our criminal justice system is tied to voting rights. It's no coincidence that people are trying to take away something they know is powerful. It's no coincidence that when there's no oversight, when the cat's away the mice come out to play. Unfortunately, we are being impacted every single day, challenged on the principles of one person, one vote, and being told, as you said, that here we are in a land of progress and it feels like 1964 all of a sudden.

RELATED: From SCOTUS to "critical race theory": There's no law or fact the GOP feels bound to respect now

A Supreme Court seat will soon be open, and President Biden has committed to nominating the first Black female justice in the history of this republic. What is the significance of that to you, and to young Black girls growing up in America now?

To me, it's extremely significant and not because it's diversity for diversity's sake. Have you seen the embarrassment of riches that this president has to choose from? We're not talking about people that he's picked out of oblivion and said, "I hope this meets the standard." They have surpassed it in their legal excellence. They are revered and renowned for their intellect, for their impartiality, for the idea of being able to have the integrity we want on the bench. It's high time, past time that we have the bench more reflective of the people of the United States. Women, Black women in particular have been a part of the bench and lawyers since the 1800s, and have been judges since at least the 1960s. And yet here we are, still grappling with the idea that people say, "Well, you have a woman up there. Isn't that good enough? You got two, isn't that good enough?"

Black women, as you know, continuously find themselves from the feminist, womanist movement and beyond of having to answer the question, well, ain't I a woman and ain't I qualified in so many respects? So we're talking about the standards now that will be applied, the idea of, well, are they qualified enough? Yes, they all are. And while it's an embarrassment of riches, it is an embarrassment that the intellectual wealth of Black women as legal scholars and advocates has not been fully recognized until now. For most people, when they think about a Black woman in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, they think of Anita Hill. And we all know the treatment of Anita Hill, whose career was incredible and she herself is a force to be reckoned with in her own right, yet that's overshadowed by her relationship with respect to a man.

I think it's high time we bring that perspective to the bench. Now I don't in any way suggest that it's a foregone conclusion I will know how a Black woman will rule on every matter that comes before her. But you know what? I want a Black woman on the bench. When we're talking about voting rights cases, I want a Black woman on the bench. When we're talking about issues related to abortion bans that relate to and impact disparately Black and brown people. When we're talking about defense cases and issues about reform and issues about the treatment of defendants. I'd like somebody who has a defense-minded perspective as well on these issues. All these things are important. All these things are impactful. And it's time that we brought that perspective to the bench. This president has had his work cut out for him and that in and of itself, Dean, makes me very proud.

You have already have Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and others on the right, smearing a person who's not even been nominated. To me, the question isn't why should it be a Black woman, the question is why hasn't there been a Black woman in over 230 years? But what's your reaction: Do you expect them to smear this person even more in a heightened way because she is a Black woman?

Let me say on behalf of all of them, boo, because it's time for people to actually understand what that fear comes from. And if it's a fear of one having so much integrity, so much competence and credibility, that it might actually challenge the assumptions and ridiculous comments you make, well then so be it. But I'll tell you, when we've heard people make comments like that, why on earth would you say that? Why would you essentially act, Mr. President, as if you shouldn't cast a wider net? That's not very impartial.

We've heard, even since Reagan, discussions about wanting to have a woman on the bench. Now, Black women seem different all of a sudden? We had former President Trump even outsourcing, frankly, his list of nominees to the Federalist Society, asking for somebody who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Now that is the height of what is not impartial. So if anyone comes to talk about the hypocrisy or what this could possibly mean, I hope they came with the same energy and charisma and condemnation related to those who were looking for a particular reversal of precedent as they intend to come to challenge somebody who has criteria that frankly might make the sitting Supreme Court justices go, "Let me up my game."

You're talking about former clerks and solicitors general in respect to this. You're talking about the most recently installed Supreme Court justice, Amy Coney Barrett, who — I'm not taking away from her mind at all, she is a force to be reckoned with and should be acknowledged as that, but I've heard already comments about, "Well, if somebody hasn't been on the bench for a set number of years, they ought not to have a chance." She had a very relatively short tenure compared to other justices. Justice Elena Kagan had never been a judge a day in her life before she became a Supreme Court justice. I could go on with others as well.

So we know it's coming. but I have to just smile and put America on display and say, I dare you to challenge the dignity of these particular women. If you have things that need to be addressed, by all means let the American people know. But these coded dog whistles about why a Black woman's not qualified, or President Biden is wrong to hone in on particular criteria, that are an asset, an addition — not a credential, but an asset in addition to the credentials that are already there? Please.

'Trump will get his comeuppance': Rep. Jamie Raskin promises consequences for Jan. 6

Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, opens his bestselling new book, "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy" by sharing "two impossible traumas" he suffered in the same week: "the shattering death by suicide" of his 25-year-old son, and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. As Raskin discussed during our recent "Salon Talks" conversation, these two losses obviously are not equivalent — but in linking them on some level, Raskin is also sharing his deep love for America.

I have interviewed Raskin many times for my SiriusXM radio show, and he has always been a thoughtful, measured person when it comes to talking politics of the day. The fact that he's a former constitutional law professor likely contributes to that professorial nature. That's also why we should all take heed of his words when he states point blank that today's Republican Party has launched a "fascist attack against the constitutional order." In his book, Raskin writes that the GOP is now "the party of Trump, authoritarianism, corruption, and insurrection."

That has become even more obvious in recent weeks as Donald Trump suggested he would pardon the Capitol attackers if returned to office, and the Republican National Committee approved a resolution describing the Jan. 6 attack as "legitimate political discourse." Raskin, who is a member of the House select committee investigating the events Jan. 6, shared his belief that the panel's upcoming public hearings could be the most important in American history, saying they will "certainly up there with the Watergate hearings." You can watch my "Salon Talks" with Rep. Raskin here, or read our conversation below to hear Raskin discuss the "maddening and frustrating" fact that Trump has yet to be brought to justice.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Your book "Unthinkable" went straight to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The book is a love letter to your late son Tommy, who took his own life last December, and on some level a love letter to our democracy and what this nation stands for. But I wanted to start with Tommy. You go into detail about his struggle with depression, writing, "Depression, it entered his life like a thief in the night and became an unremitting beast." What do you say to families out there where people are struggling with depression?

Well, I don't claim any particular medical expertise. But I will just say as a dad who's gone through this, that it's obviously important that each person who's facing a mental health struggle be in a therapeutic relationship with doctors and get whatever medication we have that might work. But also, build a close social network to stay on top of the situation. Obviously I've asked myself a thousand questions since all of this happened, but the thing I probably most regret is not talking about the topic of suicide and not confronting it directly.

I think parents probably have an instinct that talking about it will somehow conjure it into existence or cast some kind of spell that will make it happen. But that's obviously just superstition, and it really works in the other direction: To not talk about something is the risky thing, it's to endow it with more power and mystery than it should have. I say that about suicide and I also say that about the word "fascism" in the book. We can't be afraid to talk about that, like somehow that's a breach of etiquette or something.

Switching to politics here, right in the beginning of your book, you talk about how in the week between Dec. 31, 2020, and Jan. 6th, 2021, your family suffered two impossible dramas: One was your son's death by suicide, and the second was the Capitol insurrection. You're not equating the two things, but I can sense your love for this nation. Is that fair to say that: You have a deep love for this democratic republic and what it's supposed to stand for, and you feel compelled to defend it?

Well, I think that's right. It's kind of you to say that. I certainly feel it. And I have felt that Tommy's with me, and he is in my heart. He's in my chest. He was during the impeachment trial in the Senate. And unfortunately we didn't have enough Republican senators to join us in convicting Trump. I mean, it was the most bipartisan, sweeping impeachment result in a Senate trial in American history, but we still fell 10 votes short. And for that reason, we're still in the thick of this struggle.

Like I told the impeachment managers before we went out there, the facts are overwhelmingly on our side. The law is overwhelmingly on our side. I want to make sure that people understand that the passion for our country, the patriotism in your hearts is what's motivating the whole thing. So show your emotion about what just happened to us. They stormed our house.

You write about going into the Capitol on Jan. 6, bringing your daughter Tabitha and your son-in-law Hank with you. So during the siege, you weren't just worried about yourself, you had to worry about your family. We have the footage of this horrific attack on our Capitol by people dressed in Trump regalia and chanting, "Fight for Trump." Yet now we know, thanks to the work of your committee, that Donald Trump, for 187 minutes, watched that and did nothing, even when Ivanka Trump came in twice asking him to intervene. What does that say to you about how Trump viewed this event?

The violence was strategic and political, but it was also sadistic too. He had unleashed primitive impulses in this mass demonstration, which became a mob riot. I view the activities of Jan. 6 as being in three rings of sedition, Dean. There was the mob riot, which surrounded the ring of the insurrection. And that was the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the Aryan Nation, different white nationalist groups, the Militiamen, the First Amendment Pretorians, there were some religious cults in there. These people had trained for battle and they were the first ones to come and smash out our windows and attack our police officers. They helped convert the demonstration into a mob riot and an attack on the officers. But the scariest ring was the innermost ring, the ring of the coup, which is a strange word to use in American political parlance, because we don't have a lot of experience with coups.

We think of a coup as something that takes place against a president, but this was a coup orchestrated by the president against the vice president and against the Congress. And the whole purpose was to get Mike Pence to declare lawless, extra-constitutional powers, to exclude and reject and repudiate Electoral College votes coming in from Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania to lower Biden's total from 306 to below 270. That would have triggered, under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, a contingent presidential election. And you ask: Why would Donald Trump want Speaker Pelosi's Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to decide who's president? Well, in a contingent election, we're not voting one member, one vote. We're voting one state, one vote.

After the 2020 elections, they had 27 state delegations, we had 22 and one, Pennsylvania, was split down the middle. So even had they lost the at-large representative from Wyoming — my new best friend, Liz Cheney — they still would have had 26 votes to declare Donald Trump president and seize the presidency for another four years. I think they were also prepared at that point to invoke the Insurrection Act and declare martial law, and finally call on the National Guard, that had been held back, to put down the insurrectionary chaos he had unleashed against us.

Are you surprised that we don't even hear an inkling that Trump is being investigated by the Department of Justice for potential crimes?

Well, yeah. I mean, I'm a little bit softer on Attorney General Merrick Garland than some people are, because he's my constituent. I still remember, so bitterly, how they prevented him from even getting a hearing when he was nominated by President Obama to the Supreme Court. But look, people were on Garland's case about the fact that there had been no indictments for seditious conspiracy. And then there was a huge indictment on seditious conspiracy against the Oath Keepers, and presumably more to come. They obviously weren't the only group there. There were these overlapping circles of conspiracy to knock over the Capitol and take down our government. I mean, that was the interruption of the peaceful transfer of power, for the first time in American history, for four or five hours. And we didn't know which way it was going to go.

Trump will get his comeuppance. I know how maddening and frustrating it is to people. I share that feeling, having been an impeachment manager. I mean, he's as guilty as sin. He's a one-man crime wave, and it's amazing that his dad's money and this pack of lawyers he travels with have been able to get him off everything up until now. But I'm with Dr. King that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it tends toward justice. It's going to catch up with Donald Trump too.

You write in the book that we can now say that the Democratic Party, whatever its faults, is the party of democracy and that the Republican Party is the party of authoritarianism, corruption, and insurrection. Can our democratic republic continue if one party is embracing autocracy and fascism and the other party is playing by the rules?

It's a good question. If you look at it historically, liberal and progressive parties have never on their own been enough to defeat fascist and authoritarian coups. It's always the liberal and progressive parties, the left and the center-right together. And when they come together, they can reject and defeat a fascist attack against the constitutional order. And that is the importance of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and Mitt Romney. We had 10 Republicans vote to impeach in the house. We had seven vote to convict in the Senate. So that's like 14 or 15 percent of the Republican Party. If that block holds and comes our way, and we're able to build a cross-party coalition with a lot of Independents and Greens and Libertarians and Republicans and Democrats to defend democracy, we can do it.

The Democratic Party can't do it alone. It's going to have to be the base of it, but we also need to assemble all the other institutions in American life that are part of democracy, because democracy's not one thing. I mean, it is the legislative branch, yes, obviously. But it is courts. It is the states. It is the press, the media, the universities, the colleges, the schools, civil society. Everybody needs to stand up and reject authoritarianism at this point. When people ask what they can do: You can do things every single day to stand up for strong democracy in America.

After Watergate, Congress passed reforms to try to rein in a runaway president in Richard Nixon. I know some have been proposed now. Is there any hope of legislation that will curtail another potential Trump or another person cut from that cloth, regardless of party, who really tries to abuse their power?

In a certain sense, this is what we've been trying to do with all the voting rights legislation. We've been trying to solidify and protect the right to vote and protect the integrity of elections against these outrageous efforts to convert bipartisan or nonpartisan election commissions into partisan election commissions, or to put them directly under the control of GOP legislatures. The problem is that the Republican Party, which is a minority party and a shrinking minority party — remember, Hillary beat Trump by three million votes and Joe Biden beat him by seven and a half million votes. The young people are coming in our direction.

That demography is totally against the GOP, but they've got this bag of tricks that include the most anti-democratic instruments in the country. It's voter suppression statutes. It's the filibuster. It's right wing court packing and judicial activism. It's manipulation of the Electoral College. It's a race between the will of the majority, trying to defend democratic institutions and liberal democracy, against one-party rule, which is what they want. They are a rule-or-ruin party, and I've been calling that them that for a while. I was glad that President Biden picked that up in his democracy speech because they either are going to rule or they're going to ruin our ability to make any progress as a country.

With the Jan. 6 committee, you're going to have public hearings coming up at some point this year. I'm not sure if there's a schedule that we don't know about. Is there any sense of what we might expect to see, or the types of witnesses that you might bring forward in these hearings?

I'd hoped it would happen in March. I think because of all the obstruction and roadblocks thrown up by the entourage around Donald Trump — Mark Meadows, who's kind of doing the hokey pokey, one foot in one foot out, Steve Bannon, Roger Stone — that it's going to be later in the spring, April or May more likely. But I think these could be the most important hearings in American history, certainly up there with the Watergate hearings. I hope we will do them during prime time. I hope we will see them every single day, so we can tell a complete story to the American people about how this took place. It's obviously enormously complex. But people are following it closely.

The vast majority of Americans who we've approached as witnesses have testified. So most people, including people who participated, are cooperating. They understand that they've got not just a legal obligation but a civic obligation to help us figure out what happened. It's only when you get right to that bullseye core around Donald Trump and his innermost confidants that people think they're somehow above the law and can just give the finger to the U.S. Congress.

The way you envision this, it wouldn't be like the first hearings we saw with the Capitol Police, which was months ago? This would be more like lining up a bunch of nights in a row, as opposed to one hearing and then coming back three weeks later?

Yeah, it would not be episodic. We want to tell the whole story. I felt very strongly that we'd go to the police officers first. That was my great frustration about the Senate trial, that we weren't able to have them come and tell the story of what had happened. We wanted to shock the public into remembrance of what this was about. I mean, this was a violent assault on American democracy, a riot surrounding an insurrection surrounding a coup, and it was our officers who stood between us and losing it all. So there were a lot of heroes on that day and we can't forget who those heroes were.

Newt Gingrich literally said that you and others on your committee are going to jail if Republicans get control of the House. I don't know what the justification would be, but when you hear that, does that ring bells of fascism to you? The idea of threatening to put political opponents in prison simply because they're doing their job.

Well, of course that was the direction that Donald Trump took their party in, because the moment he got in, the Department of Justice was treated like a group of lawyers who were supposed to follow his orders in prosecuting his enemies and excusing and protecting his friends. It was like that from the very beginning, and all through the administration. It doesn't surprise me that Newt Gingrich, who's an utter chameleon and total moral invertebrate, would just follow Donald Trump down into that cesspool.

You mentioned that 10 Republican House members voted to impeach Donald Trump, and seven Republicans voted to convict in the Senate. We heard Kevin McCarthy go on the floor saying, "The president's to blame." But that same Kevin McCarthy now is sucking up. What do you make of this, in terms of that party losing its way? Is it just the pursuit of power at literally any cost?

Of course. I mean, the framers understood this. If you go back and read Federalist No. 1 by Alexander Hamilton, he says that the major threat to the Democratic Republic is going to be politicians who act as demagogues pandering to negative emotions who then come to power and go from being demagogues to becoming tyrants. So, exploiting negative emotions in people, racism, hatred, stereotyping, scapegoating and then becoming tyrants over the people. So that's an old story. It's obviously a different story than Donald Trump was telling, but it's one we can recognize immediately.

On another point, you have a documentary, "Loving the Constitution," coming out on MSNBC. It was shot over three years, following you through everything. What can you share about this?

Madeline Carter was someone who was a college classmate of mine, and she kept bugging me for more than a year that she wanted to make a documentary about me and Trump. The constitutional law professor who gets elected the same night as the would-be authoritarian dictator of America — following his story and mine. Of course history takes us places we never imagined going. But I finally relented, I said, "Fine, if you think there's something there, you can make the movie about us." Of course she ended up filming a lot of stuff I wish had never happened, along with some things I'm proud of and some things I regret. But it is what it is. I confess I have lived, as Pablo Neruda said. It is what it is, and I'm curious to see what it's all about.

When Justice Breyer had his press conference, talking about retiring, he mentioned the Gettysburg Address and talked about the experiment this country is. I went back and read the Gettysburg Address, and the very last line is that the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth. That was the hope of Lincoln. You get the sense that some of our fellow Americans just believe it won't perish from the earth and they don't have to do anything to preserve it.

I mean, I don't blame those people. Most of us grew up with the sense that there was stability and durability in our democratic institutions and that they would grow stronger over time. But of course there are people who also have much more of a tragic sensibility and understand the ebb and flow of history. There are periods of progressive evolution and change, and then periods of profound reaction and destruction, and we obviously just witnessed one of those with these nihilists who took over and tried to destroy everything that had been built for decades. I mean, they just put the civilizing movements of our time in their crosshairs: the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the LGBTQ movement, the human rights movement, the environmental movement, the climate movement and so on.

So yeah, I don't really blame those people. But I think Lincoln was trying to say, if democracy's going to survive, we all have to fight for it. And there will be a spectrum of sacrifice. Some people will give their lives, like the thousands who were killed in the battle at Gettysburg. But all of us have got to be engaged in this. I mean, that's what democracy is. It's something that we take care of together.

Lincoln was posing that as a real question, not as just some kind of rhetorical flourish. I mean, for most of the history of our species, people have lived under despots and tyrants and dictators and bullies and kings and queens and all that. So our American experiment began with some very high ideals. They were compromised from the beginning, with the viciousness of slavery and other kinds of repressive political features. But at least the ideals were there and successive social and political movements have been able to transform the country. And that has left us, even through Donald Trump, the greatest multiracial, multiethnic, multi-religious constitutional democracy that's ever existed. So that's our legacy. That's what we're fighting for now.

Jan. 6 committee says Mark Meadows' 'hokey pokey' has slowed down plan for primetime hearings

The Jan. 6 committee's plans to hold primetime hearings has been slowed down significantly by stonewalling efforts from former President Donald Trump's inner circle, Rep. Jamie Raskin, one of the committee's members, told Salon this week.

In particular, Mark Meadows' game of "hokey pokey" has vexed the panel, which has subsequently been forced to push back its planned public testimony to April or May.

"Well, you know, I'd hoped it would happen in March," Raskin said on the video interview series "Salon Talks," adding that he hopes the hearings will now be held "later in the spring, April or May more likely."

Meadows initially cooperated with the committee's requests but then quickly changed his mind, turning over thousands of documents before refusing to sit for a deposition. These included a number of bombshell texts and emails, as well as a 38-page powerpoint titled "Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for 6 JAN" that was reportedly shopped around Capitol Hill in the days before the attempted insurrection.

The plot included plans to declare a national emergency in order to delay the certification of the 2020 election and the outlines of a wild conspiracy that the country of Venezuela had taken over voting machines in a large number of important states, among other debunked and unverifiable allegations.

Raskin lamented "the obstruction and roadblocks thrown up by the entourage right around Donald Trump — Mark Meadows, who's kind of doing the hokey pokey, one foot in, one foot out — Steve Bannon, Roger Stone."

"It's only when you get right to that kind of bullseye core right around Donald Trump and his inner most confidants that people think they're somehow above the law and can just give the finger to the U.S. Congress."

Still, despite the confounding efforts of Trump's inner circle, the Maryland Democrat believes "these could be the most important hearings in American history."

"I mean, certainly up there with the Watergate hearings," he added.

The comparison is especially apt given Raskin's hopes that the committee will format the hearings as an every-day-for-however-long-it-takes phenomenon, similar to the those conducted in the wake of Watergate.

"I hope we will see them every single day so we can tell a complete story to the American people about how this took place," he said. "It's obviously enormously complex, but people are following it closely."

The committee has been ramping up over the past few weeks to take its findings public, hoping to put the finishing touches on its findings by inching its way toward Trump's inner circle in recent days. The panel has conducted hundreds of interviews — upwards of 300, according to some news reports — and collected tens of thousands of documents, all while traveling extensively to battleground states where TrumpWorld's efforts to subvert the election were focused.

"The full picture is coming to light, despite President Trump's ongoing efforts to hide the picture," Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee's vice chairwoman and one of its two Republican members, told the Associated Press earlier this month.

"I don't think there's any area of this broader history in which we aren't learning new things," she added.

But there's one important factor weighing on the panel's timeline: Republicans will likely disband the effort should they re-take the House this fall.

The panel apparently hopes to have a completed report by this summer — but as with all predictions, that timeline is subject to change. And, given TrumpWorld's successful effort to push back the committee's timeline, it also appears that strategy is not likely to change anytime soon.

Donald Trump and his family fleeced America: Why aren’t they being held accountable?

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston is not giving up on exposing how Donald Trump and his family fleeced America while he was in the White House. To that end, the bestselling author is back with a meticulously researched new book, "The Big Cheat: How Donald Trump Fleeced America and Enriched Himself and His Family."

I recently spoke to Johnston about his new book for "Salon Talks" and one thing is clear: His enthusiasm to see Trump held accountable has not waned just because the Trump presidency is over. In "The Big Cheat," he uncovers details on Trump's scams that began with his inaugural committee and ran straight through his "Stop the Steal" fundraising grift. In between, Johnston notes a range of corruption by Trump, such as stopping in front of his Washington hotel during the inaugural parade in 2017 to send a clear message: "If you want something from the Trump administration, you will first pay tribute to Donald." As Johnston writes, spending money at Trump's hotel was one way to do just that.

Johnston also takes aim at Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who saw their collective wealth rise by somewhere between $200 million and $600 million while working in the White House. This wasn't by happenstance, as Johnston details: It was because Javanka cashed in on Trump's presidency, with sweetheart deals from the Chinese government, the United Arab Emirates and more.

In our conversation, which you can watch or read below, the nearly 50-year veteran reporter also lays out safeguards that Congress should enact to prevent Trump, or another morally bankrupt president, from ever repeating this Trumpian fleecing of America again. But one of the best deterrents to future corruption, Johnston argues, would be the criminal prosecution of Donald Trump himself. "I would be eternally in favor of a long prison sentence," he told me.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Your book has granular details about Trump, some I knew and some I had no idea about. Let's start at the beginning: You go into great detail about the inaugural committee. Trump raised double the amount Obama did, and there are questions about where that money is. The D.C. attorney general is suing the Trump campaign right now about this very thing. Tell us more.

Well, Donald Trump raised $107 million for his inaugural, that we know of. The previous record was Obama in his first inaugural: $53 million. The inaugural for Obama had eight or nine balls. It had lots of events. They had numerous headline musical acts whose expenses had to be paid. Donald Trump had the skimpiest, cheapest possible thing you can imagine. Two balls, with almost nobody around, and yet all that extra money: $107 million. One of the key stories I tell is about Stephanie Wolkoff, who was Melania's best friend, and who is someone who puts on events. She's the person who puts on the biggest social event for the American elite each year, the Met gala in New York. And she was pulled aside and asked by Rick Gates, the corrupt deputy to the corrupt Paul Manafort, to take money off the books because they didn't want to report it, meaning foreign money.

It took her a second. She was so stunned by this. And then she said, "No, I'm not going to do anything like that." So that's why I say they took in $107 million, that we know of. I think they took in more money than that. And I hope we find out through the attorney general's investigation — but also the Trump White House dirtied up Stephanie when they knew this was going to become public. They said, "Well, you got $26 million." No, she got $480,000, which for the kind of work she did may sound to most Americans like a big fee. But that's, in that business, a more than reasonable fee. And all the rest of the money was directed to Trump cronies. She was told, "Here's the money. Now write checks to these people." And that's how the people around Trump were profiteering right at the start. That very moment, at the inauguration, they've got their fingers in there to grab the money.

Not only that, Trump used the inaugural parade to do a commercial for his hotel. I think people have forgotten it, but it was right in our face all the time.

None of the TV networks explained when this happened what was going on. I was astonished by that. When Obama was elected, the crowds lining the road to the White House were curb to building, packed thick as sardines. When Trump came, in many places there were more law enforcement and military guards than there were cheers. But when they got to a place about five blocks from the White House, the motorcade stopped and everybody got out, Melania in that beautiful ice blue dress that she was wearing. The family took a two-minute turn on the pavement.

What every lobbyist, every foreign agent, knew was they did it in front of the Trump Washington Hotel, the old post office. And Trump, by law, should not have had that lease. It should have been taken away from him. And I explained this, how the bureaucrats avoided this in the book and were later taken to task for it, though nothing happened to their careers.

But the message was very clear. If you want something from the Trump administration, you will first pay tribute to Donald. And his restaurant, in the first 90 days, took in money at the rate of $25 million a year. Anybody in the restaurant business knows the thought of being able to take in $25 million in a single restaurant is mind boggling. The Saudi government took out two floors at rack rates. When the head of T-Mobile's American division wanted Trump to approve the merger with Sprint, he made a big show of repeatedly going there, sending his executives there, spending money there. There are parts of three chapters that talk about the $26 billion favor Trump did for this guy who made a big show of going there.

Right until the very end, it doesn't end and it continues to this day. Tell people about how Stop the Steal turned into a scam to enrich Donald Trump.

Donald Trump has raised somewhere close to a half a billion dollars at this point, through his "Stop the Steal" claims that the election was stolen. Of course there's no evidence of that and all sorts of Republicans have said there was nothing improper. We've had lots of audits and recounts and recounts. It's all nonsense, but he's raised a lot of money off it. He said, "I need the money to hire lawyers to stop the steal." He spent $9 million on lawyers. Well, that's a lot of money, except that he took in close to a half a billion. And Donald can spend that money on himself under our laws. So I call Donald today America's "beggar in chief." I don't know if you get these, but every day I get texts and emails from Donald Trump asking for money. I love the ones from Don Jr. that start off: "I just spoke to my father. You're the only person in America who didn't respond to my note earlier today, and Dad asked me to call you since you've been such a generous supporter in the past." It's just a con.

And we're supposed to believe that Donald Trump Jr. didn't tell his dad about the meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower, with the person who announced that they were there on behalf of the Kremlin to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. It isn't just that they were Russians, They said they were proposing a criminal scheme under American law in which — you're a lawyer, you know what I'm about to say! The duty of any American made that offer by a foreign power, especially a hostile foreign power, is to pick up the phone, call the FBI and say, "I need to speak to someone in counterintelligence."

The lack of accountability in all of Trump World is what is so concerning going forward. You document that Jared and Ivanka had unpaid jobs in the White House, but they made somewhere between $200 million and $600 million while in the White House. As you know, Jared was not a good businessman going into the White House. Let's start with him: How did Jared make all this money while in the White House?

Well, before Donald Trump took office, Jared had this problem with 666 Fifth Avenue, which is right down the street from Trump Tower. He paid $1.8 billion, 99 percent of it borrowed money. And the building two years later was worth maybe only $600 million. Talk about being underwater in a disaster. So he goes to the government of Qatar. America's most important military base in the Middle East is in Qatar. Our central command base is there. And he says, "Wouldn't you loan me $800 million under very favorable terms?" And the Qataris said, "No, we're not that stupid." What happens next? Donald Trump is president. He turns against Qatar. He begins arguing in favor of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who are scared to death of the Qatar government. Trump accuses the Qataris of financing terrorism. They finance two terrorist groups, they absolutely do. But the Saudis finance 60 of them, the State Department says, and with vastly more money. So this is absurd, and it's indicative of Donald Trump's total ignorance about these matters.

But in Jared's case, he got people from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to bail him out of his problem, and that's why they went on the attack against Qatar. Later, the Kushner family — who are very much like the Trumps, they're both white-collar organized crime families — got 18 sweetheart loans guaranteed by a federal loan agency. You or I would never have gotten such loans, interest-only for 10 years, which increased the Kushner cash flow and increased your and my risk as taxpayers.

We would never have gotten these deals, and nor would they but for Donald Trump being in the White House. And, Dean, to make a point here, these facts that I report all came out, one way or another. But something was in the Washington Post, and then the Wall Street Journal, the L.A Times, the Seattle Times. But you never saw pictures. So I took all these threads and wove them into a tapestry, a narrative, so you could understand it. In fact, the Washington Post gave me a rave review on Dec. 5, including the line pointing out that I long ago predicted Donald Trump would not leave the White House peacefully. I was told it was crazy for me to say that. I was vindicated.

I think with what we went through with Trump, that at this point if anyone says you're being over the top, they're denying reality. Your book is one-stop shopping for some of these scandals. Share a little more about Ivanka. It seems to me she has escaped the spotlight out in the post-Trump world, but she may have profited more than anyone beyond Donald.

Well, Ivanka, with whom Donald has an incredibly close relationship, got these trademarks in China in rapid time. If you want a trademark, a service mark, a patent from the Chinese government, you have to spend a fortune on the right Chinese lawyers who are members of the Communist Party, and then you still might not get it. When President Xi was coming to meet with Donald at Mar-a-Lago, there was just rapid-fire approval of these things, the functional equivalent of overnight. And among the patents and other intellectual property rights Ivanka got, some were for voting machines. What a strange thing to get from a country that's a dictatorship, not a democracy! Now, she had a clothing business, and my younger daughters who are in their 30s tell me that her dresses were actually quite nice, but they weren't selling in the department stores. So they were all taken out of the stores, they tore out the labels and put in different labels and put them back in the stores. And they all sold, because they were basically good dresses.

But most of her business enterprises failed because she's incompetent. There have been lots of reports, especially in Vanity Fair, that she thinks she's going to become president of the United States. And there's a wonderful YouTube video of her with Christine Lagarde, the head of the European Central Bank, and several women who are foreign ministers or finance ministers of foreign governments. It's very clear, when she tries to walk into their crowd that their body language says, "You have no reason to be with us. We're accomplished women. Go away."

"The Big Cheat" also discusses how Trump and his family cheated not only in terms of personal profit, but cheated us out of things. One that jumped out is Steve Bannon. As you know, we didn't get justice for Steve Bannon. Could you remind people, who may have forgotten completely that he was charged with federal crimes by the Justice Department. He earned his pardon for what he did in the post-election stuff.

One of the very first organizations to report about this charity scam was the one I run, DC Report. There was a seriously disabled veteran of the Middle East wars named Brian Kolfage who was raising money to build the wall: "Congress is not going to fund the wall, we'll raise the money." Never mind that it would cost tens of billions of dollars. There's no possibility of that. His promise was, "Not one dollar will go to me or anyone else. It'll just be to build the wall." Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, fly out to New Mexico to a fundraiser for this, to raise more money. They show off this thing they've built, which is inconsequential garbage that wouldn't stop anybody on the Rio Grande. Steve Bannon is involved and Steve Bannon steals $1 million from the charity. The government has the documentation. Kolfage bought himself a yacht and jewelry and spent $350,000 on himself.

The Justice Department indicted these people, and Donald Trump gave Steve Bannon a pardon for his million-dollar theft from charity. Of course Donald Trump stole from charity, as I show in the book repeatedly. And the other three guys, by the way, the ones who weren't part of Donald's coterie, they're going to go on trial and they're probably going to get prison time once they're convicted. But there's no shame among these people. Absolutely no shame. Donald Trump, if he steals money from a baby, would say, "Well, it's my money. What are you complaining about? It's my money." Donald creates his own reality. In his own mind, he shouldn't just be president for life with total powers. He talked about that: "I have the power to do anything as president." He believes he should run the whole world, because everybody else is an idiot.

Be glad you're not Donald Trump, Dean, because I've known the man for 33 years, and he is a miserable human being. Try to find him laughing when it isn't forced or for dramatic effect. It doesn't happen. I've tried to get him to tell jokes in the past. He can't tell a joke. He's a miserable, sad story.

It's a lack of humanity, when you can't tell jokes and can't laugh at jokes about yourself. I think it's great that you point on the book that Steve Bannon stole from Trump supporters, who sincerely were giving money to build a wall because they believed in it. We could debate the policy there, but it doesn't matter. They were giving money because they believed in the wall, and Steve Bannon stole it. We know from other reporting now that Bannon played a huge role from Election Day in November to the insurrection on Jan. 6. He earned that pardon, and this was a quid pro quo relationship if you ever saw one. Trump only pardoned one guy in that scam, his BFF.

Donald is even more corrupt than Steve Bannon, hard as it is to believe that. During his campaign, there were people who sent in money. Rush Limbaugh told the story of one man, Stacy Blatt. He's dying. He's in hospice care, his monthly income is $1,000. He sends $500 to Donald Trump, after Rush Limbaugh says Trump needs money to overturn the election. The next thing that happens is the Trump people tap his bank account again and again and again and again until they take every penny the dying man has. He meant to give one contribution, a very generous one. They did this to thousands of people, thousands of them. If you or I did that, we would be arrested. I don't know why Donald Trump and the people around him haven't been arrested for this. This was thievery, plain and simple.

It's like RICO. This is a racketeering plot. It's remarkable. What happens if Donald Trump somehow gets back in the White House? Based on you knowing him for 30 years and writing about him, what do you think he does?

Oh, this time around he will not be holding back at all. He will put people in place and it will be the end of American democracy. He will make himself our dictator, which I've been warning about since 2015, when he first announced. He won't need the support of the military to pull it off, because he'll do it in a soft way. But he will see to it that all your rights are gone. And right now, you're seeing the Republican Party — which is no longer the Republican Party, it's the Trump party — passing all these laws, including, in some states, where with Republicans in control and they don't like an election because Democrats won, they can throw out the results. That's inherently anti-American. At the same time, Donald keeps pressing about why he should be back in the White House, and making up ridiculous lies about what's going on.

And in all this, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the Mueller report, even with all the shackles put on Mueller — which most people, I don't think appreciate, where he disclosed that they were not allowed to pursue lots of things — the opening line of that report says what they found was systematic interference in the 2016 election by the Russian government. It's the very first thing they say. And Don Jr. and Trump's campaign manager and his son-in-law and others took part in a meeting with someone who declared they were an agent of the Kremlin trying to win the election for Donald Trump.

There's a foreign power here that has benefited. And it's not that Vladimir Putin wanted Donald Trump. That's not his goal. He didn't want Hillary Clinton, because she was going to make him give up Crimea if she could, the only violent takeover of property in Europe since World War II. But he wants to get rid of democracy. And he's on the record all over the place about this. Vladimir Putin believes all countries should be run by dictators, and Donald Trump was an instrument to help Putin. And by the way, Russian state TV, which is totally controlled by the Kremlin, said that Donald Trump was Putin's puppet. And the hosts on that show, the producers, they're all still doing really well, which tells you that was just fine with Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump is his puppet.

Are you surprised the Justice Department has not charged Donald Trump? And if he's ultimately not charged, what is the message that sends to Donald Trump and Trump-like Republicans going forward?

Well, I am very troubled by this, because if the law applies equally to everyone, then it shouldn't matter that he was president. On the other hand, it's pretty clear that Merrick Garland has taken the position that, absent something he has to act on, he doesn't want to get in the business of indicting a former president, because that road leads to a lot of problems we don't have. But Israel indicted Benjamin Netanyahu, the French have indicted former presidents, and a number of democratic governments have put former leaders in prison.

With Donald Trump, I think they should pursue the case that Michael Cohen went to prison for. They have a perfect case. I don't know how a jury would do anything but convict Donald Trump. My guess is, though, that the internal argument is, "Well, it's relatively small potatoes." They brought the case against Michael Cohen to punish him for breaking with Donald Trump, as part of the effort to control him.

I'm confident, however, that the Manhattan district attorney — who has hired the best expert on RICO in the country — will indict Trump under the New York state RICO law. A tax charge he can get out of by saying, "I didn't understand what was going on," even though he claims to be the world's greatest expert on taxes. But a state RICO charge — ordinary people can understand racketeering. They've got plenty of evidence of it, so why haven't they done it yet? Well, when they got the document dump, Trump held it up for four years, and it turns out it wasn't a million pages — it was 5 million pages. And you know, as a lawyer, they've got to look at every single page. So something doesn't hit them as a surprise at trial. That's a lot of research.

That's a lot of Bates stamping, as we used to say.

A very little story about this. Thirty years ago, after I revealed Donald was not a billionaire, there was a particular document I knew he was going to have to put in the public record. And the morning of the day that was to happen, a bunch of guys wheel in an entire wall of banker's boxes, the whole wall, like six high. And Donald taps me on the shoulder and says, "Lots of luck, pal." So anyhow, I go to the men's room at one point, when I see one of the detectives go there. We stand in the urinals and he says, "Box 14, J69." Because everybody knows what I'm looking for.

So when the meeting ends, I go to the flack for the Casino Control Commission and said, "I want to look at the files." He said, "Oh, it's going to take us months to sort through." I said, "No, no. I just want this." I pulled out box 16 and said, "I just want to look at J69." He looked at me and said, "Oh God, you're going to make my life miserable today." I said, "Sorry about that." That's what Donald does. He dumps all sorts of stuff to avoid you seeing the thing you wanted.

And he hopes you don't find it. What's your reaction to Trump's media platform, Truth Social. It's gotten a billion dollars from investors. Does it smell like another scam to you?

I think it is. In fact, the news just broke that the SPAC, the special purpose acquisition corporation that they're using, is under investigation. A lot of these SPACs have turned out to be frauds. Why doesn't Donald just do it an upfront way? In fact, why doesn't he just fund it himself, given all the money he's taken in? Well, he's going to need that money to pay criminal defense lawyers when he's indicted, and to live on. But I also don't think it's going to be successful.

Donald's audience is in fact shrinking. His audience is intense, people are willing to die for him. Somebody said the other day that the difference between a religion and a cult is that in a religion your savior dies for you and in a cult you die for your savior. But it is shrinking, and over time will continue to shrink, barring some unexpected development. But the people who remain, they're intense and some of them are dangerous, as we saw on Jan. 6. They will literally kill people in Donald's name.

One last thing, David: After Watergate, there were a vast amount of reforms put into place by Congress, ethics reforms, campaign finance reforms. As of now, there have been some introduced, but nothing really passed. First of all, are you surprised by that? And second, what would you like to see, in broad strokes, to prevent Trump himself — or another Trump — from doing what he did in office?

Yeah, I've been at this so long. After Watergate I was covering the reforms and they've all backfired. They made our campaign finance situation vastly worse than it was when Nixon was in office. They weren't carefully thought through in how they would be manipulated. In the end of the book, I provide solutions for a whole variety of issues. And many of them are actually quite simple. I'll give you one example. There are people who say, "We should pass a law making people who run for president reveal their tax returns." You can't do that. The Constitution doesn't allow that. What we can do is pass a law saying that once you reach some threshold — let's say you came in first or second in two primaries — the IRS is required to release your tax return. Congress has the power to do that. That's an easy, simple solution which we should impose, and we should release six years at least of tax returns, plus any record of audits that resulted in additional payments being due.

On campaign finance, there are all these side ways that foreign governments put money into our political system. We ban foreign corporations and foreign individuals from donating money, but Toyota USA contributes because it's an American company. We've got to fix that. We have to tighten up those laws and we need absolute transparency. And we also need to take away many of the defenses. Let's say you took in money and it turns out it came from Vladimir Putin's lackey. OK, if you promptly go to the government, tell them you found out and give it right back or, better, give it to the government, then you should pay a fine. But if you lie, deny, hide and collaborate, you should go to prison and we should take away most of the defenses for that.

If you say, as the Trump people would say, shove off — well, I would be eternally in favor of a long prison sentence. And I generally don't like long prison sentences, I think they're bad policy. But these are threats to national security. This administration, as I show in the book, again and again submarined our national security for money. Nobody did that before, nobody. We didn't have any president who's ever done that. Remember, Jimmy Carter had to put his little two-bit peanut warehouse into a trust. He didn't run his business. We should never again have someone in the White House who is operating a business.

Former federal prosecutor: We'll see 'a tidal wave of criminal charges against Donald Trump'

Former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner has been speaking the blunt truth about Donald Trump's criminal conduct for years. He's not stopping now just because most of the media, and most Democrats in Congress for that matter, have moved on. I spoke to Kirschner, who is now an NBC News legal analyst, in a recent "Salon Talks" episode about Steve Bannon's indictment and more.

During our conversation, we kept coming back to is Kirschner's conviction that the disgraced former president is still a very real threat to our nation. And Kirschner, who served for more than 30 years as a federal prosecutor, is adamant that the only way to neutralize that threat is by prosecuting Trump for his crimes, ranging from those he may have committed in his effort to overturn the 2020 election to possible crimes arising from his mishandling of the pandemic.

Kirschner believes there's actually a case to be made against Trump for all the lies and misinformation he spread about the coronavirus and how to defeat it, from his intentional falsehoods about the nature of the threat to his disgraceful conduct designed to undermine safeguards, such as mask mandates, entirely because he believed it helped him politically. Kirschner, who formerly headed up the homicide unit of the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C., told me that Trump's "grossly negligent conduct was reasonably likely to result in death or serious bodily injury to another."

RELATED: Trump and his regime committed — or at least condoned — mass murder. America just doesn't care

Regarding the possible crimes arising from the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Kirschner said this about Trump's apparent role: "If you don't punish an attempted overthrow of the government, an insurrection, a rebellion, we're going to get more rebellions. That's just common sense." Watch my Salon Talks interview with Kirschner here or read a transcript of our conversation below to hear him lay out the case for manslaughter charges against Trump himself, and discuss the likelihood that prominent Trump allies are on their way to prison.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.


Let's start with Steve Bannon. He's been indicted. Can you explain why there was a delay in this indictment? What do you think actually prompted the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney in D.C to finally indict him?

We were on Steve Bannon indictment watch for 22 days from the day he was voted in contempt and referred for prosecution to the D.C. U.S. attorney's office until the U.S. attorney finally presented it to the grand jury and the grand jury indicted him for two counts of contempt of Congress. Twenty-two days. We know historically it's been done in as few as nine days. It was done to a Reagan-era EPA official named Rita Lavelle. Twenty-two days may sound like a long time. First of all, it wasn't that long. It takes some time to put a quick investigation together, present it to the grand jury and have them vote out an indictment. But I really think the holdup was because there was an acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia in place at the front end of that 22-day period.

I've worked for more than 10 U.S. attorneys in D.C. Some of them were acting, some of them were interim, some of them were presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed. Ordinarily when you have an acting U.S. attorney, that person just tries to keep the trains running on time, not make a lot of waves, not take on a lot of high-profile decisions. The new permanent U.S. attorney was confirmed by the Senate and took over one week before Steve Bannon was indicted. His name is Matt Graves, a former colleague of mine. He's a good man. He's a thoughtful man. He was a public corruption prosecutor when he was in my office. One week after he arrived, bam, Steve Bannon indicted. I think that's an important tell and some foreshadowing about how promptly the new D.C. U.S. attorney is going to go about his business.

Steve Bannon said at his press conference, after going to court for the first time, "They took on the wrong guy this time." He said, "It's the misdemeanor from hell." You know the new U.S. attorney in that district. How do you think he's going to respond to that?

Steve Bannon has a rude awakening coming, because he's going to be convicted if he opts to go to trial. Why? Because the offense he committed, contempt of Congress, requires the prosecutors to prove that he was served a lawful subpoena and that he failed to appear. The fact that he is raising executive privilege — first of all, he doesn't have any. He could say, "I am invoking magical unicorn privilege," and it would be equally persuasive.

I don't want to get down into the weeds of executive privilege, but when you get a subpoena, you have to show up. If you have any privilege — executive privilege, attorney-client privilege, parishioner privilege, doctor-patient privilege — you begin answering questions. If the questions begin to make their way into privileged information, you say, "I hereby invoke the privilege." The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, for example.

The way you don't handle it is to thumb your nose at a subpoena and refuse to show up. This is going to be a very easy criminal case to prove. Steve Bannon will be convicted. And under the statute, if he's convicted of contempt of Congress, each count carries a minimum of one month in jail and a maximum of one year in jail. He will see jail time in the event he's convicted.

In your view, it's clear he has no legal defense. What about the case of Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff? He seems to be communicating, through his legal counsel, with the Jan. 6 committee, but he seems very reluctant to respond to a subpoena. Does Meadows have a potentially more valid defense?

Mark Meadows has no defense for failing to appear on the subpoena. Now, he may have a more legitimate, more viable executive privilege claim, because he was actually part of the administration at the time these communications were had. But what he was required to do under the subpoena is to appear and assert, question by question, whether he was invoking executive privilege or not.

I'll give you an example, Dean. The first question is going to be, "Sir, please state your name." "No, I invoke executive privilege." Mark, you have no executive privilege over your name. And the questions would have progressed in that fashion until maybe questions involving executive privilege got asked. That's when you invoke the privilege. What that does is it creates a record and defines the parameters of what the witness is actually invoking executive privilege on, and then that can be litigated.

You make a great point for people who think, well, maybe Mark Meadows has executive privilege, as he was White House chief of staff until the very end. You've got to go there, and you or your counsel invoke the privilege. You don't just blow off a subpoena. I saw you tweeting about Stephen Miller, yukking it up on Fox News. He was served as well. Maybe Meadows sends a message to Miller, Kayleigh McEnany, Bernard Kerik and all the rest, because I imagine they're going to follow suit. If nothing happens to Meadows, they're going to claim the same things.

You are far more likely to see the McEnanys and the Stephen Millers appear on the subpoenas now and then maybe try to invoke whatever privilege they believe they have. I do predict that, as you say, other witnesses are now going to begin appearing and they're going to challenge the subpoena in other ways. That's why this was a really important step for both the House Select Committee and the Department of Justice to have taken against Steve Bannon.

I want to shift gears a little bit. A lot of people have talked about the potential criminality of Donald Trump in connection with Jan. 6, which we'll talk about in a minute. But everyone has just forgotten or not even addressed the idea of Trump's potential criminal culpability for his lies and what could be manslaughter charges around COVID. You just put out a video on this very point. Please tell people why you think, as a former federal prosecutor who was chief of the homicide unit in D.C., why Trump may have committed crimes in connection with his handling of COVID.

If you look at a relatively low level of homicide, every jurisdiction, every state has its own laws, its own statutes. They call the crime different things. Some jurisdictions call it negligent homicide. In D.C. we call it involuntary manslaughter, but it's a relatively low level of homicide. Donald Trump's conduct, even just what we've seen publicly reported, satisfies — in my opinion as a former career homicide prosecutor — the three elements that we're required to prove to hold somebody accountable for involuntary manslaughter.

Those are that somebody acted in a grossly negligent way. Donald Trump acted in an intentionally criminal way when he lied to the American people about the nature, the transmissibility and the way that you can protect yourself against contracting COVID. He lied to the American people about that. We can prove that because he told Bob Woodward, on tape, the true state of affairs and then he walked right out to the cameras and he lied to us.

The one incident that really sticks with me, that I think would be a marquee piece of evidence in a Donald Trump prosecution for avoidable COVID deaths, would be when he told Jeff Mason, wonderful reporter standing in the Rose Garden during a press conference. He told him, "Take off the mask." And Jeff Mason said, "Mr. President, I choose to protect myself. I'll speak up my more loudly but I'm not going to take off the mask." Trump then mocked him and said, "Oh, I guess you want to be politically correct."

Dean, what message did Donald Trump's base, the people who for whatever reason, decide to listen to and credit what Donald Trump says, what message do you think they took away from that? "Oh, the president just told me I don't need a mask. And beyond that, he would mock me. He would belittle and demean me and call me 'politically correct' if I wore a mask. I am not wearing a mask." Donald Trump put people in harm's way unnecessarily.

The three elements: that he acted in a grossly negligent manner. He did. That his grossly negligent conduct was reasonably likely to result in death or serious bodily injury to another. When we're dealing with a deadly pandemic, you can check that element off the list. The third element is the one that sounds more complicated or harder to prove, which is that your grossly negligent conduct caused the death of another. But causation has a legal definition. It is that your conduct is a substantial factor in bringing about the death of another. And Donald Trump's conduct was a substantial factor in people declining to protect themselves against the coronavirus. That is a strong case for involuntary manslaughter. It just takes some strong, brave prosecutors to bring the charge and then put it in front of a jury. As long as it's a fair and impartial jury, they will hold Donald Trump accountable, in my opinion.

To remind people, because so much has gone on since then, on Feb, 7, 2020, Trump told Bob Woodward point blank that COVID-19 was "deadly stuff," noting it was five times more deadly than even the most serious flu. Then, on Feb. 26, Trump goes before the cameras, when America's looking for answers, and says, "We view this the same as the flu." He lied to the American people, knowing the risks. That's really where the crux of the criminality could be in this: knowingly misleading people when you know the risk, you know people are looking to you, you have an obligation. You're not some random guy. You're the president of the United States and people are misled to their death because of this. What would it take for a prosecutor to have the courage to file that complaint against Trump?

If I were still at the D.C. U.S. attorney's office, working murder cases on Jan. 21, I would have begun presenting evidence to the grand jury of Donald Trump's responsibility for avoidable COVID deaths. The Department of Justice could not have stopped me. They could have fired me. That's the only way they could have stopped me, because it's the right thing to do to honor the victims and to the community.

RELATED: A crime against humanity: Dr. Deborah Birx admits Trump's campaign distracted from COVID response

What is it going to take, Dean? I think nobody, no prosecutor in New York or Georgia, at the Department of Justice or elsewhere, wants to be the first person to bring criminal charges against a former president. I predict, though, he will be charged and then every prosecutor will want to be the second one to bring charges, because the white-hot glare of media and political and citizen attention will be on the first prosecution. But because Donald Trump committed crimes in virtually every jurisdiction in our nation, anywhere someone died of COVID and they didn't have to, there is criminal liability. You're going to begin to see a tidal wave of criminal charges against Donald Trump, I suspect, once the first jurisdiction indicts him.

There's two other buckets of potential criminal liability against Donald Trump that I want to cover. One is the lead-up to Jan. 6. We've learned more about what we saw that day. We keep learning more and more information about Donald Trump behind the scenes, working with people, trying to get the DOJ to help him overturn the election based on a lie. There was no good faith. It was corrupt. It was bad motive. What potential criminality could Trump face?

There is one overarching conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States that I believe Donald Trump and Jeffrey Clark and John Eastman and Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani, Mo Brooks — all the people who participated in not only the run-up to Jan. 6, lying to the American people to gin them up, to get them upset about their vote being stolen when in fact it wasn't stolen, but then also participated in the events of Jan. 6 and beyond. I believe there is a very easy charge and it's been brought in the recent past by Bob Mueller. It's called conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States.

I urge everybody to go to the DOJ website because it sets out in a paragraph, in layman's terms, just how broad and sweeping a criminal offense that is. Remember Bob Mueller indicted the Internet Research Agency in Russia on that charge. Why? Because they interfered in our free and fair elections. That is precisely what Donald Trump and company did. They tried to overthrow election results, overthrow our democracy.

That is one overarching conspiracy charge that they're on the hook for. There are lots of other pigeonhole crimes. There is a seditious conspiracy, rebellion. There are any number: Inciting an insurrection is a crime I maintain that Donald Trump fulfills all those federal criminal statutes. I'm optimistic that the Department of Justice is quietly, the way they should be, investigating all these crimes. It's not just a House select committee. I believe in my heart of hearts, knowing many of the people at the Department of Justice, that they're quietly going about their business. How can you not? When you see all this evidence of criminality and there's clearly what we call adequate predication — enough evidence to open a criminal investigation — I don't believe for a minute DOJ is turning a blind eye and saying, "We're happy to give our republic away to Donald Trump. We're not going to investigate these crimes." I don't believe that for a minute.

For Jan. 6, you touch on the idea of seditious conspiracy, which is a crime. But what about the simplest one, incitement to riot? Because we're learning more and more that it seems that it really was, I'm not going to say organic. Those people showed up because Trump lied to them for two months. He radicalized them like an ISIS recruiter. They came there for that but it doesn't seem they planned it, "We're going to attack the Capitol this way or that way." Trump's speech, the fact that he brought them there, incited this. That was what lit this fuse. What rises to the level of inciting a riot? Which was on federal property so it would be a federal crime.

I think one of the most important evidentiary components of what Donald Trump did on Jan. 6 that makes him criminally responsible for what his supporters did after he ginned them up is that everything he said and did came from a place of fraud and lies and deception. He took that group of people and he said to them, "Your vote was stolen from you. Your election was stolen from you. Your president is being stolen from you and if you don't go up the street and fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."

Then Rudy Giuliani said, "Go down there, trial by combat." Mo Brooks, Don Jr.: They said, "Go down there, kick ass and take names." This all came from a platform of lies, fraud and deception, which gives not only the act that you need but gives the mental state, because he lied to the people about all of it. He basically used that angry mob as a weapon in his hand. He pointed that weapon at the Capitol and pulled the trigger. And that bullet headed up the street and they attacked the Capitol. To do what? To stop what was going on in the certification of the Electoral College vote count.

That's what Donald Trump told them to do. He gave them a directive, an action word: Go up there and stop it. And the fact that he called it a steal, he was saying, "Stop the vote count" — that is an attack on our democracy. He used the word "steal," which is a fraudulent word. That's what gives him the corrupt intent necessary to hold him accountable for those crimes.

RELATED: Why isn't Trump in jail? Former George W. Bush lawyer says Biden's DOJ is protecting him

And think about what came before this: His Department of Justice officials telling him, "Mr. President, there is no systemic fraud that undermines the election results." Donald Trump said, "I don't care. Just say there was and leave the rest up to me and my Republican friends in Congress." Dean, what I've just described in the last three minutes is the opening statement in the trial of Donald Trump for inciting the riot and the insurrection. It's right there plain as day, we just need to present it to a jury.

Let's take it a little broader. Right now we're seeing violence from people on the right against school board members, against nurses and doctors over COVID mandates, even against Republican officials who speak out against Donald Trump. If Trump is not prosecuted criminally for his actions — the fact that he's not been prosecuted so far, is that emboldening his people to do this?

Yeah, not only is it emboldening everybody because, listen, if we didn't punish bank robbers, we'd have a whole lot more bank robberies. If you don't punish an attempted overthrow of the government, an insurrection, a rebellion, we're going to get more rebellions. That's just common sense. But even beyond emboldening people, here's how Donald Trump will spin it if he is not indicted by the Department of Justice for the many crimes he inarguably committed. He will say, "The Department of Justice has given me a stamp of approval for everything I did because if it was a crime, they would have prosecuted me. They didn't. That means they vouch for me in everything I did. It wasn't criminal and I'm going to do it again." Again, this is not rocket science. This is just common sense law enforcement.

When you take a big-picture look at where we are now as a nation, how concerned are you for our democracy given that Trump has not been prosecuted and people on the right are celebrating, including Republican elected officials. We're seeing Republicans who are more upset with other Republicans who vote for the infrastructure bill than with Congressman Paul Gosar, who put out a video cartoon where he's literally killing AOC. It seems that the GOP has embraced violence or at least has no problem with it. And at the same time, they're passing laws — at least 33 laws in 19 states — to make it harder to vote.

Here's something that I think is a positive that is likely to come out of all of this. I think the Republican Party is writing its own obituary because I don't believe that what they're doing is sustainable. I don't believe it's a way to grow the party or even to keep the Republicans that have thus far not walked away. When everything you're banking on involves voter suppression laws and demonizing minorities, whether immigrants or African Americans, or when you have no actual agenda to offer, all you have is hate and division and propping up a criminal former president, that's not a winning formula for the future. It may be the only thing they feel like they have at this moment to try to retain power, but it's not a long-term winning strategy.

I think the Republican Party falls and there's probably a new version of it that is born from the Liz Cheneys and the Adam Kinzingers of the world, who retain their conservative principles but they also retain their morality and their love of country and their defense of democracy. That is where the future of the Republican Party is. But the old Republican Party is dying. I think it has to die completely and then a new Republican Party has to come up from the ashes to replace it. That is what I see as the long-term strategy, as long as we can keep our democracy up and running in the meantime. That, I think, is the challenge.

Adam Schiff on Jan 6th, Republican lies big and small — and prosecuting Donald Trump

Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, is not the type of person who uses hyperbole just to create soundbites. This former prosecutor has a clear record of sober, measured public rhetoric. So we should all take note when Schiff states that the Department of Justice "should be doing a lot more" when it comes to investigating "any criminal activity that Donald Trump was engaged in," as he did in our recent Salon Talks conversation. In describing the former president's long list of possible or apparent crimes, Schiff said, "I don't think you can ignore the activity and pretend it didn't happen."

This article first appeared in Salon.

I spoke to Schiff about his new book, "Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could," which is currently at No. 1 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. The clear message Schiff has for America is this: "We came so close to losing our democracy," and that threat is far from over. One of his main motivations in writing the book, Schiff said, is a sense that most people don't "feel a sufficient sense of alarm" over the threat posed by Trump and much of today's Republican Party.

To that end, Schiff opens the book with a gripping retelling of the Jan. 6 act of "domestic terrorism," as the FBI has officially labeled that attack. Schiff says he felt compelled to give that personal account in order "to bring the reader inside that chamber, let them know what it was like to hear the doors being battered, the windows breaking as this mob was trying to get in."

Schiff also discussed what it was like to become a "villain" in Trump's world, as the recipient of a barrage of crude insults launched by the former president and his supporters. Schiff says his sense of humor helped him cope with those slings and arrows, but it was more difficult to face the death threats from those incited by Trump.

Watch the full interview with Schiff here, or read a transcript of our conversation below to hear more about Schiff's warning and call to action. "We don't have the luxury of despair," he told me. "It needs to motivate us to be active."

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Your book opens with a retelling of Jan. 6. You paint a great picture — first of all with your sense of humor, but also of the fear involved and how this was very real. Can you share a little bit about what you went through, and other members went through, with gas masks being handed out and everything else. There are Republicans, as you may have heard, who are trying to depict Jan. 6 as a "tourist visit." So I think the reality needs to be relayed to people about what really went on from the inside.

This is one of the reasons that I wanted to write this down. I wanted to bring the reader inside that chamber, let them know what it was like to hear the doors being battered, the windows breaking as this mob was trying to get in.

I wasn't on the floor the whole time. I had been assigned by the speaker to be one of a handful of managers to oppose the Republican efforts to decertify the election. I really was focused on what I was speaking, what I was saying, what the Republicans were saying. Then I looked up and the speaker was missing from her chair, which struck me because I knew from the preparations she planned to preside the entire time. Soon thereafter two Capitol police rushed onto the floor, grabbed [Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer, and whisked him off the floor so quickly. I remember thinking I'd never seen Steny move that fast.

It wasn't long before we started to get messages from the Capitol police, one after another, of increasing severity, that there were rioters in the building, that we needed to get out the gas masks from under our seats, that we should get prepared to get down on the ground, and ultimately that we needed to get out, and that a way had been paved for us to get out. But I still hung back because there was now a real scrum to get out the door behind the chamber. I still felt relatively calm and was waiting for other people to go ahead. A couple of Republicans came up to me on the floor and said, "Basically, you can't let them see you." One of them said, "I know these people, I can talk to these people, I can talk my way through these people. You're in a whole different category."

At first, I was kind of touched that they were worried about my safety. And then, you know, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if they hadn't been lying about the election, I wouldn't need to worry about my safety. None of us would. One of them, when I finally did head to the doors when they were really starting to break glass to get in, and I walked out with a Republican who was holding a wooden post — it wasn't just the Democrats were worried here — he was holding a post to defend himself. And I said to him, because he had a member pin on, but I didn't recognize him, "How long have you been here?" He said, "72 hours. I just got elected."

As you mentioned I used my sense of humor in dark moments to try to alleviate the stress. So he says he'd been there for 72 hours. I looked at him and I said, "It's not always like this." But I tell you, the anger after that day only grew. What I was most angry at was not the insurrectionists who really believed the Big Lie, although I was furious at them too. It was what I described as the insurrectionists in suits and ties, these members that I work with that knew it was a big lie. And even after that brutal attack, when we went back in the chamber with blood still on the floor outside of the chamber, they were still trying to overturn the election. That to me was unforgivable.

To watch it play off from our side, on TV, was stunning. For me, I'm Muslim and the same people on the right had demonized my community for years, saying we knew who the terrorists were and we weren't turning them in because we were soft on terrorism. All of these are lies. Now we actually have Republicans literally defending terrorists by name. You have Donald Trump defending the terrorists, the same man who wanted to ban Muslims from entering the country. I find that hard to process intellectually because it's just so devoid of any decency whatsoever. You mentioned a Republican congressmen saying to you, "These people might hurt you or kill you." They know their base, they know how dangerous they are. So what do we do?

I thought the most powerful speech that day came from a source I was not expecting. It came from Conor Lamb [a moderate Pennsylvania Democrat], this former Marine, generally very soft-spoken. When we went back on the floor after that insurrection to finish the joint session, he talked about how these people had come in and attacked the Capitol and they'd done so because of the big lies being pushed on the other side of the aisle, and how a lot of them had walked in free and walked out free. And he said, "I think we know why they were able to simply walk away."

What he was saying, of course, was that because of their color, because of who they were, because they were white nationalists and not people of color, that they were treated very differently. It was an inescapable truth. This was not just an insurrection against our form of government. It was also a white nationalist insurrection with Confederate flags and people wearing Auschwitz T-shirts. This too was a very sobering thing for me, which was to see where this was coming from and realizing just how far our country still had to go.

In your book, you share things about your family and growing up. One thing stuck out and it's a small thing: You write that in 2010, you were on a plane flight with Kevin McCarthy, a fellow member of the House from California, a Republican. It was before the midterms and you had a conversation. Then he literally goes out and fabricates something, claiming you had told him, "Republicans are going to win this." That was a lie and you went and confronted him. And I was stunned by his reaction, considering this is the man who might be the next speaker of the House. Can you share a little bit about that story?

Yes, and I tell this story because sometimes little vignettes tell us a lot about what people are made of. One of the most frequent questions I get from people is: When you talk to Republicans privately, do they really believe what they say publicly? And the answer, all too often, is no, they don't. They don't believe what they're saying publicly and they will admit it. In this particular case, I was seated next to McCarthy just by coincidence on United Airlines, flying back to Washington. We were having a nothing conversation about who was going to win the midterms. I said I thought Democrats would win. And he said he thought Republicans were going to win. Then the movie started and I was like, "Thank God the movie started."

So we get to D.C. and we go our separate ways and he goes off and does a press briefing and he tells the press, "Oh, Republicans are definitely going to win the midterms. I sat next to Adam Schiff on the plane and even he admitted Republicans were going to win the midterms." The next morning, when that came out, I was beside myself and I went up to him, I made a beeline for him on the House floor. And I said, "Kevin, I would have thought if we're having a private conversation, it was a private conversation. But if it wasn't, you know, I said the exact opposite of what you told the press."

He looks at me and says, "Yeah, I know Adam. But you know how it goes." And I was like, "No, Kevin, I don't know how it goes. You just make stuff up and that's how you operate? Because that's not how I operate." But it is how he operates, and in that respect, Kevin McCarthy was really made for a moment like this, when the leader of his party had no compunction about lie after lie after lie. You say what you need to say, you do what you need to do. The truth doesn't matter. What's right doesn't matter. And someone like that can never be allowed to go near a position of responsibility like the speaker's office.

You also write about being the brunt of Trump's attacks, over and over. Were you able to laugh it off? What was it like to be a Trump villain? Was it more fun to be villain than a hero like they say in the movies?

You know, much of the time I was able to laugh it off, and my family helped me laugh it off. In fact, I remember walking down the street in New York with my daughter, who lives in Soho. I was wearing blue jeans and a canvas jacket and sunglasses, and I was getting stopped. And I was astonished that I was getting stopped and eventually it started to get annoying to my daughter, because there's only one center of attention in our family, and it's her, not me. So finally, Lexi says, "Enough already." I said to her, "I'm just shocked that people can recognize me." She looks at me and she says, "Well, you know, Dad, it's the pencil neck." This is what you get from your own kid.

I do want to say, on a more serious note, that I found it so upsetting that he would demean his office by engaging in these kinds of juvenile taunts. It just brought the presidency down. But the more serious thing were the not-so-veiled threats he would make, calling me a traitor and saying, "Well, we used to have a way of dealing with traitors." At one point he met with, I think, the president of Guatemala and said, "Well, you know, you used to have a way in your country of dealing with people like Adam Schiff." Something along those lines. And, you know, that reaches people that are not well. I get death threats, and that part, you really couldn't laugh off.

In the book, you write that after Jan. 6 there was no need for impeachment hearings just to have the vote: "No investigation would be necessary given we were all witnesses to his crimes," speaking of Trump. When you think back on that now, do you think the Department of Justice should be doing more in terms of criminal prosecution of Donald Trump and the people around him?

I do think the Justice Department should be doing a lot more than what I can see — which is, with respect to some things, nothing at all. What I would point to most specifically is Donald Trump on the phone with the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, essentially trying to browbeat him into finding 11,780 votes that don't exist. I think if you or I were on that call, or any of my constituents, they would have been indicted by now. I understand the reluctance on the part of the attorney general to look backward, but you can't have a situation where a president cannot be prosecuted and when they leave office they still can't be prosecuted — that they're too big to jail, somehow.

I think that any criminal activity that Donald Trump was engaged in needs to be investigated. It may be ultimately that the attorney general makes the decision after investigating that for what he thinks is the country's best interests it makes sense not to go forward with a particular charge. But I don't think you can ignore the activity and pretend it didn't happen.

Last week we had the vote in the House on charges of criminal contempt against Steve Bannon. Then it goes to the Justice Department. Do you have any sense what they will do? If they choose not to indict Bannon or to prosecute him, would you be calling for changes in the DOJ?

Well, first of all, I think they are going to move forward. That's my personal opinion. It's my hope and expectation. I say that because of a couple of things. They have repeatedly made it clear now, as they did to Mr. Bannon but in other contexts as well that they are not asserting executive privilege, that the public interest here far outweighs any claim of privilege. So Steve Bannon had no basis in which to simply refuse to appear. I also think that because the Justice Department itself has not resisted our efforts to interview high-ranking, former Justice Department individuals, they understand the importance of this. Should he not get prosecuted, it will essentially send a message that the rule of law doesn't apply to certain people close to the former president. And I just cannot imagine that's a message that the Justice Department wants to send.

Rolling Stone recently reported about certain members of the House, including perhaps Rep. Paul Gosar [of Arizona], meeting with some of the Jan. 6 organizers. It's not completely clear because it's from anonymous sources, but there was an allegation that Gosar promised blanket pardons to people through Donald Trump. I know you're on the Jan. 6 committee, will you be investigating that?

Yes, we will be investigating these issues to see whether the public reports are accurate or not accurate, what role members of Congress played or didn't play. We are determined to be exhaustive. Nobody gets a pass, so yes, we will be looking into all these things. Look, you can't dismiss those allegations as being too incredible to be true because Donald Trump was dangling pardons to people like Paul Manafort. He was attacking those who did cooperate, like Michael Cohen, calling him a rat. The idea that they would dangle more pardons cannot be excluded. And if members of Congress played a role in that, then the public has a right to know. Ultimately Congress and the Justice Department will have to figure out what the consequences need to be.

There was reporting in the Washington Post on the Willard Hotel war room and there were things in it I had never seen, including that Donald Trump and his allies in early January, after all the appeals were done, recounts had been done, the Electoral College had voted, and Trump was on the phone with over 300 state legislative officials in battleground states, telling them essentially to decertify the results. Could that potentially rise to a crime?

That ultimately would be a decision the Justice Department would have to make, whether it violated specific statutes and whether they could meet their burden of proof. But what we are most focused on is this violent attack on the Capitol, just the last stage in an effort to essentially bring about a coup. When all the litigation failed, when all the efforts to coerce the vice president failed, when the efforts to get Brad Raffensperger to find votes that didn't exist failed, then that was the plan: to use violence to intimidate the vice president or the Congress into not doing its job, to interrupt that peaceful transfer of power. Was that the plan all along, and what role did the president play, and people around him?

I think the biggest black box in terms of unknowns, is what was the president's role in all this. We know he incited the insurrection, and that was sufficient grounds to impeach and remove him. But what role did he play? How much was he aware of the propensity for violence, the participation of white nationalists? How much was he celebrating as he opened those doors and windows and heard the sound of the crowd the night before that they would use violence if necessary to make sure that he stayed in the office?

You're a former prosecutor. If Donald Trump is not punished some way criminally for his actions, what would stop Trump or a democratic demagogue one day or another president from mimicking the same conduct, thinking you can get away with this? This was a scene of two-prong coup attempt, one behind the scenes and one right in our face on Jan. 6, how could this be permissible in the United States of America?

It's a very good question and I think you can draw a straight line between the Trump's Russia misconduct in which he invited a foreign power to help them cheat in an election and then lied to cover it up. And feeling he gotten away with that after Bob Mueller testified, and that leading the very next day to his Ukrainian misconduct and new and different ways to try to cheat in the next election. And when he got acquitted and escaped accountability for that in the first trial, you can draw a straight line to the insurrection and even worse ways to help to try to cheat in the election.

If he were to ever take office again, where does that straight line continued to go? So, yes, I think the danger is real and what's going on around the country right now in which the Republicans are running with the big lie to strip independent elections officials of their duties and give them over to partisans seems to be the lesson they learned from the failed insurrection, which is next time, if they couldn't find a Secretary of State in Georgia to come up with votes that don't exist, there'll be sure they have someone there who will. And to me, that's why I titled the book "How Close We Came to Losing Our Democracy and Still Could." Because the danger that we still could is all too real.

In the book, you quote from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" talking about what we saw and went through and with Donald Trump. If this were a play on a stage now I can condemn it as an improbable fiction, but unfortunately it was real where we lived through this. And at this point I'm thinking of "Hamlet" and our democracy: To be, or not to be. It really seems that's where we are, and that it's that dire. Do you get a sense that enough Democrats, enough people in the media, share the dire view of the trajectory of our nation and where we're going? Where just because this republic has been here for 240-plus years doesn't mean it will be here for eternity, and that something needs to be done to save it?

I don't think people feel a sufficient sense of alarm. It's one of the main motivations for me to write this book. I got together recently with a couple of friends of mine. They're both a husband and wife married for decades. They're in their mid 90s. And I asked them, have you ever seen anything like the present? And they told me, "Look, we remember World War II, the Great Depression. We remember Korea and Vietnam, the Civil Rights struggles, the Cuban Missile Crisis. We've never been more worried about the future of our country and democracy than we are today. Because during all those former crises, we always knew we would survive and we would survive as a democracy. But right now we just don't know." And people do need to feel that sense of urgency, not despondent state, not despair - we don't have the luxury of despair. It needs to motivate us to be active.

I paint a portrait of a lot of the heroes that came through this period of time, Marie Yovanovitch and Fiona Hill and others. We need to use them to inspire us to act. We can't all be Marie Yovanovitch, but in our own way we can figure out what we can do to come to the rescue of our democracy in this dark hour.

Republicans would 'rather end democracy' than turn away from Trump: Harvard professor

It can happen here. The "it" ought to be obvious by now: an authoritarian or even fascist regime in the United States. That was a big reason why Harvard professor Steven Levitsky, along with his colleague Daniel Ziblatt, published the 2018 book "How Democracies Die." They wanted to warn Americans of the dangerous signs they saw in Donald Trump's presidency that followed the authoritarian playbook.

So where are we now in terms of our democracy? I spoke with Levitsky recently for Salon Talks, and here's one line that really stood out: Levitsky told me, "Five years ago I would have laughed you out of the room if you suggested our democracy could die." But today, he added, we see the Republican Party apparently focused on breaking our democracy. In a nutshell, Levitsky believes the threat to our democracy is more acute today than when Trump was in the White House, since the GOP is desperate to retain its fading power in the face of hostile demographic change.

Levitsky describes today's GOP as "clearly an authoritarian party." Worse yet, it's no longer all about Trump. He sees the GOP continuing on its anti-democratic path for years to come, saying that even the contested term "fascist" is becoming more defensible given the GOP's defense or denial of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

You can watch my Salon Talks episode here, or read a transcript of our conversation below to hear Levitsky's suggestions about how Democrats can strengthen our democracy while they still control the White House and Congress, and why that might involve progressive swallowing some of their policy goals.

As always, the following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

In 2018, when your book "How Democracies Die" came out, on a scale from zero to 10 — with 10 being the most dire concerns about our democracy and zero being, no, everything's fine — where were we then in terms of your concern about our democracy?

I would say if 10 is most concerned, we were at five or six. We wrote the book because we were concerned. We wrote the book because we saw warning signs. But where I'm going is that I think we were too optimistic because we blamed the Republican Party for dropping the ball and allowing Donald Trump, a demagogue, an authoritarian demagogue, to be nominated. We thought they should have broken with Trump in defense of democracy. They obviously didn't. But we believed at the time — not long ago, three years ago — that the bulk of the Republican Party was minimally committed to small-D democracy.

We believed there was a faction in the Republican Party, particularly in the Senate, that would be able and willing to draw a line that they wouldn't let Trump cross. And we were wrong about that. The speed and the extent to which the Republican Party has been Trumpified is way beyond anything that we expected.

It's enough to have an authoritarian president — that's threatening. One of the two major parties has now basically given up on playing by democratic rules of the game. That's a new level of threat. And so now I would say— it's hard to put a number, but I would say seven or eight.

I'm afraid to see what nine looks like, if this is seven or eight. You mention in your book the idea of using democratic methods to save our democracy, one being the election. The idea was that defeating Trump through the election might help preserve our democratic institutions. I imagine you could never have predicted what Trump would have done after losing the election, or what happened on Jan. 6. So even though we had a democratic election, are democratic institutions actually weaker now, after November 2020?

Let me answer that in two parts. First of all, we did have elections as an escape hatch, and we used them. And it's a damn good thing we did. We would be much, much worse off had Trump managed to retain the presidency and stay in power for four years. The fact that we sent him to Mar-a-Lago is very important, and shouldn't be understated. Now that said, I don't predict things accurately very well. One thing I did predict, I knew would happen.

I knew that Donald Trump would not accept the results of the election. What I did not anticipate is that the vast bulk of the Republican Party would go along with it. And of course, I didn't anticipate anything remotely like Jan. 6. So yes, things have gotten much worse, because not only has the Big Lie taken hold among the vast bulk of the Republican Party, to the point where you can't be a member of the Republican Party in good standing if you don't adhere to the Big Lie.

And they're acting upon that, right? They are now taking steps in various important states — Texas, Arizona, Georgia — to make it easier to overturn an election. So I think there's a good chance that the Republican Party, not just Donald Trump but the Republican Party, tries to overturn the results of the 2024 election. And that is, again, a worse place than we were a few years ago. But we would be even worse off had Trump remained in power.

If Trump ever got back in office, I don't know if he would ever leave. If you look at the GOP now from an academic point of view, how would you describe it? People throw around terms: It's autocratic, it's fascist. But how do you look at it?

I think ideologically it has evolved into something fairly similar to European far-right parties. It's primarily an ethno-nationalist nativist party. It is essentially preserving the identity of a white Christian America, and that is fairly similar to what we describe as far-right parties in Europe. The thing about far-right parties in Europe is they win 12, 15, 17, 18 percent of the vote and they're at the margins of politics. At best, they're a junior partner in a coalition government, but mostly they're in opposition. So they're kind of at the margins throwing rocks at the boat of the system, but they're not in power. There's no country, no established democracy in the world, with the exception of India, in which one major party is an extremist ethno-nationalist party.

That's frightening. So they are sort of like the AFD in Germany, let's say.

Yeah.

AFD didn't do well in the last election in Germany, they are nowhere close to electing a prime minister or chancellor. But we have a party here that's knocking on that same door that controls more of the governorships. When there's no resistance within the GOP to Donald Trump, drawing on history, what alarm bells does that raise about what could happen in the future?

It means that the Republican Party, as has been the case since 2016, will be following and acting in service to an authoritarian leader. I mean, there are many, many leaders past and present in the Republican Party who I may disagree with on policy, but I know at the end of the day, they're going to play by democratic rules. That's not true of Donald Trump. And we know very well, more than we did three years ago, that the vast bulk of the Republican Party will line up behind him. They stuck with him even after he instigated Jan. 6. I mean, that's worse than shooting somebody on Fifth Avenue. It's now crystal clear that they will follow him to whatever authoritarian destination he takes them. And that's more dangerous than just one guy. He has a party behind him.

In America, there's this sense by some that it can't happen here — whatever that could be, an autocracy, a dictatorship, a fascist regime. I think it is happening here. And I think a lot of people are not equipped, in the Democratic Party or in the media, to see what's going on right now. Is Donald Trump how democracies die?

Potentially. I mean, interestingly, we may have an election in 2024 where the election is stolen by the opposition party. That doesn't happen very often. But look, we wrote "How Democracies Die" precisely for the reasons you said. Americans take our democracy for granted, all of us. Me growing up until five years ago, I would have laughed you out of the room if you suggested that democracy might die. For 99 percent of Americans across the political spectrum, we took for granted that no matter how recklessly our politicians might behave, we couldn't actually break our democracy.

We wrote the book because we started to say, yeah, well, we might break our democracy. And even though at the time we may have only seen the risk level as a five or a six, we thought it was worth trying to raise the level of awareness, which I think we've done. Americans are much more worried than they were five, six, seven years ago, but I think you're right. We in the media, most Americans and most in the establishment and even the Democratic Party, even the Biden administration, doesn't quite have the level of urgency that we need to have.

I've never heard an American president talk about the battle between autocracy and democracy the way President Biden does. A lot of times it's talked about in the foreign context, but he brings it home domestically as well. There was a CBS poll in July in which 55 percent of Trump supporters — not Republicans, but Trump supporters — viewed Jan. 6 as an act in defense of freedom. How alarming is that for you? Are we getting to the point where if the GOP base is saying they're OK with violence, then they can be called a fascist movement and it's not hyperbolic?

I've always personally resisted the "fascist" label. I think it gets thrown about for right-wingers we don't like way too much. I think the label is growing more defensible now than a couple of years ago. But I think it's more straightforward and more defensible to say that this is now clearly an openly authoritarian party.

There are different kinds of measures you can use, but a couple of clear indicators that scholars of regimes all agree on is a party that embraces, condones, accepts and promotes political violence and a party that does not accept electoral defeat, that can't accept defeat. On those two criteria, especially between November 2020 and January 2021, we saw the bulk of the Republican Party swing and miss on those two criteria: Always renounce violence, always accept defeat. They are no longer doing either of those things. So I wouldn't have said this to you when we first published the book, but I think the Republican Party can be legitimately labeled an authoritarian party.

After Jan. 6, I was as surprised as you. I actually thought the GOP was going to jettison Donald Trump and go, "He's gone. He lied for two months. He clearly incited this attack. It might be a criminal violation, it might not be, but it was clearly, it was him. He did it." A week later on the floor of the House, Kevin McCarthy was denouncing Donald Trump. Then time went on, and now they celebrate the people who did that. Worse, they're making martyrs of people like Ashli Babbitt, who was killed jumping into a secure area against the directions of an officer who knew there were elected officials behind him in the area. What does that mean to you? What concerns do you have when you hear Donald Trump defend the attackers, calling them persecuted, calling them political prisoners and defending Ashli Babbitt by name?

I mean, this is what authoritarian political movements do. I don't want to go rushing to the comparison to Italian fascism or German Nazis, but this is the kind of stuff that fascist parties did. They glorified, defended, promoted violence. And violence is the path to power, so they became OK with it from top to bottom, from grassroots activists to voters to leaders. They became OK with violent seizures of power. How else do you read Jan. 6 and the reaction, and now the glorification of Jan. 6, other than these guys are going to be OK with a violent seizure of power?

I had the same reaction as you did in the days after Jan. 6. I really was hopeful, listening to Mitch McConnell on the floor of the Senate, listening to McCarthy, that finally this would be the turning point. But I think that the Republicans took a few days, put their finger to the wind and realized that the base was still with Trump. And because of the existence of primaries and because these guys are just too small to stand up for democracy over their own political careers, they went where their base was.

They were unwilling, for whatever reason — with the exception of Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney and a small handful of others, many of whose careers are over — they were unwilling to stand up to the base. Standing up to the base means probably ending your political career and they just didn't want to do it. They'd rather end democracy.

It's their pursuit of power at all costs. It's something that you read about in history books. I'm reading "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" and "The Gathering Storm" by Winston Churchill at the same time, which is scaring the crap out of me with what we're going through. It's actually cruel to look at Germany and the rise of the Nazis, where Churchill says, "We had numerous opportunities to stop this and we didn't do that." I'd love you to share what has worked in other countries, and maybe could be a model here, where even competing political parties join together to form essentially a pro-democracy coalition — not ideologically aligned, but at least pro-democracy.

First of all, let me say there is no magic solution. When you're in a situation where one of the two political parties representing almost half the country is committed to an anti-democratic project, there is no easy out. And we're going to be in this battle, I think, even in the best of cases, for 10, 15, 20 years. This is not something we're going to put to rest in the next couple of years.

The good news is that we're probably not on the brink of sort of long-term, single-party rule. The U.S. has a lot of things going for it as well. The small-d "democratic" opposition, mostly the Democratic Party, is strong. It's well organized, it's electorally viable, it's well-financed. This is not an opposition that can be steamrolled like in Russia or Hungary or Venezuela. So even in the worst case, even if the Republicans steal the 2024 election, ending democracy momentarily — and that could happen — that's not going to be the end of the story. We're not going to slide into 30 years of authoritarianism. The Democrats are going to fight back. There will be protests in the streets. There will be another election. It may not be an entirely fair election, but the Democrats will continue to contest for power. It's more likely that we reach a period of sliding in and out of crisis than sliding into outright long-term decay.

What do we do? I personally think that the key, and this is a lesson we've taken from other cases, particularly in Europe, is a broad small-D democratic coalition that has to range from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to include democratic conservatives. As many Republicans as want to join, have to be embraced. Now, that's not an easy message for progressives. It means swallowing some policy goals and programmatic goals and getting into political alliance with people you really do not like, and you've really disagreed with in the past.

Liz Cheney is nothing compared to some of the people who might end up being in the democratic coalition. But it's the only way that we ensure that we win, that we build a coalition that includes as many Republicans and as many conservatives as possible: evangelical Christians, business people. It's got to be a broad coalition. If it's a blue-state coalition, it's not enough.

It's almost surreal to be having this conversation in America in 2021. It's like something out of a Philip Roth book. This is real, it's happening right here. Are you optimistic? You mentioned certain things that give you hope. On a practical level, while Democrats control Congress, would it give you more hope if they passed a voting rights act, a "freedom to vote" act or something along those lines?

Oh yeah. I mean, I look back to the Lodge Act of 1890, right before the consolidation of Jim Crow. There was a law to establish much greater federal oversight of elections that passed the House, that had a majority in the Senate and was blocked by a filibuster. But that majority eventually cracked because the Republican Party, which at the time was the more pro-voting rights party, disagreed over trade and had other priorities. They gave up and didn't pass the bill, and immediately the former Confederate states, Southern states, started enacting constitutional forums and electoral forums that disenfranchised African Americans, who were almost half the population in the South. It ushered in 80 years of authoritarianism in the South because we didn't pass that democracy bill in 1890. I don't think things would get quite as bad this time around, but it is consequential if we don't take steps to combat voter suppression and election subversion.

What gives me hope? I mean, a couple of things. I think the raw materials for democratic survival exist in the United States. The kind of extraordinary imbalance of power between one side and the other that you see in Russia or in Venezuela or in Turkey or in Hungary doesn't exist in the United States. It's a pretty evenly matched fight. It could get ugly, it could slide into some pretty nasty crises, but the Democrats are going to continue to have a fighting chance for years to come.

What really gives me hope is I think that we're actually on the brink of establishing an unprecedented multiracial democracy. That's a really hard thing to pull off, and arguably no other society has really pulled it off. We have not, but we're on the brink of it. We got there in a formal sense in 1965, and we've been inching in the direction of making that real for half a century. That's what this war is about. That's what this Republican reaction is about. But if we prevail — and it's not going to be easy, or be quick — if we prevail, I think on the other side could be a remarkable democratic experiment that could be a model for the world. That's what allows me to sleep at night and get up the next day and keep going.

A lot of people talk insist that Donald Trump should be prosecuted for Jan. 6. Does that actually end the threat or at this point does it transcend Donald Trump?

I think it definitely transcends Trump and pervades the GOP overall. Trump could go into exile to Iceland tomorrow, he could pass away tomorrow, and that's not going to end this. This ideology is going to persist, whether it's out of Tucker Carlson or someone else. There are many, many political entrepreneurs who, now that Trump has gone there, now that he's crossed that line, now that he's established that identity, I don't think there's any putting it back in the bottle.

Trump is a unique figure and certainly nobody will replicate him. I think there is a good argument to be made for prosecuting Trump. It's double-edged, but I think a pretty good case can be made. But even if they did, it's not over with that. The Republican Party will continue to be in essence, a Trumpist party, I think, for a while to go.

Recently Democratic members of Congress, Adam Schiff and others, introduced legislation to reform the system so when they looked at what Trump did in the White House. Not about the election so much as about how he exercised power. We had a lot of reforms after Watergate. Do you think the Democrats should make that a priority, as well as voting rights? Understanding that the next president might not be a Democrat — it might be Trump, or it might be another person like Trump — should they enact reforms now?

Absolutely. Obviously, enacting reforms is really difficult now because it's difficult to peel away even a single Republican vote. It's much easier said than done, but what Adam Schiff is saying makes a lot of sense to me. In our system, as we wrote in "How Democracies Die," for years the rules were actually under-specified and we relied a lot on the restraint of politicians.

We trusted that politicians wouldn't go there. They wouldn't blatantly make millions of dollars out of being president. They wouldn't pardon their friends or people who conspired with them. And now it's clear, given the level of polarization given the example that some have set, that we're going to have to formalize what used to be informal norms. We can't rely on self-restraint anymore. We can't rely on forbearance. We need to create hard guardrails, rather than soft.

Mary Trump: Republicans 'are committing crimes against humanity on a daily basis'

If you were emotionally invested in battling Donald Trump while he was in the White House, then you have suffered from trauma. There may be no one better equipped to help us cope with that trauma than Mary Trump, who is both a psychologist and a niece of the man who caused that pain.

I spoke to Mary Trump for "Salon Talks" about her new book, "The Reckoning: Our Nation's Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal." Arguably, Mary played a key role in defeating her uncle last year, from her TV appearances and to her runaway bestseller about Donald and the entire Trump family, "Too Much and Never Enough."

In her new book, Mary looks back at our nation's collective trauma caused by her uncle's presidency, his mishandling of COVID-19 and his attempted coup on Jan. 6 aimed at overturning the 2020 election. She also takes a broader look at the historical trauma that Black people and Native Americans have suffered and how the effort by some on the right today to whitewash that with laws attacking academic freedom and "critical race theory," seeking to enforce a particular version of history, makes it more difficult for these communities to heal from generational trauma.

Our conversation, which you can watch in full or read as an edited transcript below, focused much on the present and the threat that Donald, as Mary Trump refers to her uncle, poses to our nation. Mary told me why she thinks Democrats have so far failed to call out the danger presented by Donald and the GOP as they continue to misread the character of the contemporary Republican Party. She said that her uncle is still hungry to wield power, and that if he were ever returned to the White House, she doesn't believe he would leave peacefully. Before the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, you could dismiss that idea as over the top. If you dismiss Mary's warning now, you do so at the peril of our nation.

We talked about your bestseller "Too Much and Never Enough" the last time you were on Salon Talks. Now you've got a new book, "The Reckoning: Our Nation's Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal." Let the healing begin, Mary, because I could use some.

Yes, let the healing begin. Man, we've been through the wringer.

Your last book was about your family, about the trauma your late father was put through by his father, who was also Donald Trump's father. On some level, Donald Trump is slightly sympathetic as a human being who went through trauma. I have no sympathy for him now, but as a human being reading your book, you can't help but feel that. Now we look at our trauma, and your new book looks at the collective trauma of African Americans and Native Americans on different levels at different times. Let's talk about what we've been through the last four years. You note candidly that you went for treatment at a place that deals with PTSD in mid-2017. First, as a psychologist, what is the working definition of trauma, so we're all on the same page.

Trauma can be many things, and it can lead to many different outcomes. It could be a car accident, it could be being in war, it could be being denied medical treatment. It can be a very quiet thing as well. People think of trauma and they think explosions and plane crashes, but as we've seen in the last year and a half, it could also be being isolated, living in fear of a silent enemy, living with the kinds of division that my uncle has gifted us over the last four or five years. It's really anything that makes you feel like you are not in control of your safety. As we've seen, it can really have an impact on people's mental health. We're seeing it already, but going forward, we still haven't emerged. We're still being traumatized. It's going to manifest itself in many different ways.

I'm sure the incidents of PTSD will rise, but we're also talking about anxiety and depression and substance abuse and domestic abuse situations worsening. The one thing that would've helped mitigate the effects of the stress of COVID and the fear and the sense of constant danger we couldn't have, because of the fact that we were not allowed to unite as a country. The us versus them should have been us against COVID. Instead, Donald and Republican leadership made it Donald supporters against everybody else. That's also going to take its toll.

I know every person is different, but how do you address trauma in a way that's productive and can actually help people?

The thing that makes it difficult to deal with trauma, in terms of recovering from it, is that you have to be very honest about what happened to you. That includes feeling the feelings that maybe got split off at the moment of traumatization. Disassociation is a very common symptom for people with PTSD because the attended feelings are unbearable. That also distances you from your ability to heal from it. We see the same thing, and this was the similarity I saw with what this country is going through. We continue to be re-traumatized because we've never dealt with our foundational traumas in a way that is honest, straightforward and healing.

What do you say to people who feel like they've been put through an emotional trauma by your uncle's presidency, which continues to this day because he's not gone. We just had a man in D.C. who claimed to have bombs and who wanted to eliminate Joe Biden to put Donald Trump back in office. That's not an outlier — we're going to see more of that. What do you tell people about how to heal?

First, I would just validate that feeling: You have been traumatized. That's one of the most egregious things about the last few years. It's people with empathy and compassion, who really do care about what happens, who have been the most negatively impacted by what's gone on. The people who are, quite frankly, the worst among us have been empowered and enabled by the horrors that Donald inflicted on us.

I know we're talking in generalities here, but people are still going through difficult times, they don't want to hear his name. People will say to me, "It bothers me so much I change the channel. I don't want to hear his voice anymore." That was when he was the president. Now I really find no excuse, no reason, for hearing his voice.

This is the problem, though. We can't ignore him. We ignore him at our peril, because Republicans are keeping him relevant, keeping him empowered. Who knows what's going on behind the scenes. I wish I never had to speak his name or think about him ever again, that would be healing. It's tricky because we're all so exhausted and demoralized, but things are only going to get worse if we look away. I agree with you, we shouldn't be playing clips. It's gratuitous and it feels mean to be subjected to him.

There are two different ways to look at this. There is the direct mental health aspect and strategy, and to that I would say there should be a Cabinet position dealing exclusively with the mental health fallout from COVID. I'm not kidding, this needs to be a structural innovation that operates at the local, state and federal level. People need access to resources. I am not the only person on the planet who came into this with complex PTSD. A lot of people already had pre-existing conditions that made them more vulnerable. Then there are those of us who were perfectly fine, but now find themselves with stress-related disorders or anxiety, etc. The fact that everybody doesn't have the same access, it's ridiculous. Mental health isn't a luxury. Mental illness isn't a moral failing. Everybody should have access to trauma therapy, regular therapy, EMDR, etc.

The second thing I would say is that in order to help those of us who've suffered so much over the last four years, and particularly the last year and a half, and continue to suffer because we're being held hostage, again, by the worst among us, the Democrats need to take the gloves off and start acting as if they understand the unbelievably dangerous situation we currently find ourselves in.

I want to touch on one more thing about healing and how it intertwines with today's GOP. You've got the GOP today banning and threatening to defund schools that teach what they call "critical race theory," which, if you look at the laws, it's not critical race theory. It's literally teaching about the history of systemic racism, of slavery, of Jim Crow, of Native American genocide. You note Rick Santorum's infamous statement, talking to a group of young white people about white Europeans saying, "We birthed a nation from nothing." With this white fragility in play, how much harder does it make it for people who are African American, Native American and others to heal, if we're not going to talk about what really happened to them as a people.

It makes it impossible. Just a small data point: So far the few reviews I've read of my book have all been by old white guys who take great umbrage with what I have to say. They're very defensive about it for some reason. It is this knee-jerk need to look away. We saw it with the Capitol police officer's testimony. Not one Republican admitted to watching that hearing, as if it wasn't worth their time. Ted Cruz was playing basketball, for God's sake.

It's as if they feel that facing this stuff head-on somehow makes them guilty when the truth of the matter is, by continuing to ignore racism, not just our racist past, but the fact that white supremacy is currently a major platform of one of our two political parties, then we do become guilty of the thing we want to avoid being guilty of. It's terrible for all of us to fail repeatedly, to grapple with why we are where we are. It's not an accident; this isn't because of Donald. Somebody said to me recently, "Donald Trump was 250 years in the making," and that's exactly right. This isn't just something that happened over four years. We've been building towards this for centuries. When did taking personal responsibility become a terrible thing? It's mystifying to me.

We're seeing that right now in current events with Afghanistan. You've got your uncle spinning a new tale, yet you actually have people like H.R. McMaster, who was Trump's national security adviser, saying that Trump's secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, signed a surrender agreement with the Taliban. What's your reaction — I'm sure it's not surprise — about how Donald is trying to say this is all Biden's fault when it was Trump who pulled our troops out. We got nothing in return, zero. He pressured for 5,000 Taliban prisoners to be released over the objections of the Afghan military, and released the co-founder of the Taliban from prison in Pakistan, after Obama put him there in 2010 for killing our troops. What's your reaction to Trump, again, doing the blame shifting?

First of all, the master deal-maker is at work, as always. I'm not surprised. Listen, I'm not an expert in Afghanistan by any stretch of the imagination, but the revisionist history we're seeing is just appalling. It's literally as if Joe Biden started the war seven months ago, and just decided to pull out five minutes ago, and that George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump had nothing to do with it. Simultaneously, they're basically saying, "Just give us 20 more years, and we'll get there. Who cares how many other lives are lost, or how many more trillions of dollars we waste."

The fact that Donald is evading responsibility makes perfect sense. One, because he never takes responsibility for anything, but also because he's still on a mission to delegitimize and undermine President Biden. We also see this with what he said about getting a third booster shot, that it's just a money-making thing for Pfizer to push a third shot onto people, when it's actually because the efficacy of the first two shots loses power over time. It's just to keep people safe. Nothing Donald does in that regard should surprise us. Again though, it's the fact that he's continuing to be amplified and enabled by the Republican Party.

This deal that Trump made with the Taliban is really like the Trump vodka of peace deals.

Or the steaks, too.

In your book, you quote President Biden on Jan. 20, being sworn in and saying, "We've learned again that democracy is precious, democracy is fragile, and at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed." Why doesn't it feel like democracy has prevailed? It doesn't feel like that at all to me.

Because it hasn't. We're still on a knife's edge here. If Democrats fail to hold both houses in 2022, I think the American experiment will have failed. It's not just 2024 we need to worry about. The other reason it feels like democracy hasn't prevailed is because there was an armed insurrection against our government, incited by the person in the Oval Office, encouraged and participated in by members of Congress, many of whom were trying to overturn the results of a free and fair election, and yet they all still roam free. All of them, with the exception of Donald, are still running our government. How is it possible that traitors to this country, active seditionists who no longer believe in American democracy, if they ever did, are still allowed to be sitting senators and representatives? It's appalling.

If Donald Trump is not charged and prosecuted for his crimes in connection with Jan. 6, do you think that will lead to even more violence down the road by his supporters?

Of course it will. The message that is always sent with Donald is, "I can get away with anything, and if I can get away with it, so can you." That's the message that's being sent by Attorney General Merrick Garland. I don't know who else could possibly investigate these things, but anybody who has the power to and isn't, is failing us. This guy in D.C. [Floyd Ray Roseberry] is a direct result of two things, what happened on Jan. 6 and the fact that it was done with impunity, just as so many other things in our history have been done by powerful white men with impunity. Also because of this misinformation echo system that our politicians seem not interested in doing anything about. Why is Fox News allowed to spread propaganda and misinformation and white supremacy, and racism on a daily basis? It's killing us.

I think more and more people are asking themselves that question. Before, I think we were all defending it by saying, "Freedom of speech and the First Amendment, but there are limits that our Supreme Court has recognized regarding freedom of speech, and I think that knowingly misleading people to their death is crossing one of them. Cheerleading for terrorists who wanted to overthrow our government. These people are literally defending the people who attacked our Capitol, who are terrorists, because the FBI has said that Jan. 6 was an act of domestic terrorism. I think people are saying, "What about the lines?" The FCC, I really believe, should look into Fox News. The FTC should look into violations of the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act by Fox News. I believe we're at that point.

I completely agree. I also believe that governors like [Greg] Abbott and [Ron] DeSantis are committing crimes against humanity on a daily basis, yet they continue to be allowed to advocate against the best ways to keep people safe. It's quite horrifying. The problem is, as you say, there could be adverse long-term effects. On the other hand though, the situation is so dire, it's such an emergency that I think the Democrats need to govern as if they have the majority, which they do, while they have the majority. They need to understand that playing by rules that no longer exist, because the Republicans burnt the rulebook to a crisp, is going to lose us our democracy.

People like Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin are pretending that the filibuster is some great mechanism of democracy, which it's not. By clinging to that, they are literally risking the future of this country. We have to play hardball and we have to think short-term right now, because otherwise there won't be another free and fair election, and Democrats won't be able to win states like Arizona, Georgia or Pennsylvania. What good does that do anybody?

You write in your book that Democrats continue to misread the character of the Republican Party and that they fail to realize the rules no longer apply. What would you like to hear Democratic leaders say?

I would like to hear them say that the filibuster is an anti-democratic, racist thing that needs to go, and that we, the Democrats, believe in democracy. We believe that government is a force for good, and we're going to do everything in our power to make sure that we make the American people's lives better. Even though the Senate is split 50-50, the 50 Democrats represent 41 million more people, and we should have the power to enact whatever legislation we believe will make the biggest difference during this incredibly fraught period.

Do you think Democrats should be calling for the criminal prosecution of your uncle?

Yeah. Again, this is what's so mind blowing. They're more focused on bipartisanship, which legitimizes the people who tried to overturn our election. It legitimizes Donald, in a way. This was the biggest problem, in my view, in his not getting convicted in the Senate both times. There was plenty of evidence to prove that he should have been. He gets away with it. He gets impeached, not convicted, and then the media treat him, in the fall of 2020, like he's just a normal, legitimate candidate, when in fact, he was trying to steal an election. It's this need to normalize things, which is so powerful and destructive that it's all the more important that we stop pulling punches, that we use language that's accurate. It took the media three years to call Donald's lies "lies." I'm not entirely sure they ever called his racism "racism."

I don't know that they have it in them to use the fascism word. We've got to be really clear about what's going on. Republicans can call us Marxists, communists, socialists, Leninists, whatever, but they're never asked to define their terms. You ask any of us who are calling them fascist why they are, we can explain it to you. The Democrats just need to stop pretending that we can all be polite and get along under the current circumstances.

The GOP today is not a political party as Americans understand it. It is a white nationalist movement. Because we only have two parties, I think it's hard for Democrats to say that. Because they're like, "We got to work with these people a little bit." I think they're doing it at our nation's peril. Before we wrap up here, I've seen you say in other interviews that you think your uncle will run for president in 2024. Things could change, but if he runs and wins, does he ever leave the White House peacefully?

Nobody will be able to make him. By then, the Republican Party would have consolidated power. I think a lot of Republicans would be perfectly happy to turn this country into a theocratic apartheid state. I think that's what Mitch McConnell has in mind. It will be minority rule. If he were to get in again, first of all, he wouldn't win, because he would be cheating. I don't think he could win legitimately, but if the voter suppression laws are enacted in just three states and he feels like he can't lose, then sure. And then four more years of that. How do we ever regain power? I don't think we do, which is, again, why I completely empathize with your frustration at the Democratic Party. Can they not see what's coming our way if we don't head it off immediately?

Former NBC news veteran still fears for democracy -- here's why

When it comes to politics, Chris Matthews has just about seen it seen it all. His career has taken him to the White House, as speechwriter for Jimmy Carter to hosting "Hardball" on MSNBC for more than 20 years. He even served as a U.S. Capitol Police officer in the 1970's. But he says he's never witnessed anything close to what we are seeing with today's Republican Party.

In our Salon Talks conversation about his new book, "This Country: My Life in Politics and History," Matthews didn't hold back on Donald Trump or the Republicans, arguing that the former president has consistently "been trying to undermine democracy," and that a swath of his party no longer believes in it. "I do believe there are a number of Americans, I don't know whether it's 10% or 25%," Matthews told me, "who do not believe in majority rule."

Over the last few months, we've seen Republicans openly waging an assault on voting access in state after state. Their goal is straightforward, Matthews explained: to ensure that the GOP's opponents — minorities, the young, etc. — can "never vote," which is the only realistic way Republicans can win.

Matthews also made the important point that in the past, when the GOP saw extremists seek to join its ranks — such as anti-Semites or white nationalists — Republican leaders would publicly condemn them, as Ronald Reagan did when he was endorsed by the KKK during his 1984 re-election campaign. With today's GOP we don't see that, which as Matthews notes should concern us all.

In our wide-ranging conversation, we touched on everything from Matthews' teenage past as a Nixon Republican to his resignation from MSNBC after women came forward to say that he had made inappropriate comments about their appearance — which he admits to, and apologizes for again. Watch our interview below or read the following transcript, lightly edited for length and clarity.

It's a great book. First of all, you were a 15-year-old young Republican? You rooted for Nixon over Kennedy? You, Chris Matthews?

Well, it was complicated. I was for Nixon because my family was Republican and I was going along with that. And then I fell completely in love with the glamour of the Kennedy crowd. I also rooted for Nixon because he wasn't glamorous like the Kennedys. He didn't have all the money and the charm and the social confidence. He seemed more like my dad or somebody, a regular guy. And I guess I rooted for the underdog.

I think my book "Bobby Kennedy" is the most popular because Bobby hits the right chord today. He's a progressive, and also he's tough. He wants people to meet their responsibilities. It's not just about entitlement, it's about duty. One of the things I pointed out in my book is that he was the only one of the liberal Democratic senators back in the '60s and '70s who made a point of saying hello to the Capitol policemen, showing a little dignity, a little, "Yeah, we're in this together. You're protecting me. And I agree with you, what you're doing, protecting the Capitol."

Most people don't know that about you: You began working on Capitol Hill with the Capitol Police?

I was working in the senator's office for four or five hours in the morning, at least four hours. And then I'd go over and put on my uniform and my gun at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and work until 11 o'clock at night. So I was putting in a full day and I was learning a lot in both jobs. I was very proud to be a Capitol policeman. I learned a lot of life lessons from these guys. A lot of country guys from West Virginia who didn't get to go to college, didn't get a lot of the breaks we got in life. I learned from them and I was rooting for them, especially when I found out how good a job they did trying to stop the insurrection on Jan. 6. When I got a clearer picture of it and could see that they risked their lives, in some cases lost their lives. And I will never forget that African-American officer who was leading the mob in the wrong direction to save Mitt Romney. Come on. That's a great story.

Your life has been a remarkable journey.

Isn't it? Aren't you impressed? Isn't it something? Air Force One, back rooms with Tip O'Neill, Berlin Wall when it's coming down, Cape Town when they're voting the first time, Belfast and the Good Friday Accords, then to the Pope's funeral. I got to see history as it was happening from inside politics in America. And, I'll be romantic here, people in the world who wanted what we have, which is democracy, which we better hang onto. Nelson Mandela, you know what he did for South Africa? He said to the Black majority, "We're going to get to the voting booth. We're going to take over this country with the vote. That's how we're going to do it, by long election lines, not through a war. We're going to do it the right way."

There's also something else people might not know. You ran for Congress in 1974?

I was running to get the big politics away from dirty money and all this money and buying everything. I could see it on the Hill and you can see it's just going to be with us until we got a better system, but it wasn't so bad 30 or 40 years ago. You had guys like Gale McGee. He was a professor at University of Wyoming who ran for the Senate. You had people like Mike Mansfield, who were academics. Try that today. The self-funders own this process. Except for the really skilled people like Bobby Casey, because of his family name, and Sherrod Brown, because he's so darn good at it, at being a good working-class politician and knowing how to talk to Trump people really.

Why didn't you ever run again?

Because I didn't have a career in Philadelphia. I had to have a law degree. That's why it's great to be a lawyer. Everybody listening, if you're 22 years old and you want to have a political career, get that law, get that sheepskin. Because then when you lose, and you will lose at some point, you can fall back in that law firm and run the next time.

But it's very hard to do that if you don't have that parachute. My dad was pushing me to pay my bills for the campaign. He wasn't going to pay the bills. It wasn't a lot. It was $1,500 bucks for the literature we had. But he wanted me out of the house basically. He wanted me to go back to Washington. He put up with the campaign. He was all for me. He even switched registration for me. But I think he was happier with me in Washington. He thought that was where I belonged. He said, "That's your city." And he was right. I got to the White House after that.

Well, the reason I went to law school was because I was going to run for office. I ended up not doing it. If you come on the campaign trail, you'll have the fun with the honking and holding the signs up.

Oh, I love that stuff. It gets back to my romance about politics, that you can actually campaign with little money like Ed Markey did up in Massachusetts against Joe Kennedy. A lot of young people, they're excited about issues. You got to get them excited about you and the issues and social media makes a lot of things possible. I'll tell you one thing I know. If I were running, I'd go home at night, I'd sit up in bed or at my desk, and I'd start typing out a message to the campaign workers and the people I know adore me, the No. 1's. I'd be talking to them every night. My dad once taught me, he said, "Get people involved. Tell them what your strategy is. Tell them why you need their help, what their enemy's up to. Bring them in, mentally and emotionally. Share." That's what you can do on social media. You couldn't do that 20 years ago.

In your book, you talk about working for Frank Moss. He was a Democratic senator from Utah. But he lost in 1976, after three terms, to Orrin Hatch. We all try to figure out when the hyper-polarization began in this country. It could be Goldwater in '64. It could be Orrin Hatch winning in '76. You've traced this?

I'm going to say something that cuts across me. I think we all agreed on foreign policy when it was fighting communists globally, because we saw what was going on. It may not have been a right metaphor, but when we saw Yalta and we saw Eastern Europe, we saw China, we saw Ben Bella up in Algeria. We saw countries in Latin America, Castro, and some other countries. You could see them moving toward that red part of the map. And we go, "This looks like World War II coming. This looks like the same spread of the enemy. And appeasement is not the right answer. We got to stop them somewhere."

So Harry Truman tried to stop them, somewhat effectively, in Korea. And then looking at that same model of stopping them in their tracks, our government tried to stop the communists in North Vietnam. But the trouble is nationalism was working on the side of the communists in Vietnam, just like nationalism was working on the side of the countries of Eastern Europe. They saw communism as an enemy of their nationalism. Whereas in Vietnam, communism was the friend of nationalism and we were on the outside.

We should have realized that the people are still going to be in that country when we come home, and we will come home eventually, and they will be calling the shots. And we should have understood that when we went into Afghanistan. You can only temporarily control a country with military force. Eventually you leave and the natural spirit of the country takes over and we got to deal with the Taliban. The only example I can think of was that the Brits did a darn good job of selling democracy in India. Whatever else they did in their history, the Indian people are a democracy and they learned it from the Brits, the idea of Westminster-style democracy, parliaments built by different political parties, coalitions that lead to cabinets and prime ministerships. Find another example. We've never been good at it. Maybe the Philippines, I don't know. But it's very hard to sell a form of government.

We have a hard time right now keeping the democratic spirit in this country. I do believe there are a number of Americans, I don't know whether it's 10% or 25%, maybe in that range, who do not believe in majority rule. They want to reduce the size of the electorate. They don't want everyone voting. In fact, it used to be in the good days of politics, and we did it on MSNBC, you spend months saying to people, "Get out and vote. Get out and vote. Everybody." Vote, vote, vote. We always said, the more the merrier to vote.

Only lately has a political party pretty openly said, "No, not the more the merrier. The less the merrier. The fewer people, the fewer minorities, the fewer young people. Just have the older usual white voters show up and that'll be good for us." I think it's the first time a party has so openly said that, as they're saying right now in politics. The party was the segregationist party under Roosevelt. Let's face it. That was the deal. The New Deal was for white people, right?

Yes, exactly. The policies actually matched that. Home loans to the GI Bill, Black veterans coming back from World War II did not get the same benefits as white veterans.

Well, people like me and my family lived entirely on the fact that my dad got to come back and went to engineering school on the GI Bill and became middle-class. That's how we grew up middle class as opposed to working class. That's the fact. The GI bill created the large American middle class. That was wonderful. That was Roosevelt's wonderfulness, that he thought of that as being a No. 1 priority coming out of the war.

You have people right now who don't view each other as fellow Americans. They're enemies almost. How concerned are you for the future?

I am very concerned about Michael Flynn. But you can see the pattern. And back in the '60s the pattern was the antiwar movement was getting more bitter from '68 to '70, much more bitter than it was when I was marching around the Pentagon. Right now you can see that, first off, Trump wins the presidency by losing by almost 3 million votes. It doesn't seem to bother him. In fact, he thinks it's cute. It's neat. I would think that if I got elected president, or somebody I cared about got elected president, and lost by 3 million votes, I'd feel a little humiliated by it, a little humbled. I'd be saying things, "I got to be careful here. A lot of people voted against me. I don't quite have a mandate yet." And then this time he loses the Electoral College and says he didn't lose, like he's in Zimbabwe or Pakistan. "No, no, it was rigged. It was rigged."

No it wasn't. We have honest elections in this country. Usually elections are decided by 20,000 or 30,000 people anyway, so luckily there's room for a little margin of minimal corruption here and there, but very little. And the margins are always well beyond any hanky-panky that went on. For him to walk around and say, "These elections are rigged," that's rotten. That's anti-American. And he knows it. He knows he lost. Look at him. The Democrats didn't like Trump, but they knew he was damn well president. You know how they knew it? They tried to impeach him twice.

How do you think Democrats should be framing Jan. 6, to be effective? You've got some Republicans now literally saying, "Oh, it's a tourist visit."

They came in to kill. They came in to kill. I used to say about Watergate, suppose Nixon got away with it. That would have been much worse, if he'd gotten away with it. What would the second term had been like with his secret operatives and all this stuff he was pulling? It wasn't just screwing around. Some of the idiots with their clown costumes on and hanging from the rafters. There was some menace in that crowd that was stopped by law enforcement.

You faced early retirement last year because of some comments you had made. You don't defend them, you've been very clear about that. How much do you think we are learning, you are learning, from the MeToo movement?

Well, there was a great line in a cult film years ago. I watch movies, I love cult films. "We only truly believe what we discover ourselves." You can hear about a rule. You can generally obey the law. But you don't have a personal connection to it. And when you get involved like I did, by making too many comments about appearance on and off the air — I made too many, certainly one too many, and I was wrong. When I think back on it, and I did give a lot of thought to this over the last year and a half, why should an average looking person, a woman, have to put up with somebody talking about how somebody else is good-looking? Why do they put up with this walking Miss America contest? Why should anybody put up with it? Men don't generally have to put up with it. "Joe McGee and his lovely wife have just arrived." Why do we talk like that? We don't say, "Mary McGee and her lovely husband."

I have a granddaughter. She's very smart. She just turned nine, Juliette, very smart. And a friend of mine came by the house and said, "Your granddaughter's so pretty." So I went up to Juliette and said, "That guy came by in the car just said how pretty you are." And she said to me, right to my face, "Grandpa, I'd rather he said how intelligent I was." And then she said it to me in French. There's a real cultural change about this among young people. They don't want to hear it anymore. It's not just the rules at work that are ascribed to them by their bosses. People don't like it. I was wrong. What used to be seen as a compliment is not taken that way. I can go on on this because I've been thinking about this, Dean, for so many months.

You finish the book by talking about your hope for America. What is your hope for this country going forward?

Well, I've been lucky to have had a life where I have been on the political inside. I've been up there in Air Force One with a president fighting for his second term. I've been up with Tip every morning, with the legendary speaker fighting with Ronald Reagan, trying to get things done and trying to beat him politically. I've been overseas watching people at the Berlin Wall, waiting for the wall to come down and asking them about freedom. And they said, "Talking to you is freedom." I've been in South Africa watching people get to vote for the first time in their own country. I've seen people that want democracy. They really want it, and they know that it's better than anything else. Nothing's perfect, but they want to be able to decide whether we have capitalism. East Germans said, a lot of people I interviewed there at the time in '89 said, "We want capitalism. We want socialism. Let us decide. Let us make these decisions." They weren't able to make them under the communist rule.

But I worry now, as we were talking about a few moments ago, I do worry about Americans because they think their side, especially if they're conservative white people, they feel their side's losing demographically. So, oh, we're going to change the rules. We're going to make it harder for other people besides white people to vote, we're going to make it harder for young people to vote. We don't like the way young people are thinking. But you can't change the rules of democracy.

We talked about the founding fathers because even though that's hundreds of years ago, we believed they were right. We're all created equal and being able to speak freely and being able to vote freely are tied together. If we lose the ability to speak, like you don't have in Cuba today, for example — I don't mind bashing the communists because I don't like them — but if you can't speak, you're unlikely to win the vote. And if you don't control the vote, you're unlikely to keep your rights because the vote guarantees your rights.

You can knock people down like Nixon when they blow it on rights and undermining people's democratic freedoms. I think freedom and democracy are intertwined. I think we've got to be vigilant, and we got to call these conservatives out. God, how do you say "Put on your big boy pants" to Kevin McCarthy? OK buddy, are you a leader or are you a front man? If you're a front man, we get it. But if you want to be a leader, say, "Biden won." Say it loud. Say it every morning when you go to the House. You want to be speaker, act like the speaker. Say, "We have a constitutional system."

If you're Michael Flynn, remember your oath to the Constitution and remember what you owe, loyalty to this country and its Constitution. It's what you sign up for when you become an officer. And he was a flag officer.

Anyway, I do worry. Steve Scalise ought to stand up. I have talked to these guys. They're normal people. They're Americans. They're one of us. They should be able to say, "Here's where I draw the line." Back in the old days, when the Republican Party was joined by the John Birch Society and the antisemitic stuff, people like William F. Buckley said, "No, you're not here. You don't belong here if you have those attitudes. Go away." The John Birch Society was a real bad shadow of the Republican party. They should clean it up today and hope they can win some elections positively.

How Democrats avoided disaster — and beat Donald Trump

Even if you follow politics closely, there are numerous moments in Edward-Isaac Dovere's new book, "Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats' Campaigns to Defeat Trump," that will make your jaw drop. His book conjures up the classic politics series of books by Theodore White, "The Making of the President" but with Dovere, the story doesn't start on the campaign trial but right after Hillary Clinton's defeat in 2016.

The detail in the book is simply remarkable from the list of comfort items that Sen. Bernie Sanders requests for his speaking engagements (none are truly that demanding) to a nervous Andrew Yang before the first Democratic presidential debate throwing up so loudly in the dressing room bathroom that other campaign staffers could hear it.

But it's the substantive issues that stand out. On top of the list is that Barack Obama, after leaving office, expressed concern that Donald Trump would potentially come after him or his family personally, such as by ending Secret Service protection for his daughters. As Dovere explained, people have "a sense of Obama being cool and detached … he was not." In fact, as Dovere shared in our conversation for "Salon Talks," the working title of the book was a line Obama said to Democratic donors in 2018, "You are right to be concerned."

Dovere also details how Joe Biden's team was fully aware that Trump might try not only to litigate the election if he lost, but also in essence try to steal it. They had a legion of attorneys across the nation prepared for various "doomsday scenarios." But not even these stable of lawyers could have predicted that Trump would incite a terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn the election results.

Some of this book is things we've lived through, if you follow politics closely. Some will be completely brand new. It begins with 2016, and I just want you to remind people, to give them a sense of where we were then.

It was a devastating election, 2016. People can think about it as Trump winning and beating Hillary Clinton, which was a big surprise in every way. If you're a Democrat, that was terrible. But what was also terrible for Democrats was that there were Senate races, all over the country, that Democrats thought they were going to win and they didn't. From North Carolina to Wisconsin, right? And House races too, governors' races. There were not that many governors races on the ballot in 2016. But when you look at what happened, I traced some of this during the Obama presidency: Almost a thousand state legislature seats that were held by Democrats when Obama won in 2008, were held by Republicans by the time he finished. There was a decimation of the Democratic Party.

And most of the book starts from 2016 forward, but there's a chapter at the beginning that cast back a little bit. So how is it that the Democratic Party got into this terrible state? It's about those dynamics happening. It's about Obama not really investing in the Democratic Party and not doing things to build the party up. Some of this he can't be blamed for. He didn't realize it, or he was struggling with how to grapple with it. But the issue of wages, of how people were feeling, the real economy in their lives, which obviously was very important for Trump to be able to key into in 2016 and use that as an argument that pushed him forward, that's all going on. And those were the circumstance that the Democrats found themselves in, even before the devastating loss of 2016.

Then there's a sort of a parallel process that starts to happen between a small group of Democratic leaders — most people wouldn't even know who they were, except if you're really an insider Democrat — who have meetings, start to plan things. There's a dinner at the beginning of the book that I described happening at John Podesta's house. People may know about Podesta, because he was Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, and they start to plot things and think about how to change what the Democrats are doing.

But at the same time, this activism blossomed that nobody was expecting, the biggest example obviously was the Women's March. I was there in D.C. covering it. One of the people that I talked to for the book is Cecile Richards, who was then at Planned Parenthood. She told to me something to the effect of, "If an organization had tried to plan the Women's March to be what it actually was, it would have taken millions of dollars and years." And it just happened on its own. Those things are happening simultaneously and help create the atmosphere for Democratic primary campaign and the Democrats sorting out who they wanted to be their nominee.

It's interesting when you talked about the meeting with these Democrats getting together after the election in 2016. Living through it and covering it on my show, it was a grassroots movement that led the party, it was not leaders that did it. What's your reaction to that?

Look, I think it was both those things happening, right? The airport protests that you're talking about, remember part of the reason those got elevated was because members of Congress were showing up, governors were showing up at the airports and demanding to see the people who were being detained, and that helped drive the news coverage. But of course that wouldn't have happened if the protests weren't happening to begin with. So there's this back and forth that's going on. At the Women's March, there were leaders that I talked to at the time and then reflected on it, who were aghast that there weren't people walking around with clipboards and getting the names of all these tens of thousands of people who were there. And you know what, those people didn't need to get activated in the traditional way that Democratic leadership thinks about it.

But it was really hard to predict how this was going to go. And part of what the book aims to do is to trace how those two streams were happening and then how they started to intersect. And what happened when it became a question of like, well, what role does the Bernie Sanders movement that was obviously very powerful in 2016, what does that have in the Democratic Party now? How much is it the Bernie Sanders thing, or how much of it is just grassroots energy? How much does it split off to Elizabeth Warren? How much it was interested in just beating Trump, no matter what? Those are all things that are happening and playing out in the primary campaign.

Share a little bit about what the goal of that meeting was and what really happened? Did reality land on them, that we can have an impact? They raise a lot of money, they can do different things. But to think that the party was controllable, then or now, is ridiculous to me.

That dinner sort of has all the hallmarks of what people think happens, right? It was at the Four Seasons in Washington, right on the edge of Georgetown. It was in December of 2018. It was the night that Nancy Pelosi had been elected speaker, after Democrats won the House. It was organized by a big Democratic donor who sends out these invitations, you got to come. And it's this strange collection of people, some Democratic donors, some group leaders. Pelosi is there, Schumer is there. A bunch of others: Pete Buttigieg is there, Eric Swalwell is there, Chris Coons is there. Nobody's quite sure how this guest list exactly was the one that they landed on.

And they're sitting around a table. And yeah, the whole question was how do we keep the primary campaign from getting too crowded? The not-very-subtle subtext was that if it's crowded, Bernie Sanders is going to be the nominee and we don't want that. And they're having this debate around this big table in the Four Seasons private room, and that's another element to it. Not only is it at the Four Seasons, but in a private room. They say like, "How do we put some guardrails on this process?"

Guy Cecil, who runs the Priorities USA super PAC, said to me, "That was the last moment when the people who thought that they could control things thought that was going to keep going." Because within a couple of weeks of that meeting, all the candidates start announcing. Biden was the last major candidate to announce. But within a couple of weeks, Elizabeth Warren announces, Kamala Harris announces. They're popping up everywhere. Kirsten Gillibrand announces on the Colbert "Late Show." right? It's all over the place. This idea that the primary campaign is going to be kept in control by the leaders, that's ridiculous.

Obama had plans for his post-presidency, and they changed because of Trump. Share a bit, what was going on? There were concerns about what Trump might do?

Yeah. When Obama thought Trump was going to lose, he felt a little uncomfortable in the final days of the campaign. I think most people, Donald Trump included, never thought he'd actually win. And then he had a plan for his post-presidency: OK, Hillary Clinton's going to be president and I'll build my foundation, my library. I'll make some money, I'll write a book, it'll be fine. I'll enjoy myself, I'll go have nice vacations. And everything changes, obviously very quickly. He had never thought he'd have to be involved with picking the next DNC chair as he then was, and got very involved making sure that Tom Perez was the DNC chair instead of Keith Ellison.

He couldn't talk about things publicly, about issues, because he knew that every time he did it, he might trigger Trump and give Trump fodder to attack him and make news cycles out of it, and he didn't want to do that. When Trump tweeted accusing Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower, Obama was very upset by that, and disconcerted about it. Not just because "This is an attack on me," but because he thought that was just so outside the bounds of what a president should accuse another president of doing. And then there are other things, like Trump attacking Susan Rice and Obama thinking about standing up for her.

I have a moment in the book that's right after Election Day 2018, when the Democrats win the midterms. Trump fires Jeff Sessions as attorney general. And there had already been a lot of concern in the Obama post-presidency world of, okay, what do we have to get prepared for? What's going to happen? And they had drafted some statements, because who knows, we've got to have this ready to go, rather than something wild happening. At that point, the wiretapping accusation happened, all these things were going on. And when Trump fires Sessions, of course, Robert Mueller is already deep into his work. They think maybe he's going to fire Mueller now. What do we do?

And they're talking about it back and forth. And this idea starts getting talked about, well, maybe what we should do is try to do something like a statement with George W. Bush and Barack Obama together. And the idea of it in their minds would have been that Bush had hired Mueller as FBI director and Obama extended his term. So they would say, here's a Republican, here's a Democrat. We're both presidents. You don't agree on much, but we both hired Bob Mueller. He's good, protect him. And put that up preemptively to stop Trump from getting to Mueller. This idea never actually got broached with Bush directly, but there was a a feeler put out to his staff to see what they thought about it, and there was not a lot of interest. Bush has been very committed to staying far away from politics.

You just see the level of concern there. There was this sense of [Obama] as cool and detached and away from things. He was not, he was really worried about it. The working title of this book, I should say, was "You Are Right to be Concerned," which was a line I heard Obama say at a fundraiser in Beverly Hills in 2018. He was sitting and talking to Democrats and he said, "Look, if you're looking around the country, you are right to be concerned with what's happening." Right? And that carried through.

And then "Battle for the Soul" is where we landed. The story that I've told about that is that when I was speaking to Biden at the end — I talked to him in February, so the interview with him is at the end of the book. And I said to him, "So we're calling it 'Battle for the Soul.' that's title of the book." Of course that was drawn from what he had talked about. And he said to me, "Yeah, the difference between you and me, pal, is I actually believe it." And I said to him, "No, I think you may have actually been onto something here with how it all turned out."

There were other things in your book that are riveting, and I'm not sure how much reporting there has been on this. I'm talking about the post-election period, when the Biden team actually had these doomsday scenarios. Take us through a little bit of that. I've not heard that talked about in detail.

Yeah. I mean, it's funny. I was reporting this book for four years and there were a lot of conversations that I was having with people that were embargoed until the book came out. The Obama conversation — why isn't he doing more? Why isn't he more worried? And I would say, like, I know actually some of what's happening. This was another piece of it that I had heard a little bit about before the election, but it wasn't until after the election that the people involved were willing to talk to me more about it. Starting from not long after Biden sealed the nomination, and certainly from about this point last year, there was a lot of work going on, about 600 lawyers around the country who were secretly putting together essentially template briefs.

They had war-gamed all the scenarios that, OK, what happens if there's this close result in Arizona, or they try to make this kind of claim in Georgia or wherever. All the different things that Trump's lawyers, whether it's his Justice Department or his allies and state parties could try to bring to court. They also had done a war-gaming of what the election certification process would look like and had been talking about it, Biden's lawyers with Nancy Pelosi's and Chuck Schumer's lawyers leading up to Jan. 6.

And they had gotten as far as like, what happens if in the middle of it, Mike Pence, because he's presiding over this, pulls out a separate slate of electors from his pocket? Literally. And what if he refuses to recognize people from the floor, one of the parliamentary procedures? They had that all mapped out. What they didn't have mapped out is that there would be thousands of violent protesters storming the Capitol. They did not anticipate that. There's this moment in the book where Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell, all the leaders are together, Kevin McCarthy is there too. But the three of them say, OK, we've got to make this happen now — that's why they move so quickly that night to get everything certified. And McCarthy is not part of that conversation. They kind of don't invite him in because they think he's off on his own place on it. But they had the basis from all these preparations that they'd done. Again, everything short of a violent mob storming the Capitol.

You close the book with Joe Biden, talking about making his late son proud. Share a little bit about who Joe Biden is as a person, his humanity, his empathy?

I started covering Joe Biden when he was vice president. I spent a lot of time with him, interviewed him on a couple of occasions. Two of those interviews are in the book. One of those was one of his final interviews as vice president. There was a week before Trump's inauguration, and he's sitting in his office in the West Wing. The second one is where the book ends. It's two weeks into his presidency, at the beginning of February. For that one, he was in the Oval Office. It was still COVID restrictions, so I was on the phone talking to him. I've been around the country with him on the campaign trail, and when he was VP. There is no more human person, I would say, than Joe Biden who has been elected president in modern history.

The sense of loss that he carries with him always is really, really important. Of course, there's the tragedy in 1972, when he was not even sworn in as a senator, that car crash that killed his wife and his baby daughter, and that put his two sons in the hospital. And then what happened with Beau Biden, who died in 2015 of brain cancer. That devastated Biden. I was there covering the funeral. Every time I talk about it, I get goosebumps because there was this moment where everybody was in the church and the Biden family — it's like a clan, it's so many people and they're very close. The hearse pulls up and they're all walking together and Biden is at the center of it, leading them.

There's an interview with Beau Biden that I did in 2012. I knew him just a little bit. But there was a general feeling that Beau Biden was kind of like Joe Biden. He'd gone and served in the National Guard and done all these things. And Joe Biden had definitely wanted to be president of the United States for a long time. There's this quick story in the book when he's leaving a job in the early '70s. He gives somebody a stapler and he says, "Oh, I'm going to be president one day. Hold on to that."

He ran for president in 1988. He almost ran a couple of other times. He ran in 2008. He had kind of given up running and had thought, "I'm transferring the dreams to Beau, to my son. It'll be President Beau Biden." By the way, Beau's full name was Joseph R. Biden III. Joe Biden is Joe Biden Jr. And then the cancer hit Beau and he died. In the summer of 2015, Biden was thinking about running, in part as a coping mechanism for himself, and in part to carry Beau's legacy. He was too overcome with grief, in part, that was why he didn't run in 2016. Through 2020, Beau is always with him in every way. He's always thinking about him. In one of the debates with Trump, they saw something on his sleeve. It was Beau's rosary that he was wearing. When there was that article that ran in the Atlantic about Trump calling the military suckers and losers, Biden carries a gold star with him that the Delaware National Guard gave him.

Beau was in the Delaware National Guard. He was not killed in battle, so in this case it's an honorary thing. Biden took it out of his pocket because he was so mad that day. And then at the end, in that final interview, I said to him, "Well, what do you think Beau would think about this?" And that's the way the book ends. I'm reluctant to do a spoiler here, but you see all of that really building with him and this deep emotional connection that runs through family and politics and blood and legacy and everything.

He 'threw more gasoline on the flames': The first Asian-American woman in the Senate explains how Trump fueled violence

When you read Sen. Mazie Hirono's beautiful new book, "Heart of Fire: An Immigrant Daughter's Story," you understand that the Hawaii Democrat's strength to speak truth to power comes from one place: Her mother. Hirono was born in Japan and came to Hawaii with her mom as a child of 7. From her mother she learned a tireless work ethic, the need to stand up for herself and the fact that life can put many obstacles in your way but you can't let them defeat you.

I discussed both the book and politics of the day with the senator from Hawaii in our recent "Salon Talks" conversation. You can't help but be moved by her book, which is a love letter to her mother intertwined with her own memoir. Hirono, who was the first Asian-American woman in the Senate and the only immigrant currently serving in that chamber, shared details about her father's abusive treatment of her mother, which led her mother to take her children from on the long sea voyage from Japan to Hawaii, where her own mother had been born. From there we learn how Hirono's mother worked numerous jobs to make ends meet and later in life played a key role in Hirono's various political campaigns.

"Heart of Fire" also addresses today's politics, including the oversized role Donald Trump played in inciting anti-Asian hatred, which looms especially large at the moment. In fact, Hirono was the primary sponsor of the anti-Asian hate crimes law that recently passed the Senate, which became necessary in large part because of Trump continually drawing specious links between COVID and the Asian community.

Hirono also shares an experience that I imagine many women in politics have confronted: being told by men that she wasn't ready to run for higher office. But despite the naysayers and challenges, Hirono rose from being an immigrant child living in a boarding house to the U.S. Senate. And if you ask her how she did it, the senator will gladly tell you it was because of her mother.

Watch the "Salon Talks" interview with Sen. Hirono here or read the transcript below, lightly edited for length and clarity.


Share a little bit about your mom and how she helped shape you and inspire you.

My mother changed my life by bringing me to this country. Back then, for a young wife to decide that she had to leave my father, who I never got to know, and taking three of her children with her, that took tremendous courage. So that is my mother's heart of fire. And as you know, your fire can burn like an ember, it can last for a long time. It can pass from one generation to the next. This book is truly about my mother's story and my grandmother, who also raised me when I was a child and her heart of fire and the risks she took also.

Your mom worked multiple jobs. My immigrant dad, same thing. How much do you have of your mom's immigrant work ethic?

A lot. Because I watched my mother struggle. She never complained. She just was so determined. And it's not as though she had time to sit us down and say, "Here's what I want to teach you." She just went about her life and showed me that determination and focus and getting control of your life, those are hugely important aspects of my mother's story.

Over the years I really came to appreciate my mother even more. And so I have said that there's nothing in my life that I can do, in all the races that I've had, that comes nearly as hard as what she did to change our lives.

It was really the anti-war movement that sort of lit the candle for you to get involved. What was it about that that made you say, "You know what? I've got to do more than just ignore this stuff and live my life and have fun?"

At a pretty early age, Dean, I decided that I wasn't put on this earth just to make my little self happy. I said that to my mother. And when I was pretty young, I said and thought that I was going to do something that was going to give back to a country and a state that gave me opportunities I never would have had. I just didn't look at politics as the way that I was going to express that desire. However, it was protesting the Vietnam War, and the first time I ever questioned our government. The first time I sang, "We Shall Overcome" and marched with others was an awakening for me. We have all kinds of awakenings for a lot of us, but that was my political awakening. And I thought, here's a way that we can make some changes through politics. But it also took me a long time to run for office myself.

You mention in your book that every time you aspired to something bigger, like lieutenant governor, the men would be like, "No, no, no. You're not ready. Wait your turn." What's your message to women who are told, "Wait your turn. This is not your time"?

I think that now there are more women who are not going to be diverted from where they're going by people saying to them, "It's not your turn. Wait your turn." In my generation, it was still somewhat unusual for a woman to run for office. So pretty much when I was running for higher office, particularly for lieutenant governor and clearly for governor, these kinds of notions come up: "Are you sure you can do it?" All of that. And this is not unique to me. There are all kinds of studies that show that women are more likely than not to think that we are not as prepared as we should be for elected office. One of my employees told me — and he's a guy — he said, "Yeah, we've got guys who think it's their God-given right to run for office." Women don't think that way.

It took me 10 years after I ran my first campaign for other people to kind of think about, "Oh, I should run for office myself." And this was after somebody came to me and said, "You've been encouraging all of us, younger people, advocates, to run for office. Don't you think it's time you did it?" And I thought, "Oh!"

You ran for governor and you lost. And I think there's a lesson there. What do you tell people about losing a race?

That you can survive it. You can live to tell the tale. The governor's race was the toughest race. And even after I lost that race that night, my mother told me, "Another door will open." I said to both my mother and my husband, "I think I have one big race left in me. I don't know if I'll ever get another chance. But I think I have one big race left in me." As I said in the book, that's when my husband began to set aside money for me to be able to take that shot when it came. And it did come.

It didn't take me long when that opening came, to decide that I would run, because that was the one big race left in me. And I thought I either had to win that race or not. There's a lot that you can learn from losing a big race. I had never lost a race up to that point. And I learned from that how to win the next one. Because people asked me, "How are you going to win?" I said, "Well, I learned how to win." Especially when I ran for the Senate against the same person who beat me for governor.

What do you learn about yourself when you lose an election? What did it make you do in reassessing your choices, your priorities and what you wanted to do with your life?

I had already said that I thought I had one big race left in me. And I spent that time, basically about three years before I ran for U.S. House, just restoring myself and getting back into the art that I loved. I had taken a lot of art history courses. I took all kinds of applied art courses, drawing and painting ceramics, everything. Basket weaving, I took. I love art. So I was able to get back to it in a way that I continue to this day. I gave myself that time to restore myself, and I got to travel with my husband where I could be the spouse that didn't work. It was really nice.

But at some point I thought, "Well, I should be working." So after three years, I thought I should become an arbitrator or something like that. But right around that time, my husband said, "I don't think you're going to be happy doing all that. You should just do what makes you happy." That is my husband. He's very precious, unique. Uniquely supportive and totally unthreatened by me, to the point where my friends ask if he has any brothers.

Is it as simple as that it brings you joy to help others as an elected official? Does it bring you self fulfillment?

It's a purpose, to be able to help other people. I feel really grateful, who would've thunk it! I have classmates now who say, "We didn't know you were interested in politics." In high school, it was not as though that manifested itself. This is one of my other little sayings, that one should not peak in high school.

You became very outspoken during the Trump administration. In your book you talk about Trump's cruel family separation policy, and it made you reflect on your own brother who passed, and how he was separated from your family. Share a little bit about that and why it so pained you, what Trump was doing, taking children away from their mothers.

I had a younger brother who was left in Japan when my mother brought the two older kids. And she explained to me why she did that. My younger brother would be too young to go to school. So she brought the two older kids.

We didn't know at that time the trauma of that separation from his mother for two whole years. And that trauma stayed with him for his whole life. So I really understood from my own family's experience what family separation, how traumatic that is. To watch Trump separating thousands of little kids with no thought and no record as to how to reunite these children with their parents, it was just so painful that I spoke up. But I've been speaking out against his mindless cruelty from practically very soon after he got elected. He was terrible during the campaign, and he did not get any better. There were all these people who thought, "Well, he's going to grow into the presidency." Are you kidding me?

You introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act along with Congresswoman Grace Meng of New York. From your point of view and from being part of the community, the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, how much do Trump's words, in your view, play a role in this uptick we're seeing in hate crimes?

Of course it played a role. When the president of the United States starts calling the virus, "the China virus" and members of his administration called it the "kung flu," it just created an environment where people who have those kinds of discriminatory attitudes to begin with, and toss in some sadism, violence and everything else, to act out in this way to randomly have unprovoked attacks against Asian-Americans.

Trump just threw more gasoline on the flames by his discriminatory language. It's very harmful, to say the least. So my bill is, in my view, not controversial. It just calls for the DOJ to appoint someone to pay attention, to review these kinds of hate crimes, to work with state and county law enforcement and advocacy groups, to make sure that we get the kind of information and reporting that we need to find out the extent of this problem and to be able to do something about it. President Biden is already putting that in place, thank goodness.

Has Trump been held accountable, in your view? If he's not held accountable, are you concerned for the future of our nation, that we'll see more similar events to Jan. 6, from Trump or Trump-like figures in the future?

Trump has not been held accountable by the Senate, that's for sure. And they had two chances to do it. So the House impeached him, twice, and the Senate did not convict him, twice. And I say that we all lived through Jan. 6. It's not like the first impeachment. Jan. 6 was an experience we all had.

In your book, "Heart of Fire," at the end, you talk about the crane. And in fact, before we started the interview, you mentioned there are cranes behind you. And that they are about healing and hope. Does America need some cranes right now?

So people began to send me cranes when I got my cancer diagnosis. So people who come to my office, they will fold cranes. I now have thousands of cranes. I decided to install them in my office, on the branches of cherry trees that I literally find walking around in D.C. I don't cut off the cherry branches, but they fall during the windy times. It has to be cherry blossom branches. So I've collected all these branches, which I have installed, and I put on them the cranes that people have folded. I usually ask them to sign the wing of the crane and date. Generals, ambassadors, people who know nothing about Japanese culture will fold the cranes.

'There is no going back': Former GOP chair explains why America needs more than 2 political parties

Michael Steele is a man without a political party. True, Steele served as chair of the Republican National Committee from 2009 to 2011 and still considers himself a Republican. But as he discussed recently on "Salon Talks," unless things change, Steele and other more moderate Republicans grasp that they don't belong in this iteration of the GOP, which is increasingly embracing white nationalism and appears untroubled by the use of violence to achieve its political goals.

I asked Steele a simple question he's heard many times before: What is the future of the Republican Party? The MSNBC political analyst bluntly analogized the current GOP to a cancer patient. If the patient wants to get better and seeks treatment, that's one thing. But as Steele put it, today's GOP appears to be rejecting "treatment," and instead allowing the "cancer" of bigotry to metastasize throughout the party.

The only course correction Steele sees happening will come after GOP suffers horrific political defeats. Then perhaps it will be reborn and led by Republicans like him, who still believe in the core conservative principles that attracted him as a young man to the party of Lincoln. He seemed deeply troubled, in our conversation, by his apparent powerlessness to prevent the party he still loves from slipping into white nationalism, conspiracy theory and flat-out grift, citing the ascent of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as an obvious example.

This should be of concern to all Americans. We only have two major political parties, and it impacts all of us, regardless of our political views, if one of these two parties fully morphs into a white nationalist movement that uses the type of violence we saw on Jan. 6 as a tactic to acquire and retain power. Watch my "Salon Talks" interview with the former RNC chair below or read the following transcript, lightly edited as usual for clarity and length.

Years ago, when you were RNC chair, if I asked you what the GOP stood for, you could tell me. I say this sincerely: From your point of view, what does today's Republican Party stand for?

Right now it stands for whatever Trump wants it to stand for. The party leadership has given itself over to a very small faction of the base, that sort of drives the overall narrative. When you look at it from a policy side, you see how we've walked away from long-term alliances, our friends and allies abroad. We've turned our enemies into our buddies and our buddies into our enemies. When you look at domestically what we've done on the economic front, a party that once stood for some level of fiscal balance and conservatism has now gone hog-wild.

That's kind of been the narrative for some time. This is nothing necessarily new with Donald Trump, in terms of government spending. We saw it under the Bush years, and of course the backdrop for that was terrorism and 9/11. In this instance, it's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. I like a good tax cut, but I prefer that tax cut be placed in the hands of people who actually need it, and can make the most of it, which of course is the middle class. We've walked away from the middle class. We beat our chest with great bravado about being out there for workers, but that's not necessarily our narrative.

The party right now is all over the map. It has no central moorings, no foundational idea. In fact, it has no platform that we can put out in front of the country and says, "This is what we philosophically orient toward. These are the things that matter and what we want to pursue." I think it makes it very difficult to engage the country around governing principles when you have not governed, and you have no principles that you can really put in front of them that don't sound like Donald Trump.

I can sense the rudderlessness of the party, as it goes from Dr. Seuss to immigration and back to cancel culture. In the past month we've seen things that perhaps, with different Republican leadership, would have led to a pushback. We saw Rep. Paul Gosar from Arizona as a keynote speaker at a white nationalist conference. We saw Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin tell us point blank that he was not worried about the Trump supporters who were carrying Confederate flags and other images of Nazis and white supremacy, and then Rep. Chip Roy from Texas waxed poetically about lynchings. He may or may not have said something inappropriately, that he didn't mean it that way, but we saw little pushback from the leadership of the GOP. There was a time when Paul Ryan would at least push back a little on Donald Trump. Now I don't hear it.

Even through the three examples that you gave, I wouldn't even mitigate against those. Those were consistent with what we've seen — the party's recent embrace of white nationalism, sort of this fake populism that's born out of the Southern strategy of Richard Nixon in the 1960s. Ken Mehlman when he was chairman, myself when I was chairman, declared that was an anathema to the party's basic philosophy and ideas. What we've been pushing has been pushed aside for an embrace of this. So having those members of Congress and senators go out and say these things, it's just an affirmation of that.

To your point about the broader response of the party leaders, no, they're not going to push back against that, because they don't want to get primaried. They don't want a nasty soundbite from Donald Trump, or a member of the Trump family or Lindsey Graham or somebody who's going to side against them. They don't want to see what happened to Liz Cheney and others who stood on principle and supported taking down the insurrectionist acts of certain members of our community and leaders in our party. They find themselves in this very uncomfortable space where you have a Marjorie Taylor Greene and you've got a Gosar. You've got others out there saying and doing things, and the leadership is feckless. They're inept. They have been emasculated in many ways because they are not willing to risk that leadership, nor are they willing to risk their elective position, to go against those who are undermining the very fabric of who we are as a country, because there's more value in grifting off of that, raising money.

You look at the moment Ron Johnson says this stuff, he goes out and plays the victim, and he sends out a fundraising letter. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the same thing. The party has become one big grift in many respects. That's unfortunate, because that's not who we are. But we've been in that space for 21 years now. This goes back to the 2000 election. You can almost pinpoint those transformative moments in the '80s and '90s, as well. So, there's a history here that is in many respects an ongoing march by the party, and it's going to end in a not so happy place. When it does, it will resolve itself, and out of that will be born a new effort, a new party or something different. We will terraform the party in such a way that we free ourselves of this ugliness and right ourselves, or we give into it completely.

I wonder what the legacy of Trump is going to be. Is it the idea that if you're a Republican you can say whatever pigheaded thing you want, because there's really no penalty in your party? In fact, it might make some in your base, the more extreme ones, send you money. You might get more Twitter followers. You might get booked on Fox News or Newsmax. It seems that's potentially the legacy that Trump left us. Do you agree with that, or was that there before Trump?

It was there before Trump, in many respects. Trump just knew how to animate it, to bring it to life, to make use of it. But, actually, I'll take it one step further. I think in order for us to get to a different level of discussion, I'm prepared to set Trump aside. I'm tired of talking about him. I'm tired of talking about the future of the party. You can talk about the future of a cancer patient. If that cancer patient, wants to have a future free of cancer, then all right. But if they give up and give in to the thing that is killing them, there's not much more you can do. There is no further conversation you can have.

In many respects, all of us, particularly those inside the party, have to wait and see how this plays itself out. It will define itself. It will tell you what it is or what it wants to be. Then, as Maya Angelou says, accept it. Don't try to fight against it. Don't try to change it, if it doesn't want to be changed. I am past the point in the discussion of trying to figure out the future. I don't have that crystal ball. The only thing I can do is wait and see what the leadership does, what the base does, such as it is, what actions Trump takes, how people respond to it, and to see exactly what this party is going to be. In the meantime, what I and many others will continue to do, is put in front of it those Lincoln ideals that drew me in as a 17-year-old kid, many years ago, to this principle, understanding that the words in our Constitution apply to everyone. As a party, what we conserve is that fight, that power, those rights. All the other stuff is just ancillary, whether you're pro-this or anti-that, whether you're up or down on this policy.

If you're not about the foundational idea — what we're seeing happening in the voting space, by states like Georgia and Arizona. where Republicans in those states are trying to disenfranchise people. That's antithetical to the very founding ideas and principles laid out in the Constitution, even though they were written by men who did not include me in that conversation at the time. Well guess what? I'm in it now, and dammit, you're not going to take me out of it, Republicans in Georgia and Arizona — that's the fight. I'm waiting to see how that plays out, because that will tell you whether or not this party is of a mind to move off this or they just embrace it and go deeper into it, in which case then we know what we've got in front of us.

There was a new Monmouth Poll last week that asked Americans if they think white nationalism is a problem in the United States. Sixty-four percent of all Americans said yes. That actual number was actually dragged down by Republicans, because only 38 percent of Republicans thought it was a problem. When you just put independents and Democrats, you're way over 70 percent of Americans who think it's a problem. Sixty-two percent of Republicans don't think white nationalism is a problem. Either they don't believe it exists — like Tucker Carlson, who calls it a hoax — or they're down with it, or whatever, they don't really care. Everything's fine with their life.

That's because a lot of them are white. A lot of them have embraced this, and look, the thread that's kind of driving this narrative is this decision that was made at some point in this evolution to just stick it to Democrats. If the Democrats are for something, they're going to be against it, because they want to stick it. They want to screw Democrats. They want to defeat Democrats. This, for me, kind of goes back to how our politics devolved into a red versus blue, us versus them, "They're our enemy," with Democrats going from being our opponents to being our enemies.

When you have that kind of transformation in the political dialogue, you've now gone to a level of ugliness. That kind of poll makes sense, in that regard, because a lot of that is this idea that, well, you're just pushing back on white folks, because you don't want to recognize how we've been disadvantaged. This whole mindset is just turned upside down and that's what makes this discussion that much harder, because we want to inject our political biases into the conversation. When you do that, you're going to see this kind of result. It's just reflective of how broken the politics have become.

I don't know how you get around that, other than to go through it. You just got to go through it, and the country has to state declaratively — and this could mean the end of the party, in one sense, that we don't want you governing anything until you get on the page with 70 to 80 percent of the American people, who see white nationalism as a problem. You send us Marjorie Taylor Greene as your nominee, guess what? You're not getting elected. I think that's the space we're kind of moving into now, which sets up 2022, as a particularly interesting battleground, I would say almost on par with 2020. Which was important for a whole lot of reasons That we know.

While 2020 was about the election of one man, 2022 is about the election of an idea, an ideology, because there are a lot of candidates carrying this particular water into those fights. How does the nation respond on a congressional level, on a statewide level, on a state legislative level, to candidates who espouse that white nationalism is OK, white people are victims, Black lives don't matter? In fact, Blacks shouldn't even be allowed to vote in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, etc., because we don't like the way they vote. To help make that point, we're going to pull back on the privilege, on the right to vote in these areas. So that's going to be an interesting narrative for the Republicans to defend, and an interesting one for the country to decide that they reject it or not.

I'm not as optimistic that white nationalism isn't a winning strategy, given the demographic change happening in this country. There might be more white people who don't admit it in polls.

I agree.

That's what concerns me, that the GOP is not going to fade away and die. It's going to grow. Polls have even showed some Republicans and numbers I've never believed to be true. There was an AEI poll, from the American Enterprise Institute, which is right wing, that showed 56 percent of Republicans said it's OK to use force to stop the decline of the traditional American way of life. Where are we going?

What is the "traditional American way of life"? See, that's what we need to peel back because the traditional way of American life is very different for me and you than it is for some white guy from Alabama, who is hearkening back to a time that, quite honestly, was not good for any Americans. This idea of, "We want to return to the way America used to be," well, when I hear that, what that says to me is what you want to return to segregation. You want to return to lynching. We've heard a member of Congress say, "Hey, that's OK, because that's how we enforce the rule of law." What are you saying when you hear that and when you say that? That's what we need to drill down on, because when you just ask that question generically, people have this red, white and blue, star-spangled kind of view of America. Well, America has never been that. It's an idea on a postcard, but it has never been the lived experience of Asians, African-Americans, Jews, lesbians and gays, etc., in this country.

If Donald Trump were criminally charged, prosecuted and went to jail before 2022, how do you think that impacts the midterm election? Because it could happen. In New York, he's being investigated. In Georgia, he's being investigated. We've heard they are looking into him on the federal level. Do you think it helps the GOP if Trump is in prison. Does he become this martyr?

I think anything that happens to Donald Trump, by the system, by the "deep state," sets him up to be a martyr and he'll make himself to be a martyr. Look, the man is out there trying to create his own social media platform. Let us not fool ourselves. There will be a bazillion people who will sign onto that platform. Let's not act surprised when it happens. Let's not start wringing our hands again because, like you've just said, there are a whole lot of people who line up with Donald Trump and are down with what he says and what he's done. How do we know that? Well, 7 million more of them voted for him in 2020 [than in 2016].

You can't sit back and pretend that somehow this is an aberration. It is not. It is part of the natural course of things, and so to your point about anything, legally or otherwise, that befalls Donald Trump: He will wear it like the best victim could ever wear it. He will milk it and make the most of it, and he will drive dollars and drive supporters and ultimately drive votes behind it.

Mitch McConnell is threatening scorched earth against Democrats if they end the filibuster. What do you think?

You better listen to McConnell.

You think he's being sincere?

Of course he is. I mean, he was sincere after they got control of the Senate and Merrick Garland's nomination came up. He warned Harry Reid that's what he was going to do. He made it very clear. "I'm all about the judiciary, and I'm going to do everything I can to reshape it for conservatives and undermine it for Democrats." Now he's just broadened the warning. He's saying, not only is it not just the judiciary, it's going to be everything else.

That's not to say, however, that Democrats don't have a strategy they can employ, and that they should cower in the corner and fear the man who presumably should have no power, but does. They can still go in and play the game in a way that — look, pick and choose your battles. You don't have to eliminate the filibuster, period. You can just eliminate it on certain votes.

Stacey Abrams has talked about an exception for voting rights or civil rights.

Yeah, exactly. So, there's a way to do it, and then use that to pivot off to build the narrative for why you need to have more than 50 votes in the Senate in 2022. Give us a Senate that will support the policies that 70 percent of the American people want. We're not the party saying no. We're not the party saying, "You can't recover from COVID." We're not the party saying, "You can't have shovel-ready jobs in your community." We're the party that's trying to work with workers in unions, so America can rebuild itself. We're not the party standing in the way of those things. So give us the Senate that will allow this president to do the things that clearly you like him doing, Republicans, independents and Democrats out there across the country. Make the case.

When you talk to Republicans who are not Trumpists, where do you see yourselves in the future? Do you have a decent chance of fighting and changing this party and pulling it back?

It's a good question. It's one that a lot of us are grappling with. There are a lot of conversations being had in that regard. You fight the battle in front of you. Can't fight the one that's behind, that's done. We either won or lost. In some cases, we won, and in others we lost and we lost big. Right now the battle in front of us is over what this party will be. Is it the party of Lincoln, or is it the party of Trump? For me, it's a very straightforward question to ask. I'd like it to be the party of Lincoln. But if others prevail, and say, "No, we want Trump and Trumpism," then guess what? Brother picks up his bag and moves on. Look, you can only stay so long in a place you're not wanted.

At the end of the day, they've made it very clear. There is no going back to Lincoln-style philosophies and policies that are oriented around the freedom of individuals, and the rights of citizens. Instead it's sort of this hodgepodge of whatever Donald Trump feels on the day he wakes up. So, OK, that's the choice you've made as a party. It will fracture. It will break. It will re-shatter and reform, or shatter and reform into something else, and the rest of us will move on. Some have already moved on. I may have told you, well over a year ago, that I look at it as someone coming into my house and breaking my furniture, writing on my walls, and threatening my family. So, do I leave or do I stay? I stay as long as I can, and to the extent that they get the upper hand, OK, I collect my family and I go.

In a nation where we only have two major parties, all of us have to be concerned about where the GOP is going because it impacts our entire nation. If it becomes truly a white nationalist party embracing violence going forward, that affects all of us.

Yeah, it does. And I think an important thing about that, Dean, is the fact that more and more Americans are now open to the idea of expanding and broadening the opportunities for the creation of more than two parties. I think more and more Americans need to embrace that. I have advocated that since I was a county chairman. Why? Because I love the idea of competition. It gives you a chance to hone your thinking and reasoning skills around the philosophy that you articulate for, and it gives you a chance to declaratively say, "This is what we stand for. This is what we believe." When you can no longer do that with the embrace of the American people, then it's time for the American people to look at other alternatives, and those alternatives are there. Now it's just a matter of how they take shape and form.

There are Republicans who are actively pursuing those alternatives. I've been in those conversations and will remain in those conversations. There are Republicans who are also actively trying to do what I call terraforming the current party. That is tearing up this old dirt, that has grown incapable of bearing good fruit, and laying down some new seeds. If we are unsuccessful in that, then we will have someplace else to go. There is a lot of traction and traffic going on right now in this space, and I think that's a good thing for the country in the long run.

Trump impeachment: Legal expert explains what the hell happens now

Thanks to Donald Trump's presidency, I think we've all become amateur experts on constitutional law — at least to a certain degree. But in search of more nuanced (and legally accurate) answers a few days before Trump's unprecedented second impeachment, I asked Corey Brettschneider, a professor of political science at Brown University and author of "The Oath and the Office: A Guide to the Constitution for Future Presidents," to join me on Salon Talks.

Brettschneider has zero doubt that the framers of the Constitution would support impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office for inciting an insurrection. As Brettschneider explained, the framers specifically feared that a dangerous demagogue like Trump might come to power, which was the very reason they included the impeachment provision in the Constitution. Brettschneider also made a compelling case that Trump absolutely must be barred by the U.S. Senate from ever seeking federal office again. (If he is convicted, the Senate can add that provision on a straight majority vote. "What's really at stake here is the defense of democracy," he explained, adding that if Trump is not disqualified from future campaigns, he could do "an enormous amount of damage even just running for office."

Brettschneider also argues that now that Trump has been impeached, his ability to pardon anyone involved in conduct related to the impeachable offense is restricted, even before his Senate trial. That issue has not yet been tested in our federal courts, but Brettschneider believes that the Framers would support this view and would adamantly oppose the idea that Trump, or any other president, can effectively pardon himself.

Watch my Salon Talks episode with Brettschneider here, or read a transcript of our conversation below to learn more about what may become of our 45th president in the weeks ahead — and even beyond — and why his actions, and their consequences, will be studied by constitutional law scholars for years to come.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Corey, you have been very outspoken in saying the second Trump impeachment is necessary, regardless of what plays out in the Senate and regardless of the fact that he's about to leave office. Tell us why it's so important for you, as a constitutional scholar.

I was for the first impeachment. I thought that Trump had not just violated the Constitution but a fundamental idea of the rule of law when it came to using his foreign policy power in order to gain political favor and seeking to get dirt on Joe Biden by offering a carrot to the president of Ukraine — and a stick too, in withholding aid. In that instance it was clearly about removal, about protecting us from basically what had just happened — a president so opposed to the rule of law that he could threaten the whole system.

What we're doing now is different because in the immediate future, Joe Biden will take over. We're not really focused on removal. It's unlikely the Senate trial would be complete before the end of his term. [Indeed, that now appears impossible.] There's one real focus, I think, and that's the issue of what the Constitution calls disqualification — to disqualify him specifically from ever holding a federal office again.

The way that this works is the House majority will vote to impeach [as happened Wednesday] and will then send the article or articles of impeachment over to the Senate. There it's two-thirds to convict — usually to convict and remove, which won't be relevant. But it'll be two-thirds to convict followed by a majority vote to disqualify. That's really where it's crucial. What's really at stake here, Dean, is the defense of democracy itself. We don't want to allow this guy to come back from the dead, to come back to life as a political candidate. He could do enormous damage even running for office. That's why I'm focused on seeing this Senate trial happen.

In your book, "The Oath and the Office," you detail the debate at the Constitutional Convention about impeachment. If the framers could have seen what Donald Trump had done in two months of assaulting our democracy, building to that crescendo with his speech on Jan. 6, inciting this insurrection against our Capitol, how do you think they would have understood this?

I think they were really worried about a demagogue like this. Of course they didn't have a concept of fascism but they did have the idea of a demagogue, somebody who would use the worst instincts, the worst passions, of the people to benefit him or herself. That's what Trump is. One fundamental protection they gave us was exactly what you just said, impeachment and removal.

When they talked about high crimes and misdemeanors, that phrase the way the Framers meant it, is often misunderstood. It sounds like crime, something that you and I would have studied in our first year of law school in criminal law but that's not what it means. There is no category of criminal law called a high crime. Instead, what it refers to is an abuse of power. The thought was, look, you've got to call a president out who shows that he or she doesn't take the oath of office seriously. They took oaths seriously. The first seconds in office the new president has to promise to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. The thought is, if they don't take that seriously and you don't remove them, the whole system might collapse. That's what we've seen. We failed to remove him in the last impeachment and what did he do? He really lived up to our worst fears, by threatening the collapse of the entire system with a literal insurrection.

What's your view on the article of impeachment the Democrats have released, which is titled "Incitement of Insurrection"? It's focused on the events of Jan. 6, but it does reference the phone call a few days before that to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, when Trump said "Can you find me votes?" He appeared to threaten, at least implicitly, criminal prosecution if Raffensperger didn't do his bidding. Did you want to see more articles or is this fine?

I was very happy with the way this one article was drafted. I'll say something about a second article that I would still like to see or statements to the effect of a second article. I'll say why I think it's so expertly drafted, precisely as you say: It talks about the criminality in both the phone call and also in the incitement itself. The Constitution does offer protection of free speech but it doesn't include the incitement to violence, the willing or knowing incitement to violence or speech directed at inciting violence. That's what Trump did. If you look at that article, it's very carefully crafted.

Congressman [James] Clyburn has said that he thinks there's a second reason for impeachment, obviously aside from disqualification, and to my mind it's worth a second article of impeachment. That is to stop the illicit use of the pardon power by Trump on people involved in this incitement, like Donald Trump Jr., like Rudy Giuliani, possibly including himself. What that article would say, I think, is that the pardon power is revoked. There's a serious debate going on among scholars about whether or not the phrase "except in cases of impeachment" when it comes to the pardon power allows Congress to revoke the pardon power of the president related to this case of incitement. I think Congress, as Clyburn said, should clarify that, yes, they do think he should lose this pardon power as a way to protect himself.

The pardon power is extremely broad for a president, but it does have that one thing about "except in the case of impeachment." Can you explain what that really means?

What I call the traditional view is that it only meant a very minor thing, which is that a president can't stop an impeachment proceeding from happening or couldn't undo a penalty like disqualification. I call that the traditional view. I think many people in the legal establishment have thought that that's true. We think there's evidence [from the Constitutional Convention] that it really was about the ability to strip the power of the president to pardon not only himself but also co-conspirators involved in cases related to an impeachment.

If we're talking about the impeachment powers, about Congress' ability to defend the nation from a criminal president, they've got to be able to stop his use of the pardon to basically undermine what they're doing. It's a kind of structural argument about self-protection, a value-based argument that the pardon power is supposed to be for the public benefit or a "benign power prerogative," as Alexander Hamilton called it, not for basically getting away with crimes. It's a common sense argument of values. When we look at the history, we see nothing in the history that precludes it. When you look at the day that exception was put into the Constitution, it's unclear what was going on in the minds of the framers.

Is there a Supreme Court decision that decides this one way or another when it comes to that understanding of how the pardon powers are limited in the case of impeachment?

That's part of why it's a black box. There's definitely no final holding on this. There was a 19th-century case that mentions the traditional view in what lawyers call a "dicta," sort of an aside, but no, there's been no definitive Supreme Court case. One of the crazy things about the Trump administration is these are things that you and I in law school would have had a professor ask us about: "What if the president tried to use the pardon power to pardon a co-conspirator?" Now we're seeing this play out in real time. The Supreme Court will have to answer these questions.

America could sit for the bar exam after what Trump has put us through. We've learned about the emoluments clause. Who knew about that? Questions about self-pardoning. We all learned a little Latin.

It's a terrible, tragic moment. This president is very dangerous. I would never underplay the threat and the seriousness of the moment, but one good thing that could come out of it is exactly that. I'm seeing on Twitter, Americans asking, "What does it mean, 'except in cases of impeachment?'" Pundits would say, "Oh, it means the traditional view." I would say, no, these people have insight, they have common sense, they're reading it in the right way. That's not just true for that, it's also true for the emoluments clause. Why are courts not stopping Trump from using the office? It's a really important clause with a terrible brand name. It's about not using the office for profit. It's the not for profit clause. I think it's great that Americans are engaged in that way.

When we bring up the word "pardon," what can't be lost in the conversation right now is that in the recent past Trump has talked about his ability to self-pardon. I've got to get your reaction to the possibility of the president, in the last few days of his term, pardoning himself.

This is another argument on both sides. There are people who say that basically the president's power in regard to the pardon is absolute. It's a prerogative power. It's absolute, and if it's really absolute then he can do it. That's one side. I don't agree with that. I think that during the Nixon administration, even Nixon's lawyers, Nixon's Office of Legal Counsel said that the president can't pardon himself. The argument they gave is that you can't be a judge in your own case. That's what would be involved here.

Common sense says no way. But there are people who have this absolutist idea of the presidency. To my mind, it goes to the deeper issue, which is that we need reform. This presidency is a loaded gun, and we've seen that crazies can get ahold of it. We've got to be able, as a nation, to protect ourselves from a crazy in power.

Let's take it to the practical world. If Donald Trump wants to make sure he's not going to spend his twilight years in a federal penitentiary, the only way to be sure is not a self-pardon, correct? He's got to get it from somebody else.

Yeah.

If he self-pardons, he's going to leave wondering if it's effective. Doesn't he have to get Mike Pence as president, either by using the 25th Amendment or by resigning hours before noon on Jan. 20? Look, he doesn't want to go to jail for the rest of his life. The only way he can know that he's safe from federal prosecution is to get Pence to do it.

That would be a good strategy. Thankfully, Pence doesn't seem to be in the mood, given that he was in the Senate chamber when it was attacked by Trump's insurrectionists, who were yelling they wanted to kill him. You know, certainly Gerald Ford's pardon of Nixon was never successfully challenged. In fact, it was never challenged at all in court. So yes, if he was strategizing the best way to go he should have been nicer to Mike Pence.

But here's the wrinkle: In New York he's facing investigations by the Manhattan district attorney and by Letitia James, the state attorney general, and there's no way to pardon that. The governor of New York is not giving him a pardon and a federal pardon won't matter there. It might protect him from criminal charges in the District of Columbia. I've seen commentators say that because D.C. is federal, the pardon might cover that too. That's very worrying because in my mind he's got to be prosecuted for these crimes.

This goes back to another Nixon-era memo that says sitting presidents can't be indicted for crimes. I think that's ridiculous. Those memos were never tried in court. They betray common sense. Of course he should be indicted right now. In fact, I would like to see D.C. prosecutors challenge that policy by acting against a madman who tried to bring about an insurrection and incite a riot.

Do you think there's criminality in what you saw from Donald Trump during the speech on Jan. 6? To me, there was something that got lost a little in the media. The reason he had that rally on Jan. 6 is because the Electoral Count Act mandates that as the day for Congress to meet and count the electoral votes. He had it timed so they could finish that rally and go to the Capitol. It's not like he just held a normal weekend rally and people stuck around. He picked that day. In my mind, that was his backstop. If Pence wouldn't stop the certification of Biden's win, he hoped his people would prevent it. Do you think that adds to the potential argument of criminality?

Oh, absolutely. On the high crimes and misdemeanors front it certainly is fundamental. This isn't just an incitement to violence. That would be bad enough, and he did that, of course, when he was running for president during the rallies, very similar incitements on a smaller scale. But he was trying to undermine democracy to stop the count. That's what these people thought they were doing. He knew that's what they thought they were doing. He encouraged it rather than stopped it.

What's a more serious crime? We could talk about the technicalities but it seems to me to certainly be insurrection or treason — an attempt to undermine the most basic fundamental thing that makes us a democracy, a peaceful transition of power. So absolutely it matters. I'd love to see much more attention to this.

Let's talk about the 14th Amendment. Some Democrats are talking about it in the context of disqualifying Trump from ever holding office again, and maybe even expelling some members of Congress, not allowing them to run for reelection. Reuters actually wrote an article saying that for Trump to be barred from running for office you only need a majority vote. That doesn't seem like a correct reading of the Constitution to me. If they want to disqualify Donald Trump from running again, do they need a majority vote in the Senate or they need first the two-thirds vote to convict?

I think the most certain path, which is backed in precedent — there have been two incidents where this disqualification was used in the case of judges. The first story is incredible, the parallels. It's a Tennessee judge who incited insurrection in the context of the Civil War and the Confederacy. Congress said, hey, you can't have people in federal office who are inciting insurrection. The way they did it was through a majority in Congress. Two-thirds did convict him in the Senate to remove him, followed by a majority vote. That's been the sequence in the past.

Now, I have seen law professors say — and I think this is what the Reuters story was picking up on — that if you read the text of the Constitution, it doesn't specify the order. So although we've done it that way, maybe if there weren't the votes [for conviction] the Senate could try severing that. I don't really have a view on that. I think it's very interesting, because when you look at the constitutional text, we've never been in this position. We're not voting on removal, that definitely requires two-thirds. We're voting on disqualification. Can you sever the votes — in other words, have disqualification without conviction, without the two-thirds vote? I'm just not sure about that. I'm not sure that courts would uphold it.

Maybe they would, since they tend to defer in matters of impeachment. There's a case called Nixon v. United States that really emphasizes that the House has the sole power to impeach and that the Senate has the independent and sole power to try the case. Because of the deference in that case, maybe the courts would defer on that matter.

I wonder if they would ask the parliamentarian of the Senate for a ruling in advance, or will make their own ruling when Democrats control the chamber and Kamala Harris is vice president. Let's say they make their own rule saying they're going to formalize this: We only need a majority vote. Does it go to the courts? If the Constitution says it's within the purview of the Senate exclusively, we're not getting involved, then we have a new rule.

I would add to that, Dean, you only need a majority to change those rules. So it's possible they could try that. The parliamentarian might weigh in and [as Senate majority leader] Chuck Schumer might say, this is a unique circumstance, this is a threat to democracy, we're doing it.

Certain members of Congress are citing a provision in the 14th Amendment that says any president or representative involved in insurrection or rebellion, or giving aid or comfort, will not be allowed to hold office. Do you think there's a good faith basis to make an argument under there? Would tat be a majority vote scenario?

Going back to my example of the judge in Tennessee who was disqualified for insurrection, they used the impeachment process rather than the 14th Amendment, to be sure. I would say if you really want to get rid of Donald Trump's ability to run again, go through the process that's got the precedent that we know and that would be a majority in the House and two-thirds in the Senate to convict, followed by the majority to disqualify.

But if they don't have the votes, I think the thought could be, look, the country is desperate to make sure this guy doesn't run again. Who knows? We've got this provision there. Maybe it's a hail Mary. Maybe courts would overturn it if he tried to run, but let's try it and let's argue it out. Certainly it is there, as you say, in the text. I do think that this president threatened democracy. I don't think it was some minor act of violence. It's not out of the question.

In your view, what reforms are needed by Congress to rein in a future Trump like president?

Look, it's so deep. I've written this book "The Oath and the Office," and the idea is not just that the president takes an oath to preserve and protect and defend the Constitution, but courts are very rarely going to be there to make sure that a president complies. They're not going to force the president to say the right things.

I would have hoped they would have struck down that Muslim ban, which was definitely based in hatred and animus, and the court in a crucial moment failed to act. That was one of the worst moments of the last four years. I was deeply involved in that case. I drafted an amicus brief with colleagues. We were cited by the dissent, but not by the majority. It was about as textbook a case of animus as you can get.

Given that, it's up to us. It's up to "we, the people" to demand that a president be held to account. But we can't do that if we don't know the Constitution. I think that's the failure here. We've got to do something to educate America about why somebody like Donald Trump has no business running for office, holding office or being listened to in the public sphere.