Transcript: Are People the Problem with Democracy? | Sep 27, 2021

Steve Paikin sits in a corner. He has short, dark, curly hair and wears white shirt and red tie. Pictures hang on the walls beside him as well as a small flag of Ontario.

Steve says, "WE THE PEOPLE."
THAT IS, OF COURSE, HOW THE
CONSTITUTION OF THE
LONGEST-STANDING DEMOCRATIC
REPUBLIC IN THE WORLD BEGINS.
BUT IN THE TURMOIL OF THE LAST
FEW YEARS IN THE UNITED STATES…

The Agenda logo, the letter a and a period, appears in the bottom left. Text reads, are the people the problem with democracy? Above is the Twitter logo, a bird, with text that reads, @spaikin, @theagenda.

Steve says, …AUTHOR TOM NICHOLS ARGUES IN HIS
NEW BOOK, THAT "THE PEOPLE" ARE
CURRENTLY PART OF THE PROBLEM.
THE BOOK IS CALLED: "OUR OWN
WORST ENEMY: THE ASSAULT FROM
WITHIN ON MODERN DEMOCRACY."

Tom Nichols’ book is displayed. The part of the title that reads, “Our Own Worst Enemy” is red, with a lit match replacing the letter o in the word, worst. The remaining title, “The Assault From Within On Modern Democracy” is blue.

Steve says, HE IS A COLUMNIST FOR USA TODAY,
A PROFESSOR AT THE U.S. NAVAL
WAR COLLEGE, AND TOM NICHOLS
JOINS US NOW FROM MIDDLETOWN,
RHODE ISLAND FOR MORE.
TOM, IT'S GOOD TO HAVE YOU ON
THE PROGRAM AGAIN.
HOW ARE YOU DOING?

Tom has short greying hair, a grey beard and glasses. He wears a black suit jacket and blue shirt.

Tom Nichols says, GOOD, STEVE.
GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN.

Steve says, PLEASURE TO HAVE YOU
ON.
NOW, WE HAD YOU ON IN 2017 TO
DISCUSS YOUR LAST BOOK, UH, "THE
DEATH OF EXPERTISE," ABOUT THE
GROWING DISTRUST OF EXPERTS UH, IN
TOO MANY PARTS OF YOUR COUNTRY.
DID WRITING THAT BOOK INEVITABLY
LEAD TO THIS ONE?

Tom shares the screen with Steve. Below Tom, text reads, Middletown, RI

Tom Nichols says, I WOULDN'T SAY INEVITABLY,
BUT IT WAS SORT OF HAUNTING ME
IN THE BACKGROUND BECAUSE THE
PROBLEM THAT I TALK ABOUT IN
THIS BOOK…

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, …UH, IS, TO SOME EXTENT,
THE SAME PROBLEM THAT WAS SORT
OF LURKING UNDERNEATH, UM, THE BOOK
ABOUT KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERTS AND
WHY PEOPLE UH, WON'T LISTEN TO THEM
AND, I, IN FACT, I EVEN MENTIONED, UH,
IN THE PREVIOUS BOOK THAT I
THOUGHT PERHAPS A PANDEMIC MIGHT
SNAP PEOPLE OUT OF IT, AND IT
DIDN'T.

Text reads, it’s all your fault!

Tom Nichols says, UH, AND THAT PROBLEM IS NARCISSISM,
THAT WE HAVE BECOME AN
AFFLUENT, WE IN THE DEVELOPED
WORLD, UH, IN THE UNITED STATES
ESPECIALLY BUT IN OTHER
COUNTRIES AS WELL, WE HAVE
BECOME AN AFFLUENT,
NARCISSISTIC, SELF-CENTERED, UH,
SOCIETY, AND YOU CAN'T SUSTAIN A
DEMOCRACY ON NARCISSISM AND
SELF-CENTEREDNESS.

Steve says, BEFORE WE DIVE INTO
THAT THESIS MORE, I DID WANT TO
ASK YOU ABOUT THE TONE OF THIS
BOOK COMPARED TO THE LAST ONE.
IT, IT SEEMED TO ME IN THE LAST BOOK
THAT YOUR TONE WAS MORE ONE OF,
WELL, MORE THAT YOU WERE
SADDENED.
YOU WERE SADDENED ABOUT THE FACT
THAT AMERICA, SO MUCH OF
AMERICA, DOESN'T APPRECIATE, UM, THE
VALUE OF EXPERTISE.
BUT IN THIS BOOK YOU SEEM, IF I
MAY SAY, TOM, YOU SEEM DOWNRIGHT
ANGRY AND, AND ARE MUCH MORE FURIOUS
ABOUT AMERICA'S DESCENT INTO
STUPIDITY OR A LOT OF IT ANYWAY.
HAVE I GOT THAT RIGHT?

Tom Nichols says, UM, ANGRY…

Tom clears his throat.

He says, …AND, AND ALSO THERE'S ALSO, A
CERTAIN AMOUNT OF UM, I THINK, PAIN
IN THE BOOK, BECAUSE UM, IT'S
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL IN PLACES.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, UM, I TALK ABOUT MY OWN UPBRINGING
AND GROWING UP IN A, IN A FACTORY TOWN
IN MASSACHUSETTS, UM, AND IT'S A
COMBINATION OF ANGER AND
FRUSTRATION AND EXASPERATION AND
A PAINFUL REALIZATION THAT UM, THIS
DEMOCRACY THAT HAS LASTED OVER
TWO CENTURIES, UH, IS BEING
ENDANGERED NOT BY FOREIGN
ENEMIES, UM, NOT BY A GREAT
DEPRESSION, NOT BY UM, A CATACLYSM
OR A NATURAL DISASTER, BUT
SIMPLY BY UH, STUBBORNNESS AND
CHILDISHNESS AND A KIND OF UM,
RESENTFUL, UM, SENSE THAT, YOU KNOW,
NO ONE IS THE BOSS OF YOU, UM, WHICH
THEN BLEEDS INTO REALLY, YOU
KNOW, UNCIVIC AND UM, AT, AT TIMES
DANGEROUS BEHAVIOUR.

Steve says, YOU DO LAY MUCH OF
THE BLAME FOR THE RISE OF
ILLIBERALISM AND THIS DISTRUST
OF ELITES AT THE FEET OF THE
PEOPLE THEMSELVES.
WHAT IS THE LIKELIHOOD, DON'T
TAKE THIS THE WRONG WAY, TOM,
BUT WHAT IS THE LIKELIHOOD THAT
YOU, A UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR AND
AUTHOR, ARE THE RIGHT MESSENGER
TO SEND THAT MESSAGE TO THAT
GROUP OF FOLKS?

Tom Nichols says, YOU KNOW, I, I WRESTLED WITH
THIS IN THE BOOK BECAUSE UM, I'M A
UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR NOW, BUT I
GREW UP UM, IN A VERY WORKING CLASS,
UH, GRITTY NEIGHBOURHOOD.
MY PARENTS WERE NOT EDUCATED
PEOPLE.
THEY WERE HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUTS.
WE HAD, AS I POINT OUT IN THE
BOOK, WE SUFFERED THROUGH A LOT, A LOT
OF THE DYSFUNCTIONS THAT AFFLICT
WORKING CLASS FAMILIES BACK IN
THE 1960S AND '70S.
UM, INCLUDING FINANCIAL TROUBLE AND
ALCOHOLISM AND VIOLENCE AND ALL
THE THINGS THAT UM, HAPPEN TO NORMAL
FAMILIES IN BAD TIMES.
UH, AND IN FACT AT ONE POINT I
WONDERED: AM I PART, HAVE I BEEN PART OF
THE PROBLEM AT BOTH ENDS OF MY
LIFE?
UM, YOU KNOW, WAS I PART OF THE
PROBLEM COMING UP AS A YOUNG MAN
IN THOSE DAYS, I MEAN, I, I WAS
AS LIKELY AS A YOUNG TEENAGER TO
GO TO JAIL AS I WAS TO GO TO
COLLEGE.
UM, AND THEN LATER IN MY LIFE.
UM, SO I HOPE I'M THE RIGHT
MESSENGER BECAUSE I'VE LIVED IT,
YOU KNOW, I'VE MADE THAT
TRANSITION FROM, UM, ONE GROUP TO
ANOTHER, FROM ONE CLASS TO
ANOTHER, AND I HOPE THAT I HAVE
A LITTLE BIT OF DISTANCE ON IT.
BUT I DON'T KNOW THAT ANYONE'S
THE RIGHT MESSENGER FOR IT
BECAUSE IT'S VERY HARD, TO TURN
TO YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS AND SAY,
YOU KNOW, "MAYBE YOU'RE THE
PROBLEM.”
UM, MAYBE IT ISN'T GLOBALIZATION.
MAYBE IT ISN'T JEFF BEZOS.
MAYBE IT ISN'T THE CHINESE.
MAYBE, MAYBE THE PROBLEM WITH OUR
DEMOCRACY IS RIGHT HERE IN FRONT
OF US IN THE MIRROR.
AND THAT'S NEVER A PLEASANT
THING TO HAVE TO SAY TO ANYBODY.

Steve says, LET'S DO AN EXCERPT
FROM THE BOOK.
THIS IS FROM "OUR OWN WORSE
ENEMY" BY TOM NICHOLS.

Tom’s book is displayed. Beside it, text reads, are we losing because we won.

Steve quotes, AUTHORITARIAN SYSTEMS ARE THE
AUTHORS OF THEIR OWN TROUBLES
AND DESERVE EVERY MOLECULE OF THE
OPPOSITION THEY FACE FROM WITHIN.
BUT WHY ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE
ALREADY FREE, AND WHO ARE BY
ANY RELATIVE MEASURE MATERIALLY
AND POLITICALLY BETTER OFF
THAN THOSE MORE REPRESSIVE
STATES, ATTACKING THEIR OWN
SYSTEMS OF GOVERNMENT?
THE ANSWERS ARE AS DISTURBING
AS THEY ARE COUNTERINTUITIVE:
WE ARE LOSING BECAUSE WE WON.
WE ARE SUFFERING BECAUSE WE ARE
SUCCESSFUL.
WE ARE UNHAPPY BECAUSE WE
HAVE WHAT WE WANT.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Steve says, NOW, OBVIOUSLY THAT
IS NOT THE MESSAGE THAT WE'VE
BECOME ACCUSTOMED TO HEARING
OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS,
PARTICULARLY SINCE DONALD TRUMP
ARRIVED ON THE SCENE.
WHAT ARE YOU SEEING THAT SO MANY
OTHERS APPARENTLY ARE NOT
SEEING?

Tom Nichols says, ONE THING I
DID IN THE BOOK WAS JUST TO TRY AND TAKE
A LONGER VIEW THAN JUST THE LAST
FIVE YEARS.
DONALD TRUMP IS THIS KIND OF
BLACK HOLE THAT WARPS ALL OF THE
LIGHT AROUND IT…

Tom laughs.

He says, …UM, AND I THINK
PEOPLE ON BOTH THE RIGHT AND THE
LEFT HAVE A TENDENCY TO FOCUS ON
TRUMP AS SOME UNIQUE PHENOMENON.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, I TRIED TO TAKE A LONGER VIEW OF
THIS OVER ABOUT 40 OR 50 YEARS
AND ACROSS COUNTRIES.

Tom’s book is displayed beside him in a split screen.

Tom Nichols says, REMEMBER, THIS ATTACK ON
DEMOCRACY IS NOT UNIQUE TO THE
UNITED STATES.
IT'S HAPPENING IN ITALY, IT'S
HAPPENING IN THE U.K., IT'S
HAPPENING IN TURKEY AND POLAND
AND HUNGARY AND BRAZIL AND
INDIA, UM, AND I, I THINK THAT THIS IS
PARADOXICALLY BECAUSE OF PEACE
AND PROSPERITY.
UM, DEM, DEMOCRACIES CAN COPE WITH ALMOST
ANY CHALLENGE EXCEPT BOREDOM.
AND UM, I, IN THE BOOK I TALK A BIT ABOUT
THE PROPHETIC VOICES THAT SAW
THIS COMING.
CHRISTOPHER LASH SAW THIS COMING
WHEN HE TALKED ABOUT NARCISSISM
IN 1979.
BUT EVEN FURTHER BACK, ERIC
HOFFER WARNED THAT UM, IN, IN A BOOK CALLED
"THE TRUE BELIEVER", THAT I THINK
PEOPLE NEED TO START READING
AGAIN AS WELL, THAT A, UM, WHEN YOU HAVE
A, A MIDDLE CLASS THAT'S BORED OUT
OF ITS MIND, YOU ARE RIPE FOR A
MASS MOVEMENT BECAUSE PEOPLE
HAVE THIS NEED TO FEEL SOME SORT
OF MEANING IN THEIR LIFE AND SO
THEY WANT TO GO AND INVENT GREAT
CRUSADES.
UH, PART OF THAT IS TO CONVINCE
PEOPLE AND PART OF THE REASON,
STEVE, I THINK THAT WHEN YOU SAY
THINK THIS IS THE MESSAGE WE'VE
HAD OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS,
WE'VE DEVELOPED A POLITICAL
CULTURE IN A LOT OF COUNTRIES
THAT IS CONSTANTLY PREMISED ON
TELLING THE VOTERS THAT THINGS
ARE THE WORST THEY'VE EVER BEEN.
THESE ARE THE WORST TIMES EVER.
NO ONE HAS EVER SUFFERED LIKE
YOU.
NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN THE KIND OF
DEPRIVATIONS YOU'RE LIVING IN.
AND OF COURSE THIS IS NONSENSE.
THIS IS JUST, IN MOST TIMES IN
HISTORY IT'S BEEN NONSENSE.
UM, BUT CERTAINLY IN THE EARLY 21ST.
CENTURY IT'S NONSENSE ON STILTS.
BUT, YOU KNOW, NOBODY RUNS FOR
ELECTION BY SAYING, EVERYONE’S
DOING WELL BUT WE COULD DO
BETTER.
MY OPPONENT IS A GOOD PERSON BUT
I THINK I COULD DO A BETTER JOB.
YOU DON'T, YOU DON’T MOTIVATE PEOPLE
THAT WAY.
AND YOU CERTAINTLY DON’T MOTIVATE
THEM THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA THAT WAY.
AND SO, WE'VE CREATED A CULTURE THAT
SAYS YOU ARE A VICTIM, UH, THE WORLD
HAS UH, SCREWED YOU OVER, UM, EVERYTHING
IS TERRIBLE, AND SOMEONE IS TO
BLAME.
AND IF YOU ELECT ME, I'LL HURT
THOSE OTHER PEOPLE AND I'LL, I’LL GET
EVEN ON YOUR BEHALF.
AND, AGAIN, YOU CANNOT SUSTAIN A
DEMOCRACY ON THAT KIND OF
BEHAVIOUR.
YOU JUST CAN'T.

Steve says, WELL, IT DOESN'T UH,
LET ME SUGGEST IT DOESN'T HAVE
TO BE ALL OF ONE OR ALL OF THE
OTHER IN ORDER FOR THERE TO BE A
GRAIN OF PUSHBACK AGAINST WHAT
YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT.
FOR, YOU KNOW, FOR EXAMPLE, IT'S
ALSO, WHAT YOU JUST SAID IS AN
EMPIRICALLY PROVABLE FACT.
THE, THE TIMES IN WHICH WE LIVE, IN
MANY WAYS, UH, YOU KNOW, HAVE NEVER BEEN BETTER
FOR THE MOST NUMBER OF PEOPLE.
HAVING SAID THAT, YOU KNOW,
GLOBALIZATION DID SHUT DOWN A
LOT OF TOWNS IN MIDDLE AMERICA
AND THERE ARE DRUG PROBLEMS AS A
RESULT AND A LOT OF ECONOMIC
GAINS HAVE BEEN FELT BY THE JEFF
BEZOSS OF THE WORLD AS OPPOSED TO MORE
EVENLY FELT ACROSS SOCIETY.
I MEAN, SURELY SO…, SURLEY
MUCH OF THAT IS TRUE AND
MUCH OF THAT IS A FACTOR FOR THE
UNREST IN YOUR COUNTRY TODAY.
NO?

Tom Nichols says, THERE, THERE ARE TWO PROBLEMS WITH
THAT.
FIRST OF ALL, AS I POINT OUT IN
THE BOOK, HAVING COME FROM ONE
OF THOSE TOWNS, MUCH OF THAT
DEINDUSTRIAL DAMAGE WAS ACTUALLY
DONE 30, 40, 50 YEARS AGO…

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worse Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, …AND
PEOPLE, THERE'S A, THERE’S A POINT IN THE
BOOK WHERE I'M TALKING TO A
FRIEND FROM MY HOMETOWN WHO, WHO
POINTS AT ME AND SAYS, I
REMEMBER WHEN THOSE FACTORIES
WERE FULL.
AND I SAID, THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE,
YOU CAN'T POSSIBLY REMEMBER THAT.
BECAUSE WHEN WE WERE KIDS THOSE
FACTORIES WERE ALREADY MOSTLY
EMPTY.
UH, AND SO THIS, I TALK A LOT IN THE BOOK
ABOUT THE, THE LURE OF NOSTALGIA.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, @RadioFreeTom.

Tom Nichols says, UM, AND
SO THERE'S THIS, THIS ASSUMPTION THAT,
AGAIN, THE DATA DOES NOT BEAR
OUT, THAT SOMEHOW GLOBALIZATION
IN THE PAST 10 YEARS JUST
EMPTIED OUT ALL OF THESE TOWNS.
THE, THE OTHER PROBLEM WITH THAT
THESIS IS, THE VERY POOREST,
AT LEAST IN AMERICA, ARE NOT
THE PEOPLE REBELLING AGAINST
DEMOCRACY.

Steve nods.

Tom Nichols says, AS I SAY IN THE BOOK, UM, POVERTY,
DRUG ABUSE, UM, THE, THE UNDENIABLE
IMPACT OF GLOBALIZATION, BOTH
GOOD AND BAD, BECAUSE I THINK
THE OTHER PROBLEM IS THAT WE'VE
DECIDED GLOBALIZATION IS JUST
ALWAYS BAD, EVEN THOUGH YOU AND
I ARE USING IT RIGHT NOW TO HAVE
THIS, THIS DISCUSSION.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, UM, THAT UM, UH, WE'VE
COME TO SOMEHOW BELIEVE THAT ALL
THIS HAPPENED, UH, 10 MINUTES AGO,
BUT THE PEOPLE THAT ARE ACTUALLY
SUFFERING FROM THAT ARE NOT THE
PEOPLE THAT ARE ATTACKING
DEMOCRACY.
ONE OF THE THINGS YOU FIND IN
THE UNITED STATES, AS WELL AS IN
ITALY AND THE U.K. AND OTHER
PLACES, THE MOST ILLIBERAL
ELEMENTS ARE MIDDLE AGE, MIDDLE
CLASS PEOPLE WHO ARE ACTUALLY
FAIRLY WELL OFF.
THE PEOPLE THAT ATTACKED THE
U.S. CAPITOL WERE NOT UNEMPLOYED
STEELWORKERS.
THEY WERE PROFESSIONALS.
THEY WERE ACCOUNTANTS, DENTISTS,
REAL ESTATE AGENTS.
SOME OF THEM CHARTERED PRIVATE
FLIGHTS TO GO THERE.
UM, THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU
GET A BORED MIDDLE CLASS THAT IS
FED A STEADY DIET OF PROPAGANDA
ABOUT HOW THEY ARE THE
DOWNTRODDEN AND MOST AGGRIEVED
PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.
IT'S, IT’S SUCH A GREAT STORY TO SAY
THAT THIS, DEMOCRACY IS IN TROUBLE
BECAUSE THE VERY POOREST ARE
RISING UP INTO THE STREET.
BUT THAT'S NOT WHAT'S ACTUALLY
HAPPENING.
IT'S NOT WHAT'S HAPPENING IN
MOST OF THESE COUNTRIES.
THIS, THESE ARE POLITICAL
ENTREPRENEURS GOADING THE MIDDLE
CLASS INTO BELIEVING THAT
SOMEHOW THEY'VE BEEN VICTIMIZED.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, YOU KNOW I, AGAIN, A STORY I TELL
IN THE BOOK OF, YOU KNOW, A, A GOOD FRIEND WHO SAID,
WHO, HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA, YOU KNOW, KIND
OF LIKE ME, HE GREW UP ON THE, IN A
FINANCIALLY, ECONOMICALLY
INSECURE TOWN, UM, ON THE EDGE OF
POOR, AND HE LITERALLY IS
TELLING ME ABOUT HOW MUCH HE
THINKS THE WORLD IS UNFAIR WHILE
HE'S SITTING ON HIS BOAT.
UM, THAT'S THE SOCIETY WE'VE
CREATED, WHERE, WHERE MIDDLE-AGE MEN
SITTING ON BOATS THINK THAT THEY
ARE, ARE VICTIMIZED SOMEHOW.
UH, AND SO WHILE ALL OF THE ISSUES
YOU MENTION, STEVE ARE, THEY'RE
REAL PROBLEMS.
BUT THAT'S AN ARGUMENT FOR
BETTER POLICY, NOT FOR
DESTROYING DEMOCRACY.

Steve says, NO, IN FACT, I DO
REMEMBER WHILE WATCHING THE UH,
INSURRECTION ON YOUR CAPITOL ON
THE 6TH OF JANUARY, UH, EARLIER THIS
YEAR…

Steve clears his throat.

He says, …I DO REMEMBER THINKING:
BOY, SOME OF THESE FOLKS ARE
AWFULLY WELL DRESSED.
WELL, THEY MUST HAVE BORROWED
THE CLOTHES.
SOME OF THESE FOLKS HAVE AWFULLY
IMPRESSIVE, UH, WIRE-CUTTERS OR
EQUIPMENT OR, OR, OR BUILDING,
SCALING DEVICES…

Tom Nichols says, BODY ARMOUR, CAMO.

Tom laughs. Steve nods.

Steve says, EXACTLY.
ALL OF THAT STUFF.
AND THEN WHEN I READ ABOUT ALL OF
THAT IN YOUR BOOK, I THOUGHT,
OKAY, OKAY, MAYBE, MAYBE THERE'S A
LITTLE MORE TO THIS STORY UH, THAN
MEETS THE EYE.
SO, YEAH, OKAY.
I'M HAPPY YOU PUT THAT ON THE
RECORD.

Tom Nichols says, IT'S EXPENSIVE TO BE,
IT’S EXPENSIVE TO BE AN
INSURRECTIONIST.

Tom and Steve laugh.

Tom Nichols says, YOU KNOW, IT’S A, IT’S
IT TAKES AN OUTLAY OF SOME, SOME
SERIOUS CASH, TO DO THAT.

Steve says, AS WE SAW IT.
YES, INDEED.
LET'S TALK ABOUT THE CHAPTER IN
YOUR BOOK THAT YOU DEVOTE TO A
STUDY OF A RURAL ITALIAN
COMMUNITY IN THE 1950S, AND, AND IN
HELPING UNDERSTAND WHAT THAT WAS
ALL ABOUT, MAY TELL US A BIT
ABOUT TODAY.
CAN YOU PICK UP THAT STORY FOR
US?

Tom Nichols says, SURE.
UM, YOU KNOW, EVERY UH, STUDENT OF
POLITICS, CULTURE, UM, ANTHROPOLOGY,
SOCIOLOGY, POLITICS, THIS WAS
A STANDARD WORK THAT ALL OF US
HAD TO READ FOR YEARS, UH, BY AN
AUTHOR NAMED EDWARD BANFIELD.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, AND BANFIELD WAS A NEW DEALER,
UH, WHO GOT DISILLUSIONED WITH
CENTRAL PLANNING AND COULDN'T
FIGURE OUT WHY, DESPITE ALL THIS
GOVERNMENT HELP, UH, FARMS IN THE
UNITED STATES, FARMERS WOULDN'T
COOPERATE WITH EACH OTHER.
AND HE GOES TO THE UNIVERSITY OF
CHICAGO AND HE KIND OF WORKS ON
THIS AS A, AS A PROBLEM.
AND THEN HE GOES TO ITALY.
AND THAT'S WHEN IT OCCURS TO HIM
THAT THE PROBLEM WITH
DEVELOPMENT IS NOT IN THE
INSTITUTIONS OR THE LAWS OR THE
POLICIES THAT YOU CAN PASS BUT
THAT YOU DON'T GET VERY FAR WITH
ANY OF THAT IF PEOPLE SIMPLY
WON'T COOPERATE WITH EACH OTHER.

Text reads, good neighbours, bad citizens.

Tom Nichols says, AND WHAT HE FOUND IN THIS
ITALIAN VILLAGE WAS THAT, UM,
DEVELOPMENT, AND HE WAS MOSTLY
WRITING ABOUT POVERTY, NOT
DEMOCRACY, BUT IT TURNED OUT TO
BE A STUDY OF DEMOCRACY.
UH, THAT IF YOU ONLY CARE ABOUT
YOURSELF AND YOUR IMMEDIATE
RELATIVES, YOU KNOW, YOUR
CHILDREN, UH, AND YOURSELF, THAT YOU
ACTUALLY END UP POORER AND WORSE
OFF…

Tom’s book is displayed beside him in a split screen.

Tom Nichols says, …THAN IF YOU WERE PART OF A
COMMUNITY THAT VOLUNTEERS, THAT
WORK TOGETHER, YOU UM, ENGAGE IN
HONEST UH, COMMERCIAL RELATIONS WITH
EACH OTHER AND SO ON.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, @RadioFreeTom.

Tom Nichols says, AND I, I RESURRECTED THIS BOOK NOT JUST
IT'S A CLASSIC IN THE GENRE BUT
BECAUSE UH, I, I WANT PEOPLE TO
UNDERSTAND: WE ARE DE-EVOLVING
AS A DEMOCRACY.
WE ARE LITERALLY MOVING
BACKWARDS AWAY FROM A VERY CIVIC
SOCIETY, THE KIND THAT WE KNOW
IN NORTH AMERICA AND THE UNITED
STATES AND CANADA, UM, THAT BANFIELD,
THIS PROFESSOR THOUGHT SO HIGHLY
OF.

Tom clears his throat.

He says, WE ARE ACTUALLY GOING
BACKWARD TOWARD BECOMING LIKE
THIS ITALIAN VILLAGE IN THE, IN THE
1950S.
AND I, I DID THAT BECAUSE, AS I WAS
WATCHING A LOT OF THE EVENTS OF
THE PAST FIVE OR SIX YEARS
ESPECIALLY, PEOPLE WERE SAYING
THINGS THAT WERE PRACTICALLY
RIGHT OUT OF THE, THE, THIS, THIS
STUDY IN THE 1950S, WHEN
PEOPLE SAY THINGS LIKE, WELL,
UM, THERE’S A SCHOOL TEACHER IN
THIS ITALIAN VILLAGE WHO SAID:
UM, NO ONE REALLY RESPECTS ANYONE
TRYING TO GET AHEAD.
THERE'S A GREAT ENVY OF
EDUCATION AND WEALTH, AND UH,
EVERYONE DISTRUSTS ANYONE WHO’S
EVER BEEN ELECTED TO OFFICE
AND ON AND ON.
AND I, AND I, SO I PUT THIS IN AS A CHALLENGE
TO PEOPLE IN THE DEMOCRACIES TO SAY:
IF THIS SOUNDS LIKE YOU, THINK
ABOUT THAT.
UH, THINK ABOUT HOW, YOU KNOW, WHAT THAT MEANS.

Steve says, LET ME PICK UP ON
TWO WORDS THAT YOU'VE USED
ALREADY TODAY: NARCISSISM AND
NOSTALGIA.
AND TO THAT END, YOU COULD ARGUE
THAT FOUR DECADES OF NARCISSISM
AND NOSTALGIA HAVE US FOCUSED ON
RONALD REAGAN, FOR EXAMPLE, WHO
FAMOUSLY SAID: GOVERNMENT IS NOT
THE SOLUTION TO YOUR PROBLEM.
GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM.
AND THERE WAS ALSO MARGARET
THATCHER, HIS CONTEMPORARY FROM
THE UNITED KINGDOM, WHO SAID
THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS
SOCIETY.
THERE'S INDIVIDUAL MEN AND WOMEN
AND THERE ARE FAMILIES.

Text reads, tvo.org/theagenda, AgendaConnect@tvo.org.

Steve says, PEOPLE MUST LOOK AFTER
THEMSELVES FIRST.
AND LET ME EMERGE WITH THIS
QUESTION: IS, IS THIS DISTRUST OF
GOVERNMENT AND A MORE SORT OF
SELF-INTERESTED APPROACH TO
CITIZENSHIP, DO YOU THINK WE'RE
AT THE INEVITABLE END POINT OF
THAT WORLDVIEW FOUR DECADES
LATER?

Tom Nichols says, I, I DON'T THINK SO.
AND I, I CAN'T SPEAK TO THE THATCHER
QUOTE.
BUT THE, I'VE ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT THE
REAGAN QUOTE WAS OUT OF CONTEXT.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, BECAUSE TO UNDERSTAND, I MEAN,
I WAS A VOTER IN 1980.
AND TO UNDERSTAND UM, WHAT REAGAN
SAID IN 1980, YOU HAD TO HAVE
LIVED THROUGH THE '70S, UH, AND
THE NOTION THAT A LOT OF
AMERICANS HAD THAT GOVERNMENT
SIMPLY WAS, GETTING IN THE WAY OF
BETTER SOLUTIONS, UH, TO A LOT OF
SOCIAL PROBLEMS.
UM, YOU KNOW, THE REAGAN ADMINISTRATION
THOUGHT GOVERNMENT COULD DO A
LOT OF GOOD THINGS, JUST NOT
MOST OF THE THINGS THAT IT WAS DOING
BY 1980.
I ACTUALLY IDENTIFY THE 1970S
AND THE EARLY 1970S AS THE
STARTING POINT OF A LOT OF THIS
KIND OF CULTURAL ROT.
UM, REMEMBER, THE '70s WERE THE,
FAMOUSLY DUBBED THE ME DECADE.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, UH, AND THAT UM, ONCE WE CAME OUT OF A,
SORT OF PERMANENT YOUTH CULTURE
AFTER THE '60S AND WE
MONETIZED IT, CAUSE THIS
IS, IN A WAY THE BOOK IS A
CRITIQUE OF CAPITALISM AS WELL.
ONCE WE CONSUMERIZED EVERYTHING,
UM, WE WERE ALREADY ON THE PATH TO, TO
RUIN.

Tom’s book is displayed beside him in a split screen.

Tom Nichols says, UH, YEAH, I, I THINK, YOU KNOW,
THERE'S NO ARGUING
THAT, THAT CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT, UH,
DEFINITELY, HAD AN IMPACT ON THE
NOTION OF, YOU KNOW, SELF RELIANCE AND UH, LESS
INVOLVEMENT UH, WITH GOVERNMENT, BUT
I, I STILL THINK THAT THE ORIGINAL
SIN HERE IS THE PERMANENT
INSTITUTIONALIZING OF A
CONSUMERIST, YOUTH-ORIENTED
CULTURE THAT ENCOURAGED US TO
FOLLOW OUR EVERY WHIM, TO NEVER
GET OLDER, TO NEVER GROW UP, TO
NEVER BE RESPONSIBLE.
AND I THINK THAT REALLY BEGINS
IN, IN THE EARLY 1970S.
UH, AND THEN ACCELERATES ACTUALLY
AFTER THE END OF THE COLD WAR.
WHEN WE JUST LOSE ANY SENSE OF
SERIOUSNESS ABOUT ANYTHING, I
MEAN, IN SOME WAYS, IF I'M
NOSTALGIC, UH, I'M ALMOST NOSTALGIC
FOR THE 1980S BECAUSE IT FEELS
LIKE WE TOOK THINGS, INCLUDING
POLITICS, A LOT MORE SERIOUSLY
THAN WE DID AFTER UH, 1990.

Steve says, WELL LET ME FOLLOW UP
WITH THIS DELICIOUS QUOTE FROM
YOUR BOOK.
YOU SAY: "WE CAN NOW GET FROM
HELLO TO I HATE YOU FASTER AND
AT A GREATER DISTANCE THAN ANY
GENERATION OF HUMANS WHO HAVE
EVER LIVED."

Tom grins.

Steve says, UH, HOW DELIGHTED ARE YOU WITH WHAT
SOCIAL MEDIA HAVE DONE TO US?

Tom Nichols says, YOU KNOW, IT'S A HARD
QUESTION TO ANSWER BECAUSE I'M
PART OF THE PROBLEM.
UH, YOU KNOW, I'M A TECHNOLOGICAL
OPTIMIST.
I CAME OF AGE WHEN THE INTERNET
DID.
UM, I'M A, I’M KIND OF A COMPUTER NERD
MYSELF.

Text reads, connectedness equals chaos.

Tom Nichols says, UH, BUT, SOCIAL MEDIA HAS BEEN DEEPLY
DESTRUCTIVE IN THE WAY THAT WE
AS PEOPLE HAVE USED IT.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, AGAIN, THIS IS, THIS IS A PROBLEM THAT
REQUIRES US TO LOOK IN THE
MIRROR, UM, AND PART OF THE PROBLEM
WITH SOCIAL MEDIA IS THAT YOU
ARE REALLY, MOSTLY REWARDED FOR
NEGATIVE INTERACTIONS, AND FOR A
LOT OF PEOPLE, SOCIAL MEDIA HAS
BECOME THE EQUIVALENT OF COMING
HOME AND KICKING THE DOG, UH, THAT
YOU JUST REACH OUT AND LASH OUT
AT OTHER HUMAN BEINGS BECAUSE IT
JUST MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT
YOUR DAY AND YOU DON'T REALLY
HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THE FACT
THAT YOU'RE HURTING OTHER
PEOPLE'S FEELINGS OR SAYING
TERRIBLE THINGS TO OTHER HUMAN
BEINGS.
UM, YOU KNOW,
AND I'VE BEEN GUILTY OF IT.
I GET SNIPPY WITH PEOPLE ON
SOCIAL MEDIA.
I HAVE A LARGE TWITTER ACCOUNT.
UM, BUT I’LL, BUT I THINK THIS IS WHERE IT
DOES DOVETAIL, UH, STEVE, YOU ASKED
ME AT THE BEGINNING OF OUR
DISCUSSION ABOUT THE DEATH OF
EXPERTISE.

Tom’s book is displayed beside him in a split screen.

Tom Nichols says, IT'S ALSO A SOURCE OF
ALTERNATIVE, I WON'T EVEN SAY
INFORMATION, OF ALTERNATIVE
VIEWS OF REALITY, LIKE RABBIT
HOLES THAT PEOPLE FALL INTO AND
BECOME, UM, COMPLETELY IRRATIONAL
ABOUT, AND SO YOU HAVE THIS
ONE-TWO PUNCH OF…

Text reads, Tom Nichols, @RadioFreeTom.

Tom Nichols says, …UM, AN
ENCOURAGEMENT TO BE OUR VERY
WORST SELVES ANONYMOUSLY FROM
BEHIND THE KEYBOARD AND BE JUST,
YOU KNOW,
HORRIBLE TO OTHER PEOPLE BUT
ALSO TO LIVE IN, IN WORLDS THAT
AREN'T REAL AND TO BELIEVE IN
THINGS THAT SIMPLY ARE NOT TRUE,
AND, AND AT SOME POINT, UH, IF KNOWLEDGE
AND VIRTUE, AS I QUOTE THE
FOUNDERS OF THE AMERICAN
REPUBLIC REPEATEDLY, JOHN ADAMS,
JAMES MADISON, OTHERS POINTED
OUT, KNOWLEDGE AND VIRTUE ARE
THE PILLARS OF A REPRESENTATIVE
DEMOCRACY.
AND IF WE LOSE BOTH OF THEM, WE
LOSE EVERYTHING.

Steve says, WE, WE ARE IN DANGER OF
LOSING THOSE RIGHT NOW.
I APPRECIATE YOUR DEEP CONCERN
ABOUT THAT.
I ALSO NOTE, AND YOU AND I ARE
ABOUT THE SAME AGE HERE, WE, WE
CERTAINLY NEVER GREW UP WITH
ANYTHING IN GOVERNMENT AKIN TO A
MINISTRY OF LONELINESS, WHICH
THEY HAVE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
RIGHT NOW.
THERE ARE JUST A LOT OF PEOPLE
OUT THERE WHO ARE FEELING ALONE
AND ATOMIZED AND THEY DON'T SEE
ANY PARTICULAR WAY OUT OF THAT
AS WELL.
AND I WONDER, AS YOU SORT OF ADD
IT ALL UP, DO YOU SEE A WAY OUT
OF ALL OF THIS FOR US?

Tom Nichols says, I, I HOPE THAT
SOME OF THAT WILL DISSIPATE WITH
THE END OF THE PANDEMIC, UH, BUT OF
COURSE THE UNCIVIC ATTITUDES, ARE,
THAT HAVE ESPECIALLY ARISEN IN
THE UNITED STATES DURING THE
PANDEMIC, UM, ARE KEEPING US LOCKED
IN THIS KIND OF EMPTY, LONELY
EXISTENCE BECAUSE UH, WE SIMPLY
CAN'T GET PAST IT.
I THINK AT THIS, AT THIS POINT TODAY WE’RE,
WE’RE OVER 700,000 DEATHS IN
THE UNITED STATES.
UM, BUT I THINK, AGAIN, PEOPLE HAVE
TO MAKE CHOICES.

Text reads, four decades of narcissism.

Tom Nichols says, THEY NEED TO STEP AWAY FROM
THEIR COMPUTERS.
THEY NEED TO TURN OFF THEIR
TELEVISION.

Text reads, connectedness equals choice.

Tom Nichols says, UM, YOU KNOW,
ARTHUR BROOKS AT THE UM, UH, AMERICAN
ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE, A FEW, NOW AT THE
ATLANTIC, UM, AND A FEW OTHER FOLKS
HAVE SAID SIMPLE THINGS LIKE:
TAKE A WALK.
UM, GO OUTSIDE.

Text reads, a road back.

Tom Nichols says, UH, AND IT SEEMS LIKE THIS REALLY
ANODYNE CONDESCENDING ADVICE,
BUT, UM, THAT IS IMPORTANT.
AND I THINK ONE WAY TO GET PAST
THIS: PEOPLE HAVE TO BECOME
OBSESSED WITH ISSUES AT THE
NATIONAL LEVEL, UM, PARTICULARLY
HERE IN THE UNITED STATES, AND
PAY ALMOST NO ATTENTION TO
ANYTHING HAPPENING AT THE LOCAL
LEVEL.
UM, ONE CURE FOR ALL OF THIS IS KNOW
WHAT'S GOING ON IN YOUR
COMMUNITY.
I, I WAS IN A STORE HERE IN RHODE
ISLAND THE OTHER DAY AND THERE
WERE LIKE SIX LOCAL NEWSPAPERS
FROM ALL THE TOWNS THAT SURROUND
ME.
AND IT WAS JUST SUCH A,
IT JUST WARMED MY HEART, YOU KNOW?
IF YOU REALLY WANTED TO KNOW
WHAT WAS GOING ON IN THE
COMMUNITIES ALONG THE SAKONNET
RIVER, THEY HAVE A NEWSPAPER AND
YOU SHOULD READ IT.
UM, BUT INSTEAD PEOPLE WANT TO GO
ONLINE AND SAY: I'M GOING TO
SOLVE, UM, YOU KNOW, RACIAL PROBLEMS
IN THE UNITED STATES.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, I'M GOING TO SOLVE THE DEFICIT.
I'M GOING TO SOLVE, UM, UH, YOU KNOW,
THESE GIGANTIC PROBLEMS OF
SOCIAL UNREST.
AND THAT IS, AGAIN, A
NARCISSISTIC, UM, SENSE OF HEROISM
THAT TELLS YOU THAT SIMPLY BEING
AN INVOLVED MEMBER OF YOUR
COMMUNITY IS BENEATH YOU OR NOT
ENOUGH FOR YOU SOMEHOW.
AND SO I, I WOULD APPEAL TO PEOPLE TO
SAY, YOU KNOW, GET AWAY FROM THIS CONSTANT,
UM, RUSH OF NARCISSISTIC
GRATIFICATION AND DO SOME OF THE
BORING THINGS.
I SPENT TWO AND A HALF, ALMOST
THREE YEARS WORKING IN STATE AND
LOCAL GOVERNMENT.
AND I CAN TELL YOU THAT'S WHERE
EVERYTHING GETS DONE.
BUT IT'S BORING.

Steve laughs.

Tom Nichols says, UM, YOU KNOW,
IT'S NOT AS MUCH FUN AS
WORKING IN, I WORKED IN THE U.S.
SENATE.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, IT'S NOT AS MUCH FUN AS WORKING
IN THE SENATE.
BUT IF YOU REALLY WANT TO FIGURE
OUT HOW THE POTHOLES GET FILLED
AND HOW YOUR GARBAGE GETS PICKED
UP, UM, THAT'S WHERE IT HAPPENS.
AND I, I THINK
THAT'S WHERE I THINK PEOPLE NEED
TO FOCUS AND THEN THE REST KIND OF
SOLVES ITSELF OVER TIME.

Steve says, YOUR KNOW, YOUR STORY
REMINDS ME OF, OF THE
FACT THAT CANADA
WAS ENGAGED IN TRYING
TO REPATRIOT IT'S
CONSTITUTION FROM THE
UNITED KINGDOM FOR
ABOUT 120 YEARS BEFORE
WE FINALLY DID IT.
AND, AND OH MY GOD YOU
WANT TO TALK ABOUT A
OBSESSIVE COTTAGE INDUSTRY FOR
SO MANY FOLKS
IT GOT TO THE POINT
WHERE SOMEBODY ONCE
SAID I BELIEVE IN THE
OPEN WINDOW THEORY OF
CONSTITUTIONAL UH, REINVIGORATION.
AND EVERYBODY, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
GUY SAID IT MEANS OPENING UP THE
WINDOW AND LOOKING OUT IT
AND THATS IT.
AND THAT'S NOT A BAD THING TO
REMEMBER FROM TIME TO TIME.

Tom nods.

Steve says, OPENING UP THE WINDOW,
LOOKING OUT IT, SEEING THE
BEAUTY OF THE WORLD AND
GIVING EVERYTHING ELSE
A REST FOR AWHILE.
I'D LIKE TO GIVE THE
LAST WORD, UM, TO YOUR DAD ON THIS
WHO GAVE QUITE A BRILLIANT
ANSWER, AS YOU'VE DESCRIBED IT
IN THE BOOK, WHEN YOU ASKED HIM
WHETHER HE WAS VOTING FOR BARACK
OBAMA OR MITT ROMNEY.
WHAT WAS HIS ANSWER?

Tom Nichols says, WELL, I HAVE TO SET THE STAGE
BY TELLING YOU THAT MY FATHER,
AN UH, INTELLIGENT AND WELL-INFORMED
BUT UNEDUCATED MAN OF THE
EARLY, BORN IN THE EARLY 20TH
CENTURY…

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, …UM, MY DAD HAD A LOT OF
PRETTY RETROGRADE POLITICAL
VIEWS, I MEAN,
HE WAS A BIGOT.
HE WAS A MISOGYNIST.
HE WAS, YOU KNOW, YOUR TYPICAL WHITE,
WORKING CLASS, BLUE COLLAR TO
GRAY COLLAR, UH, WORKER, UM, AND UH, HE WAS
ONE OF THE DEMOCRATS, HE WAS AN
FDR DEMOCRAT WHO LEFT THE
PARTY, THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
HERE IN AMERICA
AFTER '68 AND THEN BECAME A
NIXON VOTER AND A REAGAN VOTER
AND SO ON.
AND YET AT THE END OF HIS LIFE, UM,
HE WAS IN HIS 90S AND WE WERE
WATCHING UH, PRESIDENT OBAMA SPEAK,
AND NO MATTER WHAT MY FATHER'S
VIEWS ABOUT RACE OR ANYTHING
ELSE, HE NEVER SPOKE ILL, HE JUST,
HE WAS OLD-SCHOOL.
YOU DIDN'T SPEAK ILL OF THE
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
YOU JUST DIDN'T.
IT, IT WAS SOMETHING YOU DIDN'T DO.
AND I SAID, UH, I KNEW MY FATHER,
YOU KNOW, WAS REPUBLICAN, HE WAS
VOTING FOR ROMNEY AND I, I, WE WERE
FROM MASSACHUSETTS AND I SAID,
"DAD, I DON'T THINK IT'S GOING
TO HAPPEN.
I THINK, YOU KNOW, THE PRESIDENT’S GONNA
GET REELECTED."
AND MY FATHER JUST NODDED.
AND HE REALLY SURPRISED ME.
HE NEVER GOT THE CHANCE TO VOTE.
HE DIED JUST A FEW WEEKS BEFORE
THE ELECTION.

Text reads, Tom Nichols, author, “Our Own Worst Enemy.”

Tom Nichols says, BUT HE SAID, UM,
HE SAID, "THEY'RE BOTH GOOD
MEN.
WE'RE GOING TO BE FINE NO MATTER
WHO WINS."
AND IT REALLY STRUCK ME, AND I
START THE BOOK WITH THAT STORY
BECAUSE THAT'S WHERE I WANT US
TO GET BACK TO, WHERE WE CAN
LOOK AT EACH OTHER AND SAY,
"LISTEN, THESE ARE GOOD PEOPLE.
WE'RE GOING TO BE FINE, UH, NO MATTER
WINS."
AND, INSTEAD OF THIS, CATASTROPHIZING,
WHERE WE THINK EVERY ELECTION IS
THE END OF THE WORLD AND WE ARE
ON THE SIDE OF THE ANGELS AND LIGHT
AND THE PEOPLE ACROSS FROM US, YOU KNOW, ON
OUR STREET ARE, UM, YOU KNOW, THE
ARMY OF DARKNESS.
AND UH, UM, I THOUGHT IF MY FATHER COULD DO
IT, AFT, AFTER 94 YEARS OF POOR AND, AND
BIGOTED GUY AND ALL THE THINGS
MY FATHER WENT THROUGH, IF HE
COULD SIT THERE AND LOOK AT
BARACK OBAMA AND MITT ROMNEY AND
SAY, "THESE ARE BOTH GOOD MEN,
WE'RE GONNA BE FINE," UM, IF HE
COULD DO IT, ANY OF US COULD DO
IT.

Steve says, AMEN.
GREAT STORY.
"OUT OWN WORST ENEMY: THE
ASSAULT FROM WITHIN ON MODERN
DEMOCRACY" IS TOM NICHOLS'
LATEST.
WE'RE SO GRATEFUL, AS ALWAYS,
YOU FIND TIME FOR US HERE ON
TVO, TOM.
THANKS SO MUCH FOR JOINING US,
AS ALWAYS.

Tom Nichols says, THANKS FOR HAVING ME, STEVE.

Text reads, produced by Eric Bombicino, @ebomicino.

Tom’s book is displayed beside him in a split screen.

Watch: Are People the Problem with Democracy?