Bob recently appeared on Craig Roberts’ show Life!Line to discuss the historical underpinnings of the current vitriol in the American political scene.

Are We Becoming Less Civil as a Country?

What Really Causes Political Anger? Partisan Divisions, or the Centralization of Power?

Listen (starts at 23:00):

Read the Transcript:

A Theory for the Lack of Civility in America

Ted Cruz: “ I disagree with them on that.”

Donald Trump: “You are the single biggest liar. You are worse than Jeb Bush. You are the single biggest liar. Let me just tell you. This guy lied about Ben Carson when he took the votes away from Ben Carson in Iowa and he just continued. This guy will say anything. Nasty guy. Now I know why he doesn’t have one endorsement from any of his colleagues.”

Craig Roberts: That was a scant two years ago. They went from a scrappin’ and a fightin’ into a-huggin’ and a-kissin’. It’s amazing how two years in a midterm election will change hearts and minds, at least as they look toward the ballot box. There has been a shift going on slowly and steadily within American politics — within the body politic — towards vitriol, angst, and anger.

It seems like we have shifted from asking who has the best plan or experience to who can spew the most vitriol? Let’s take a look at this shift and ask whether or not it’s sustainable. Is there going to be a day when the voters wake up are tired of this, and you are kicked off and kicked out if you are so nasty?

Joining me now is nationally-syndicated talk show host and best-selling author Bob Zadek. He hosts the Bob Zadek Show, heard on Sunday mornings here in the Bay Area at 8 am on AM 860 — The Answer. Bob has got a new book coming out shortly too. We will talk about that during our conversation. Bob, it is always great to have you on the program.

Bob Zadek: Thanks for having me.

Craig Roberts: What do you think about this? There are moments when we see this kind of cat-fight going on and there is this give and take of who has the better comeback or the greater insult, and we are rooting and cheering, but you know, after a while I am wondering whether or not this is ultimately going to wear on voters, where we are going to begin waking up to the notion that while it might make for an entertaining political debate, this kind of fight doesn’t lead to creating very good statesmen.

Bob Zadek: Craig, you seem to be talking about a matter of political or campaigning style. I don’t really have strong opinions on the style a candidate adopts. Candidates have to learn to do one thing, which is they have to appear not to be forced. They have to campaign in a way that is true to their personality, their temperament and their intellect, so that they don’t appear inauthentic; sometimes, the style that they bring to the table and what they have to offer is the style of Donald Trump. Other times it’s the style of Ronald Reagan. Generally, in a very broad sense, perhaps they have more of the same worldview (although there are profound differences), but in terms of style, Trump and Reagan are night and day. Reagan was likable and funny. He was never a bully except when it came to Gorbachev.

Jimmy Carter was true to himself. Bill Clinton was true to himself. When you are authentic, you have the best shot at winning. If the public likes what you’re selling that’s good. So I am not bogged down or concerned. I’m a little disturbed to see Trump act as as if he was still a TV personality. But I don’t get too bogged down and worried about Trump’s style other than that I am personally embarrassed.

Reagan was likable and funny. He was never a bully except when it came to Gorbachev.

What is getting more attention is the apparent loss of civility within the entire country. The Democrats as a group hate the Republicans as a group. The blue states hate the red states. The urban hates the rural. Everybody hates everybody. And that is what columnists and commentators are worrying about. It appears to those commentators that we are far less civil than we used to be. I take issue with that. I say that is not true at all. We can get into the data backing that up, but I think the big picture is whether we have lost civility in the body politic or in the country as a whole? And what does that portend going forward? Most importantly, what is the cause of it, and what is the solution? Those last two questions are the most interesting of all.

Craig Roberts: It goes to, in many respects, the heart of our democracy, or what it means to have a democracy. In some respects, the sound clip that I played a moment ago is more symptomatic of this growing degree of incivility that takes place — not only on the debate stage.

Let’s face it, as we have listened to the talking heads or maybe to the people at the water cooler at work, or maybe our conversation over the dinner table concerning this midterm election, there seems to be this shift taking place to be less kind. We used to be able to agree to disagree and now it seems as if it is all about the disagreement.

Is that accurate?

Bob Zadek: I am not sure it is, Craig. People often comment that the good old days were better, that there was more civility. Tip O’Neill got along with his counterpart and did deals, and there was a lot more cooperation — and there was within the Senate and perhaps within the House. But in the country as a whole, we have had incredibly brutal campaigns. Far and away the nastiest political campaign in our history was the first one.

That was the campaign of 1800 — Jefferson versus Adams for the presidency. That was, by any objective measure, the most bitter, the most insulting, the most no-holds-barred campaign we have ever seen as a country. And that was in 1800. The participants were the founders of our country. So I am not so sure that we have much to say for the good old days.

I think we have always had “us versus them.” There have always been factions in our country, there always will be. The factions are not necessarily unhealthy. Different people have different points of view and they tend to group together. They live together, they hang out together, they read the same papers. That’s natural. And to imagine a country of open-minded people without any views and who are just there to be persuaded, well we never had it and never will.

Craig Roberts: But for the longest time, you could walk into a room and if somebody declared themselves a Democrat or a Republican or vice versa, you know, there might be a little bit of a poking and teasing and then you moved on. Today, it seems that there is an ever increasing degree at which people get very vocal — very angry. From zero to 100 on the emotional meter scale at virtually a snap — there just seems to be a degree of nastiness. I see what you are suggesting, that historically democracy is not always neat. In fact, a lot of democracy has had blood all around it and yet does it have to be as nasty as it appears to be, at least in some corners today?

Federalism and Voting with Your Feet

Bob Zadek: Here is a theory. Obviously, I don’t even suggest that I know the answer, but I have thought about it a lot and I have a theory to throw out there in the pool for discussion along with everybody else’s theory. The one constant has been the following: More and more power has devolved from the states to Washington. That fact is indisputable. That fact is contrary to the principles on which our country was founded. Now, what do the two things have in common? Why do I mentioned that in a discussion of civility? Because if the federal government didn’t have so much power over all of us, then even if the other party was in power, as the Republicans are in power now — power being an ugly word — it wouldn’t matter that much because no matter who was in power, they couldn’t do that many bad things to you.

Once the other guy gets power, you are forced to live in a system you will abhor. What would be a different approach was if the power resided where it belonged in the states because then, if you found yourself living in California and you abhorred the politics, you abhorred the nanny state you abhorred high taxes, you abhorred wealth transfers. You couldn’t stand any of that. You would move to Texas. It’s a big deal, but not a huge deal.

Compare that to now, when the Republicans are in power and you are a Democrat, you are toast. Your choice is move to Canada. This is a far more profound and significant decision than moving to Austin, Texas from California. So what happens is that the stakes in who is in power become so much greater that if your team loses and the other guy gets into power, your life is profoundly different.

So, if the states had the power, no matter who was in control in your state, you would have autonomy over yourself. You move and you vote with your feet. States that find themselves losing population like California and New York because of bad policies would catch on. So I say that the difference between then and now is the fact that, by putting all the power in Washington and not in the states, half of the people in the country end up with no choice if they don’t like what’s going on.

“If the states had the power, no matter who was in control in your state, you would have autonomy over yourself.”

Craig Roberts: There is nothing scientific to this poll, but I’ve talked to listeners on this program from a variety of backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses and when the question comes up about the level of anger or angst at either Washington, DC or Sacramento, and if you pose to them a simple question — if you could burn down either capital to make a point, which would it be? Almost without exception, people say Washington DC.

We see more and more people that say, I feel as if things are so out of control, and there is so much of a shift from the state level to the federal level; there is so much more centralization of power that people feel as if moving to another state is not sufficient and they need to surrender their citizenship and move to another country. And that is ultimately troubling. I want to pick up that notion when we come back after the break and also have Bob give us some insights into this shift that we’re seeing. In the early days, the Founding Fathers didn’t see it this way.

In fact, I’ve often noted how it is ironic that while the Soviet Union ultimately collapsed because of the concentration of all the power at the federal level in Moscow, and the United States has not paid any attention to that. In fact, we have been heading in that exact same direction with the centralization of power. This is creating some serious issues. Maybe this explains this uptick in incivility amongst us Americans.

The “Balkanization” of America and “Laboratories of Democracy”

Craig Roberts: One of the things that is unique about our form of government is the notion from the founding fathers that power would flow not from the top down, but rather from the bottom up. Neither the state nor the Federal government could become too powerful. And yet, as you’re suggesting, what has happened here at the federal level is the usurping more power and authority from the states. How is this happening?

Bob Zadek: Well, it happened compliments of the political system’s evolution and some unfortunate Constitutional amendments, along with some really unfortunate Supreme Court cases along the way. That is how it happened. It happened over a couple of hundred years through the political process. Many commentators worry about the Balkanization of America. All of the urban East Coasters live in urban enclaves. Republicans tend to live in rural areas, and people live amongst and read people who think the same way. If you are conservative, you watch conservative media. If you are progressive, you watched progressive media, you never get to hear the other point of view. Nobody listens to the other side.

Now, there are a lot of worries and angst about that. That doesn’t trouble me one tiny bit. If people chose to live with other people like them — if Jews chose to live in the primarily Jewish neighborhood and blacks and Asians and Polish and white people chose to live in an area with others who are like them, I couldn’t care less — that’s neither healthy nor is it unhealthy. It’s just a choice.

Now, the problem is when some people can force their will on other people. When Washington and the party in control have so much power, the minority or the then-voting majority, can force their will upon other people. That is where the sparks start to fly. I am not troubled by Balkanization so long as it doesn’t affect me. Justice Brandeis was a Supreme Court justice in the early 20th century, and he is the source of a very famous quotation. In his language, states were “laboratories of Democracy.”

Once you take away choices, then people get angry, and sometimes they get violent, because a different lifestyle is being forced upon them. It is the use of force that is dangerous, and where you don’t have an option of moving to another state, that promotes anger.

He said, “A state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory, and try novel and social economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

In other words, I love the fact that California is profoundly progressive as his New York. I love that Texas is conservative. We get a chance to experiment with different political viewpoints. New York is crazy and California is crazy. Well, if I don’t like it enough, I can leave, and therefore, I don’t care that much because I am living here by choice, not by compulsion, not because I don’t have other choices. Once you take away choices, then people get angry, and sometimes they get violent, because a different lifestyle is being forced upon them. It is the use of force that is dangerous, and where you don’t have an option of moving to another state, that promotes anger. I do not object to Balkanization. I don’t care if a progressive never read a conservative newspaper. I don’t aspire to change a progressive into a conservative. I just aspire that the progressive can’t impose their progressive views on me. As long as they are progressive by themselves with their own crowd, I couldn’t care less.

Craig Roberts: Does it trouble you, as I suggested before the break, that we have seen this shift where if a state had certain leanings, say in terms of tax policy, people would say, “Okay, I don’t like it here, but I’ve got 49 other choices, so I can make and still maintain my citizenship, I can still remain an American and fully be integrated into the American experience and the American culture.” Now, we are seeing an increasing level of people that say that this top-down power style that has come in, as you suggest, that people want to leave the country? Do you find this troubling?

Bob Zadek: I find it troubling that the country has removed the choice of lifestyle. That is not a real choice. Not having a choice is not having freedom. If we have fifty states with different points of view or political philosophies, I would not have much respect for those people who voted progressively in California or New York. But, if there was a time to be all-American, like a war, and you have soldiers from New York fighting alongside soldiers from Iowa, they would not be angry at each other. They might not understand each other’s politics, but there wouldn’t be any hatred because the progressive guy from New York is not imposing her will or his will on the conservative from Iowa, so it’s live and let live.

Having power in the states gives people freedom and choice. I don’t aspire to make people be nicer. I hope they would be, but I don’t want to force it upon them. If they want to live a certain lifestyle, just leave me out of it. Let me have a choice, and I will be perfectly content. What happens when more power solidifies in Washington, there is a profound erosion of freedom, and when people feel their freedom disappearing, they are powerless and this brings out the worst in them.

Craig Roberts: Undoubtedly so, and certainly the worst in many of our candidates as we suggested at the beginning of our conversation here today. Bob has got a new book coming out next week on the topic of Federalism to give us a little deeper historical understanding as to what was the founding fathers original view here. In their wisdom, did they see this fight coming? Well, certainly they knew the danger of the the top-down authoritarian rule under a monarchy. They wanted to avoid that. They wanted to make sure that there was empowerment at the people level and of course that begins first with states and ensuring that there is enough balance of power so that neither the state nor the federal can take too much of it. Sadly, of course, that balance of power has been tipped pretty significantly.

We’re going to get Bob back on the program to talk about the new book the minute it’s ready to be released, and again, I want to invite you to check out his program. If you are looking for an intelligent alternative to a lot of the talking head nonsense on Sunday mornings — they are all talking a mile a minute and nobody’s saying anything — Bob brings on insightful guests that understand much of the historical context behind the everyday news to help us see how far, in many respects, we have drifted from the vision of the Founding Fathers, and why it is critical that we as Americans sit down and have a serious dialogue about this while our Republic can still be saved. I know that sounds like strong words and you know that I choose those words intentionally.

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