By now it is clear, the Red Wave election-denying candidates had hoped to ride left most still waiting on the beach. Those who questioned the outcome of the 2020 election lost key midterm races, which seemed to calm the nerves of many of those fearful as to where the Republic itself was headed. But as the parties begin to prepare for their respective presidential runs, a bigger question looms; one that has taken its cues from President Biden himself. Shortly after the January 6th attacks on the capitol — which were prompted by unfounded messaging about the election’s illegitimacy — Biden sought to convey the severity of what had just happened. “The insurrection was an existential crisis — a test of whether our democracy could survive,” he said. Now, on the heels of the midterms, many not only openly wonder whether that democracy crisis is over, but also question if the words Biden chose were overblown in the first place. It is in that context, and as the 2024 elections come into focus, that we debate this question: Was January 6 an existential threat to American democracy?

On December 15th, Andrew Keen, Author, and Host of the “How to Fix Democracy” podcast, squares off against Election Strategist, Managing Partner at CAE Strategies, and Vice President of the Fair Elections Center, Rebekah Caruthers, as part of the “No Laughing Matter” series at the Comedy Cellar at the Village Underground in New York. The podcast release date will be January 6, 2023.

  • 00:00:00

    [music playing]

    [applause]

    John Donvan:

    Hi, everybody, and welcome to Intelligence Squared and hello to our audience here at the Comedy Cellar in New York City where we are putting on a debate as part of our No Laughing Matter series. The question we're taking on was January 6 an existential threat to democracy. You know, six months after the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 of 2021, President Biden put out a statement in which he himself referred to that as a moment that posed an existential threat to our democracy. But in the same statement, he said, our democracy prevailed. And what we're going to be looking at is which of those two things are those in tension with one another, if it was under threat, and it prevailed? Is that because it was strong? Or was it always fragile, and it was in near miss? That's what we're going to be debating with this question was January 6 an existential threat to democracy.

  • 00:00:59

    But we would like to know where you are our audience here at the Comedy Cellar. On the question itself, how you would answer it before you've heard the arguments. So, I'd like to do this very unscientifically, using the applause meter. So, to those of you who would say yes to the question, was democracy threatened by January 6 existentially. If you believe the answer is yes. Could you please applaud?

    [applause]

    And if your answer to that question would be no, we'd like to hear your applause.

    [applause]

    And if you're undecided on it, could we hear your applause?

    [applause]

    Okay. All right. So, thank you for that. And now what I'd like to do is have you meet our debaters arguing yes to the question that January 6 was an existential threat to democracy is Election Strategist Managing Partner at CAE Strategies, and Vice President of the Fair Elections Center, Rebekah Caruthers.

    [applause]

  • 00:02:00

    And arguing no, your opponent to make the argument that January 6 was not an existential threat to democracy. Here is author and entrepreneur, and podcast host of How to Fix Democracy, Andrew Keen.

    [applause]

    So, Andrew and Rebekah you both come at this topic, with different expertise, but both very, very interested in the thing that we're debating. Andrew, you're a researcher of global democracy. And Rebekah, you work as a political consultant, and strategist and a champion for fair voting. I want to ask you very briefly, how this debate crosses paths with what you do professionally. So, Rebekah, how about you go first.

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    So, professionally, I do a lot of pro-democracy work, because I believe that if you believe in democracy, you should do things to strengthen democracy, and to actually make sure that American democracy is actually that beacon on the hill.

  • 00:03:08

    John Donvan:

    Thank you, Rebekah. And Andrew, the same question to you. Where does it cross paths with what you do?

    Andrew Keen:

    Well, I have a podcast called Keen On which I interview a lot of writers, historians, journalists who write about contemporary issues. And I'm also, the host of a show called How to Fix Democracy. In the next couple of years, we're focusing on American democracy between 1924 and 2024. So, I deal with it on a daily basis with these various broadcast shows.

    John Donvan:

    All right, it's great to have that perspective on what you both do. And it gives a little hint, I think of where you're going to be going with your opening arguments. But I'd like to go to those arguments now. We're going to give each of you about four minutes to tell us what -- why you're taking the position that you're taking. Rebekah, you're up first, again, you answered yes to the question was January 6 an existential threat to our democracy? Tell us why.

  • 00:04:00

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    So, when we look at January 6 is it is unfortunate that some people deal with January 6 the way we did in the ‘90s with environmental justice, when we thought of at that time global warming. And I just to let you know something about me, I'm from Omaha, Nebraska. I'm sure there's a lot of questions. Well, how is a black girl from Omaha, Nebraska on both sides of the family. I promise if you invite me back for Juneteenth, I'll tell you the full story. But in the ‘90s, it was very snarky in Nebraska, well, if there is global, if there is global warming, then why do we have cold winters, where people didn't understand that climate change was something bigger, right?

  • 00:04:42

    And so, when we think about January 6 and the outcome of January 6 and we view January 6 as a permission structure to openly undo democracy, we start to see how January 6 was an existential threat to democracy, especially when we look at what happened immediately afterwards, in 2021, and state legislatures all across the country, how over 41 state legislatures introduced all manners of voter suppression legislation to actually make it harder for people to vote, and to make it harder for specific people in this country to vote who lawfully and legally should have been able to vote. So, that's the intellectual argument. But let's also, talk about the emotional argument. The first shot that was fired wasn't January 6, but it was at Charlottesville. And the whole idea about Charlottesville is who gets to be an American in the 21st century, I would even argue that this tension, this argument goes back to some of those founding arguments at the beginning and the foundation of this country.

  • 00:06:00

    But it’s a tension that's still there, who gets to have their voice heard in our society. And so, specifically for me, on January 6 I was sitting on my couch, because as D.C. we were still in a lockdown, with a pandemic, doing work remotely. And I started to get texts from people. Hey, are you okay? I'm like, what are you talking about? They knew at that time that I live kind of close to the Capitol, I go look out my front window, and I can actually see the dome of the Capitol. I started to get texts from my friends, checking, hey, are you okay? Because I used to work on the hill and spent a lot of time on the hill, I had family and friends across the country who thought I was inside the Capitol. So, I start texting my friends who are inside the Capitol, and not hearing from them for hours. But then when I heard from them, hey, I'm in lockdown in my members office; we’re barricaded in doors.

  • 00:06:58

    And so, to think about all the people who want to serve our country through public policy, working in Capitol Hill, and now they're literally wondering if they're going to make it home alive that day. Yeah, that's a threat. The third point, just the physical point, it literally was an attack on our democracy. And it was attack on the symbol of the American democracy. And so, I think all those things combined, I hope we can have a really great and robust discussion tonight, and just talk through it through those frames. So, once again, thank you so much for being here today. Thank you all so much to Intelligence Squared for having us. I'm so excited to debate Andrew tonight.

    [applause]

    John Donvan:

    Thank you very much, Rebekah Caruthers. And so, Andrew, the floor is now yours. Your answer again to the question was January 6 an existential threat to America's democracy.

    Andrew Keen:

    So, remember that you're the audience, you're deciding, you’re our jury, you're determining whether or not it was an existential threat.

  • 00:08:02

    It means death of American democracy. Did January 6 reflect a moment when American democracy could have died? Was it a day to live like Pearl Harbor perhaps in infamy? Could it be in the one day in 200-300 years where American democracy would have died? That's the question here. That's the only issue that you should be thinking about not a threat but an existential threat. And I actually think that January 6 was, from American democracies point of view a good day because it reflected the failure of Trump and Trumpism. The important dates to think about are the 100 days before, 60 days before January 6. Donald Trump tried to in his own way, and one wonders whether he ever really tries to do anything but what he was trying to do after the election was orchestrate an unconstitutional coup.

  • 00:09:09

    He was trying to organize a movement within his own party and with his supporters to break American democracy. He was saying that the votes of the American people are wrong, and I'm going to change, I'm going to break American democracy. And in the 60 days between November 3 and January 6 he failed. He failed on many fronts in those 60 days, American democracy held up extremely well. The judiciary held up. The Supreme Court wouldn't hear the nonsense claims that him and his idiot followers and Rudy Giuliani brought to the courts. The administration held up pretty well there was a rebellion within Trump's administration. The grownups rebelled against Trump. I'm the Attorney General, General Miley, they all rebelled.

  • 00:10:03

    They supported American democracy. They supported the will of the American people. The military made it very clear that they wouldn't intervene in American politics in democracy, that they wouldn't do the dirty work of Donald Trump. And in those 60 days, the narrative was formed, was shaped, Trump failed. And what happened was that almost all the rats left the sinking, nasty ship, the Trump ship that was going down. A few were left the real crazies, Rudy Giuliani, of course, Michael Flynn, one or two others, but most of them gave up. They failed. They failed in the courts. They failed in every respect. Even Mitch McConnell was against Trump by the end.

  • 00:10:57

    So, what happened on January 6 January 6 was a riot, a jackery, a rebellion of an underclass, a tiny underclass of people who had no understanding of what was happening, the Oathkeepers and the others who were mythologized often in the media, they had no power, they had no coherence. This wasn't the seizing of the Winter Palace. This wasn't in any way an organized plot. It was chaos. It was violence. It was a manifestation of failure of defeat of Trump's ragged army. And what was Trump doing? Was he learning, managing things, playing chess, organizing the re-seizure of power? No, what was Trump doing? What he always did, watching television.

    [applause]

    So, in my view, and as you can tell, I'm no great fan of Trump or the January 6 insurrectionists.

  • 00:12:01

    It was a farce. It wasn't the Civil War. They were trying to recreate the Civil War. But as Mark's quoting, Hegel famously said, history repeats itself. First is tragedy as with the American Civil War, and secondly, with farce as of January 6.

    [music playing]

    John Donvan:

    Thank you, Andrew Keen. More from Intelligence Squared U.S. when we return.

    Welcome back to Intelligence Squared U.S., let's get back to our debate.

    [applause]

    So, listening to the opening arguments, I hear already that the two of you might be framing what we're talking about in somewhat non overlapping ways. What I think I hear you saying Rebekah is that January 6 is emblematic of something bigger that it was part of something bigger. And Andrew, I hear your framing being let's talk about what happened that day, and whether the actions that took place that day ever came close to destroying America's democracy.

  • 00:13:01

    So, the lack of overlap could be problematic, but except for the fact that I would like to each of you to spend a little bit of time assuming the other person's premise and debating it, and then switching to the other side. So, Rebekah, I would go to you first if Andrews framing and his argument that the events of that day demonstrated, in fact that the people who were moving into the Capitol who were taking over the Capitol, including the people who had plans and motivations in the larger number of people who apparently were just sort of swept along, and a little dumbfounded of where they found themselves. That plus the fact that the people around Trump did not cooperate with what he was trying to do on that day. Does he have a point about that day, they never came close, they never came close to doing with it to succeeding and what they wanted to do.

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    So, if we were to view it in just that narrow perspective of well, we still have a democracy.

  • 00:14:00

    So, January 6 wasn't a threat, if we viewed it from that limited point of view. Even with that framework, we just saw new text messages this week of all of the Conservative members who reached out to the Chief of Staff at the time to Donald Trump asking for pardons from the President. To get a presidential pardon that, requires an admission of guilt. They were asking for presidential pardons from their part in what led up to January 6 and their part in January 6. Second, when we look at how close the insurrectionists that violent mob was to then Vice President Pence with an intent to kill the Vice President of the United States, to stop the count, I believe that's a direct quote, stop the count.

  • 00:14:56

    And then third, when we even look at how I'll close, Ginni Thomas was and instrumental in this. And now that we know she's married to Supreme Court Justice, the only justice who decided that he wasn't going to vote with the rest of the court, and manners, and things that are coming in from the court in regards to January 6. So, even if we have the limited framework that Andrew suggest, even then there isn't just a failure of what happened in our country, but there is a foundational threat that impacts all three branches of government, and it spoils it. So, yes, I will still argue that that existential, that foundational threat is still there.

    John Donvan:

    Andrew, if Mike Pence had been murdered that day, would that have represented an existential threat to our democracy?

    Andrew Keen:
    It would have definitely represented an existential threat to Mike Pence.

    [laughter]

  • 00:16:00

    That was --

    John Donvan:

    Set you up.

    Andrew Keen:

    Set me up.

    John Donvan:

    Yeah.

    Andrew Keen:

    It's a hard one to answer. I mean, it would have been bad for Pence and his family, but I'm not sure it would have necessarily been that bad for American democracy. It would have been so absurd for the Proud Boys or whoever else was hanging this guy to be hanging one on their own team that people would have -- I am not sure if they'd have laughed, they might have laughed grimly, ironically. But it wouldn't -- what would have been the result? The military would have come in, probably Trump would have been imprisoned, the crisis that's kind of brewing, and I agree with what Rebekah is saying, the crisis that is reflected more broadly in American culture, perhaps or in political culture would have been compounded. But Congress wouldn't have shot, the elections wouldn't have been put off.

  • 00:17:00

    So, I think it would have created, it would have been like a 9/11 moment of enormous shock. But in terms of infrastructural change, in terms of undermining democracy, no.

    John Donvan:

    What would have constituted on that day a version of events that would satisfy an existential threat to American democracy?

    Andrew Keen:

    I think that's an easier question to answer. I mean, think of Lenin. Lenin was a political master. He was so focused on the seizure of power, he wanted to figure out where the weak spots in the Russian autocracy was, and how the Bolsheviks could go and seize power. Had Trump been Lenin, which is hard to imagine, of course, but had he had Lenin’s skill, his political understanding of power, had Trump plotted it rather than simply stood in front of a television like Chauncey Gardner, and just watched as he spent the last seems to spend his whole life doing?

  • 00:17:57

    Had he figured out, well, if I can get Miley on my side, if I can arm these guys, if we can, indeed, get Pelosi or Pence or somebody else as a hostage, if we have a strategy, rather than in a Trumpian manner just throw everything at the wall and hope that something sticks he's done that his whole life. But he's the opposite of Lenin. And maybe there'll be maybe DeSantis, or Peter Thiel is the Republican version of Lenin. But for the moment, he had no political plan. There was a lady here from Turkey. She's very familiar with military coups. She's very familiar with generals coming in and saying, okay, we're shutting the party down. No more elections, we're putting the politicians in jail. And this is what we're going to replace it with. But Trump hadn't thought about that. Bannon gives it some thought. I think Bannon is a much scarier character than Trump, but Trump was in charge on January 6 or perhaps more appropriately, he wasn't in charge, which is why it wasn't an existential threat.

  • 00:19:06

    John Donvan:

    Rebekah, do you want to respond? And if not, I have another question to go to.

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    Sure. You know, maybe being in New York is very apropos for this particular debate. You all are very familiar with Donald Trump. And I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice to undermine the intellect of Donald Trump. Just because he doesn't show up as a well-read Ivy League scholar doesn't mean that he lacks intelligence.

    Andrew Keen:

    He went to Wharton.

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    There's different forms of intelligence. And the thing about Donald Trump and his ability to get people on his side and to pathologically lead is something that's very dangerous to our country. But this biggest thing that I want to say, it wasn't just Mike Pence, the man or Nancy Pelosi, the woman that was targeted. It was constitutional officers of the United States who were targeted for assassination.

  • 00:20:04

    So, let's not undermine what actually happened that day and how if that actually had happened at that time, that disaster in American history that it would have been. But that's not to say that the attempted assassinations weren't a threat to American democracy.

    Andrew Keen:

    Yeah, let me add on. I'm not sure I answered your question, John, before on Pence. In all seriousness had Pence been killed by the crowd and had Trump had the ability to replace him, presumably, if he'd had been thinking it through, he would have replaced him with a vice president who would have gone along with the scheme of undermining the election and saying, okay, we're going to -- we're not going to count the Pennsylvania or the Arizona or the Florida and the Georgia delegations because their elections were corrupt. So, even in that sense, he hadn't really thought it through.

  • 00:20:02

    I'm not sure he even had a vice president lined up.

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    By Pence’s own words, when Secret Service tried to force him into the car and take him to locations unknown, Pence himself told the American public that he was scared of what was going to happen if he got into that car. And if he got into that car, there was going to be constitutional implications. So, let's not pretend that they're --

    John Donvan:

    So, he wasn't just talking about what happens to him, he was talking about?

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    The Constitution, the peaceful transition of power, but the historical -- it's understanding what was happening in that moment. And we can't just well, it didn't succeed on paper, so it wasn't a big deal. It was.

    [applause]

    John Donvan:

    I want to bring the question of intention to each of you to take on, but it has been said, I've seen the argument made that those who took part in the assault from those who are deeply organized to those who were sort of drawn along, in their minds they were not overthrowing democracy.

  • 00:22:11

    So convinced that they been that the election had been stolen, they thought that they were there to preserve democracy. And I want to know whether that element figures for either of you into the way that you argued this proposition.

    Andrew Keen:

    Well, I think you have to break down the people involved in the insurrection. I think there were a significant proportion of people who were, you know, in a Jeffersonian sense, I guess they have Jefferson famously said, every new generation requires some blood, and who believed the simply in the right to demonstrate and shout and scream and run around and perhaps even knock some doors and windows in and run into Congress. There were one or two figures, I think, amongst the demonstrators who had more evil, more murderous intent, but they were so incompetent. There was one guy who had run one of the groups who only had one eye.

  • 00:23:03

    He armed everyone, but then he forgot to show up himself. So, he was trying to organize it from a motel. It's a farce, it's a comedy. And I also, want to come back on a point, it's kind of ironic, in a way, Rebekah and I differ on Donald Trump, she sees him in a more -- I mean, you respect him more than I do.

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    I wouldn't say that I respect him in the classic sense of respect. I don't underestimate those who are a threat to my existence.

    [applause]

    Andrew Keen:

    But okay, so if he is such a smart guy --

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    Calculated, yes.

    Andrew Keen:

    If he is so calculating, why did he spend most of January 6 watching television? Why wasn't he organizing these people? Why wasn't he saying, do this, do that?

  • 00:23:59

    John Donvan:

    Well, I want to take that as a rhetorical question, because I want to move to the framework, Rebekah, that you've brought to this debate where you you're defining January 6 as an emblematic of a much larger movement going on, that has a past, and that continues, I think you would say, to have a present. So, make that -- what would be your challenge to Andrew on that basis to persuade him that that framing is actually highly relevant, critical and necessary?

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    Well, I would invite you to take a trip to a few states with me. So, let's just you know, take a quick trip right now. Let's go to the uppermost portion of Boise, Idaho right now, and how it's considered no man's land. When you go just east of Spokane and you do you know, like the little like chimney part of Idaho. Even law enforcement doesn't patrol that area anymore.

  • 00:24:51

    They've given up on it because it's a unholy mix of the KKK, the Proud Boys, the three percenters and all sorts of people who don't believe in central government, and who believe very strongly that there shouldn't be any authority over what they do, and it is their God given right to live how they want to live, and rule how they want to live. And it's also, included with that racial violence. I will also, say, let's go to Oregon, let's go outside the liberal Bastion that is Portland, and thus go into other parts of Oregon. Let's go to Kansas, where we have Proud Boys who got elected to office in the last year and a half. Let's look at a lot of the election deniers. So, while there were a lot of secretaries of state candidates who are election deniers that lost, there were many down ballot who won. There's a lot of new election administrators across the country, we can look at Michigan, who now feel like they have the right to nullify the election results.

  • 00:25:57

    And we now have this new thing called the independent state legislature theory. And we could go to North Carolina, we can look how the Proud Boys decided they were going to fire upon the power grid and actually create a blackout. That was just a test. So, let's just take a trip of what's happening across the country. I think that's very enlightening of what's going on and what the undercurrent is.

    John Donvan:

    So, that undercurrent in that dynamic I think you're arguing of January 6 in a sense, you're saying it is still January 6? And I want to take that to Andrew.

    Andrew Keen:

    I agree, absolutely, with Rebekah, there's no -- we're not arguing on this. It doesn't matter what January 6 you look at, whether it's 1957, 1967, 1977, 1987, you will find exactly what she's talking about. You will find racism, you will find hostility to democracy, you will find enormous amounts of violence and resentment against the central state, against authorities, against technocracy.

  • 00:27:09

    So, I don't disagree with that. But if that's the case, then every day in American history is an existential crisis of democracy, we could pick any date, doesn't even have to be January 6 it can be any day of the year in any year is a crisis. And you're right, perhaps American democracy is not as strong, is not as secure as most of us think. And I think in that sense, January 6 is an excellent wake up call to remind us Americans or Americans generally, and the rest of the world, to people in Germany and Turkey and Austria, that American democracy isn't as healthy. But we don't need January 6 for that.

    John Donvan:

    So, as we do have these competing framings of what the motion means I want to leave it to our audience, when you decide at the end which side you're on.

  • 00:28:01

    Also, which of our debaters makes the most persuasive argument for what that should mean, because Andrew is making the case that it was that day was relatively singular, and that it demonstrated the strength of American democracy because it was unsuccessful. And because as he cited, there were so many examples of institutions that stood by American democracy. And on the other hand, Rebekah saying it is an emblem of something that is continuing to go on that is pervasive and running deep. And that January 6 is more of a symbol. So, that assignment I hand to you when you make your decision at the end of the debate.

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    You know, I hear Andrew, what you're saying, of like, you know, every day there's threats, there's all sorts of isms and things that are part of the undercurrent. So, let me crystallize this for you. When I say that January 6 was a permission structure, I mean it.

  • 00:29:00

    These tensions have been here since the founding of this country, and it's kind of been baked in, right. But the permission structure that was different on January 6 is when the President of the United States is trying to openly undo democracy, regardless of what is going on and what's the undercurrent in the country, to now take the mask off. Some people might say they take their proverbial hood off. However, you want to describe it, that's what happened. There were mechanisms in government that should have been working that did not work, such as when Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser called the Department of Defense and said there is chaos on the streets. My force, the Metropolitan Police Force is overrun. We need assistance. When Nancy Pelosi calls the sergeant of arms and says hey, we need to call the White House because our Capitol Police is overwrought.

  • 00:30:03

    And when the President just ignored it, yes, he was watching TV. I guess he threw spaghetti at the wall or something and drank a coke and a overcooked steak with ketchup on it; gross. However, there were levers of government that was supposed to be working that he abdicated, that he walked away from, that he -- and we all saw the spoofs and outtakes of him trying to say, okay, people, you made your point, go home. We saw that took an hour just for him to tell people go home, stop climbing the walls of the Capitol, right? Stop trying to kill Mike Pence, don’t kill my vice president. Right? So, at that point, he abdicated his responsibilities, his constitutional responsibility to protect the country from threats within and threats outside of the country.

  • 00:31:02

    So, at that point, the permission structure that Donald Trump presented to all these people in this country who are in part of this undercurrent, that's anti-democratic.

    [music playing]

    John Donvan:

    I'm John Donvan. This is Intelligence Squared U.S. We'll hear more from our debaters right after this.

    Welcome back to Intelligence Squared U.S. I'm John Donvan. Let's get back to our debate. Andrew, I'll give you one minute to respond.

    [applause]

    Andrew Keen:

    Yeah, I mean, we were all watching. And of course, we will thinking the same thing -- what's happened to the military? I've been doing some reading on it and what's clear is that I don't actually agree, Rebekah, I think that even Trump's inner circle was shocked even Mark Meadows, who is about as bad as it gets.

  • 00:31:59

    Even he was shocked and was begging, demanding that he call off the rioters. So, I think on January 6 people's spots were revealed. And I think that the institutions, I mean, I think in particularly the military institution, Mark Miley, someone who really needs to be understood as being the core backbone of American democracy, the head of the generals Chief of Staff. So, I don't agree, I think that Trump, of course comes out of it looking dreadful, but most of the people around him don't.

    John Donvan:

    For the benefit of our listeners who may not be familiar with what you're alluding to, when you say permission structure. Take a moment to explain that.

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    Sure. So, permission structure in this case, is kind of like the intellectual device, the intellectual argument, the giving permission to those who are ready to erupt.

  • 00:32:55

    Those who already are disinterested in our system, those who are already looking for a reason or permission to now do what they've been preparing with all the guns and stuff that they have stored up for years. Now, this person is now giving them permission or authority to do so.

    John Donvan:

    It's a green light.

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    Yes, a green light.

    John Donvan:

    Okay, I'd like to go to audience questions. And our first questioner is Pete Dominick who is host of Stand Up with Pete.

    Pete Dominick:

    In one of the text messages that we found out from Talking Points Memo, we found out that Congressman Norm was his name. He said he begged the president to declare martial law. Of course he spelled it wrong. And a lot of -- we know that the insurrection whatever want to call it was planned for months by so many of the figures, and we know that they wanted him to declare martial law.

  • 00:33:57

    So, my question is for Andrew, based just on the fact that they literally wanted a military coup, how could it not be, according to your definition, which I learned tonight, an existential threat to American democracy?

    [applause]

    Andrew Keen:

    Well, let me ask the question back. You're very vague, Pete. That you talked about “they.” Who are you exactly.

    Pete Dominick:

    How dare you.

    Andrew Keen:

    In all seriousness. Who exactly are you talking about? You mentioned some congressman, you can't even remember his last name. That's exactly -- that's Trumpian in its promise, and it's vagueness, and it's a very dangerous assumption, because it's simply wrong. You're saying they planned; who planned exactly? And what exactly did they plan?

    John Donvan:

    Well, let him --

    Pete Dominick:

    Charlie --

    John Donvan:

    I really didn't want to have the two of you debate. But Pete --

    Pete Dominick:

    I think was well organized. I mean there were buses and buses, Charlie Kirk, and so many other organizations planned, funded and promoted everywhere the date, January 6, as if it was a festival and in fact, it was an attack.

  • 00:35:01

    John Donvan:

    Okay, now we are debating with a member of the audience. So, --

    Pete Dominick:

    I'll leave.

    John Donvan:

    -- I want to move on. Anybody -- oh, please step up to the mic, and we'd appreciate it if you tell us your name, if you're comfortable with that, even if it's just your first name.

    Male Speaker:

    Gil.

    John Donvan:

    Thanks, Gil.

    Male Speaker:

    Okay, suppose they --

    John Donvan:

    And Pete did a very bad example of how to ask a question. Pete did a very poor example.

    Male Speaker:

    I’m going to do a worse one. To Rebekah, suppose they killed Pelosi and a couple of Democrats, they hung him out, you know, right out there. And Trump's relationship with the military. I mean, he made fun of the all the generals, his relationship with the FBI. He didn't have a very good relationship with the FBI.

    John Donvan:

    So, what's your question?

    Male Speaker:

    So, who was going to come to his rescue?

    John Donvan:

    Where was this supposed to come from, the force that he would have needed?

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    Okay, so if the unthinkable would have happened, if a lot of Democratic leadership would have passed away, and also, specifically a constitutional officer was assassinated, what would have happened with the military have intervened, would the CIA intervene, would the FBI intervene --

  • 00:36:03

    Male Speaker:

    In Trump’s favor.

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    In Trump's favor, it would have been utter chaos. Because constitutionally, you have to think about who was supposed to intervene in that moment. And that moment, if we're going by the Constitution, then it should be the cabinet immediately voting, removing all of Trump’s duties and responsibilities as president and immediately removing that from him. But let's just play that out. That happens. Pence is still in some undisclosed location, really four or five stories below the Capitol, because that's where like this top-secret little place is where he was at, great. So, now they would have sworn him in, there would have been utter chaos. We now have Department of Defense trying to figure out if they can legally send troops into the streets of Washington, D.C., they have to now talk to the mayor to make sure she gives them permission to come into the city. Right. So, it would have been so moving -- so many moving parts.

  • 00:37:00

    And what would have happened are enemies from outside of the country, that would have been the perfect time to attack the United States or any of our installations. I don't know, Russia, China, North Korea.

    John Donvan:

    Okay. I want to go on to another question.

    Male Speaker:

    Hi, my name is Darin [spelled phonetically]. So, question for Andrew. What I would be curious about if were you debating this in 20th century, and right after a Beer Hall Putsch? Would you argue that Beer Hall Putsch was an existential threat to Germany at that time, like a year after?

    John Donvan:

    Bingo question. Thank you.

    Andrew Keen:

    How long has it taken John an hour to get to Hitler? It's quite -- I'm not arguing that American democracy is secure. I'm not arguing that at some point in the future, if there's another economic crisis, that stuff happens, that American democracy is guaranteed because January 6 failed. But it's not -- the Hitler connection is neither here nor there.

  • 00:37:59

    In 1923, as a historian, more reminders, there was no Wall Street crash, there was no collapse of the world economy. So, it's unimaginable to logically connect the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 with the rise of Nazism in 1933.

    John Donvan:

    Next question.

    Male Speaker:

    Jonathan Judge [spelled phonetically] here from Brooklyn. How does federalism fit into this knowing that the National Guard's from multiple states were sent down to D.C. to try to restore order and preserve due process on this constitutional ceremony? How does federalism fit into your arguments? And that's for both of you. And particularly, how did that fit in in the framer’s mindset about preserving democracy, knowing that things like this can happen?

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    It's normal for states to send and have people on alert when you have a transition of power.

  • 00:38:58

    What happens is like they can't enter into the city. They can't enter into the district unless there is now an official reason to enter into the city.

    John Donvan:

    Thank you. Next question. And if you can tell us your name, please.

    Female Speaker:
    My name is Tallinn [spelled phonetically]. And my question is, doesn't the question of existential threat ultimately hinge on whether or not Trump is held accountable for January 6 because --

    John Donvan:

    Okay, that's a good question mark.

    Female Speaker:

    -- because the people who have been convicted thus far are foot soldiers. He's the mastermind. So, if he gets away with it, is that a precedent that’s set? And isn't that what ultimately everything hinges on?

    John Donvan:

    I'm so glad you pushed back on me on that question. Thank you. Andrew, do you want to take that first and then?

    Andrew Keen:

    Yeah, it's a good question. I'm not necessarily in favor of dragging Trump back into court because I think it only creates what he wants, which is more attention. I think January 6 represents the end of Trumpism.

  • 00:39:57

    I think in historical terms, if we want to imagine the future, my guess is in 20 years, that will be the last paragraph in his political career, he won't run, or if he does run, he's going to get trounced. It was his last stunt; he failed. And I think that that's way more punishment than being dragged into court and being in the center of public attention, which is what he wants.

    John Donvan:

    Rebekah.

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    I think Andrew’s answer would have been great if he was a private citizen. Because he was actually the president of the United States, history is going to require for us to hold him accountable.

    Male Speaker:

    Hi, my name is David, and my question is for Andrew. In terms of the underlying movement that may pose a threat to democracy long term, how does January 6 work as a symbol for that movement and how you view it?

    Andrew Keen:

    Could you repeat the question? Sorry, I don't understand.

    Male Speaker:

    If there is a movement underlying which could pose a threat to American democracy, then what, if any, symbolism does January 6 hold for the people who are part of that movement?

  • 00:40:01

    Andrew Keen:

    That's a great question. So, Marjorie Taylor Greene said if she and Bannon had been arranging January 6, they would have been more effective, because they would have been significantly more bloodshed, she would have made sure -- and she was in all seriousness, this isn't a joke. And this is perhaps chilling, not about January 6 but about the future of American democracy, is that had she been running the show, she would have made sure that everyone who showed up had -- was armed and was prepared to use their weapons. So, I would think that one of the things it will teach future genuine insurrectionists, people who want to destroy American democracy, perhaps, like Greene or like Bannon, is that you got to be more organized, you got to be armed and you've got to have a strategy, you got to figure out okay, who are we going to kill? And where are we going to take our stand because otherwise, you're not going to destroy democracy.

  • 00:42:00

    You can't just go in, run around, shout a bit, carry a confederate flag and then expect democracy to just collapse.

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    I just want to point out that MTG literally stalks members of Congress who are also, targets on January 6 of folks who are marginalized people in our society who are now members of Congress, who they were actually maps found of actually this is their office, this is where you find them. And then even the security button was removed from one of the offices that makes sure that they couldn't contact the Capitol Police to let them know that there was a threat inside their office. So, let's just be careful that MTG isn't just some cartoonish character, but she is a menace.

    John Donvan:

    So, now we move on to our closing round. And our closing round is simply comprised of closing statements by each of our two debaters to summarize their points or potentially add to them to what they've said so far. Andrew, since Rebekah went first for the opening round, we're going to let you have the floor on this one.

  • 00:42:59

    So, once again, you're arguing no, January 6 was not an existential threat to American democracy.

    Andrew Keen:

    I think it was a very good question on the Munich Putsch, because it reflects the fact that we can't see around corners, we can't imagine the future. And who knows what's going to happen in 20 years, maybe January 6 will seem enormously significant. But at this point, it seems to me as if January 6 and 2021 reflects the strategic and intellectual and political bankruptcy of Trump and Trumpism. For 60 days, he tried to wreck American democracy, he tried to deny the legitimacy of the American electorate. And over those 60 days, those 10 weeks, he failed fundamentally, he failed on every front. He alienated almost everybody except for Rudy Giuliani.

  • 00:43:54

    So, one January 6 a few sort of ragtag Trumpists disorganized one night wannabe terrorists show up in Washington D.C. run around, have no idea of what they're doing, Trump behaving like the Chauncey Gardiner that he actually is, spent his time watching television. It was a fiasco, a farce, in every sense. He failed, Trumpism failed. He's never going to get reelected again. And I think from this moment, it doesn't represent an existential threat, but who knows in the future? The gentleman who asked the question about the Munich Putsch might well be right, who knows? Maybe there will indeed be an American Hitler, maybe a Marjorie Taylor Greene or a Steve Bannon will have learned from January 6 and will use it to their advantage in the future. It's a chilling idea, but at this point, it seems like a farce. At this point, it was a profound, shameful failure and at this point, it doesn't seem to me to represent an existential threat to American democracy.

  • 00:45:08

    John Donvan:

    Thank you, Andrew Keen.

    [applause]

    John Donvan:

    And Rebekah, you get the last word.

    Rebekah Caruthers:

    I can only imagine if Andrew was narrating the Civil War, he probably be sitting on top of I don't know, a meadowland¸ talking about wow, they really move slow. Does it really take that long to reload up a gat -- what? What are -- they don't have real guns? What's going on? Wow, they're here all day? And I get it. It might seem like a farce. But just like with the Civil War, it was a constitutional crisis that happened on January 6. Just like the Civil War, it was very emotional. It was brother against brother. It was families torn apart. Just like January 6 it was very emotional to turn on the TV and see a coup happening in America.

  • 00:46:01

    We're used to seeing coups happening around the world. We are used to seeing it in movies. But to actually see it happening on American soil was different, it definitely impacted the American psyche. But also, the physicality. There were a lot of lives lost that day. When I think about one of the fallen members of law enforcement, his mother was on the hill last week to accept recognition for her son's service. She walked past McCarthy, she walked past McConnell, because she saw that ever since January 6, they failed to hold the people accountable who are responsible for her son's death, who are responsible for the coup against the United States. And so, while it's so easy to laugh at the guy who had like the weird like, Viking hat, carting off the speaker's podium, there still was a threat.

  • 00:47:06

    It’s ongoing. It's not just embodied in Donald Trump. But now we have a whole generation of folks out there who think they have the right to do this and to repeat it. Wash, rinse, repeat. So, once again, thank you all so much, appreciate you all’s time and listening and your engagement, I hope we were able to have a meaningful discussion to really make you all think about whether or not American democracy is worth fighting for. Thank you.

    [applause]

    John Donvan:

    Thank you, Rebekah. And before I check in with you all one more time to see where you stand now that you've heard the arguments on the questions, I just want to say that this was a terrific conversation. And the two of you brought insight and intelligence and humor and facts to the debate that just took place, and it's what we aim for at Intelligence Squared.

  • 00:48:00

    We love that people would come out to listen to this and to take part in it and to listen closely and respectfully. But the real thing I want to say tonight to the two debaters here is you did this spectacularly well. So, thank you very, very much.

    [applause]

    So, now I'd like to ask you again your opinion by applause to see where you stand on the question, and I want to start with the undecided vote was January the 6 an existential threat to American democracy. Are -- those who are undecided please clap for us.

    [applause]

    Okay, so your numbers have definitely dwindled. You -- some of the people who are undecided have now made their decision for yes or no. Those who would say, yes, our democracy was threatened existentially by January 6, would you please applaud?

    [applause]

    And if you feel there was not an existential threat to our democracy on January 6, would you please applaud?

  • 00:49:00

    [applause]

    Okay, to my ear, there has not been a ton of movement, but that's entirely un-scientific. One other question I'd like to ask you whether you changed your mind or not. Did you hear an argument on the other side that actually gave you something to think about even if you were not fully convinced by it? Can you applaud if you are yes on that?

    [applause]

    All right. That's the question that tells us that we succeeded here in getting people to think so thank you so much for that. And again, I'm John Donvan. And we will see you next time.

    [applause]

    Thank you for tuning into this episode of Intelligence Squared made possible by a generous grant from the Laura and Gary Lauder venture philanthropy fund as a nonprofit. Our work to combat extreme polarization through civil and respectful debate is generously funded by listeners like you, The Rosenkranz Foundation and friends of Intelligence Squared.

  • 00:50:02

    Robert Rosencrantz is our chairman. Clea Connor is CEO, David Ariosto is head of editorial. Julia Melfi, Che O'Meara and Marlette Sandoval are our producers. Damon Whitmore is our video producer, and I'm your host, John Donvan. We'll see you next time.

    [end of transcript]

    This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. Please excuse any errors.

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From Both Debaters (2 RESOURCES)

Friday, November 4, 2022
Source: How to Fix Democracy
By Andrew Keen and Rebekah Caruthers
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
Source: Literary Hub
By Andrew Keen and Rebekah Caruthers
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Background (10 RESOURCES)

Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Source: The Atlantic
By Conor Friedersdorf
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Source: NPR
By Ryan Lucas and Carrie Johnson
Saturday, November 26, 2022
Source: The New York Times
By The Editorial Board
Thursday, June 30, 2022
Source: NPR
By A Martinez and Miles Parks
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Source: ACLU
By Xavier Persad and Rotimi Adeoye
Thursday, November 3, 2022
Source: The New York Times
By Michelle Goldberg
Thursday, November 10, 2022
Source: Southern Poverty Law Center
By Hannah Gais and Jason Wilson
Friday, November 25, 2022
Source: The New York Times
By Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer

Breakdown

BIGGEST SHIFT

Undecided
0 %
Undecided
Change in voter behavior
0% - Swung from the Side
0% - Remained Undecided
0% - Swung from the Side
ARGUING NO
0 %
ARGUING NO
Change in voter behavior
0% - Remained on the Side
0% - Swung from the Side
0% - Swung from Undecided
ARGUING YES
0 %
ARGUING YES
Change in voter behavior
0% - Swung from the Side
0% - Remained on the Side
0% - Swung from Undecided
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