Thursday, May 19

‘America is not a perfect country’: David Rubenstein on Trump, Biden and the troubled history of a nation | Books

In your introduction to The American experiment, his new book of interviews with historians and cultural leaders, David Rubenstein identifies 13 “genes” that he said helped repel Donald Trump’s attack on American democracy. They range from access to the vote to the rule of law and freedom of expression, through immigration, diversity and equality.

The billionaire co-founder of the Carlyle Group has made many donations to strengthen the bones of American democracy, giving millions for monuments to Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln and for founding manuscripts.

But access to the vote is under attack in many Republican states and those who defend it could get a boost. Is it time for Rubenstein to invest in gene therapy?

He refuses to let himself be drawn.

“OK. That depends. Look, I get requests all the time. And I’m announcing something that will soon relate to doing more to educate people about the history of our country.

“The right to vote is something more challenging, finding the right organization and so on. Obviously, I am familiar with the issues, but have not decided what to do with that area. I don’t know if I have enough money to make a difference there. “

Rubenstein has enough money – $ 4.3 billion, according to Forbes – to make a difference in most places. A great opportunity presented itself in 2013, when he turned down the opportunity to buy a key part of the body politic, the Washington Post, and thus protect one of his 13 key genes, free speech. Jeff Bezos from Amazon bought it instead.

“Jeff knows the technology obviously better than I do,” says Rubenstein. “It has more resources. And the Post is in excellent shape today. I don’t think I could have done such a good job. So I’m sorry because I think it turned out to be a better deal than I thought. And I would have loved to own the Washington Post.

“I thought the interview with Don Graham [the publisher who sold the Post to Bezos] On The American Experiment he was really good, because he talked about what it means to be a journalist and the responsibilities that his family has. And I don’t know if in England that would have been true for a publisher. “

Therein lies a characteristic of any interview with Rubenstein. He is a prolific interviewer himself, not only at the Library of Congress and the New York Historical Society, for which many of the interviews were conducted in his new book, but also on Bloomberg TV. Questions are often returned to the questioner. In this case, I mumble something like “Murdoch, maybe not” and we move on.

We have spoken twice before, in the first two books of Rubenstein’s series on American history and ideals. Its topics are often opened. In the first interview, we discussed a revealing comment from former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said Donald Trump viewed foreign relations as a matter of economic influence. Shortly thereafter, Trump was accused of withholding military aid to Ukraine in search of political dirt.

In our second interview, Rubenstein spoke about his own experience as an assistant to a one-term president, Jimmy Carter. This time, we spoke in the middle of the Kabul airlift, Joe Biden’s rescue mission amid the rubble of America’s longest war, under heavy fire from opponents and the press. How does Rubenstein feel about comparisons of Biden and Carter, no less of Trump himself?

It points to both Biden’s staggering political longevity and Carter’s presidency reevaluations.

“Remember, Biden was the first senator to endorse Carter [in 1976]. They had a very close relationship.

“Carter struggled during his presidency with a lot of things that didn’t quite work out, but we can go back and see all the things that he did in four years. It’s dizzying when you think about it today. We are happy if we can pass an important bill in Congress in one year. And those days, we received bills left and right. And Carter, the papers criticized him, said we’re getting too many things done. But it did a lot.

“But for years he couldn’t project the image he wanted, of strong leadership. And I think the inability to get the hostages out [of Iran] it was fatal in his re-election “.

Rubenstein has previously said that much of Trump’s place in history would hinge on his re-election, so it was too early to judge. Regardless of what Trump said about voter fraud, dangerous lies that Rubenstein deplores on the page, he was not re-elected. Is Rubenstein willing to judge now?

He says he has read all of Trump’s books, including a flood this summer, and clearly, “We can judge his presidency.” It is clear from his book and from our conversation that Rubenstein is dismayed.

“But it is not clear that this will be his only presidency. It’s unclear whether or not he will run again … I really don’t think anyone who is close to Trump, and I wouldn’t say I’m close to him, really still knows what they want to do. I don’t think he’s going to say what he’s going to do until the last moment. That’s my guess. “

Until now, Zhou Enlai, the Chinese prime minister of the late 20th century, when asked about the impact of the French revolution, supposedly He said it was too early to tell.

The American Revolution occurred in 1776, 13 years before the French. For Rubenstein, it’s not too early to tell readers much about that story. The American Experiment is another exuberant primer on history and civics, historians from Jill Lepore to Henry Louis Gates and cultural stars from Billie Jean King to Wynton Marsalis being questioned by a man who reads a lot and really knows what he’s doing.

I ask a question on a hypothesis: if the United States missed an opportunity when it did not follow Thomas Jefferson’s line of thinking about how the constitution could be revised every 20 years, so that no generation can be held hostage to another.

“Well, I have also thought about this. When we had the constitutional convention, you had, you know, essentially all white Christian men who own property. What would a convention look like today, if we had a new constitutional convention? Who would the people be there?

“Well, obviously they wouldn’t all be white men, or Christians, or property owners. It would be different, diverse and what would they come up with? What would be different? Who would the people be if 50 people were selected to participate in a constitutional convention? “

Rubenstein, far right, meets Kennedy Center Honors winners including Earth, Wind & Fire, Linda Ronstadt and Big Bird at the State Department in December 2019.
Rubenstein, far right, meets Kennedy Center Honors winners including Earth, Wind & Fire, Linda Ronstadt and Big Bird at the State Department in December 2019. Photograph: Ron Sachs / POOL / EPA

Some of them are likely to have been interviewed by Rubenstein, who mixes with the greats and the good. In his new book, the list is noticeably more diverse, in response, he confirms, to the criticisms of his first book. They all see their 13 key genes as challenges.

Trump’s lies about voter fraud and the Jan.6 assault on the Capitol are there and if other existential threats (the pandemic, the climate crisis, the rise of big technology, Black Lives Matter) are not directly addressed, that is partly a matter of what will be soon. counting and partly a matter of space. A conversation with John Barry, author of The big flu, a pivotal account of the 1918 pandemic, may appear in a future volume.

“There is one thing you know for sure,” says Rubenstein. “If the books sell, you can probably do a sequel. If they don’t sell, there is no interest in a sequel. Then we will see how this one sells.

“The main point I really want to get across is that the United States is not a perfect country. No country is. We have the correct principles and we have been striving to fulfill them. And it’s been a struggle for a while.

“In the end, I dedicate the book to the public servants who made it possible for us to preserve our democracy. [under attack from Trump]. I think, for example, if all the judges had gone the wrong way, we would be in a different situation today.

“I think we have a lot of great people who were determined to make sure that we lived up to these principles.”

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