DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. A few years back, we started hearing about a sinister, unseen force threatening American progress. It was the deep state, an unnamed group of officials within the U.S. government that would always use their leverage in the federal bureaucracy to oppose change, either because the deep staters were wedded to ill-advised policies of the past or because they sought to protect their own power, status, salary and pensions. The menace of the deep state was an idea particularly propagated by backers of President Donald Trump.
Our guest, David Rothkopf, says if there is a deep state, we should probably be thanking rather than condemning it. His new book recounts many instances during the Trump administration when veteran government officials quietly intervened to undermine some of Trump's most troubling orders and policy initiatives, not because they threatened the officials' personal interests, but because they were illegal, unworkable, immoral or against the country's interests. David Rothkopf is a former editor of Foreign Policy magazine, who worked on international trade policy in the Clinton administration. He's written several previous books. He's now a columnist for The Daily Beast and host of the podcast "Deep State Radio." His new book is "American Resistance: The Inside Story Of How The Deep State Saved The Nation."
David Rothkopf, welcome to FRESH AIR.
DAVID ROTHKOPF: It's a pleasure to be here.
DAVIES: You know, this idea of the deep state was popularized by Steve Bannon, among others, you know, the guy who was a big backer of Trump and then went into the White House for a period of time. I think it's fair to say that there's some resistance to change in all big organizations, and particularly in the government, maybe. But the notion of the deep state suggests something more, like this ongoing conspiracy, people who meet and plot to foil the agenda of the president or Cabinet secretary that they distrust. Is there any evidence of that, of a deep state structure or organization?
ROTHKOPF: No, no, quite the contrary. First of all, the popularization of the term really hit just as Donald Trump was beginning to run for president. And it was part of an effort by the Trump campaign, Steve Bannon, who you mentioned, to sell this idea that the government wasn't to be trusted, that you needed an outsider. You needed somebody who could break through Washington. And if I may, you know, I think, you know, we talk a lot these days about the big lie, the big lie having to do with the election of 2020. But the real origin of this idea goes back to another big lie, a big lie I would attribute back as far as the Reagan administration. And that's the idea that the government is the enemy, that our government - that any service by the government is a burden on the people, not an aid to the people. And there's a reason that that's perpetuated because if you believe that, then you don't believe the government.
You can offer an alternative narrative; hence the second big lie. If you believe it, then shutting down government programs becomes something that is desirable, even if they actually help people. And so selling the idea of a deep state helps advance an agenda that's anti-government, anti-regulation, outsider driven and doesn't want to be held accountable by those people in the government who are actually following the law or placing their oath of office, their oath to the Constitution, ahead of loyalty to an individual or to a party.
DAVIES: You know, as I looked over your background and your career, it occurred to me that if anyone might be accused of being too cozy with the deep state, it would be somebody with your history. I mean, you served in the Commerce Department in the Clinton administration. You were an editor of the magazine Foreign Policy. You were a managing director of Kissinger Associates - right? - the firm of Henry Kissinger. So I can imagine how someone might look at you and say, well, this is a guy who is too steeped in conventional status quo wisdom. I wonder if you could just talk a bit about what critics of people who serve in the government don't understand about these people who actually come to work every day. I covered government, and I have a sort of a different view of it myself. But what are these folks, if they're not, you know, plotting to protect their little private interests and oppose change?
ROTHKOPF: It's a good question. The vast majority of people who I've encountered who work in the U.S. government - and I include in this Republicans, Democrats, independents, people in every branch of the government - actually, in my experience, end up going into the government because they believe in the idea of public service. In fact, no one is getting rich going into the United States government. Many people who work in the government, who choose a career in the government, are choosing a path that does not offer the kind of financial upside that jobs in the private sector offer. Although people do move back and forth between the government and the private sector in our system.
I'm not saying it's all great. You know, bureaucracies can be slow. Bureaucrats can be irritating to deal with. There are parts of the government that are dysfunctional and wasteful, and those are things we need to fix. But going after everybody in the government with some broad-brush approach as a conspiracy theory like the deep state conspiracy theory does, does no one any benefit, not the people in the government nor the people that they end up helping.
DAVIES: You talked to a lot of people who worked in the Trump administration for this book and got the benefit of their experience. You know, a strong theme of the Trump campaign was a disdain for existing practices and existing policies in government, you know, embodied in the phrase drain the swamp. And in some respects, it wasn't just a slogan because when a new administration comes in, you know, they have to staff a lot of new jobs, you know, I guess a few dozen or really a few hundred that are important policymaking jobs. And typically, what administrations have done is set up a transition operation, you know, to look at what do we need to do? How do we find these people? How do we vet people to make sure they're both qualified and have integrity without terrible skeletons in their closet? How did the Trump administration approach the task of taking over the government?
ROTHKOPF: The Trump transition was the most chaotic and dysfunctional transition that the U.S. government has ever seen. And there have been some pretty tense ones, you know, but this was entirely a series of self-inflicted wounds. Trump resisted the idea of having a transition office until people around him, including Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, persuaded him that, you know, it was actually the law. You had to have one. And Christie set one up. And then as soon as Trump got elected - and I think this was in part because Trump didn't actually expect to win - he said, let's shut that office down. We're going to do this a different way. And, of course, he thought he knew better with everything, and he thought he's going to just pick a couple of folks who he trusts, put them in, they can hire their own people, and it'll be a little bit like the way he used to run a business.
But, of course, what he didn't understand is that people who take senior government jobs get vetted for those jobs because there are security issues associated with those jobs, because they have to be confirmed by the United States Senate. He didn't really understand the relevance of certain kinds of experience in those jobs. He felt, in fact, that he was going to run the government a lot like he ran his company.
There's a myth that he ran a big company - he didn't really. He ran a small family-owned company where there were a couple of dozen people who sort of made critical decisions regarding real estate holdings and so forth. And he just thought, well, anything important is going to come up, it's going to come through me or a couple of people I know. And keeping it close like that is good. And that led to a very chaotic process where people weren't vetted. People were brought in who, you know, were not just ill-equipped for their jobs, they were grotesquely wrong for their jobs.
DAVIES: Can you think of an example of how the chaotic transition process got him bad people or led to appointments that had to be reversed?
ROTHKOPF: Well, the best example of the chaotic transition process getting him a bad person was Michael Flynn, who was the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, but who had been known to be dealing with foreign governments, including the Turkish government, and to some extent, the Russian government. And a number of people in positions to know, including even former President Obama, said, don't hire this guy. This is going to be a problem for you. And Trump ignored them. And, you know, Flynn lasted a few weeks.
DAVIES: You know, you write that a lot of people that you talked to could see that things were very chaotic in the transition process and were concerned about what lay ahead. And a lot of them asked for advice from Stephen Hadley, who was a former national security adviser. What did he tell them?
ROTHKOPF: Well, I mean, I don't know that a lot of them asked him. Several people that I spoke to went to him over the course of the administration prior to going in. And Steve Hadley is a very thoughtful guy, has served in multiple administrations. And his response to them, one of - as it was recounted to me was, you really got to understand where your red lines are. And I'm paraphrasing. You know, you have to understand what it is that would make you quit your job. Because he understood that this administration was likely to test those red lines, and that you had to be prepared. You had to understand what your limits were and where you would say, no, I'm not going to do that. I'll resign rather than doing that. And it proved to be a wise piece of advice, given the number of people who were ultimately forced into that position.
DAVIES: Let me reintroduce you. We're going to take a little break here. We are speaking with David Rothkopf. His new book is American Resistance: The Inside Story Of How The Deep State Saved The Nation. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF NAOMI MOON SIEGEL'S "IT'S NOT SAFE")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with David Rothkopf. His new book is about how veteran government officials in the Trump administration acted to undermine some of the president's most extreme or troubling orders. The book is "American Resistance: The Inside Story Of How The Deep State Saved The Nation."
You know, a lot of people in this book resisted various actions of the government for one reason or another. In some cases, they might be, you know, against the national interest or dangerous. There's also the case of policy initiatives that are just poorly implemented or unclear. And one of these is the ban on Muslims coming into the country. I mean, apart from the objections that one would have to something which uses religion as a test for entry into the country, it - well, it just wasn't well thought through. How did people in the administration, like the Department of Homeland Security, who would have to implement this, how did they learn about this policy?
ROTHKOPF: Well, they learned about it after it was implemented. There were just a couple of people, Stephen Miller and a couple of other people who drafted the ban. And the ban was introduced. And it was introduced without giving heads up to people like TSA, people within the Department of Homeland Security that would have to implement this. And if you recall back to the period in early 2017 where this was launched, there was chaos at airports because people didn't know how to handle it.
I would say, though, that, you know, it wasn't so much that, you know, people were undermining an order from the president to which they objected. The Muslim ban illustrates what they were really doing was they were saying we have laws that were passed by the Congress. We have a Constitution. And we can't, when we're in the government, color outside those lines. You talked about, you know, the moral repugnance of blocking people due to their religious orientation. Well, it's also unconstitutional. And if you are going to ban people's entry into the United States, you have to have a reason to do it.
And in fact, what happened was lawyers at DHS, lawyers in the State Department said to the White House, no, you know, we need to find criteria for limiting who comes into the country and who doesn't. And, of course, the courts blocked the early versions of this ban and said it had to comply with the law. So you had a series of guardrails that worked.
DAVIES: You know, the interesting thing, of course, is that had, you know, President Trump and his team - they could have crafted an order which might have been more effective in the aims that they were seeking, but they kept everybody out of the loop. They didn't consult the lawyers or the people who actually run, you know, the immigration system and border security. Why didn't they? Why did - why was it kept a secret?
ROTHKOPF: I think it was a combination of things. I think on the one hand, some of them didn't know to. I think on the other hand, some of them didn't trust those people. I think when it comes to Trump, he just didn't understand how the government worked and thought, look, this is what I want to do. I'm the president. I got elected. People need to do it. So I'm going to - you know, go draft whatever paper you need to draft, and let's get going.
And so between those, you know, misconceptions about the system and how it worked, key people were kept out of the loop. And that produced multiple aftershocks in the courts, in these agencies. And, in fact, they ended up having fights over immigration and keeping immigrants out of the country throughout the entire four years of the administration.
DAVIES: The Department of Homeland Security had to deal with a lot of direct presidential orders because the border was obviously - particularly the southern border - of interest to President Trump. What kind of things did - I guess it was John Kelly, initially, and then Kirstjen Nielsen who headed Homeland Security. What kinds of things did they deal with in terms of presidential orders and impulses?
ROTHKOPF: Well, some of the, you know, crazy ones that, you know, you may have read about them, you may not have heard about them, but, you know, it was everything from, you know, Trump and his desire to keep out all people from crossing the southern border. But, you know, in particular, I think we have to be honest, you know, he didn't much like brown people. You know, when he was talking about the Muslim ban and he was saying the kind of countries he wanted to keep out, he would say, but, you know, it's fine to let in people from, say, Norway. And the message from him was clear. But the range of crazy ideas that Trump had - you know, he didn't just want a wall; he wanted a moat. He didn't just want a moat; he wanted a moat filled with alligators. He didn't just want to dissuade people with a wall and a moat; he wanted to be able to shoot people as they approached the border. When he was told he couldn't shoot to kill, he said, well, can you just shoot them in the legs?
When he decided that the big threat was caravans of people coming up across Mexico, he actually had a discussion about whether or not the military could launch missiles at the caravans in Mexico, our friend and neighbor. He - one of his officials approached the military and said, let's deploy tens or even hundreds of thousands of U.S. military troops to the border. And in each one of these cases, from the big bad ideas to some of the sillier ones about what color he wanted the wall painted or, you know, whether he wanted spikes on top of the wall or not, these officials had to deal with it, deflect it, postpone it, avoid it; not just because they didn't like the ideas, but because what he was suggesting was illegal.
DAVIES: You know, it's worth noting that I think a lot of these career government employees, you know, even when they were told to implement something which they personally disagreed with, they - you know, they had the idea that, look, there was an election. There was a choice made. President Trump was - didn't keep a lot of these ideas a secret. So if this is the leader that voters have chosen, it's our job to do what we can to implement his - you know, his choices, provided they are workable and not illegal. Did Kirstjen Nielsen give you any of her strategies for dealing with Trump, I mean, like, I don't know, surrounding him, calling other people, putting him off?
ROTHKOPF: Well, sure. I mean, you know, she and other people, you know, developed their own sort of workarounds, ways of dealing with this stuff over time, you know, within the administration. And by the way, when I say over time, I don't mean, like, years. I mean, within a few weeks, many senior people with whom I spoke to in the administration said they realized this was not going to work like any other administration they'd ever been exposed to. And this includes, by the way, some senior Trump officials who were political appointees but who had worked in government in multiple roles in past administrations. And they said, well, we've got to find a way to deal with it.
And so sometimes, you know, an official - it could have been John Kelly at DHS, it could have been Kirstjen Nielsen, it could have been Rex Tillerson, it could have been James Mattis at the Department of Defense, you know, later on, could be his successors like Mark Esper. You know, they said, well, I'm going to consult with other members of the administration. We're going to figure out how to, you know, honor as much of the president's request as is legal and help him to avoid breaking the law or doing something immoral or damaging American interests through various forms of workarounds, whether it's their own committees or referring things to lawyers or sometimes just sitting down with the president and saying, no, sir, that can't be done.
DAVIES: Let me reintroduce you. We're going to take another break here. We are speaking with David Rothkopf. His new book is "American Resistance: The Inside Story Of How The Deep State Saved The Nation." He'll be back to talk more after this break. I'm Dave Davies. And this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF ANDRES VIAL, RODNEY GREEN, PETER BERNSTEIN AND DEZRON DOUGLAS' "BLUEHAWK")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. We're speaking with David Rothkopf whose new book is about how veteran government officials in the Trump administration acted to undermine some of the president's most extreme or troubling orders and policy initiatives. Rothkopf is an author, former editor of Foreign Policy, and currently a columnist for the Daily Beast and host of the podcast "Deep State Radio." His new book is "American Resistance: The Inside Story Of How The Deep State Saved The Nation."
You have a chapter on COVID. You write that the handling of the pandemic reflected one of the most shocking breakdowns in public policy history - a combination of extraordinary negligence, mismanagement and malfeasance on the part of Trump and his team. This was a long story that we all saw play out over a long period of time. Is there one particular episode that you find particularly illustrative of this?
ROTHKOPF: Well, early on with COVID, Trump's concern was that it might impact his election chances. And even though he had been briefed in January of 2020 that there was this potential epidemic and that it could have very serious effects, he wanted to downplay it. And so he resisted all efforts to get data on it. And, you know, in early March of 2020, he went to the Center for Disease Control. And you may recall at the time, there was a ship off the coast of California where some people had come down with COVID. And he didn't want to let it dock because he said, why should I have these bad statistics put on my record when I had nothing to do with them getting this disease? And his desire, at that moment, to suppress knowledge about the disease and to minimize the potential impact of the disease led to people not preparing for it, led to the country being hit hard by it. And that has real-life effects, you know?
Studies showed that had the United States implemented a masking and social distancing policy just a couple of weeks earlier, that tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives would have been saved in this country. And that's what I find so egregious about COVID. Hundreds of thousands of people died who didn't have to. And, you know, there has been no accountability for deliberate efforts by the government to impede what should have been done, what science said should have been done, what common sense said should have been done. It's a particularly appalling chapter.
DAVIES: So who were the people in the government, the deep state, if you will, those patriotic and veteran government officials, who stood tall in the case of the pandemic for, you know, a more effective public health policy?
ROTHKOPF: Well, there were, you know, a variety. They occurred - many levels. You know, some you know about, right? Anthony Fauci has been in the government for decades and decades, has fought against multiple epidemics, has dealt with seven presidents in the course of his career, and fought to have science be at the center of the response to this disease. But there were other people that I spoke to within the government, people at DHS, people even in the White House.
There's a woman named Olivia Troye, who became the point person on the COVID task force for the vice president, who was chairing it. She's somebody who'd devoted herself to work in the national security community since 9/11. And she worked with people, like Fauci and others, behind the scenes to try to offset the impact of some of the president's bad decisions or to find ways - to find more workarounds to actually get the president to do the right thing.
And the - a perfect example there is - you recall after this initial period where the president resisted doing something, the task force came to him and said, well, why don't we initiate a kind of limited lockdown - 15 days - to stop the spread? And they picked 15 days 'cause they didn't think Trump would approve anything longer than that even though they knew it would have to be longer and it would have to be extended. But they were trying to find a proposal he would accept so they could get it going. And then, as it began to work, they thought, you know, he would extend it, which, in fact, is what happened. And that was done by a lot of people working behind the scenes, trying to do the right thing, and pushing, you know, uphill against a president whose impulses all led in the opposite direction.
DAVIES: So it was a case where they thought it was something that they could sell that would lead to something a little better. And it made sense. It worked. You know, you have an interesting story about the famous news conference at which President Trump started riffing on the idea of using household bleach to kill the COVID virus within the human body. There's kind of a backstory here. How did that happen?
ROTHKOPF: Well, you know, they would have these periodic discussions about, you know, how's this going and how do we sell it? And there was one of these meetings in which somebody said, hey, there's some data that seems to show that using, you know, bleach on certain surfaces may reduce the spread of the disease. And a press person in the room said, hey, let's jump on that. That's good news. We need some good news. We need a solution. And, you know, they essentially went from that meeting out into the briefing room. And the president then starts to riff on what was a kind of a very limited finding and says, you know, if this works, you know, on counters, you know, maybe we could find a way to get that bleach into our veins.
And, you know, Dr. Birx, Deborah Birx, who was part of the leadership on this team, who was working pretty hard behind the scenes, and who had a pretty good reputation, ends up sitting there uncomfortably but doesn't say, Mr. President, that's a crazy idea and, in that instant of choosing silence, I think, did irreparable damage to her career because the idea was so ludicrous. And, you know, one of the people I spoke to who was in the government said, as they heard the president say this, I knew somebody out there was going to do this, that people were going to die or get ill because this idea was so terrible. And, you know, that's what happened.
DAVIES: Well, I guess the alternative to her staying silent would have been to speak up and probably lose her job, right?
ROTHKOPF: Well, that's right. But that goes back to the Steve Hadley point that we discussed earlier, which is sometimes when you're in the government, you've got to know when you're going to quit, when there is a line that you're not willing to cross.
DAVIES: You know, after the George Floyd protests in 2020, the president seemed enamored of really harsh steps to put down protests and civil disturbances. What did he suggest? And how did his military leaders react?
ROTHKOPF: Well, he suggested that the military be brought in to put down the protests, and the military leaders were outraged by this. This is not an appropriate role for the United States military. He went as far as suggesting that, you know, the 101st Airborne Division, you know, this decorated combat division, you know, be dropped into these cities as a show of force. And they pushed back on it.
And then he tried to find other ways to, you know, send the message that he was going to use this kind of force. And that included something that had seemed once innocuous, which was there had been a little fire across the street from the White House, and somebody on the president's staff suggested perhaps he should walk across to the place where the fire took place, a church, and he could hold up a Bible and talk about coming together as a country.
This was an idea, actually, of his daughter, who thought, you know, perhaps it could help his image. And he encouraged the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense to join him. And as they were walking across Lafayette Park and cameras are going and - you know, the chairman and the secretary of defense realized that they'd been suckered, that, essentially, the president wanted to send this message that, I have the military behind me, and we are going to respond together to this. And it really burned those relationships forever.
You know, Chairman Milley, Secretary of Defense Esper, from that point on - and they were close to one another because they had worked together previously - found themselves more and more alienated from the White House and more and more candid about what the problems they saw within the administration were 'cause they saw this as a president who didn't respect constitutional or legal limitations on the use of military force, who wanted to politicize the military, something which they and all their colleagues deeply opposed.
DAVIES: We are speaking with David Rothkopf. His new book is "American Resistance: The Inside Story Of How The Deep State Saved The Nation." We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. We're speaking with David Rothkopf, whose new book is about how veteran government officials in the Trump administration acted as guardrails to deflect or weaken some of the president's most extreme or troubling orders and policy initiatives. The book is called "American Resistance: The Inside Story Of How The Deep State Saved The Nation."
You know, as the 2020 election approached, you write that some officials were worried that Trump would contest the result. What kind of, you know, planning, collaborating did they do to think about how they might respond?
ROTHKOPF: Well, Trump had been neuralgic about the issue of election meddling since the 2016 election, because, of course, there had been these allegations that the Russians had tried to tip the scales in favor of Trump. The reason there were allegations is that's what happened. But Trump didn't like those because he felt they kind of made his election open to question. And so any time he would bring up Russia or any time he would bring up election security, he would go off on a rant. And so senior people in the government who were responsible for election security, whether it was at the Department of Homeland Security or elsewhere in the government, said, you know, we've got to look at making sure 2020 is secure - this involved also the intelligence community - and we should have meetings.
And they set up what one of them called to me a kind of parallel Cabinet process. The White House, you know, was kept informed, but only as much as was absolutely necessary. And they, you know, came together to try to set up systems to identify potential interference, to stop it before it happened, to ensure the elections were conducted in a fair way. And ultimately, the 2020 elections were one of the cleanest and fairest that we had ever seen. They did their job successfully, but no thanks to the president, no thanks to the team around him.
DAVIES: You wrote in the book about how some people early in the Trump administration talked to Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser, about whether they should stay in the administration. And his advice was, decide how far you will be pushed, at what point you would resign. And I'm wondering if you also talked to people in these interviews who said, you know, I saw things that really troubled me and I thought - that were really awful, but I didn't leave because I figured, if I was gone, it would be worse. They would get someone who was willing to, you know, toe the line without a thought. Did you hear that from people?
ROTHKOPF: I heard it from many, many people. It was a real conundrum that many people faced. And I think it's the reason that Secretary Mattis and other members of the Cabinet stayed as long as they did. They were concerned by some of the president's behavior, but they felt that if they remained where they were and they remained vigilant and they worked with others in the administration, that they could mitigate the damage that was done, keep things on the relative straight and narrow.
And, in fact, I would go further. I would say many, many, many of the senior officials I spoke to, if not all of them, faced this issue at one point or another during their tenure in the Trump administration and said, no, I'm going to try to stick it out and try to make a positive difference. Now, you know, the listener can say they were doing that for personal reasons because of personal ambitions. And surely, that must have played some role. But I believe, in talking to as many of these people as I did, that the simple public-service impulse to want to stay and do the best they could guided the majority of them.
DAVIES: This book is kind of a warning call in a way. I mean, it's an homage to those who had the integrity to stand up against things that they felt were immoral or unconstitutional or illegal. Are there ways that America should be strengthening its guardrails? I mean, what do we do to make us more resistant to bad things in government?
ROTHKOPF: There are multiple ways - and ensuring that we get good people to work in government, people of character, that we value public service, that we provide people who are willing to devote their lives to that kind of public service with certain minimal, reasonable protections for their jobs. And make sure that it's clear that they cannot be removed from their jobs for following the law. And that includes, by the way, not just sort of, you know, the regulations associated with hiring such people, but having in place inspector generals and whistleblower ability that allows people to speak out when something they see as wrong is important because, ultimately, the government of the United States does not report to the president. The government of the United States reports to the people of the United States and is supposed to serve their interests.
And I would say that, you know, protecting and developing and encouraging a transparent, law-driven bureaucracy is important in any government. Having said that, of course, you know, you've got to have the rule of law, you know? People have got to be held accountable for abuses. There's more work to be done by the Department of Justice. You have to have a Congress that respects these things and respects the rule of law and does not seek to undermine them for partisan reasons, as we have done. And there, the guardrails have broken down, too.
So protecting the integrity of our government and the interests of our people and our nation requires a lot of repair work to be done, because from the first moments he entered office, Donald Trump tried to break down the guardrails and to gather more and more power around a single individual. And make no mistake, these efforts to weaken the bureaucracy are, as much as election denial and putting their thumb on the scales in an election, a step towards authoritarianism. So you're absolutely right to say that this is a warning. This is a story that is not over. And the people who are leading the Republican Party right now actually support steps like the ones that Trump took and that did so much damage.
DAVIES: You said in that answer that it's important that we have accountability and that there is more work to be done by the Justice Department, I think. What do you mean?
ROTHKOPF: Well, you know, so far, we have a long litany of things that Donald Trump did in violation of the law, whether it's the obstruction charges that were cited by the Mueller report, or whether it's the theft of secret documents that potentially put national security interests at risk, or whether it's January 6 and the coup attempt that took place on January 6, or it's election fraud or it's a host of other issues. We know that abuses took place. But as of this moment, the president has not been indicted or tried or held accountable for any of - the former president. And those closest to the former president, with very few exceptions, have not been. And, you know, unless it's clear that we will not tolerate this, unless it's clear that people who violate the law will be prosecuted as any other citizen would be, we invite these things happening again.
DAVIES: Well, David Rothkopf, thank you so much for speaking with us.
ROTHKOPF: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation.
DAVIES: David Rothkopf is a columnist for The Daily Beast and host of the podcast "Deep State Radio." His new book is "American Resistance: The Inside Story Of How The Deep State Saved The Nation." Coming up, Justin Chang reviews "The Banshees Of Inisherin," the new film starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Fourteen years ago, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson played a pair of hitmen in writer-director Martin McDonagh's comic thriller "In Bruges." Now the three are together again in a new drama, "The Banshees Of Inisherin," which recently won Farrell the Best Actor award at the Venice International Film Festival. Our film critic Justin Chang has this review.
JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: Because we as a culture can mistakenly equate beauty with shallowness, it's taken time for some to realize what a great actor Colin Farrell is. He's always been a charismatic screen presence. Though, in recent years, he's revealed striking new emotional depths as a leading man in movies like "The Lobster" and this year's "After Yang." He's also proved willing to bury his good looks under mounds of prosthetics as the villainous Penguin in "The Batman." Farrell gives what may be his strongest performance yet in "The Banshees Of Inisherin." And one of the reasons he's so good in it is that he's playing a character who, perhaps like Farrell himself, is used to being underestimated. His character, Padraic, is a sweet-souled farmer who's spent his entire life on Inisherin, a small, fictional island off the coast of Ireland.
It's 1923, and life here is simple and repetitive, which is why it sends off small shockwaves one day when Colm, Padraic's older best friend, refuses to join him for their usual afternoon pint down at the pub. He soon learns that Colm, who's played by Brendan Gleeson, has decided to end their decadeslong friendship with nary a word of explanation. Some time later, Padraic confronts Colm outside the pub and tries to find out what's going on.
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COLIN FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) Now I'm sitting here next to you, and if you're going back inside, I'm following you inside. And if you're going home, I'm following you there, too. Now, if I've done something to you, just tell me what I've done to you. And if I said something to you, maybe I said something when I was drunk, and I've forgotten it. But I don't think I said something when I was drunk and I've forgotten it. But if I did, then tell me what it was. And I'll say sorry for that, too, Colm. (Vocalizing) With all me heart, I'll say sorry. Just stop running away from me like some fool of a moody schoolchild.
BRENDAN GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) But you didn't say anything to me. And you didn't do anything to me.
FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) Well, that's what I was thinking, like.
GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) I just don't like you no more.
FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) You do like me.
GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) I don't.
FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) But you liked me yesterday.
GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) Oh, did I, yeah?
FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) I thought you did.
CHANG: In time, the truth comes out. Colm finds Padraic dull and is tired of listening to the younger man's endless yammering especially since it keeps Colm from pursuing his passion, playing and composing violin music. Gleeson is terrific at showing you the tenderness beneath his outward stoicism. And what's heartbreaking is that Colm does still like Padraic, but he also knows that their friendship is draining him.
But Padraic can't accept Colm's decision. He tries cajoling his former friend, then pleading with him, then badgering him. At one point, Colm becomes so irritated that he threatens to physically harm himself if Padraic doesn't leave him alone. And since this is a movie written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the British Irish playwright and filmmaker with a taste for baroque comic violence, you know it isn't an idle threat.
This movie isn't as grisly as some of McDonagh's earlier stage and screen works. I still have fond memories of seeing his blood-soaked play "The Lieutenant Of Inishmore" years ago and somewhat less fond memories of his Oscar-winning film "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." Compared with that movie's wildly uneven mix of comedy and tragedy, "The Banshees Of Inisherin" is a quieter, gentler work, but its melancholy also cuts much deeper.
McDonagh opens the story with gorgeous, postcard-worthy images of Inisherin - all lush green landscapes and even a rainbow in the sky. But by the end, he has quashed any sweet or sentimental thoughts we might harbor toward this isolated community where people can be spiteful and small-minded and mock those who want to leave or strive for something better. Few people know this as well as Padraic's bookish sister, Siobhan, played by a terrific Kerry Condon. She loves her brother dearly, flaws and all. She's also one of the few people in town who can connect with Colm intellectually, and she understands why he wants to be left alone.
There are other colorful supporting characters, too - a nasty policeman, a doom-prophesying old woman, and an annoying young man played with marvelous pathos by Barry Keoghan. And I haven't even mentioned the animal cast. Two of the movie's most important characters are Colm's pet collie and Padraic's pet donkey, noble creatures who put the pettiness and stupidity of humans to shame.
There's something a little glib about that idea and also about the way "The Banshees Of Inisherin" uses the Irish Civil War, raging in the background of the story, as a counterpoint to the conflict between Padraic and Colm. But there's nothing glib about how these two characters are written. To watch Farrell and Gleeson rage against each other is to better understand what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. It's been a while since the movie extracted this much drama from the end of a beautiful friendship.
DAVIES: Justin Chang is film critic for the LA Times. On tomorrow's show, as the World Series approaches, we talk about the life of a hometown baseball broadcaster with Scott Franzke, radio voice of the Philadelphia Phillies. We'll discuss the series, changes in baseball, the intimacy of radio play-by-play, and what it's like to call a magical late-inning homer or a soul-crushing strikeout that breaks local fans' hearts. I hope you can join us.
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DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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