Fascism "altered the direction of my life," writes former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in her new book, “ Fascism: A Warning.” It was a life that, early on, brought her from Czechoslovakia to Denver.
Albright’s father was the first dean of international studies at the University of Denver. She went on to serve as President Bill Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations, and as secretary of state. Today, she warns that fascism is again gaining a foothold around the world. And while she stops short of labeling President Trump that way, she describes him as "the first anti-Democratic president in modern U.S. history."
Edited highlights are below, followed by a full transcript.
On why she wrote a book about fascism now:
"I think that there are various elements to fascism and I think that we are not paying enough attention. And the book is basically historical, in terms of looking at Mussolini and Hitler, but then also the kinds of things that are going on in Europe with Turkey, with Poland, Hungary, and then also what has happened in Venezuela as examples. So I look at the steps that have existed in the past and then seeing whether any of that is existing right now in the U.S."
On calling President Trump the first anti-democratic president in U.S. history:
"His kind of instincts are that he does not understand the value of the institutions, specifically the press, by calling everything that he disagrees with fake news and saying 'enemies of the people,' that he does not respect the democratic institutions, i.e., the judiciary specifically. That he also has this tendency to really disrespect anybody that he disagrees with and not explain anything. And mostly that he is using the institutions to his own purpose and I think that he is not democratic. And he thinks he's above the law and that's the part that I think is essential to look at, especially given the kinds of things that are going on. But I have not called him a fascist. I think there are, however, steps that make me very nervous."
On dangers to U.S. democracy and the role of changing technology:
"I would have written this book no matter who had gotten elected, because what I began to see was the fact that there were a lot of have-nots in this country as a result of technology. People who had lost their jobs and they couldn't understand why, nor was our educational system set up in a way to teach them new skills. And so that division in society was beginning then, and people wondering why the 1 percent had so much when a lot of people were out of work. And so, I was looking at what happens when there are divisions in society and then what happens if there is a leader who kind of identifies himself with that group, and then disrespects and really exacerbates the differences with the other. So some of the things that I was nervous about really did come about with this election."
On the need to regulate social media:
"I think we all thought that the social media was an incredible new toy, and a great gift, and a lot of it is. But, it is also has its downside and I think that part of it is how it's being used by those who disrespect the freedom of the press, and also by the Russians, for instance. We are dealing with a former KGB officer in President Putin, and he has weaponized information. And so we have to figure out how to deal with it. I do think some form of regulation is useful, but I think we'd have to see it for the good parts and the negative parts."
On the U.S.-led coalition to strike Syria:
"I am sorry that it had to happen over such a horrible thing as this chemical attack but I do think it is a time that there was a recognition by this administration that there needed to be some coalition. And so I hope that it isn't a one off in that particular way, there's an understanding that multilateralism is not a bad thing. It's partnership with others."
Read The Full Transcript
Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters, from CPR News, I'm Ryan Warner. Madeleine Albright is all too familiar with fascism. It forced her and her family out of their native Czechoslovakia during World War II. Eventually they settled in Colorado where she spent her teen years. Albright's father was the first Dean of International Studies at the University of Denver. Albright of course would go on to serve as President Bill Clinton's Secretary of State.
Today, she warns that fascism is again gaining a foothold around the world and while she stops short of labeling President Trump that way, she describes him as the first anti-democratic president in modern U.S. history. Madeleine Albright's new book is, Fascism, A Warning, and Madam Secretary, welcome back to the program.
Madeleine Albright: Great to be in Colorado. Thank you.
RW: First, to some developing news. President Trump confirmed this morning that CIA director Mike Pompeo visited North Korea to lay the groundwork for a meeting between Trump and supreme leader Kim Jong-un. Historically, presidents including Bill Clinton have refused to meet North Korean leaders unless they agreed to halt their nuclear program. Is now the right time for President Trump to meet with Kim?
MA: I believe in diplomatic exchanges and talk and having these kinds of meetings. What I had been saying previously, I had hoped that it would be well prepared and so this trip by Director Pompeo is appropriate, if in fact there were serious discussions about preparations for what could be a most important meeting.
RW: The preparations, in other words, to discuss what can be discussed. What the ground rules are and perhaps what the negotiation would be.
MA: Right, and what the meaning of certain words are. So, denuclearization. I think that we see something and presumably Kim Jong-un has different views about it and those are the issues that need to be discussed. What are the parameters? What are the various subjects that will come up. So I hope that they understand the importance of the preparations, so I think it's important that he went.
RW: You write that, at one of your more recent birthday parties, President Clinton expressed regret that he didn't visit North Korea, after your visit there I'll say, in 2000.
MA: Well, let me give you the context. What happened was, we had been dealing with issues of North Korea for some time and President Clinton had asked former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry to do a complete review of our North Korea policy. Which he did and then Secretary Kerry, sorry, Secretary Perry went to Pyongyang, began talking about things. And then what happened was the number two guy, Vice Marshall Cho, came to the United States and we went to the Oval Office, and he gives a folder to President Clinton, and says, and in there is an invitation for him to come. And, he said, well maybe at some point I'd go, but this has to be prepared and so I'm sending the Secretary of State.
That's what happened and it was towards the end of the term, late summer 2000, and President Clinton was trying to decide whether he would follow up on the very important talks that we had at Camp David about the Middle East peace or go to North Korea.RW: One or the other.
MA: One or the other.
RW: Given the limited time.
MA: Right, and so that's why he decided the Middle East and then of course that didn't happen either.
RW: You are critical of President Trump, for sure in this book, we'll talk more about that in a bit, but you write, "I, for one, do not foreclose the possibility that the President's brash disregard for diplomatic convention, might in some cases be exactly what's needed to awaken people to new possibilities." Is that what's going on here, do you think?
MA: Well, I do think that there are those that would like to cut through a lot of the verbiage and maybe be brash. The problem is that there are too many brash times and I think the unpredictability of the brashness is something that one has to be careful of because it does need to be followed up by details, so that's the issue.
RW: Details. Your book, as we mentioned is called, "Fascism, A Warning." Why this warning and why now?
MA: Let me just say, I think that there are various elements to fascism and I think that we are not paying enough attention, and the book is basically historical, in terms of looking at Mussolini and Hitler, but then also the kinds of things that are going on in Europe with Turkey, with Poland, Hungary. And then also what has happened in Venezuela as examples. So I look at the steps that have existed in the past and then seeing whether any of that is existing right now in the U.S.
RW: That is the steps towards a fascist regime and indeed you dig into modern figures like Duterte and Erdogan. And why now, why look at those steps towards fascism at this point in history?
MA: Because I am concerned about some of the trends and signs that are going on here. For instance, the fact that there is an identification with only one group and a really way of derogating the rights of those that are not part of it. A lack of respect for democratic institutions, the press for one, the judiciary for another. And kind of a sense that there is no discussion with people that you disagree with, that there is a really exacerbating the differences that exist in any society, and that's what I'm troubled by.
RW: What do you mean by identification with one group? Is that a statement of partisanship?
MA: No, I think it's more kind of whether it's a group of people that are highly nationalistic, kind of tribal approach, not understanding the importance of diversity of populations, especially the United States, and kind of exacerbating that sense that you know America First and that we don't care about other places nor do we care about people in the United States that are of mixed backgrounds.
RW: You have a lot of trouble with the notion of America First. You write extensively about that in the book. Why do you think that's an improper lens to look at the world through? To say, jobs here should come first, that citizens here should come first.
MA: Well I have, given my history and what it was like when that term first came up in the '30s and kept America out of doing a really responsible job in dealing with what was happening in Europe, that's one part, but the other is-
RW: The US's lack of involvement.
MA: Lack of involvement.
RW: To a certain point in World War II.
MA: Exactly and well and leading up to it for instance very specifically what was happening to the country where I was born, Czechoslovakia, and the Munich agreement where the U.S. wasn't present. Now obviously we do have to worry about what is going on in the US, and in terms of people being left out or the infrastructure really falling apart in a number of ways. But I think America's health and vitality depends on what the rest of the world looks like. Are we somehow supporting places or lack of any interest in places that become a petri dish for people that hate us.
So America's strength, and it's the job of every president to protect our people, our territory, and our way of life, but that for me means being involved in what is going on abroad and worrying also about not just America alone or America as a victim.
RW: I think to the recent strikes against Syria for the suspected use of chemical weapons there, and that was done with the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Isn't that a testament to some international cooperation from this administration, even as they say America First?
MA: Well, I have to say it's one of the first indications, I am sorry that it had to happen over such a horrible thing as this chemical attack but I do think it is a time that there was a recognition by this administration that there needed to be some coalition. And so I hope that it isn't a one off in that particular way, there's an understanding that multilateralism is not a bad thing. It's partnership with others.
RW: Yet, United States has been so deeply involved and for so long in some places, of course Iraq and Afghanistan, and I think many would say that it hasn't really paid dividends.
MA: Well, I do think that's very much the issue. President Obama was actually elected to get us out of those places because there were real question about what we were doing in Iraq, what was the purpose of that. Then something that I think is very troublesome is that President Karzai, former president of Afghanistan, basically blamed us for what happened there instead of thanking us for helping him.
RW: You acknowledge that this warning you send in the book Fascism is written during the Trump era, but you don't call him a fascist, you use that term antidemocratic as I said. I want to understand a little bit more about what it means to you. You start with Mussolini and Hitler as you say and you lay out some of those factors, those steps that indeed lead to fascism, and you find that similar conditions exist now. One of them is changing technology. You acknowledge that can be a good thing but you see danger there as well, why?
MA: Well first of all, let me say, I would have written this book no matter who had gotten elected, because what I began to see was the fact that there were a lot of have-nots in this country as a result of technology. People who had lost their jobs and they couldn't understand why, nor was our educational system set up in a way to teach them new skills. And so that division in society was beginning then, and people wondering why the 1% had so much when a lot of people were out of work.
And so, I was looking at what happens when there are divisions in society, and then what happens if there is a leader who kind of identifies himself with that group. And then disrespects and really exacerbates the differences with the other. So some of the things that I was nervous about really did come about with this election.
RW: And you see correlations, similarities, patterns to that period before World War II?
MA: I do, because some of it is that America First, blaming foreigners for things. Why would you want a bunch of immigrants who are taking the jobs and really a disrespect for the truth.
RW: And yet, when you look at say the last twenty-five years, Democrats have held the presidency for sixteen. To what extent are they to blame for the economic picture that you're talking about?
MA: Well, I do think that there was a lack of attention being paid. On the other hand, during the Obama Administration, the economic situation had changed for a lot of people. But I don't think that there was enough attention paid to what you said initially, the technological advances and the displacement that took place.
RW: And the idea that people's jobs are being replaced by robots.
RW: By automation. Another point you raise is changing communication. So in the Mussolini era, that meant the advent of radio. In this era, it's the internet, social media. You call for social media to be regulated. "At a minimum, internet users require tools that will enable them to identify bot-generated and forms of faux news services." You say that "regulation to ensure that the source of online political messaging is as transparent as the sponsorship of campaign commercials that appear on radio and television."
Madeleine: I think we all thought that the social media was an incredible new toy, and a great gift, and a lot of it is. But, it is also has its downside and I think that part of it is how it's being used by those who disrespect the freedom of the press, and also by the Russians, for instance. We are dealing with a former KGB officer in President Putin, and he has weaponized information. And so we have to figure out how to deal with it. I do think some form of regulation is useful, but I think we'd have to see it for the good parts and the negative parts.
RW: And yet, as you identify fascist leaders in this book, you talked over and over about how they suppressed the media. Is that the risk here though if you regulate social media?
Madeleine: Well, I'm not saying suppress it. I do think that even those that, many of us, I believe obviously in a free press, and also in the capability of information of exchange but I really do think that we have an issue about how it is being misused. And so, not a lot of regulation, but I think something that understands what the problems are.
RW: All right. Let's pick up this discussion after a break. You mentioned Vladimir Putin and Russia. We'll talk about more about him after a bit. We're listening to Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner, and my guest is Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State. Her book is called Fascism: A Warning.Albright spent her formative years in Denver. This is Colorado Matters from CPR News.
RW: You're back with Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. And let's return to my conversation with former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. Her new book is called Fascism: A Warning. Perhaps you know that Albright spent her formative years in Denver. Her father, Josef Korbel, was the founder of the School of International Studies at the University of Denver.
You write about several current world leaders, chief among them, Vladimir Putin, whom you met when you were Secretary of State as he was a rising leader in Russia. Of course, there are investigations going on of President Trump's ties to Russia. There's evidence of Russian interference in the last election. How would you deal with Putin and Russia at this point?
Madeleine: Before we get serious, Ryan, I love hearing the weather forecast for cities and towns that I know, so it's great to be back in Colorado. Let me say that I think that I'm very concerned about what Putin himself is doing, and I have him in this book also. Fascists don't just have to be from the right. They also are from the left, and some of the kinds of things that are going on in Russia are similar in terms of the steps that are taking place.
I do think his desire at the moment is not only to make Russia more important and larger and in a bunch of different places that they want to have control, but also to undermine democracy. And to use democracy and its institutions to that purpose, such as the media and the things that they're doing in central and eastern Europe and the things that they were doing, I believe, during our election that need to be exposed.
RW: You're talking about some of the attacks on former Soviet satellites, for instance. We've talked a bit about the Russian interference in the election. Do you remember the first time you met Putin, what it was like?
MA: Well, the first time I met him was a little bit different. It was during a meeting in Asia, the APEC Summit, and New Zealand, and he was still kind of the caretaker president and he seemed kind of very small and pale and he was trying to ingratiate himself with everybody, especially with President Clinton. And then when I went to Russia later in order to prepare for the Summit and then the Summit itself, in the summer of 2000 and, by then, it was very clear that he was feeling the power of being the President. He was very smart. He spoke without notes and took notes and really challenged various things, so I think he is a smart person who knows how to play a weak hand very well.
RW: We have talked about leaders. I want to talk about the electorate. I want to talk about the citizens of democracies and their responsibility because you call them out to some extent. I mean, aside from a lack of trust in institutions, there also seems to be a lack of simple information going on.
A recent survey about the Holocaust found that 40% of Americans and two-thirds of millenials don't know what Auschwitz was. About a third of Americans believe that two million Jews were killed in the Holocaust; it's six. Your father, as we mentioned, was a leading academic in the field of Foreign Relations. You teach now at Georgetown. If you are afraid of the rise, the rise again of fascism, to what extent is that on the backs of voters in various countries?
MA: I think you bring up a very important point because I have, feel strongly that there is a responsibility of voters or citizens to know what they should be doing and thinking. And so, you know that saying, "I say something, see something, say something," I've added to that, "Do something," and among the dos are that I think people need to understand better what is going on, be actively involved in questioning their legislators and becoming legislators themselves. But you have raised one of the crucial issues is where do people get their information, and we talked about this earlier in terms of do you get, if people only listen to what they already think they know and live in echo chambers and don't seek to have discussions with people that they differ with, you lose the whole purpose of democracy.
RW: I wonder if you make conversations like that harder, though, when you refer to President Trump as the first anti-democratic president in history. How do you support that claim and how do you bring a claim like that up with someone who voted for Trump and expect the conversation to continue?
MA: Well, I think the hard part is how not to be condescending to those people and to really listen to them, but do think that there needs to be an understanding of what democracy is about. It is-
RW: And what do you mean say he's the first anti-democratic president in US history?
MA: Well, his kind of instincts are that he does not understand the value of the institutions, specifically the press, by calling everything that he disagrees with fake news and saying "enemies of the people," that he does not respect the democratic institutions, i.e., the judiciary specifically. That he also has this tendency to really disrespect anybody that he disagrees with and not explain anything. And mostly that he is using the institutions to his own purpose and I think that he is not democratic. And he thinks he's above the law and that's the part that I think is essential to look at, especially given the kinds of things that are going on. But I have not called him a fascist. I think there are, however, steps that make me very nervous.
RW: Have you met him?
MA: No, I have not.
RW: Do you want to?
MA: I do not. No, because I think that he doesn't listen and I do think that part of what I'm talking about is the importance of listening to those with whom you disagree. And I don't see anything in the way that he handles people that would really indicate that he wants to listen. But I do think that the people who voted for him need to be respected. I think we, I would like to have more discussions with them.
RW: I want to talk just a bit about his nominee for Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who apparently did some of the groundwork for this North Korea Summit. What advice would you have for him, stepping into a job that had been held by Rex Tillerson and the sometimes volatile relationship that the Cabinet can have with the president?
MA: Well, I think that he, I've listened to his testimony and I have met him. What I think is encouraging is that he understands the importance of the State Department and wants to, to put it literally, resurrect it, because Tillerson was not, kept re-organizing things, and most people, large numbers of people left and it's kind of a shadow of what you need. If you're gonna do diplomacy, you need diplomats.
I think that, from what I have read, he has a good relationship with the president. And the question is whether he will take advantage of that relationship to state times that he might disagree with the president. Because I think it is important that the president hears a variety of views. And that's what I'm worried about now, because John Bolton, who's the National Security Advisor, is brand new. Some of his views are quite scary, I think, in terms of the way that he has spoken about how America should behave. And I think the question is to what extent Pompeo would really have some kind of influence on the president.
RW: Are you making an allusion there to enhanced interrogation, for instance?
MA: Well, that's one of the aspects, and not talking enough about democratic values and what this country stands for.
RW: You were a big supporter of Hillary Clinton, but some of the issues we've talked about — the division of America economically, the split between urban and rural voters. Many people have said Clinton was just out of touch there, that she missed the importance of those issues. One, do you agree, and two, do you think the Democratic Party has realized that, and might change course?
MA: Well I do think that there were issues that, the Democrats, we lost touch with our base, in many ways. Labor was our base. And it wasn't her, but a whole host of Democrats. And now, I think the Democratic Party is fairly divided, frankly. And what I'm arguing for, generally, I'm a centrist. And I do think that what we should be doing is trying to find common ground in the party. But also, I believe in bipartisanship and trying to sort out ways where we don't divide people so much, as much as trying to find common ground.
Roosevelt, for instance, during the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt was attacked from the left and the right and was able to find common ground and policies that helped those that needed help.
RW: Is centrism dead?
MA: I hope not, because I do think that you can't get much done if you're operating from far-left or far- right. And that agreement, compromise is not a four-letter word. It is something that is important in order to make a democracy work.
RW: There is talk of a blue wave in this cycle. Democrats perhaps taking back Congress. But there's a presidential election in two years and the names we hear as candidates are people like Joe Biden. I think it's fair to say that he represents maybe the old guard of Democratic politics. Do the Democrats have a bench?
MA: There's a very large bench, frankly. And it's very interesting because it does have people like Joe Biden, and then also a lot of new, younger members of Congress that are very active and smart. And some of them are veterans and understand what America should or can't do abroad. And I'm very pleased. I think we have a very large bench.
RW: And how do you think they might restore some bipartisanship in Washington? I mean, the how is the critical question here.
MA: Well, I do think the only way to do it is to actually have respect for those that you disagree with and listen to them. That is not easy. And one of the things that I'm calling for is that there be discussions between, among those that disagree, and have a capability of responding to them instead of yelling at them or threatening violence. And so that's what worries me, is that we are not respectful enough of other people's views.
RW: Former First Lady Barbara Bush died yesterday at the age of 92. The wife of the president who preceded President Clinton and the mother of the president who succeeded him. Bill Clinton, in particular, became close to both Bushes after they left office. You knew Mrs. Bush, I'm sure. Will you tell us just a bit about her?
MA: I did, and you know, I always kid about this, but my first trip, foreign trip as Secretary of State was to Texas. And I met the Bushes at that point, and I went to their house. And they couldn't have been nicer. But we also talked about things like the Chemical Weapons Convention and a comprehensive test ban and President Bush was very receptive. And Mrs. Bush was one of the most charming and fun people to talk to. And she really was very direct. And whenever I saw them, both of them, they couldn't have been kinder. And I think they both did a great job, and I am offering my condolences to President Bush and President W. Bush because I think that Mrs. Bush was an incredible influence and one of the really remarkable Americans.
RW: Madame Secretary, thank you for being with us.
MA: Thank you.
RW: Madeleine Albright, who spent some of her formative years in Denver, served as US Ambassador to the United Nations and then as Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton. She has just written “Fascism: A Warning.” This is Colorado Matters from CPR News.