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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, December 4, 2020

Guests: Fareed Zakaria, Lee Gelernt


MSNBC's continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Interview with Fareed Zakaria on how countries should start preparing before another pandemic hits. A federal judge late tonight ordered the Trump administration to restore the program for the Dreamers, for kids brought to this country when they were little, never known any other home country.>


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": That is "ALL IN" for this week.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Chris, I love that conversation you just had with David Roberts. I read that piece.

First of all, it made me think of you. It made me wonder, knowing the way your brain is wired about this sort of structural and tactical things, made me wonder what your take was on it. I am fascinated that you are so into it.

HAYES: I am pro, yeah. There's a lot to it. You know what one thing is? Voters' memories are short. That's another thing to remember.

People say, oh this is -- like do stuff. Do stuff early and then just figure out what your message is with 90 days to go before the election. But do the stuff and take the hits.

MADDOW: Particularly if the stuff that you want to do is stuff that you want to do because it's stuff that you truly believe is going to be good for the country.

HAYES: Correct.

MADDOW: Let the chips fall where they may. Get stuff done when you can get stuff done and let politics sort it out. Yeah. It's well argued and well put. Thanks, my friend.

HAYES: Have a good weekend.

MADDOW: All right. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Busy Friday news night tonight.

A federal judge in New York state has just ordered the Trump administration to restart the program for the Dreamers. The Dreamers, the kids brought here by their families when they were little, who have never known any home country other than this one. The Dreamers were given a long, careful, orderly path to citizenship by an Obama administration program called DACA. It gave them a legal way to work, a legal way to get on the path toward citizenship by declaring themselves, checking all the boxes, going through all the legal and procedural things they needed to, to get on the right side of the law.

Republicans in the Trump administration have been trying to kill this off ever since despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans not only sympathize with but empathize with the dreamers and their legal plight. Well, the Trump administration effectively ordered the program to help the Dreamers -- ordered it killed off. But the way they did it was basically illegal, and that has been the conclusion of several federal judges along the way.

But now tonight, just before show time, one federal judge has gone beyond the sort of limbo this program has been in, and the judge has actually ordered the Trump administration to reinstate DACA for the Dreamers. Lots of expectations that Biden was going to do that anyway, but a federal court tonight is now ordering the Trump administration to do it and to do it immediately. They literally want them to do it by Monday.

So, a surprise and fascinating ruling tonight on that very important subject. We're going to have more on that coming up this evening. We've got one of the tip of the spear, real tough guy lawyers from the ACLU who's been at the forefront of the fight against the Trump administration on their treatment of immigrants, particularly their treatment of immigrant kids.

He's going to be with us live in just a few minutes. I'm really looking forward to that conversation tonight.

We've also got my friend Fareed Zakaria here tonight. I know, it's a little bit like your friend Diet Coke is serving Pepsi for dinner tonight. But I'm really happy that Fareed can join us tonight. And trust me, it won't even be weird.

Before we get to those conversations, though, still more breaking news to get to tonight. "The Washington Post" breaking this story tonight which now that this story is broken, I feel like I should have been waiting for it. This story sort of suddenly makes a lot of otherwise inexplicable recent news start to make sense. You see the headline here at "The Washington Post" right now.

"Pentagon blocks visits to military spy agencies by Biden transition team." By military spy agencies, they mean the parts of the intelligence community that are under the rubric of the Defense Department, right? There's like 26 or 27 different intelligence agencies. A bunch of them, including some of the big ones are under the military, are part of the Defense Department. And those are the one that the Biden administration, the Biden transition is being blocked from.

So here we go, right? I mean we have been wondering and we have been covering on this show in recent days the question of what Trump has been aiming at with what he's been doing at the Pentagon. With all the -- forgive me -- random, junior-level screwballs he has been shoving into high-level positions at the pentagon since he lost the election. We have been wondering what that was all for. Now it seems like this breaking news tonight at "the Washington Post" might be part of what this was all about.

Here's the lead tonight at "The Post". Quote: The Trump administration has refused to allow members of president-elect Joe Biden's transition team to meet with officials at U.S. intelligence agencies that are controlled by the Pentagon, undermining prospects for a smooth transition of power.

The officials said the Biden team has been unable to engage with leaders at the NSA, National Security Agency. Also, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other military-run spy services with classified budgets and global espionage platforms. The Defense Department rejected requests from the Biden team this week despite a Trump administration determination on November 23rd which cleared the way for federal agencies to meet with representatives of the incoming Biden administration. Current and former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, said the delays have impaired the Biden team's ability to get up to speed on espionage operations against Russia, China, Iran, and other U.S. adversaries.

The inability to meet with the NSA was described as particularly worrisome. The agency is the largest U.S. intelligence service, and its eavesdropping capabilities have been a critical source of intelligence on threats as varied as weapons proliferation and foreign interference in U.S. elections. Again, the NSA and other parts of the intelligence community that are within the defense department, they are being blocked from doing any transition activities with the incoming Biden folks.

We have been wondering what Trump has been up to with what he's been doing at the Defense Department. It has been unsettling what we've been able to see them doing there, but the point of it really hasn't been clear. We've had numerous guests and a couple of lawmakers on the air to try to figure out what might be the object there. It sort of feels like this might be it. This might be what they were aiming at.

I mean it was only a week after Trump lost re-election that he fired the defense secretary, Mark Esper. And, you know, the common wisdom, even everybody we talked to about it described the firing of Esper as sort of an act of petty vindictiveness by Trump, which of course is not out of character and not hard to believe. But also that wasn't enough to make sense of it, right? Think about the impact of Mark Esper and him being fired after Trump loses the election. Esper still has defense secretary on his resume.

Honestly, if we're being real about it, getting fired by Trump will only bolster Mark Esper's reputation and probably his earning potential in the future. It will be seen as a badge of honor the way this president is going down in history. And beyond that, whoever the president puts in there to take Esper's job after he fired us per, that person's only going to hold on to the job for a few weeks under this lame duck president before that person's definitely going to be fired by the incoming Biden administration. It just seems like a lot of energy for not much payoff, not much payoff either in terms of what Trump might get out of it or what kind of pain he might be able to vindictively inflict on Esper by doing it.

Why bother? Why are they going through all this effort to get people who may have annoyed the president or not out of there after the election and to put in all new people? Well, it started with Esper, but then it quickly got worse or weirder depending on how you think of it because it wasn't just the defense secretary. It was a whole bunch of the top positions at the Defense Department. They were all emptied out.

People were either forced to resign, or they resigned, and we don't know if they were forced to. But we lost in very quick succession the Pentagon intelligence chief, the Pentagon policy chief, the Pentagon chief of staff, even the guy in charge of the task force to defeat ISIS. All of those people were ousted and replaced in short order by Larry, Curly and Moe. No offense to the actual Stooges.

But they really did bring in a series of young, not particularly well-respected junior-level staffers, Trump guys, and like Republican House staffers who had mostly been run out of lower-level jobs for getting involved in embarrassing conspiracy theory stunts around stuff like the Russia investigation and the mess around Mike Flynn. They brought in, like, the "G" team, not only not the "A" team, but like really the -- like the people who flunked out of intern-level stuff.

Today, they just nominated -- they actually nominated to the Senate the new person they want to be installed as the assistant secretary of defense for international security. It's a big-deal job, right? This is a guy who since the election has called for Trump to impose martial law because he says Trump secretly won the election in a landslide, but Hillary Clinton and George Soros rigged it so you can't tell that Trump secretly won in a landslide. This is a guy who tweets QAnon hashtags about how Democrats are all Satan worshippers who eat babies and JFK Jr. is going to come back from the grave and send everybody to Guantanamo.

This guy since the election says that President Trump specifically secretly won California. Oh, really? In the presidential election last month. Trump lost California but like 5 million votes.

But according to this guy who they've nom noticed to be an assistant secretary of defense. Trump definitely won California. It's just secret.

Last Wednesday, this guy tweeted that the coronavirus is a partisan plot because look how many Republicans are getting it. They've nominated this man to be assistant secretary of defense for international security. He's the best person for that job in America. I mean, even if Mitch McConnell in his infinite wisdom decides this person should be Senate-confirmed for this senior Pentagon job, the guy would serve at the pentagon for like five minutes before Biden is going to be sworn in, and then he would definitely lose that job, trust me.

Why are they bothering? Why are they expending this energy? Why are they doing this stuff?

What is worth all this time and energy to get into all the top jobs in the Pentagon, every lunatic junior varsity QAnon, Alex Jones, My Pillow guy, who thinks aliens speak to him through his fillings, so he needs to wrap his head in tin foil because he crawls under his mattress to try to sleep? Because that's the only place that's safe. I mean, why bother? Why are they doing this? What are those guys supposed to do there in these last few weeks in the Pentagon before Biden takes over?

Well, maybe at least in part they're there so that the Biden transition has nobody sane at the pentagon who will talk to them about what's going on right now in some of the most sensitive and important national security stuff that is potentially exploitable by foreign adversaries during presidential transitions, right? I mean, Biden's transition team is not getting briefed, we now know, on the spy versus spy stuff that happens between us and Russia and us and China and Iran and all the rest of it.

The NSA can't brief the incoming Biden administration because the new Trump appointees at the Pentagon have decided that can't happen. The new Trump appointees at the Pentagon, not a distinguished bunch but rushed in there at the very last second.

Today, Trump fired the majority of people on something called the Defense Business Board. It's a sort of important Pentagon advisory board. Why did he want to get rid of all of the sort of business executives and grandees on this board? I don't know, but he replaced them with -- I kid you not -- guys like Corey Lewandowski is now on the Defense Business Board.

Remember who Corey Lewandowski is? He was one of the Trump campaign managers, the one who was fired for being too punchy-punchy.

Also, David Bossie was just put on this board. David Bossie is the political dirty trickster guy who Trump tried to put in charge of his post-election lawsuits this year before somebody told him that actually David Bossie is not a lawyer, and then David Bossie got COVID so he couldn't do it anyway. But now he'll be on the Defense Business Board along with Corey Lewandowski when Biden's team takes over at the Pentagon, along with all the senior staff who Trump moved heaven and earth to bring in for the last few weeks here, right? These guys at their senior level Pentagon guests commenting angrily on YouTube videos about hydroxychloroquine, braiding their beard hair and organizing like fire-breathing open carry protests against the Illuminati, right?

I mean, this is what they're doing at the Pentagon. The United States military is the largest and most capable military on the planet. The United States government is in the driver's seat of the richest and most powerful and most capable country on the planet.

But it turns out that if you have terrible people running those entities and running them poorly, it doesn't really matter how big and powerful you are on paper or how big and powerful you might have been in the past. You can be rendered completely helpless and impotent by just having in the right place the wrong people who are terrible at what they do.

That is -- I mean, a lot of what we'll remember about the Trump era is the outrage, but what we will be living with from the Trump era is the failure, the deliberate, rank failure. Doing this to institutions that we need, that's part of what Fareed Zakaria is here to talk about tonight, specifically with regard to the bad U.S. handling of the pandemic and what comes next because of it. I am very much looking forward to that conversation, particularly because of what we're seeing happening in national security matters, which nobody's much paying attention to as Trump is wrecking the place as he tries to leave. But it's worth paying attention to this stuff.

Today, the margin by which Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in the popular vote rose to a lead of more than 7 million votes. This is becoming more clear as more states finish up their vote tallies and certify their results.

Hillary Clinton, of course, didn't beat Trump in the Electoral College. That's why she never became president, but her supporters took some comfort in the fact that she actually did receive millions more votes than Trump did in 2016. Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by about 2.9 million votes. But it looks like he's going to lose the popular vote to Biden by more than double that margin.

That will make Donald Trump the only president to have ever lost the popular vote twice. And with Biden, we now know topping 51 percent of the total votes cast in the election, that means that Biden got more of a percentage of the vote against an incumbent president than any candidate running against an incumbent president dating back to 1932. It's really hard to oust an incumbent. Biden did a better job of it than anybody since the '30s.

Jennifer Rubin at "The Washington Post" today noticing that not since FDR just wiped the floor with Herbert Hoover in 1932 has anyone ever beat an incumbent president with this large a percentage of the vote. It was not close. It, in fact, was a historic defeat for an incumbent president, of a considerable size.

But President Trump still says he secretly won. He's sure he won. He wants to keep fighting. He needs to keep fighting. He needs you to give him your money right now so he can keep saying that he didn't lose.

The president's lawyers, such as they are, filing yet another lawsuit in Georgia now. I think they actually filed another one in Arizona tonight as well. You know, in Georgia, though, you'll recall that they lost the initial vote count in Georgia. Then they lost Georgia again after the vote count was fully audited by the state. And then they lost Georgia again after they demanded a statewide recount.

But regardless, more suing there now in Georgia, which of course means more billable hours, more urgent, all capital letters sirens blaring, demands for money from your conservative elderly uncle who doesn't have the money to spare but he's nevertheless transfixed by the president telling him he needs help.

He needs your uncle's cash. Hapless Trump lawsuits were thrown out again today in six different jurisdictions. Notable Trump losses today in Nevada and in Michigan and in Minnesota. But even though none of the Trump campaign claims have survived even the first brush with the legal system, where you actually have to bring proof to support your allegations, they're happy to just keep throwing anything against the wall indefinitely.

Today, we heard from -- Democratic Representative Malcolm Kenyatta in Pennsylvania, who we've talked to repeatedly about what Pennsylvania Republican legislators are trying to do to get into this gravy train. He alerted us to this.

That's 75 Republican legislators in Pennsylvania, 75 House and Senate Republicans in Pennsylvania signed on to a letter today telling their state's congressional delegation that they should contest season's election results for the electoral college. Somehow in Congress they should contest what the state reports.

Okay. Knock yourself out. What's the cost, right? Why not? Just keep this charade going. What is the cost? Interestingly, today the handpicked director of national intelligence for the Trump administration, John Ratcliffe, again not a man who's covered himself in glory in this position, but nevertheless today, John Ratcliffe admitted to CBS News -- it appeared he admitted it sort of under duress. He appeared pained by the admission.

But John Ratcliffe told CBS News this morning that the people who are getting the most out of this ongoing charade where Republicans pretend that maybe Biden didn't really win, that maybe Trump secretly won and we just have to figure out how to prove it. The entities who are getting the most bang for their buck out of that are our foreign adversaries, foreign countries that wish to do us harm.


REPORTER: Does the intelligence show that foreign adversaries are amplifying the voter fraud allegations?


REPORTER: Who's doing that?

RATCLIFFE: I can't tell you.

REPORTER: But they are?


REPORTER: And what's their objective?

RATCLIFFE: To undermine public confidence in our democratic processes.


MADDOW: Why are foreign adversaries amplifying these voter fraud allegations we're hearing from the president and from Republicans? Because they want to undermine public confidence in our democratic processes.

That's what our enemies want. That's why our foreign adversaries are boosting the signal on this stuff.

Why are Republicans doing it?

The president, it turns out, did not spend any of his own money on his re-election campaign this year. Why would he when he's got your uncle on the hook, right? New filings that the Trump campaign is actually bragging about show that they've brought in over $200 million after the election in mostly small-dollar fund-raising, almost exclusively via the ginned up, Trump didn't lose the election, fake voter fraud stuff, right? That this fake Trump election defense fund that they've used to beg for money from Trump supporters all over the country.

There isn't actually a financial entity called the Trump election defense fund. They've just used that as a branding mechanism. And when you give money, thinking that you're giving it to the Trump election defense fund, some of that money just goes to the Republican Party for whatever they want to use it for. But the bulk of it goes into something that they call a leadership PAC for Donald Trump, and a leadership PAC is definitely the best kind of PAC if you're this kind of president because that money, again, more than $200 million raised and counting after the election -- that money going into his leadership PAC? That's his money.

That's his money now. That is money that he can literally spend on anything he wants. He can use it to just pay himself directly. He can just convert it into income. He can use it to pay for his living expenses, literally including food and travel and haircuts and stuff.

This just becomes his bank account. This election fraud scam that they are running has turned out to be a way for Donald Trump to actually raise more money than when he was legitimately using donations to run for office.

He's no longer running for office. He's now running to get you to give him money for his leadership PAC because that's now his money. He now gets to keep what he raises. What a better deal this is for him.

I mean back in 2016, he did actually spend some of his own money trying to get elected. He didn't spend as much as he said he was going to, but he did put some of his own money into his election effort in 2016. He spent none of his own money trying to get re-elected in 2020.

And we now know that by losing his re-election effort and running this scam where he claims he was robbed and he needs your help, by milking all this money out of his supporters with this claim since the election, he has finally figured out perhaps the most direct way to monetize this life, to massively enrich himself through his purported career in politics.

Financially, he's way better off losing and complaining than he would be by winning and actually having to govern for four more years. And, you know, if foreign adversaries benefit by America losing its faith and capacity for democracy from here on out because of him pushing these claims, well, what does he care? Do you have any idea how much money this scam is worth?

Vice President Pence is in Georgia today. President Trump will reportedly be there tomorrow. We'll see. Although the lawyers he has filing all these cases for him, including the cases in Georgia, have been telling Republicans in Georgia that the voting system is a scam and democracy is a scam, and they shouldn't vote because it will all be stolen from them because it's all a rigged systems that Republicans should never trust.

Nevertheless, the Republican Party does need to elect these two U.S. senators who will be on the ballot in Georgia on January 5th. They need to elect them if they want to keep control of the Senate. Polling -- there hasn't been a ton of polling, but the polling thus far shows that it's close in both of those Senate runoff races. Incidentally, if you live in Georgia, if you vote in Georgia, the deadline to register to vote, if you want to vote in those Senate elections, is Monday, which means you've got to do it this weekend.

But here's one last thought just to bring this full circle. You know how Trump fired Chris Krebs, the cybersecurity chief at homeland security? Chris Krebs said publicly there wasn't anything wrong with the election, that it was the most secure election in U.S. history. Trump hated that. Trump also hated that Krebs and his agency put up this really good website, this rumor control website, actively and aggressively debunking conspiracy theories about things being wrong with the election or wrong with the vote count.

Well, today, after Trump fired Chris Krebs and fired Krebs' deputy and fired the cybersecurity division chief at that agency, today, the guy left standing still running that agency announced that actually, yeah, they're going to keep that rumor control website up and running. They're going to keep it up through the Georgia Senate elections on January 5th so they can debunk conspiracy theories about the voting system for that election too. Oh, no. Oh, no, because that of course means Trump's going to have to fire even more national security people now. He'll have to find more Infowars, Mike Flynn acolyte screwballs to go move into that agency too, right? Better hurry.

It's a big government. It's a big national security apparatus. Time is running out for you to totally destroy it on your way out the door.

Lots ahead tonight. A couple of great guests I'm really looking forward to talking with. Stay with us.


MADDOW: It was the very first press briefing that President Trump held about the coronavirus, February 26th this year. And he gave it that day for a reason, because the day before, a top CDC official had told reporters it was no longer a question of if but when the coronavirus would begin to spread in the U.S.

She said that Americans should prepare for severe disruption to their everyday lives. She said that she had already started talking to her kids' schools about what it might mean to do school from home. It was a stark first warning of that from a CDC official February 25th.

Well, President Donald Trump was not going to stand for that kind of truth-telling. He decided he would give his own briefings instead of the CDC, and so on February 26th, the next day, he gathered everybody in nice and close and told Americans that everything was going to be just fine. Everything was going to be just fine because the United States is prepared.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Johns Hopkins, I guess, is highly respected, great place. They did a -- a study, comprehensive. The countries best and worst prepared for an epidemic, and the United States is now -- we're rated number one. We're rated number one for being prepared.

This is a list of the different countries. United States is rated number one, most prepared.


MADDOW: You know, the president's coronavirus briefings would of course quickly become a near daily parade of dangerous lies and disinformation about coronavirus. But that thing that he said there, the first one was actually true.

Johns Hopkins really did do a comprehensive assessment of pandemic readiness in all the countries in the world, and the U.S. did come out on top. Best labs. Best health institutes. Beast research universities. Best pharma companies. We had the best of everything. Still do.

But it turns out it matters what you do with it. It doesn't matter how great the car is if you can't drive.

Despite all the ostensible readiness, we of course have been absolutely abysmal at handling this virus. We're a global model for how to bollix a pandemic response in pretty much every conceivable way.

Here's one way to understand why that is. It comes from a really good, helpful new book by the big-thinking author, journalist, and public intellectual Fareed Zakaria. His book is called "Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World," and I commend to you lesson number two, which is succinctly, what matters is not the quantity of government but the quality.

Fareed writes that in that Johns Hopkins study, quote, the U.S. ranked first overall. That sounded right. America was after all the country with the best pharmaceutical companies, research universities, labs, health institutes. But by March 2020, these advantages seemed like a cruel joke as COVID-19 tore across the U.S. and the federal government mounted a delayed, weak, and erratic response.

By July, with less than 5 percent of the world's population, the U.S. had over 25 percent of the world's cumulative confirmed cases. Per capita daily death rates in the U.S. were ten times higher than in Europe. Was this the new face of American exceptionalism?

These ills of government are an American, not a democratic, disease, meaning not a small "D" democratic disease. This is not a problem because we're a democracy. Many other democracies handled this pandemic effectively, better than any dictatorship. That list includes countries run by political parties of all stripes.

Fareed Zakaria ends this lesson with a note of warning about America's potential future.

Quote, America is successful enough never to collapse, but it could slowly edge downward, muddling along with a haphazard mix of dynamic economics and dysfunctional politics. While American military power might still outrank all others, the lives of average Americans would continue to slip behind, oblivious to the improvements abroad. The country could become more parochial and less global, losing influence and innovation, all the while consoling itself with fantasies that it is utterly exceptional. For many decades, the world needed to learn from America.

But now America needs to learn from the world. And what it most needs to learn about is government, not big or small, but good government. Good government. Competent government.

That's the diagnosis. What is the cure? How do we start getting that back?

Joining us now for the interview, I'm very pleased to say, is my friend Fareed Zakaria. He's the host of "Fareed Zakaria GPS" on CNN. He's the author of this new book, "Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World."

Mr. Zakaria, it is great to see you here. Thanks so much for making time to be here.

FAREED ZAKARIA, AUTHOR OF "TEN LESSONS FOR A POST-PANDEMIC WORLD": It's a huge pleasure for me, Rachel. A huge thrill as a fan and this is my first appearance. I'm a little nervous.

MADDOW: Well, you're allowed to be nervous. You're better at TV than I am, so you can just take over at any moment.

Let me just ask you if you feel like I'm putting this in the right context. I feel like your diagnosis here that we have what on paper should be the greatest vehicle for dealing with this problem, but we have lost the ability to conduct that vehicle in any meaningful way. It just feels to me like the most cogent analysis I've seen of why we got this so wrong.

ZAKARIA: I think it's the best application of my -- of the lesson in that book to the present. I think you put it perfectly. The thing about America is, you know, this is why people often get it wrong. It's a big, sprawl, chaotic, dynamic country. You can find the best in it. You can find the worst in it.

But government as a result is hard in America. It's this crazy, chaotic, crazy quilt patchwork of central, state, local authority. Government is divided among three branches, dozens of federal agencies. So getting, you know, corralling all that and getting government to work is hard.

Franklin Roosevelt did it. Lyndon Johnson did it. In his own way, Reagan did it. Obama did it with Ebola, with a number of other issues.

The Trump administration didn't even try. So when you don't even try, when you don't have intelligent, energetic, purposeful, directed government coming out of the White House, of course these assets mean nothing because then you get the weakness of the decentralization, the disaggregation, the different fusion of power. And what we've seen in a sense in a case study under Trump of how not to do American government.

We know, this is not France. We don't have one centralized bureaucracy where everything works. The president has to be kind of the motivator in chief, guider in chief, coach in chief. Trump was doing none of it, and so really this has been I think what you described a case study in how not to do pandemic response.

MADDOW: And, Fareed, are there lessons from abroad or from American history in terms of turning that around? Because I feel like what's feels newly important to me -- you know, I've observed anti-government rhetoric, you know, and shrink the government rhetoric from the right for a very long time.

What we've seen so clearly with the Trump administration is they didn't actually get rid of anything. Nothing disappeared. Nothing shrunk. It's not like we have no deficit or something now because they've stopped government spending.

They've left everything in place. They've just filled it with incompetent people who aren't charged with running it well. So we have a big, bad government now.

And I don't know how to turn that into a functioning government rather than -- you know, you can imagine somebody designing and building from the ground up something that's efficient and is designed to tackle the problem at hand. But when you have something that's been wasted and rotted and ruined, how do you rehabilitate that for the needs that the country has?

ZAKARIA: It's a great question. Look, there are two aspects to this. One is we have actually starved government. The figures conceal this because defense spending has gone up a lot over the last few decades, and, of course, Social Security and Medicare, and entitlements have gone up.

But ever since Reagan, the ideas that been that the federal government is basically diseased, dysfunctional. The idea has been demean it, defund it. You know, Reagan said government is not the solution. Government is the problem. The nine scariest words in the English language are "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

All that has meant that the government doesn't hire good people, that these domestic agencies have actually lost a lot of funding and lost a lot of prestige, lost a lot of autonomy.

So, first of all, there is a 40-year assault. You know, when Steve Bannon comes into the White House, he said the goal of the Trump revolution is the deconstruction of the administrative state.

Now, for 40 years you've been trying to drown government, deconstruct it. Guess what? It doesn't function that well. So that's one piece of it.

The second, which you're right to point out, is even more difficult, which is, okay, we still have the largest government, we still have lots of resources. What do you do?

I think that one of the lessons here is you have to pay attention and be serious about governing. This is not a reality TV show. And one of the things Trump got away with was making it out as though you didn't really have to do much.

The most telling part about John Bolton's memoirs is that he would go in every day and notice nobody was doing anything. There was no policy being executed day to day. They would literally come in and wonder, okay, what is the president going to tweet about, and what is the damage control we do today?

Now, if you're running government like that, there's enough momentum that things can sort of go on okay. But come a pandemic, come a crisis, everything falls apart.

And so, I do think a lot of this, you have to blame at the top. Trump was -- you know, he's never run anything in his life. He had a small mom and pop real estate business, which kind of failed, and he turned it into a licensing business after "The Apprentice." So he hasn't had much experience, and what experience he had has turned out to be very bad.

MADDOW: Yeah. I do -- I felt in reading that -- in reading the iteration of that that's in your book, the thing that I felt hopeful about was the potential impact of exalting public service again and trying to get the best of America back into public service both in the spirit of it but also to just do that work. I think the fact that this is a one-term president might be really, really important.

ZAKARIA: The places that did the best, Rachel, were governments in East Asia, which are not very big governments as a percentage because they don't have large welfare states. Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore. But what they do have is a tradition of, you know, government service is honored. It is respected.

In Singapore, it's highly paid. You make as much as a banker, as a minister. But most importantly, these agencies were staffed with technocrats, given a lot of autonomy, given free rein, respected by government, by society.

You know, we have to get back to that because whether -- you know, we've had this 20th century debate about the size of the government. Whatever size the government is, we want it to be competent. We want it to be respected. We want people to understand that, you know, the best people in the world should think about spending some time in government.

And if we can come back to that tradition, which is the tradition Franklin Roosevelt began, which is the tradition Lyndon Johnson expanded on, we have had periods in American history where American government has functioned superbly. I mean, it is American government that beat the depression, won World War II, beat the Cold War, created the Internet, put a man on the moon.

This is all government. Just, you know, good, competent government.

MADDOW: Fareed Zakaria, the host of "Fareed Zakaria GPS" on CNN, author of the excellent new book, "Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World" -- Fareed, it really is a pleasure and an honor to have you here tonight. Thank you for crossing the divide and being here. It's really good to have you.

ZAKARIA: Thank you. Thank you. Really appreciate it.

MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead tonight here. Stay with us.


MADDOW: As I mentioned at the top of the show, a federal judge late tonight ordered the Trump administration to restore the program for the Dreamers, for kids brought to this country when they were little, never known any other home country. DACA was started under President Obama. It provides a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of dreamers.

Trump and the Republicans have been trying to kill it off ever since. Well, tonight's federal court ruling orders the Trump administration to immediately reinstate the DACA program. That's big news tonight. We'll see how that plays out.

But, of course, the Trump's administration's effort to do away with the program for the Dreamers, that's just one part of their multi-front assault against immigrants, including specifically immigrant kids. It was 2018 when we learned that Trump was taking thousands of little kids away from their moms and dads at the southern border. More than 5,000 kids forcibly taken away from their parents by Trump under that government policy.

Even it came to light, there were mass protests across the country for weeks, demanding that families belong together. Trump administration said they would end the program. Eventually with the help of a court order, a group of lawyers held the Trump administration to account and started to go about the business of trying to get those kids home to their parents.

Then about a month ago, in 2020, we felt new shock waves when it was revealed that for all that had supposedly been done to move on from that policy, there are still now almost 700 kids who haven't been returned to their parents yet because the Trump administration never provided any sort of way of matching them up with your families from whom they'd been taken. Well, now it turns out the story gets even worse. It turns out that even while the Trump administration was telling a federal judge that providing information to help reunite these kids with their parents was too onerous for the administration, it turns out that all along they had a whole bunch of extra identifying information that could help match up the kids with their moms and dads.

In a court filing just this week, legal advocates revealed that the Trump administration only just now finally handed over critical data needed to reunite separated families. Quote: Among other things, the information includes phone numbers that had not previously been disclosed.

After months of offering nothing, this information was released just last week. They had phone numbers to help connect these kids to their moms and dads, and they just sat on it. They just didn't hand it over while these kids have been apart from their parents all this time. They just didn't feel like handing over this information.

One of the lawyers who has been leading the fight on this issue for the ACLU joins us live here next.


MADDOW: Just when you thought it couldn't actually get worse, a new court filing this week revealed that the Trump administration has been sitting for no apparent reason on critical data that could have been used to reconnect hundreds of kids who have been separated from their parents.

Lee Gelernt is deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants Rights Project. He's one of the lawyers leading this case for the past three years about this case taking away from their parents.

This was his reaction to the news this week. He said, quote: It is outrageous. Just when I thought this administration was incapable of more, one of the worst things I have seen litigating this case for three years.

Joining us now is Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants Rights Project, lead attorney in the family separation lawsuit.

Lee, thank you for being here and helping us understand this.


MADDOW: Is it as simple as the fact that they had phone numbers? They had that kind of specific identifying information for some of these families and they just didn't give that to you?

GELERNT: Yeah. You know, unfortunately, I think it is that simple, and that horrendous, and we're in shock now because more than a year ago we said, look, we need phone numbers. We need contact information. We can't aimlessly be looking all over the world for these families.

We specifically said, do you have more data, more contact information? The government said, no, we don't. We upped that ask continuously. We recorded in court we were having trouble finding the families.

Then there was this global outcry, the issue reached the second presidential debate and the government says would it be helpful if we give you more data? You know, we were in shock. Then the Wednesday before thanksgiving we finally get this data and there is phone numbers and addresses. Meantime, little children have been separated from their parents.

MADDOW: This is literally derived from the president having been pushed in that debate with Joe Biden to say that his administration was working very hard to reunite the families. That was the impetus for this, the president blurted out a thing and then the administration tried to make it true?

GELERNT: It seems like that. And as you said, each time that I think things can't get worse, they have. I have been continuously shocked. I guess maybe I just at this point am naive.

And right now, what we're doing is looking forward, and we really need a Biden administration to not only help us find the families, but to do more than that, to allow the parents to come back to the United States, reunite with their children and to give these families some permanent status given what they've been through, and create a fund to help them.

It's not enough now just to find them. We need to make this right. We need to do something for these families. I mean, this is really a shameful episode for the United States.

MADDOW: Well, part of the politics here that led to that statement by President Trump at the debate, which apparently led to this data coming out, part of the politics here is that Joe Biden has publicly pledged that he will work from day one to try to make this right. Have you had any contact, you or the ACLU more broadly or co-counsel, had any contact with the incoming Biden folks? Are you asking them for specific commitments or trying to put together something that they could endorse, that they could get working on when they take over?

GELERNT: I mean, yeah, I can't go into specifics now. Obviously, the ACLU is generally talking Biden administration, including about family separation. But we will be making this ask of them. I think it's critical that they understand that we need more than help finding the families. That these families really deserve more from the United States.

It was just straight out brutality. Physicians have called it torture, child abuse, and it was purposeful. I hope we never lose sight of the human stories of these children because every family I talk to, it's just their own story unto itself. Just so brutal. Little children screaming and begging, don't take me away, don't take me away, and just ripping them apart, sending them across the country, not telling the parents where they are going.

MADDOW: Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants Rights Project, lead attorney in the family separation lawsuit -- Lee, you have been through the worst for these families. Thanks for helping us understand it. Appreciate it.

GELERNT: Thanks so much for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: We'll be right back.


MADDOW: Thanks for being with us tonight.

I hope you have an excellent weekend. I will see you again Monday, if not before.

Now, it's time for "THE LAST WORD" where my friend Ali Velshi is filling in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ali.


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