Soham Tikekar / Daily Nexus

Along with his opinions on the current election and its candidates, Zakaria also spoke on the importance of humanities in a tech-centered world. Soham Tikekar / Daily Nexus

Fareed Zakaria, host of the award-winning CNN show “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” spoke to a sold-out audience at Granada Theatre on Tuesday for UCSB Arts & Lectures series, Election 2016: A View from Home and Abroad.

New York Times best-selling author of the book “In Defense of a Liberal Arts Education”, Zakaria shared his perspective on the race for the upcoming presidential election, as well as the importance of humanities in higher education.

A self-described secular and non-practicing Muslim Indian immigrant, Zakaria said he cannot understand the overarching pessimism sweeping the nation, especially the underlying xenophobia and racism that has spread through the Republican Party.

“It’s hard for me because I am an immigrant … There is so much fear and uncertainty, and I ask myself ‘Why?’”
According to Zakaria, Donald Trump is a manifestation of an internal revolution within the Republican Party. He said this year’s election is far more complex than those of decades past, with the method of identifying an individual’s political affiliation through the lens of economics growing increasingly antiquated.

“Culture has become more dominant than economics in determining your political position,” Zakaria said.

Zakaria recalled that there had been an uptick in racist and bigoted messages about his columns, even if they have nothing to do with politics at all; members of the audience gasped and shook their heads.

According to Zakaria, Trump entered the Republican primary debate stage as an outsider with no political experience at all, and the presumptive GOP candidate is not a “liar” but rather a “bullshitter.”

“See, a liar intentionally makes a false statement because he knows what the truth is,” Zakaria said. “With Trump, he doesn’t care about hiding the truth, he just says whatever he wants because he doesn’t know what the truth is.”

Zakaria said Trump is a good salesman, and like any good salesman, he can read the people in an audience. According to Zakaria, Trump was aware of the ideological disparity between the Republican elites and Americans who identified with the party who have grown increasingly less concerned with the traditional platform ideas of the Republican Party, such as “small government” and a “balanced budgets.” Instead, Zakaria said Trump appealed to them with a populist message that is powerful yet simple.

“That is the basket of ideas that people care about,” Zakaria said. “Trump’s message is that the Mexicans are coming, the Chinese are stealing your jobs and the Muslims are threatening your security.”

According to Zakaria, the popularity of Trump’s message is a consequence of a rapidly globalizing world and an unbridled advancement of technology. Autonomous gadgets continue to become more of a reality, and the proliferation of the idea of free movement of people has led to “extraordinary change in the composition of these societies.”

On Hillary Clinton, Zakaria said he has met the former Secretary of State and dismissed the idea that she was a manipulative person. While he said Clinton’s appearance of being distant was understandable, having likely been born out of the repeated political and personal assaults she has endured, he admitted it can be off-putting.

“I certainly always thought she was guarded,” he said.

In addition, Zakaria defended Clinton’s refusal to release transcripts of the speeches she gave to major Wall Street investment bankers and others in closed meetings. He said he has attended one such meeting, and the speeches are rather “bland.” One reason behind Clinton’s desire to not release the speeches, according to Zakaria, is because “she is instinctively on guard.”

For Zakaria, the most troubling aspect of the election will not only be the outcome, but also the legacy it leaves behind. He pointed out the “rise of celebrity culture” and questioned whether Trump has blazed a trail that may ultimately allow celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey or Kanye West to run for president and actually win.

“Does this open the door for a whole different world of politics?” Zakaria asked.

During the Q&A session, Zakaria said in a time when the world is “obsessed with technology,” humanities can be used as tools to enhance our understanding of questions and problems that mathematics or computer science cannot solve.

Zakaria’s book explores the idea that the humanities are not as impractical and useless as they are often made out to be.

Zakaria said he does not intend to discourage those pursuing an education in the science, technology, engineering or mathematics (S.T.E.M.) fields. According to Zakaria, even the brightest computer software engineers or technological entrepreneurs look to liberal arts to improve their businesses or projects.

“You want to make sure not to miss out on the richest experiences of life,” he said.

Zakaria was asked if he would ever accept an appointment as Secretary of State.

“That’s what my mom thinks,” he said in response, drawing chuckles from the audience.

Zakaria said he loves what he does, and although he has admired people who have held office, he finds it to be an elemental part of maintaining a functional democracy. He adds that people ought to choose the career paths they want.

“If you get up in the morning and don’t know what to do, that’s a tough life to be in,” Zakaria said.

Zakaria remained optimistic about the future, saying he believed Millennials are a generation who not only “wants an open, connected world,” but also “expects an open, connected world,” a stark contrast to the older generations. He sees that Millennials are comfortable with the world they live in and that they do not hold “a fear of the outside world.”

Zakaria said while there are troubling issues plaguing the nation, the United States is a country with solutions, whereas most just have problems.

“You see America more demographically vibrant than any part of the world … You can ask me, ‘What country has the most opportunity and the best place to be?’ and I would say that it would be the United States.”

A version of this story appeared on p.3 of the Thursday, September 29, 2016 print edition of the Daily Nexus.