The United States has been plunged into a state of purgatory following the election of Donald Trump. In all political quarters, people are engaged in their own post-mortem analysis of how this happened and what it means, not only for the future of this country, but for the world. Trump ran on a pledge to engage in mass deportations, deny Muslims entry to the U.S., strip abortion rights, and “bomb the shit” out of ISIS. Although Trump has staked out conflicting positions on a wide range of issues over the past several years, his campaign centered on an overtly nativist agenda. And his running mate, Mike Pence, is one of the key leaders of the radical religious right contingent of the Republican Party.
While many Democrats are pointing fingers outside their own ranks to make sense of the stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton, few are willing to examine how their choice of nominee and the campaign they ran shaped the result. In this podcast, Intercept Editor-in-Chief Betsy Reed and co-founders Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill break down how we got here and what a Trump presidency means for civil liberties, surveillance, war, abortion rights, and other issues. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the conversation.
Jeremy Scahill: Thanks for joining us. I’m Jeremy Scahill at The Intercept coming to you from American purgatory. The phrase President Trump is going to be a reality for at least the next four years. To discuss how this happened and what it means I’m joined by two of my colleagues, Betsy Reed, who is the editor-in-chief of The Intercept, and Glenn Greenwald, my fellow co-founder of The Intercept and columnist and journalist. Glenn, you wrote a piece in reaction to the election, “Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit” — tell us about that piece.
Glenn Greenwald: It was inspired, essentially, by the immediate effort of the Democratic Party and their spokespeople in the media who had basically devoted themselves single-mindedly to Hillary Clinton’s election over the last 18 months to immediately start searching for everybody they can find to cast blame on, other than themselves, for what is now really the reduction of the Democratic Party into a small fringe minority party.
James Carville said that he doesn’t recall in his lifetime any party being as weak across the board as the Democratic Party. You would think that when a party faces such devastating losses over time, but especially such a crushing defeat like this one to such a weak candidate like Donald Trump, there would be some introspection, some self-examination, and there was almost none of that. There was a desire to just say that it was everybody else’s fault.
I was particularly disturbed by the way that they were casting and maligning essentially all of the people who had committed the sin of voting what they regarded as the wrong way by simply dismissing them all as primitive or troglodyte or racist or misogynist. Even though of course many of them are, many of them are not, and even for the ones that do have that as part of their motive, there are independently of that a lot of long, deep trends that have destroyed the welfare and economic security of tens of millions of people and put them into a mindset where they want to destroy this system of authority that they blame. I think that is what caused Brexit and I think to a large degree that’s what’s caused Trump. It’s urgent that we think about what these policies are that have done that to these people: who it is, who has done it, what the reasons are, and how to stop. Watching them blame the media or WikiLeaks or Putin or Jill Stein or whomever they could find seemed very clearly to be a way of avoiding that conversation. My piece was really about urging everybody to have that conversation.
JS: Right. In some ways it really felt like the closing stages of this election was like the series finale of “The Americans” where Cold War propaganda was dumped out upon the American people. There was some bizarre coalition of Julian Assange, Putin, and Trump all in bed together to subvert the glorious American democracy that would take hold as soon as Hillary Clinton won, and I was, as you do often, Glenn, I was battling people on Twitter who were basically trying to blame the election result on Jill Stein of the Green Party and her voters, and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and their voters, and none of the people that were going after third parties in this country wanted to talk about the atrocious policies of the corporatist candidate that the Democrats ran.
No one wants to talk about the fact that the Clintons are perceived as corrupt royalty by a large segment of the U.S. population.
No one wants to talk about the fact that the Clintons are perceived as corrupt royalty by a large segment of the U.S. population: a candidate who was hawkish who deservedly got the endorsement of many leading neocons. Instead it was, “Well, whoever voted for Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, you’re a misogynist and you are responsible for this.” The fact is that according to the exit polls, 9 percent of registered Democrats actually voted for Donald Trump. Seven percent of Republicans voted for Hillary Clinton, but why isn’t there this rage at their own partisan Kool-Aid-drinking base? Instead, it’s like they envision a world that they want where people are only allowed to vote for the candidates that they choose, that these individual people choose. And that exercising your right to vote for a third party somehow means that you are not fully participating in the democratic process and, in fact, you’re sabotaging the anointing of the chosen candidate of the Democratic Party.
I wanted ask Betsy: On this issue we have seen a kind of development on social media but also in columns written by, well, on the one hand, very partisan, life-long Democrats, blaming everyone else except their candidate, but [on the other hand] this was viewed in the sort of mainstream world of feminist writers as a referendum on misogyny and a referendum on sexism — and if you didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton then you are part of electing a women-hating punisher who is going to mercilessly strip away women’s rights in this country. Now, no doubt that Hillary Clinton endured an incredible barrage of sexist motivated attacks that a man certainly would not have received had they run the exact same campaign as Hillary Clinton, but what do you think about that line that is being stated quite bluntly by high-profile feminists that anyone who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton is part of ensuring an overt misogynist theocracy in the United States?
Betsy Reed: Well, I guess I would say I have somewhat complicated feelings about that because I actually do believe that this election was an absolute tragedy for American feminism. It’s a complete and terrible defeat and I think that what Donald Trump displayed during the campaign and throughout his entire career is just nothing but contempt and hatred toward women. I have a 13-year-old daughter and to try to explain to her how this man could have been elected despite all of that, despite that record, I mean, it’s very difficult, a very painful conversation to have, and I think a lot of women are just shell-shocked about that.
So on one level, I have a lot of empathy for that, and I feel that myself. But at the same time, I think it’s a big mistake not to — as Glenn said — take this moment to reflect a little bit on what this reveals about our movements and about our priorities. And I feel that nominating this candidate [Clinton] who is so deeply compromised, who is so embedded in the corporate elite that has wrecked American democracy was an impossible thing — and a lot of feminists, real feminists, supported Bernie Sanders for exactly this reason. They were not “Bernie bros.” I am 100 percent a feminist and I just could never get on board with Hillary Clinton’s version of feminism. So I think we as feminists need to have a reckoning and a real discussion of what it means to be a feminist because we do face tremendous challenges in the period to come. I mean, PENCE. It’s just a complete nightmare. On a symbolic level Trump is a total disaster but Pence has made his entire political career out of the determination to abolish women’s reproductive rights. So that is an incredibly important struggle in the period to come.
I have a 13-year-old daughter and to try to explain to her how this man could have been elected despite that record of hatred and contempt toward women, I mean, it’s a very painful conversation.
JS: Right, and Mike Pence — clearly it was a very strategically wise decision on the part of the Republicans to sort of foist him onto Trump as his running mate because Mike Pence is from the Rick Santorum wing of the Republican Party, whose primary issues are stopping gay people from marrying each other and stopping women from making their own decisions on what happens with their bodies. Everything else is secondary to that — that is their major obsession.
But to transition from the earlier point that you made, it doesn’t seem like the institutional Democratic Party is learning any lessons from this. There’s other debates going on in the rank and file, ordinary people that are against Trump, but the idea that Howard Dean just threw his hat into the ring to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee raises a lot of questions about how much introspection they’re actually doing. Keith Ellison, who is very progressive, first Muslim member of the U.S. Congress — African-American congressman from Minneapolis — is being talked about as a potential DNC chair. Glenn, can you talk a little bit about what that represents, the idea that Howard Dean could be the next head of the DNC?
GG: I was thinking about this this morning in terms of what happened in this election and how the Democratic Party in the past has succeeded, and if you look at the last 25 years of Democratic Party politics you find this really interesting trend which is: the Democratic politicians who succeeded, who won the national election, which is Bill Clinton and then Barack Obama, had one thing in common which is that they both ran as these hardcore devoted consummate outsiders. I’m not part of Washington; I’ve never been a part of Washington, in the case of Clinton I’ve only been a southern governor, in the case of Obama I’ve only been a senator for four years, and what I want to do is go in and radically and fundamentally change how this entire place that you all hate and that we all hate, how it functions. And they won.
And if you look at the ones over the same time who have lost, which is Al Gore and John Kerry and now Hillary Clinton, they are exactly the opposites. They were completely incapable of pretending to be outside forces. They were obviously with great accuracy identified as being consummate Washington insiders and so it was obvious to everybody that they would go in and perpetuate and protect and safeguard and continue to be beneficiaries of this Washington establishment and status quo that most of the people in the country hate, and for that reason they lost.
And I think Hillary Clinton was probably, of all of them, the most identifiable as a Washington insider exactly because of all the reasons that her supporters tried to claim she was most qualified and all of that. And yes, she was the most qualified in the sense that she has spent the most time inside Washington, in the most varied capacities. But that’s exactly what made her such a great liability and I think what this reflects is a fundamental flaw in how Democrats think. Especially their spokespeople, the opinion-making elite in the party, the operatives and in the media who live in these coastal cities, regard these institutions as fundamentally good and trustworthy and worthy of admiration, and of course some tinkering and some reform, but by and large they’re forces for good that ought to continue. This is the standard liberal mindset of believing in institutions of authority.
And so when you keep continuously holding yourself out as purveyors of and defenders and protectors of institutions in a culture that most of the people in the country completely despise, of course the country is going to turn its back on you and will reject you because you’re purporting to defend something that they hate.
And Howard Dean, you know people think of him at this fire-breathing liberal and maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t back in 2003 when people remember him, but since 2004 when he lost, he has done nothing but cash in on his political celebrity. He has become the worst part of DC elite corruption. He lobbies for designated terrorist groups like MEK, which is this Iranian cult that has long wanted U.S. intervention in that part of the world. He lobbies for health care and for corporate companies. He claims he’s not technically a lobbyist, though at The Intercept, as Lee Fang wrote, whether he’s technically one or not he certainly acts like one. And to even contemplate the idea that somebody like that this consummate insider who is in bed with every corporate interest, every lobbying interest, could now be the face of the Democratic National Committee — just the mere possibility of anyone talking about that shows how no lessons have been learned.
I actually don’t think he will be the DNC chair; I think the symbolism of Keith Ellison being not only African-American, but the first Muslim elected to Congress, being part of the progressive wing, being a really effective communicator; I think he’ll probably end up being selected — I hope so — but the fact that people are even thinking of Dean reflects this ongoing pathology.
JS: Well and let’s remember that Keith Ellison was one of the few and one of the first members of Congress to openly endorse Bernie Sanders. And Keith Ellison also was a major part of trying to fight against the rigging of the primary system under Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s leadership at the DNC, which of course we now know from a variety of documents and public statements by people, that the whole thing was essentially a fraud intended to ensure that Bernie Sanders was not going to be the nominee and the ironic thing about that is he probably would have been the Democrats’ best chance of beating Donald Trump because Bernie Sanders was perceived as an outsider, despite the fact that he spent so much time in Washington. The ideas he was articulating were ideas that you never heard a high-profile winnable candidate put forward by the Democrats, and so —
BR: — Well, that is a counterfactual that we’ll never know. I mean, because I do believe that you’re right, but I also think that the power of Wall Street is tremendous and they would have been virtually united against him.
JS: Well, I mean, that that may well be true —
GG: — Maybe, maybe, but I think they still they would’ve feared Trump. And yes, they don’t like Sanders ideologically, but they view Trump as this kind of like unpredictable and unstable maniac and they hate instability and unpredictability more than they hate anything else. I think they would’ve hated both. I think Mike Bloomberg probably would have run.
JS: But I think part of the point that I’m making, though — I am not claiming that Bernie Sanders would have won; what I am saying is that I think he would have been a more viable opponent to Donald Trump, for a couple of specific reasons but one very broad reason: I think that a lot of the people — for instance the state of Wisconsin where I’m from — I think a lot of the people, including rank and file union members, that did vote for Trump did so because of the trade policies linked to the Clintons and that Hillary Clinton herself we know called the “gold standard,” as Donald Trump kept repeating about the TPP, jobs are being shipped overseas.
People are hurting. People that are genuinely progressives even I think felt like this was a referendum on the legacy of the Democrats, the institutional Democrats position on trade. That certainly wasn’t the only issue — race, sexism, all of those things played a role; but I do think that Bernie Sanders tapped into the same kind of emotion that Trump did in a kind of parallel universe and I think that that’s worth talking about. Hillary Clinton didn’t say Bernie Sanders name — she tried to avoid saying that man’s name for months and months and what we saw was that when people are allowed to hear those ideas articulated as Sanders did, which are held by wide swaths of the population that never get that kind of a platform, that it resonates with people and so that also is a commentary on the corrupt state of the debate process in this country. The two-party primary system, etc.
The popular vote showed there’s large support in this country for a politics of tolerance, of progressivism, around culture issues, around gender and race. That coalition is going to be an important bulwark against the hate that Trump represents.
BR: I agree with you, Jeremy, but I do think that to some degree there is a discussion among Democratic Party insiders looking back in a Monday-morning quarterbacking way at the tactical missteps of the campaign, and they say, “Oh, you know, she really should’ve listened to Bill and campaigned more in these states,” but I actually think that the problem with Hillary went much deeper because she really was the candidate who believed in TPP, she believed in trade, she was close to Wall Street, she couldn’t have gone there because if she had shown up, they wouldn’t have believed her — and for good reason. So you know I think we have to keep that in mind I also think, though that we should —
JS: — But that’s a bad idea then to have a candidate that you’re like, “Oh well we better not send her among ordinary people because they’re going to see that she’s an empire politician.”
BR: But at a broader level, we need to keep in mind as context the fact that she did win the popular vote in the country. So this is an important discussion about the Rust Belt and these economically punished communities and I think we have to reckon with that, but at the same time, the popular vote showed how there’s large support in this country for a politics of tolerance, of progressivism, around culture issues, around gender and race, and we should keep that in mind because that coalition is going to be an important bulwark against the hate that Trump represents.
GG: Yeah, she did win the popular vote; I think she probably will end up winning the popular vote by a few hundred thousand votes or so. So a relatively small margin. A big reason why she’s going to win the popular vote is because the number of votes she received in places like New York City and California increase significantly over what even Obama received in large part obviously due to fear and horror over the prospect of a Trump presidency. But I think that that’s really cold comfort for a couple of reasons. Number one is because campaigns don’t cater themselves to the popular vote but to the Electoral College. Who knows what the popular vote total would have been had Trump spent time in California or New York trying to increase his vote total in those places. He instead ignored those as he should have done and we have an Electoral College system, that’s where the campaigns devote themselves to winning.
And then, the other aspect of it is that it isn’t just this election. If you look at like the Democratic Party’s problems, it isn’t just the fact that Hillary Clinton just lost to Donald Trump. They are also a minority in the House, a minority in the Senate. They have a record low number of governorships. And then on the state level in terms of state legislatures and even like county commissions and city councils and school boards Republicans are completely dominant.
So it’s really a systemic failure on the part of the Democratic Party. So yes, Hillary Clinton won a couple hundred thousand more votes because a lot of people in Manhattan and Los Angeles and San Francisco turned out. But I agree with what Betsy just said which is that that we do have to keep in mind that there are a huge number of people in the country who are horrified by and angry about Donald Trump’s views, and we shouldn’t just be so downtrodden that we forget that we have real weapons as people who dissent and as people who want to resist it. And there’s a really good opportunity to galvanize huge numbers of people in a way that might be really like emboldening and clarifying about these political values. So I completely agree with that point I think it’s important to emphasize, but I don’t think that should be used to kind of paper over or diminish how much of a failure the Democratic Party has become in electoral politics in this country at every level.
JS: Well, but also if you look at Hillary Clinton’s concession speech delivered the next day, at the remarks that President Obama made and then, online, the various statements put out by all sorts of prominent Democrats and their backers and their lobbyist, etc. This notion, “Well, Trump is now our president and we have to give him a chance and we have to proceed with an open mind” — to me that’s an utterly ridiculous idea. The idea that you’re going to take someone who has openly espoused a desire to do mass deportation, to shut down the borders, to have a screening process for anyone who happens to be of a particular religion, i.e., Islam, that has openly said that he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade — what chance is there to give this person? I mean to me it shows the bankruptcy of partisan politics and embracing the system that produces these kinds of options. The idea that you don’t just immediately start from the position that this is going to be a disaster and you somehow wait for him to do something, you know, really outrageous — to me actually is a pretty devastating commentary on the state of the establishment Democratic Party.
BR: Yes, just look at the neocons who were so outraged by the prospect of a Trump presidency in the national security world and they’re already turning right around on that, they’re pivoting straight to —
JS: — “praying for our commander in chief” and they’re all going to want positions in that government which actually is —
GG: — And they’re going to get them —
JS: And they’re going to get them. It’s a good transition though to let’s actually now talk about what this means.
Isn’t it reckless and even amoral to start normalizing Trump and telling Americans they should treat him with an open mind? Isn’t our obligation instead to say we don’t accept this and we are going to stand up to it?
GG: No wait before we go on to something else, I think that’s actually a super interesting point that you raise that I just want to explore just a little bit. And I’m actually really interested in what you both have to say because this has been bothering me a lot. So think about this: I’ve just heard anecdotally from friends who have children, who are, like either the children of the same age as Betsy’s daughter or a little bit older like millennials in their college years. People like a lot of young people from Democratic families or liberal families or people who live on the coast are genuinely traumatized, like scared, about the fact that Donald Trump was just elected president and that was in part because he was often depicted as comparable essentially to like the rise of Hitler. Maybe sometimes the rhetoric didn’t go quite that far but that was definitely the tenor of a lot of this. And that wasn’t completely unjustified I mean he’s talking about things like deporting 11 million people and you know banning all Muslims beyond just like the standard Republican horror show about like raging wars on reproductive rights and the LGBT and all of that like genuinely things that are outside of the norm of all political decency.
So I understand why President Obama is shaking hands with him in the Office and [saying] that we need to respect him and give him a chance because there’s this idea that we’re always supposed to have a smooth transition of power. But if you really believe everything that has been said about him over the last six months, including the fact that he’s been turned by Putin and is like an actual agent of a foreign enemy, on top of like all the other things. Isn’t that incredibly reckless and even amoral to start normalizing him that way and telling Americans that they should treat him with respect and an open mind? I mean isn’t our obligation instead to do exactly the opposite and to say, we don’t accept this and we are going to stand up to it. I mean I get that this ritual exists but is it actually appropriate in this case if we really believe in the things that we’ve all been thinking about him and hearing about what he actually is and the threat he poses?
JS: Right. They went so far in the direction of explicitly stating that Putin, the KGB, Russia had successfully infiltrated the U.S. electoral process, and then — that was part of the point I’m getting at — if they are, if they believe that, then what’s with all of this “Well we’ve got to give him a chance he’s our president now?” It really shows the lack of actual principle there in a sort of enslaved mentality toward the empire must always have this peaceful transition of power. If they believe their own propaganda, then this is a completely incongruous response to Trump’s election.
BR: But the reality is there is actually a lot of uncertainty about what Trump will do. I mean it is terrifying. The possibility that he will follow through on some of his promises — he’s made immigration … he said that that’s going to be one of his first priorities. That is genuinely, legitimately terrifying. But he also contradicts himself right and left and he did throughout his whole career. He’s gone back and forth on Snowden and he’s back and forth on everything in the diametrically opposed positions, the guy has assumed. So it is difficult to know, I think, to what extent we do need to fear him. I certainly fear him because I fear the worst.
JS: Andrew Kaczynski who now is at CNN was pointing out that over the past four years Trump has staked out the polar opposite position on the premier issues that ended up being present in this, in this debate: certainly on immigration, on abortion, on gay rights, etc. Yeah, I mean Donald Trump is a wild card of sorts but the thing that I have trouble imagining [is] Trump at these trade meetings. You know with Angela Merkel and other world leaders. I have trouble imagining what’s going to come as a result of the avalanche he’s going to be on the other end of when he starts getting, which he is now, these all-access intelligence briefings. This [is] transitioning into talking about what this means that Trump is now going to be the president of the United States.
When a presidential candidate is elected and they start to receive these briefings from the intelligence community, this is where the dark world of the kind of parallel national security apparatus in the United States thrives. Once someone comes in, particularly someone like Trump, never been in the military, never held elected office. They are going to overwhelm him — intentionally — with all sorts of dark scenarios of what can happen if he doesn’t renew this program or expand this program.
President Obama went through this in 2009 and the end result of those briefings was that he outsourced large portions of what they call the counterterrorism policy to the most unsavory, darkest components of the U.S. national security apparatus. Trump is going to be coming in with Gen. Mike Flynn, certainly as one of his top advisers, who knows if Flynn will end up in a cabinet position? Who is Gen. Flynn? Flynn was the intelligence chief for Gen. Stanley McChrystal when he was running murder incorporated as the head of the Joint Special Operations Command — handpicked by Dick Cheney. That is the guy who is guiding Trump’s worldview on counterterrorism. He is a guy that believes that assassination should be the lead policy of the United States combined with kidnapping and torturing people.
Flynn has criticized Obama’s drone program, not because it’s somehow unconstitutional, but because it’s not as effective as torture. Flynn has said Obama just wants to kill people because he doesn’t want to put them in GITMO, “We’re losing an opportunity to get great intelligence out of these people.” So the fact that Obama has failed to shut Guantanamo, the fact that he never held anyone accountable for the CIA torture, is going to mean that Trump, who already is going to be a malleable character in the face of a dozen and a half intelligence agencies inundating him with all of this stuff, but his hand-picked top advisor is one of the Hall of Famers of the world of dark ops.
And so you know people that say, “Oh well Trump is sort of anti-war, or he’s not going to be interventionist?” Just wait until he gets his 20th, 30th briefing from the generals, the admirals, the unelected non-Senate confirmed national security bureaucracy. We are going to see hellfire with Donald Trump and anyone who thought they were voting for an antiwar candidate is going to be proven mercilessly wrong.
BR: I think the same exact thing is going to be true on trade and economics. I mean he’s already staffing up with all of these deregulators, all the very architects of the policies that devastated millions of Americans in 2008.
JS: Glenn, what about on the issues of civil liberties — we know that when the Patriot Act was passed only one U.S. senator, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin — who just lost, for the second time in a row, his Senate race in Wisconsin — he voted against the Patriot Act … Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force … We sort of saw the bipartisan nature of those horrendously dangerous votes in Congress, but lay out what your current or your initial thinking is on how Trump is going to impact civil liberties, surveillance, being in control now of the NSA and other surveillance entities. What do you see coming?
Trump’s unpredictability is attributable to the fact that he doesn’t have any stable positions; he’s a con artist, he says what he needs to say to get you sign on the dotted line to sell you the used car.
GG: Just to Betsy’s point on this issue, she’s one hundred percent right that Trump’s unpredictability on all of these issues is attributable to the fact that he really doesn’t have any stable positions; he’s a con artist, he says what he needs to say to get you sign on the dotted line to sell you the used car. That’s who Donald Trump is. There are a couple of stable, cogent positions; he railed against TPP and there was actually a report from CNN [on November 11] saying that TPP is dead, at least in the lame duck.
Who knows whether it will be revitalized, but I think that the best way to deduce what’s likely to happen in the Trump administration is not by looking to what Donald Trump believes because that’s indiscernible anyway, but this is the key to me. He himself said three or four months ago: when I’m president I’m going to allow Mike Pence to run foreign policy and domestic policy. I don’t want to be involved in these details, I’m not going to be involved in policy making. And then they said to him I think it was at a New York Times editorial board interview, well if Mike Pence is going to be running foreign policy and domestic policy, what are you going to be doing?
GG: And he said, “I’m going to be making America great again.”
JS: By tweeting.
GG: I think that’s a pretty honest assessment of how he intends to conduct his administration. So I think that the way that you try and figure out what’s going to happen in the Trump administration is not by trying to understand or decipher his policy pronouncements because they’re all inconsistent anyway as Betsy said. But look at the people that he is going to be empowering. And by and large, they are the traditional, hard, hawkish right-wing members of the Republican Party because the more moderate people, as at least that term is understood in Republican politics, were the ones who were essentially radically against him.
Even the Bush wing, you know the Bush wing is now sort of the moderate wing of the Republican Party, even George W. Bush made it clear publicly that he did not vote for Donald Trump. So that part of the Republican Party will likely wield very little influence. It’s going to be people like, the hardcore, authoritarian fanatics who are the prosecutors who supported him, like Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, who although moderate on some issues within their realm of primary expertise and influence are as authoritarian as it gets.
JS: Also John Bolton.
GG: John Bolton, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin. We’re talking about the Tea Party wing – so the sort of Ron Paul, Rand Paul Libertarian wing is not really involved, and nor is the kind of like establishment, responsible Republican figures who were cheered by Democrats for opposing Trump — we’re talking about the crazies. The Cheney-ites.
JS: Well even one step beyond that — so when we talk about Mike Pence, I just want to underscore this, because I think a lot of people had never really heard of Mike Pence before he became the vice presidential nominee will be now the vice president. We need to be clear: Mike Pence is a Christian supremacist. He is as radical of a Christian as Mullah Mohammed Omar was radical in his interpretation of Islam as head of the Taliban. This is a guy whose primary view of himself in the world is as a Christian warrior.
And Dick Cheney certainly was an ideological figure whose ideology was rooted in a warped reading of the Federalist Papers and a notion of America First. Pence is all of that, although a kind of dime store version of that when it comes to neocon ideology, but is more motivated by an idea that Christianity needs to be saved and needs to govern the world. And that has so many frightening consequences when you have someone that powerful, that dedicated to a religious supremacist agenda. I don’t think we’ve seen someone as much of a zealot for Christianity – his warped version of Christianity — as Mike Pence, the incoming VP.
BR: It calls to mind Erik Prince.
JS: Well they’re good friends. Erik Prince poured in $100,000 in the closing stages of this election — Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater. Actually I think Erik Prince would have done just fine under Hillary Clinton, but the reason he gave the one hundred thousand dollars — and his family is one of the premier funders of these initiatives — was to stop gay marriage and abortion. That’s his social agenda. Prince would have done just fine under Hillary Clinton. And by the way for all of the talk about “jina, jina, jina” from Trump — you know, China this, China that; he says China with a J — Erik Prince is now working for the Chinese government. And simultaneously giving $100,000 to Donald Trump, who supposedly is going to stand up against China. But even America’s most famous mercenary, his main thing with Trump is: end abortion and gay marriage.
Glenn, I want to ask you … on this issue of civil liberties. You know part of part of what I think we’ve seen in the post 9/11 reality is that Obama picked up from where Bush and Cheney left off in some of their most outrageous policies and interpretations of the Constitution, and definitely has continued on the mission of consolidating power within the executive branch. Not just by issuing executive orders but the climate of secrecy. And I’m wondering, just to throw out a hypothetical: what do you think would have been the response if two years into a Trump administration we had the Snowden revelations. How would that have impacted the public debate in this country versus it happening under Obama?
GG: I always said that if Edward Snowden had leaked documents during a Republican administration, with a Republican president in the White House, there would be a gigantic 50-foot statue erected outside of the headquarters of MSNBC at 30 Rock in his honor. And I think that this is the critical problem, I just wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post on exactly this issue — and in the course of writing that op-ed I went back and was looking at the debates over the civil liberties record of Obama from the time that he was inaugurated.
And you just see over and over and over again leading Democratic Party operatives and officials, as well as leading members, leading liberals in the media, continually mocking and deriding the idea that the powers that Obama was institutionalizing in the name of terrorism and national security — these unconstrained powers to launch wars without congressional authorization to target people for assassination including U.S. citizens without a whiff of due process, to imprison them indefinitely without charges or trial, to spy on them no matter where they are the world without any limits at all — continually mocking and scoffing at concerns over these objections on the grounds that the people who run the U.S. government are kind and good and benevolent and trustworthy.
And I remember in particular, and had my memory triggered as I was doing this op-ed, that in 2013 after the Snowden revelations, a bipartisan coalition in the House of Representatives formed that was lead on the one hand by Justin Amash, the young Libertarian member of Congress from Michigan, on the other by John Conyers, a 25-term African-American liberal also from Michigan, and they lead a bipartisan coalition to seriously rein in the NSA and the amount of electronic spying the U.S. government could do, particularly on U.S. soil and U.S. citizens but also against non-Americans as well.
And it really looks like they had got together a winning coalition if they were going to really be able to put together a bill meaningful reform to rein in these powers. And the White House was opposed to it, and they recruited Nancy Pelosi to lead the way to sabotage this bill and at the last minute she whipped just enough votes to defeat that reform bill and protect the NSA. And there’s even a huge article in Foreign Policy, which I re-read this morning, and the headline is How Nancy Pelosi Saved NSA Surveillance.
And you go across the board: to drones and assassinations, to due process-free imprisonment, to signing statements, to executive power theories that allow secrecy to shield the president from judicial review when it’s alleged that their conduct has been illegal or criminal or in violation of the Constitution.
These are now the powers that were begun by George Bush, but then extended and consecrated by Barack Obama. So they were converted from radical GOP dogma into non-debated bipartisan orthodoxy. This is now the template of awesome, scary, unconstrained powers that is being handed to Donald Trump on a silver platter and there’s nothing anyone can do about it because Republicans and Democrats have spent 15 years legislating the power defending them in court and convincing people politically to turn their backs from those who are objecting to overtly support them.
And so to the extent of the Donald Trump presidency is incredibly scary — and it is — Democrats have had a very large role to play in why that is.
Just wait until Trump gets his briefings from the generals, the unelected national security bureaucracy. We’re going to see hellfire and anyone who thought they were voting for an anti-war candidate is going to be proven mercilessly wrong.
JS: Well, and also beyond the way that this all played out among the elites of the Democratic and Republican parties in Congress and elsewhere, you had this broad notion, it seemed — and it certainly was perpetuated by many of the hosts on MSNBC, which we call MSDNC, which Glenn and I both have said on their airwaves before — the idea that we just trust Obama.
So you know, the drone striking of American citizens: “Oh, well, I trust Obama to make this decision.” The widespread use of JSOC in the CIA for covert action: “Well, we just trust Obama.” That now is going to come back and bite these people because how can you say, “Well, I support President Obama’s kill list, but oh my God, I don’t want Donald Trump to have a kill list!” It really shows that Democrats are vegetarians between meals when it comes to some of the most important issues of our time. There are no Democratic and Republican cruise missiles.
And the fact is that when you when you empower The White House in the way that the Democrats did through their silence or their support of horrid violent policies under Obama, you then continue the game forward so that whoever comes next starts from that point and not from sort of a baseline debate about what’s constitutional.
You know there was this sort of flurry of activity over the past year where people were saying Obama is trying to put in place these rules for his drone program so that the next person elected—no, you have already stated publicly that you have a right to kill American citizens who have not been charged with crimes. You’ve maintained secret kill lists. The CIA has a kill list, the military has a kill list, the National Security Council has a kill list, and now Donald Trump is going to be in charge of a kill list. And how can you then go back and say, “Oh we don’t want Trump to be in charge of these things!” when you accepted it for partisan reasons from your own person?
BR: This is an extraordinarily depressing conversation. But uh …
JS: We’re going to make Intercept razorblades … if you pledge … Our version of NPR.
BR: At The Intercept we have done a lot of talking and thinking about encryption and ways that people can protect their electronic privacy in the face of these threats. And unfortunately those kinds of technologies are going to become ever more important in this era when we face this amount of power in the hands of such a terrifying government.
JS: Well the journalist Allan Nairn, who is a great reporter that revealed the CIA’s backing of the FRAPH death squads in Haiti, uncovered U.S. support for war crimes in Guatemala, then did groundbreaking reporting from the genocide in East Timor and elsewhere, has really kind of studied authoritarian governments, and he was pointing out the other day on Twitter in the aftermath of Trump’s election that under J. Edgar Hoover the enemy’s list basically was at times like a domestic kill list or a domestic target list, and I think that that could be one major difference between Obama and Trump.
There was a lot of discussion about Is Obama going to kill an American with a drone on U.S. soil? and you had Rand Paul filibustering the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director largely over that issue. But under Trump and his — you know one of his surrogates, Omarosa, from his show The Apprentice, said that Trump has an enemies list and that they are going to be cleaning shop and draining the swamp when he gets to power.
I think that is a different fear than would exist under Obama. It’s not that Obama’s Justice Department hasn’t engaged in horrid misconduct, particularly the FBI with all of these terror plots that they’ve manufactured themselves and then broken up, and other things — but I do think that Trump would go so far as to view the FBI as a score-settling apparatus in the spirit of J. Edgar Hoover. Glenn may push back on that, but I really do think that — I can’t see Obama using it in the way that I could see Trump using it.
GG: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, I actually do agree with that, and it has been a kind of depressing conversation, but it’s hard not to have a depressing conversation with talking 72 hours after Donald J. Trump was just elected the president of the United States.
But to try and find a couple of silver linings — and before I point out the silver linings, I’ll contribute a little bit more to the depression. Which is, think about what will happen — as bad as all this is, as bad as the whole framework is that he has now inherited — imagine what will happen if there is any kind of a successful terrorist attack or ISIS attack on U.S. soil. Even if it’s like a low-level one like San Bernardino, or the Boston Marathon, let alone a bigger one like Orlando, let alone something on the level of 9/11. If anything like that happens, the extent to which they’re going to exploit that, and the extremes to which they’re going to go, you could pretty much say all bets are off. So I think you can get a lot worse, as bad as it is, if something like that were to happen.
BR: OK, what’s the silver lining?
GG: The two silver linings are … you did see some pretty significant pushback during for example the time in the campaign when Trump was advocating things like murdering the families of terrorists, and reintroducing all new ways to torture people, you saw leading members of the CIA and the Pentagon say that they would disobey orders of that kind … you’ve seen members of the intelligence community really actively working against Trump by calling a Kremlin agent.
There are some pretty seriously powerful factions invested in not having the United States veer completely off the deep-end of radicalism and extremism. And I think there are going to be a lot of internal fights within the deep state, within some of these powerful factions. Yes they’re going to try and co-opt Trump and manipulate him but also I think are going to try and subvert him and work against him, especially if the true crazies start to get their way a little bit too much.
Not because they are moral but because they just perceive that as against the interests of their faction, but also against the interests of the United States as they perceive them. But I think there are those kind of institutional pushbacks, which you’re sort of ambivalent about because on the one hand they cam have some good effects, but on the other it’s kind of an anti-democratic, sort of almost like a coup-type dynamic where these unelected but powerful factions start undercutting and subverting the democratically elected leader as he tries to carry out the policies that probably his voters and supporters would want him to carry out.
JS: I’m not …
GG: The other silver lining that I do think is possible and I hope will happen and I think that we should try and do what we can to play as much of a role as we can and galvanizing, is that there just are a lot of people in this country genuinely horrified of the things that Trump is saying and wants to do. As Betsy pointed out earlier, even though the Democrats lost pretty resoundingly, there are more people in the country who voted for her that voted for him.
And you’re seeing protests, and you’ve seen the media unite in a unique way, against some of his more horrific proclamations; it’s cut across party lines at least at the elite level in ways we haven’t quite seen before. So I do think there is an opportunity to galvanize a real resistance, like actual meaningful dissent, to the most powerful faction in Washington in a way that we haven’t seen in a few decades if not longer.
And in the process re-underscoring and kind of re-animating and re-enlivening a lot of the political values that we’re all supposed to believe and defend because they will be under assault in a more extreme way than ever before and hopefully that reaction, that action, that we take will trigger a kind of counter-reaction that could be very positive if it’s managed the right way and driven and organized the right way and I’m hoping that will happen.
JS: Well we’re going to wrap up here — just one closing thought, you know we’re seeing a rise now in hate crimes and in attacks against Islamic communities, Muslim communities in this country, with graffiti and you have this empowerment of people like David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. And part of the legacy of Trump, regardless of what his policies end up being, is that he has empowered this very dangerous segment of U.S. society and has really openly encouraged violence against people from certain communities and I think one thing all of us can do is be very vigilant in watching out for these hate crimes in our own communities.
I mean it’s a micro thing but I think it’s very real. A lot of my Muslim friends in this country are really afraid of what this means for them and I think those fears are real. And a lot of women fear for what’s going to happen to their basic health care rights. And outside of even big picture political organizing, these are times that I actually think on a small level we really have to look out for the most vulnerable in our society.
We encourage people to keep reading us at The Intercept. Glenn Greenwald is @ggreenwald on Twitter. Betsy is @BetsyReed2. I’m Jeremy Scahill. @JeremyScahill is my Twitter handle. Thanks for joining us.