Less than a month into the new administration and not even a presidential bath robe can protect President Trump’s orange from becoming the new anti-black. This week on Intercepted we sit down with intrepid investigative reporter Allan Nairn, who breaks down Trump’s relationship with the CIA, the president’s murderous affection for Vladimir Putin, and the killer assembly of establishment neocons and right-wing conspiracists running the U.S. war machine. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Princeton professor and author of “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation,” dismantles Obama’s problematic legacy, offers strategic advice for resisting Trump, and shares her scorecard on Nazi punching. The Intercept’s own distinguished alt-historian, Jon Schwarz, offers a (morbid) lesson on the origins of presidential executive orders. And singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson of The Moldy Peaches performs a powerful song about racism and the police state.
The Doors [music]: This is the end, beautiful friend.
Anthony Atamanuik: Washington. Shit. I’m still only in Washington. Every time I think I’m going to wake back up on the set of The Apprentice.
When I was at Mar-a-Lago after the inauguration, it was worse. I’d wake up in the morning and there’d be nothing. I hardly said a word to my wife until I said yes to the divorce.
When I was in D.C., I wanted to be at Mar-a-Lago. When I was there, all I could think of was getting back to Trump Tower and calling into Fox and Friends. Maybe Sean Hannity.
I’ve been here three weeks now, waiting for a mission. Getting softer, smaller. Every minute I stay in the Oval Office, I get weaker, and every time some moron on Twitter calls me Fuckface von Clownstick, he gets stronger.
I call my own shots, mostly on the accumulation of data. Each time I watch fake news CNN, the walls move in a little tighter.
Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission. And for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up like room service with a taco bowl. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I’d never want another. Believe me.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City, and this is episode three of Intercepted. Well, we are not even a month into Donald Trump’s reign, and we’re getting reports that the White House has become a strange dystopic land of empty corridors, scores of unfilled positions in the West Wing and elsewhere, visitors wandering around after their meetings not able to find the exist. When Trump is not lounging around in his bathrobe watching television.
Sean Spicer: I don’t think the president owns a bathrobe. Definitely doesn’t wear one.
JS: Or on Twitter, denouncing the so-called federal judge who ruled against his not-Muslim-ban Muslim ban.
Donald J. Trump: It’s common sense. You know, some things are law, and I’m all in favor of that, and some things are common sense. This is common sense.
JS: Trump has continued on a strangely schizophrenic policy agenda. Now, on some policies, such as the building or expansion of Israel settlements, he now seems to be veering toward Obama’s policies, which he’ll probably try to say, “Oh, well, this was my policy all along.” His administration claims to be backing off of the pledge to relaunch or reconstitute CIA black sites, where a lot of torture happened under the Bush/Cheney regime. Trump also, from his Twitter feed and the attacks on the federal judge, seems to actually not understand how the federal government works, the system of checks and balances, the fact that we have three branches of government.
Schoolhouse Rock: Talking ‘bout the government and how it’s arranged.
Divided in three like a circus.
JS: Trump also has been very active on the military front in some ways. At a dinner last week with some of his top advisors, including former head of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, who now is on the National Security Council, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a famed warrior with decades of military experience.
JS: Trump authorized his first known covert action, and that was this disastrous raid in Yemen. And of course, we know that one Navy SEAL was killed. Several other U.S. service members were wounded, and more than a dozen women and children were killed.
SS: This was a very, very well thought out and executed effort.
JS: And one of the more serious things that happened in recent days is that Trump sent his national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, out to speak to the White House Press Corps. And Flynn basically, in a kind of scene reminiscent of Al Haig saying, “I’m in charge,” Flynn basically took us to the brink of a war with Iran.
Gen. Michael Flynn: As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice. Thank you.
JS: Just before the Super Bowl last Sunday, the world witnessed the latest chapter of “Donald Trump says something bluntly accurate about the United States’ role in the world?” Just as he did with his critique with the U.S. invasion of Iraq during the election campaign, Trump, in this big pumped up special that Fox News was doing, spoke to Bill O’Reilly.
Bill O’Reilly: Putin’s a killer.
DJT: A lot of killers. We got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent? Do you think our country’s so innocent?
BO: I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers in the American –
DJT: Well, take a look at what we’ve done to — we’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.
BO: Yeah. Mistakes are different than —
DJT: Made a lot of mistakes. Okay, but a lot of people were killed, so a lot of killers around, believe me.
JS: Now, I will give Trump credit. Trump is right about U.S. hypocrisy and the U.S. record of mass killing and killing innocent people. But this is similar to Trump’s opposition to the Iraq War. Trump, yes, he condemned it. He — although his record is a little bit cloudy on when he condemned it and how much he condemned it, but he did condemn it during the campaign. But now he’s saying, “Oh, well, we should go back into Iraq and take its oil by force.”
DJT: Well, we should have kept the oil when we got out, and you know, it’s very interesting. Had we taken the oil, you wouldn’t have ISIS.
JS: And his comments to Bill O’Reilly about the U.S. this time around, they were right, historically accurate. But they were offered in defense of his relationship with Vladimir Putin, who is indisputably a thug and a murderer. While the Trump carnival plays out on Twitter, and on Fox News, and at the White House press briefings, and on Saturday Night Live.
Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer: You said ban! You said ban! Now I’m saying it back to you.
Bobby Moynihan as Glenn Thrush: The resident tweeted, and I quote: “If the ban were announced with a one-week notice…”
MM: Yeah, exactly. You just said that. He’s quoting you. It’s your words. He’s using your words. When you use the words and he uses them back, it’s circular using of the word, and that’s from you. [Audience laughing]
JS: The more important story is actually happening behind the scenes. And it’s not on Trump’s Facebook page, and it’s not on his Twitter feed, and it’s not coming out of some thought that popped into his head while he’s lying around in his bathrobe. It’s who Donald Trump has tapped to run the vast national security apparatus, the U.S. war machine. To discuss this, I’m joined by journalist Allan Nairn. Allan is one of the best investigative journalists in modern U.S. history. When I first got into journalism, he was one of my role models. Since the 1980s, Allan has investigated CIA-backed death squads in Guatemala, in El Salvador. He exposed the CIA’s death squad in Haiti in 1994. Allan also survived, along with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, a massacre in East Timor in 1991 at the hands of U.S.-backed Indonesian forces.
Amy Goodman (1991): The Indonesian Army converged in two places.
Allan Nairn (1991): Hundreds and hundreds of troops.
JS: Some 270 East Timoris were gunned down, and Allan had his skull split open by Indonesian troops wielding U.S.-supplied M16 rifles. Allan has regularly exposed the CIA’s role in the killing of civilians and in crushing popular movements. Allan, let’s begin with looking at who Trump has tapped. What’s your analysis of who these people are and how it’s going to impact U.S. policy?
Allan Nairn: Well, the idea that Trump is more peaceful, a maverick, is just nonsense. His team consists of old establishment killers and neo-cons, and some conspiracy nuts. Gen. Mattis, his secretary of defense, was invited to speak at both the Democratic and Republican conventions. He was the preferred candidate for president of Bill Kristol’s #NeverTrump movement. He decided not to take the plunge. Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, is a virtual protégé of Jim Baker, the co-chair of the Bush establishment. Vice President Mike Pence was the point man in the House for Dick Cheney, who endorsed Trump. Pence was Cheney’s appointment in the House on both Iraq and the Patriot Act.
And then you have Gen. Flynn and Pompeo, who are rabid rightwing partisans, conspiracy nuts. Flynn is a bitter harsh critic of Obama. But his criticism is that Obama didn’t do enough assassinations. Obama dropped more than 100,000 bombs and missiles. That wasn’t enough for Flynn. And Pompeo comes from a similar angle. He wants unbridled surveillance. He wants a domestic, massive database on Americans. He wants to expand Guantanamo. He wants more torture. If necessary, he wants to rewrite the Army Field Manual, which would allow more torture, not just by the CIA, which uses it as a guideline, but also within the Army and the Armed Forces as a whole.
When Trump talks about working together with Russia to fight terrorism, that means more operations, more violence. And probably more significantly, the Trump people want to rip off the constraints. They want to adopt, essentially, the Russian Grozny rules, which essentially says kill them all and kill their families too. Gen. Flynn in particular is a great admirer of that. And Gen. Mattis became famous in the military for his open advocacy of killing. He has a whole string of very colorful quotes where he talks with great gusto about how wonderful it is to kill.
JS: Yeah. It’s “fun to shoot some people.”
AN: Yeah. And in particular, as an illustration of his approach, he presided over the Mukaradeeb wedding party massacre in Iraq, up near the border with Syria, in 2004, in which more than 40 people were civilians at a wedding party, were massacred by his U.S. forces. And when he was asked about it, he was unapologetic. He was asked, “How long did you deliberate before ordering the attack?” He said, “30 seconds.” So the idea that this is a shift in a less — and you could go on down the list — some kind of less bloody direction is just not accurate.
JS: Is there really, in your view, a rift between Trump and the CIA, the likes of which is just nonstop being pushed by the Democrats and on television?
AN: No. Not on significant matters. There certainly is on the emotional level. There are tremendous hurt feelings. The CIA people are furious. Nobody likes to be called — compared to the Nazis. But on basic matters of policy, whether you’re allowed to kill civilians; whether aggressive, not legally sanctioned actions in foreign countries are permitted; they’re in complete agreement. It’s ironic that Trump is making this move of entente with Russia at the moment, when Russia has temporarily surpassed the U.S. because of their operations in Syria, as the number one mass killer of civilians in the world. I mean, for decades, the U.S. has clearly and unambiguously held that title because of all the paramilitary and regular Army and intelligence forces around the world that the U.S. supports who kill civilians.
But now, because of what Russia has one on the side of Assad in Syria and with their own direct bombing operations, which indiscriminately crush civilians, they have clearly surpassed the U.S. as the number one mass killer at this moment. But you have to keep your eye on the hard facts. And the hard facts are that Trump is clearly going to continue the U.S. policy of being willing to kill civilians. And if anything, his alliance with Russia will only make that worse.
JS: Given that you’ve spent basically your entire adult life pursuing the CIA and its clients, pursuing generals and war criminals and paramilitaries, what do you say to people who are — who seem to be now promoting the idea that the CIA, that they’re the good guys?
AN: You shouldn’t be defending people who kill civilians. The liberal and Democratic shift away from probing criticism of the U.S. military and the CIA started years ago. It started in the ‘80s, really. And for just tactical political reasons, they decided to start celebrating the military and the intelligence agencies. And now, it’s reached this really absurd point where, for one thing, they’re making a differentiation between Trump and the intelligence agencies, when on matter of substance, there is none. And for another, they’re holding these agencies, which systematically commit crimes against defenseless civilians, up as paragons. And it’s just nuts. And I think one of many reasons why Trump was able to break through politically, in addition to his being a master propagandist and a master liar — I mean, he ranks with the master propagandists of history, with Goebbels, with Bernays, with Roger Ailes. I mean, he’s up in the pantheon. But one reason was that he would occasionally blurt out truths that hit home with people, like when in the Republican debate, he stood up and started denouncing the invasion of Iraq and saying it was based on lies.
We now have this situation where some people think that Trump is somehow going to shake up the system for the better. And all indications that he’s going to shake it up for the worse, because this is really the most radical elements of the oligarchy, kind of the criminal fringe of the U.S. oligarchy, the crudest criminal fringe, embodied in Trump himself and his old associates taking over the government. And they’re basically unconstrained. They will be especially unconstrained two years from now if they’re able to win a veto-proof Senate majority, which they may well, because it just so happens there are many more Democratic seats exposed than their are Republican seats in that Senate election.
And, if he succeeds in getting in, first, his new Supreme Court nominee to replace Scalia, which will restore the old balance, which will put Kennedy in the driver’s seat in the Supreme Court; but then, if he gets a second Supreme Court nomination — and I predict that in short order, they’re going to start a massive campaign against Ruth Bader Ginsburg, attacking her as old, crazy, infirm, has to be moved off the bench. Remember years ago, there was the Rightist campaign to impeach Justice Douglas? I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar move made against Bader Ginsburg.
JS: When Trump chose Mike Pence — I’ve been looking at Pence for a number of years — some of the things that came to my mind were Pence’s incredible proximity to Dick Cheney.
JS: His relationship with the neo-cons and with the real career lifer powerbrokers like Cheney and Rumsfeld, who really sought out, on one of their life’s missions, which was to create a dictatorship of the executive branch when it came to counterterrorism, policy, foreign policy, military policy, CIA. They wanted nothing to do with oversight from the Congress. When you heard that Mike Pence was selected as Trump’s running mate, what message do you think that was sending to the establishment in the national security apparatus, and within the broader Republican Party?
AN: Well, I mean, the message was, don’t worry, I’m one of you. Appearances to the contrary and insults to the contrary.
JS: Well, I think you know the story of how this happened, because I don’t think Trump went through a Rolodex and said, “Oh, let’s get my buddy Mike Pence here.” It seemed to me like there was a deal made where, this is your running mate. ‘Cause I don’t think Trump even knew much about Mike Pence at all before this.
AN: Well, you know, who knows how it came about? There’s always very complex bargaining involved in these things, and all these reports saying at the last minute, Trump had regrets and wanted to pick Chris Christie, who was kind of his buddy. But Trump dragged the ultra-right oligarchs kicking and screaming into power. They could never win an election on their own. Paul Ryan is never going to be elected president on his platform of destroying Social Security and Medicare and all programs for the poor. That’s a loser. So in order to implement their program, they need a degree of popular support. And Trump provided that. But he provided that in ways that weren’t entirely to their liking.
For example, they had to sacrifice the TPP. It was a painful but lucrative bargain for them, because yes, that hurts their interests to an important extent, but they get even more back in massive corporate and state and personal income tax cuts, and in a massive wiping away of environmental labor, consumer protection, antidiscrimination, financial regulations. It’s a huge net plus for the corporate class. Trump was constantly denouncing the rigging of the system. His basic message was the system’s rigged. Our system is a killer system, and it’s corrupt. All of which is true, except the rigging took place in the opposite direction, which he portrayed. But it’s uncomfortable for the establishment types to hear that, especially coming out of the mouth of their own candidate. And Pence was a bit of a reassurance to them, I think, that don’t worry, it’s going to be okay. You have your inside man. And you see, as he’s picking his Cabinet, there’s no one, absolutely no one in there who clashes with their program.
JS: What about Trump’s relationship with the heads of state of other nations? Specifically, I’m referring to the longstanding U.S. system of client states around the world. One of the first things they did was to throw their support, the Trump administration, behind Gen. Sisi in Egypt. What do you see happening with the Trump administration’s relationship with some of these key client states around the world?
AN: Part of Trump’s attack on the existing world order, the order that was created by the U.S. in the wake of World War II, Trump attacks that whole world order. But he attacks it because, in his view, it’s not harsh enough. It’s not repressive enough. Trump says that the U.S. is being ripped off by its clients, by its satellite states, by its allies. So he wants to impose even harsher exploitation. In Jerusalem, Trump is talking about moving the U.S. embassy there, a move that is not going to go unanswered by the Palestinians in the street. Trump is moving toward a system where force is used more directly. When it comes to repressive rulers to el-Sisi of Egypt and Duterte, who was democratically elected, but who got elected on a death squad platform, and he and his forces have so far murdered thousands of people, what we can expect to see is that forces like this, death squad forces, repressive militaries, repressive paramilitaries, which have been backed for many decades by the U.S. — the U.S. has already been backing these forces. The U.S. will continue backing these forces, but without constraint.
Now with Trump, I don’t think the reaction among the worldwide killer forces has been that immediate, partly because around the world, a lot of people are a little confused about Trump. But as it becomes clear, as people like Pompeo and Flynn and Mattis go into action, I think we’ll see a similar increase of killings by local death squad and military and paramilitary forces, just because they feel unconstrained, just because they feel the support from Washington, as opposed to what has been the traditional U.S. posture for a number of years, which is give them weapons and training with one hand, but admonish them with the other. The Obama administration was helping Saudi Arabia. There were actual U.S. personnel there helping them with targeting of their bombing runs, where they were hitting one Yemeni civilian target after another, and —
JS: And refueling the Saudi planes.
AN: Yeah, and refueling. And it was U.S. munitions and U.S. plans, and —
JS: Cluster bombs.
AN: In this mass slaughter operation. But as some of the worst atrocities got publicity, the Obama administration felt compelled to pull back some of the advisors, and to issue critical statements, even though the flow of military aid was never completely stopped. It was just temporarily cut back. Now that –
JS: Or the audacity of Samantha Power, who was Obama’s ambassador to the UN. I mean, the kind of gall to stand there and denounce the war crimes that are being committed with the full support of the United States, it’s — I mean, it’s not stunning, but it is — it’s just dripping blood of hypocrisy.
AN: Yeah. But hypocrisy has a certain virtue, and that is, at least it’s advancing or acknowledging — and to a certain extent, advancing some good values.
JS: Well, that’s kind of a metaphor for the entire Obama time in office.
AN: Yeah, it is. Well, the whole — the recent path of the U.S. establishment, because some constraints have been imposed on them by popular pressure, by human rights activism. So they feel obliged to say publicly, yes, killing civilians is a bad thing. But under the table, here are some guns. And we see you killed a thousand civilians last month. Okay, here’s some more guns. Maybe try to be a little more careful. It’s been that mixed stance. And that kind of mixed stance is something that local generals sometimes find infuriating. But even more significant, it’s something that they find they can exploit politically. So you have these officers standing up a demagogically denouncing the United States because the United States is criticizing them on human rights grounds, even though they’re pocketing one U.S. weapons shipment after another, and they’re all going to Fort Benning and Fort Bragg for their training, and they have CIA personnel sitting in their intelligence centers helping them with their operations.
But the Trump people clearly favor an approach which strips away the hypocrisy, and more — in a more straightforward fashion, says support our friends like el-Sisi, like Duterte. And what de facto that means is full speed ahead on the killing without constraint.
JS: All right. Allan, thank you very much for being with us.
AN: You’re welcome.
JS: Allan Nairn is an investigative journalist. His website is News and Comment. It can be found at allannairn.org.
DJT: I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. We don’t want ‘em here.
JS: Donald Trump has been signing executive orders like bad checks. And much to our disappointment, the definitive source for all things law and history that is Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, it didn’t provide us with any insight into the veracity of these little presidential grenades. So we asked Intercepted’s distinguished alt-historian Jon Schwarz to educate us on the roots of this mysterious, yet often-used, presidential prerogative.
Jon Schwarz: You’re a concerned citizen. So recently, you’ve been wondering, maybe for the first time ever, what are presidential executive orders? Given that we’ve learned they can change the lives of thousands of people in one second, you might not be happy to find out that the answer is, no one really knows.
The Congressional Research Service — it’s their job to tell Congress about the history of the United States — says about executive orders that the term has no exact meaning. That’s because executive orders are not defined in the Constitution, and also, there is no specific provision in the Constitution authorizing them. So therefore, the Congressional Research Service says, “ambiguity behind executive orders poses a great concern for Congress and the public.” Okay. So all we really have is 200 years of presidents issuing executive orders and seeing if the other two branches of government, which means Congress and courts, will let them get away with it. Every single president has come up with at least a few executive orders, with only one exception, which was William Henry Harrison, America’s ninth president, elected in 1940. But he probably also would have signed some if he hadn’t, after exactly one month in office, died.
Executive orders can be extremely good. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order from Lincoln. Harry Truman used an executive order to abolish racial discrimination in the military. Executive orders can also be extremely bad. FDR used an executive order to create the legal authority for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt: When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, our West Coast became a potential combat zone.
Jon S: Truman used another executive order at the start of the Cold War to create loyalty tests for government employees, which was really the birth of McCarthyism.
Joseph McCarthy: The thing that the American people can do is to be vigilant day and night to make sure they don’t have Communists teaching the sons and daughters of America.
Jon S: If you look at modern executive orders, you’ll see that presidents claim their authority is based on two things. First is Article 2 of the Constitution, which gives them executive power, and requires that they take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and then a claim that they are in fact executing some specific law passed by Congress. In the case of Donald Trump’s executive order, shutting the door temporarily or maybe otherwise on refugees and immigrants from seven countries, it was the Immigration and Nationality Act.
DJT: It’s not a Muslim ban, but we are totally prepared. It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports. You see it all over. It’s working out very nicely, and we’re going to have a very, very strict ban, and we’re going to have extreme vetting.
Jon S: If you don’t like what Trump did, the good news is that the Supreme Court has famously said about executive orders that, “when the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb.” And it looks like that’s what Trump was doing here, because the law he cited bans discriminating among immigrants on the basis of a person’s place of birth or place of residence.
Also, whoever it was who wrote this executive order was super, super incompetent, because the executive order probably violated a 1962 executive order about how you produce executive orders. So it’s possible courts will strike down parts of it, or maybe all of it. And Congress might, might also try to take back some of the power they’ve given the executive branch. But really, the only way that will happen is if Democrats ever have a majority again while a Republican is president. Congressional Democrats have never been interested in taking back power from the president if the president’s a Democrat.
And just in general, don’t be discouraged. Scientists now believe that William Henry Harrison, the president with no executive orders, died because there was no sewage system at the time in Washington. This meant that a few blocks upstream of the White House water supply, there was, as the New York Times puts it, a field of human excrement. This gave Harrison typhoid fever. And then the same swamp probably also killed another president, Zachary Taylor, just nine years later in 1850. So never let anyone tell you that regular people don’t have any power.
JS: That was the Intercept’s Jon Schwarz. Coming up, we’re going to talk to Princeton University Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. Stay with us.
Kali Tribe (rap): You raped my grandma, you whipped my grandpa,
A century goes by and you became a street cop
My parents sharecropped, but you didn’t share
Because I don’t have blue eyes and long blond hair
The red, white, and blue reeks like onion
I praise John Henry, you love Paul Bunyan
So brothers and sisters, beware of who you trust
‘Cause they don’t want justice, they want just us.
DJT: All right, folks. You’re gonna hear this, you’re gonna hear it once. You’re gonna hear this, you’re gonna hear it once.
Crowd: All lives matter! [Crowd chanting]
DJT: All right, folks. You’re gonna hear it once. All lives matter. All lives matter. [Crowd cheering]
JS: Okay, we’re back, and you’re listening to Intercepted. I’m Jeremy Scahill. And that was the President, Donald Trump, being disrupted by black lives activists when he was running for president. And he did not like that. Orange is the new anti-black. You know, in figuring out what to do this week on the show, it was like going through a catalogue of fucking horrors. We could go down the line. His atrocious billionaire Christian supremacist Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. His Muslim ban. His ridiculous allegation that news organizations are somehow covering up terror attacks, even as journalists die in record numbers. It’s a veritable cornucopia of sad lies and pathetic memes that are not even worthy of Twitter.
In this horrid ocean of terror, I decided to sit down with the brilliant Princeton professor, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. Now, she’s unapologetic socialist. She’s an activist, and she’s the author of an urgent book called “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation”. Now, I’ve known Keeanga for several years, and I remember how we both witnessed the air being sucked out of the anti-war and anti-corporate globalization room in the 2004 election when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry and served a second term. But we both regrouped, and we jumped right back into the struggle. Keeanga and I sat down and discussed the Trump moment, the Obama legacy, the politics of resistance, and the failures of the Democratic Party.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: In the last 40 years, when we look at the increasing conservative posture of the Democrats, at the heart of that is the way that they take for granted the votes of their base, whether that’s black people, whether that’s working class women, working class people in general, students. They take that for granted, and consistently try to appeal to more rightwing forces in the country, and do nothing to appeal to the people who are actually turning out and voting for them. And so, the 2004 election was certainly perhaps a low point. I mean, to lose to George W. Bush. But then when you think that you’ve hit the bottom, that you could actually lose an election to the dithering idiocy of Donald Trump, it really — it should be a soul-searching moment for what that party is. But it doesn’t actually appear to be.
JS: Well, and four years after that, you have Barack Obama, who ran on a pledge to operate the most transparent administration in history. This was the first black person elected as president of the United States, and to this day, a lot of people — when you get into arguments with them about policy, and how did we get here, and look at the drone program, and look at the war on black people in cities throughout this country — people say, “Oh, well, you know, well, but that wasn’t Obama.” And there’s still this, I think, idolizing of the Obama era, particularly within these liberal circles in the United States.
KYT: Well, I think that we get completely consumed in the symbolism of Barack Obama and ignore his record, and ignore the actual history of his candidacy. And so, I wrote the book in large part as a way to understand the meaning of Barack Obama’s presidency, really beginning with the question of, how do we explain the emergence of this black social movement, the sort of longest, most enduring black social movement, really, since the 1960s and ‘70s, with a black president, and with the highest concentration of black political power in American history? So not just the black president, but the black attorney general. And part of it was understanding the way that Obama sort of raised the expectations of African-Americans in a very cultivated way.
I mean, people now say, well, we shouldn’t have expected too much, and that was unrealistic, and he never could have met those expectations, when during 2007 and 2008, it was David Axelrod and Obama who were stoking those expectations, who transformed his campaign. Because African-Americans originally were much more supportive of Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama was someone that people didn’t know and were not familiar with. And he transformed — he was smart enough to understand that if he transformed, if he could transform his campaign to make it seem insurgent, to make it seem as if it were a movement from below that was disrupting the status quo — that he could get people to come along with him. And he did this. I mean, I had never heard a mainstream Democratic Party candidate, you know, give speeches where he’s talking about the Abolitionist movement. He’s talking about sit-down strikes in the 1930s. He invoked the Stonewall Rebellion in the 1960s, and then of course, the Civil Rights Movement, and sort of described his campaign as the logical conclusion of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
So there was a great effort in raising the expectations of people. And so, I think that for millions of African-Americans who mobilized to vote for Obama in ways that were historically unprecedented, believed that they would do something in return, as any constituency does who is a key factor in the election of a president. And almost as soon as he got into office, the sort of backsliding, the qualifications, the hemming, the hawing. There was no sort of ten days that shook the world. There was no succession of executive orders and actually following through on anything. Instead, when Obama actually did have a mandate in a way that there’s nothing resembling that with Trump, he did absolutely nothing with it, and instead, sort of wasted that opportunity to just step on the throat of the Republican Party, and put them in a can and bury it in the backyard for a generation, he refused to do it. And we are now living with the consequences of that.
JS: What do you say to the not so uncommon line from Democratic pundits or policymakers or their surrogates on social media that, “People like you were part of the problem because you spent all this time bashing Hillary Clinton. You wouldn’t come out and say people should be voting for her because she’s the lesser of two evils?” What would you say to people who say, “Well, then why weren’t you fighting to get Hillary Clinton in instead of Donald Trump?”
KYT: Part of the problem with that take, and I’ve heard many different iterations of it, is that it doesn’t actually account for why, on a much broader level, people were so uninspired with Hillary Clinton. It’s as if — if a few people on the left had been sort of more excited about Hillary Clinton, then that would have somehow compensated for the tens of millions of people who weren’t. And so, it’s important to look at why that is. I think that what people forget is that Hillary Clinton, one, had a record, and that it did make an impact on a new generation of black activists, who didn’t know about the Clintons in the 1990s, to discover this history of the particular role that the Clintons played in the rise of mass incarceration and the rise of law and order under a Democratic regime. That was a revelation to many young people.
And then when the tape came out with Hillary Clinton calling young black people superpredators.
Hillary Clinton (1996): They are often the kinds of kids that are called superpredators. No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first, we have to bring them to heel.
KTY: You know, there was a way in which the Democratic Party apparatus and the liberal establishment that hangs on to it just tried to dismiss that as another day and age, as if it were the 1930s and not the 1990s. And what I’ve found most pernicious about that was that I don’t think Hillary Clinton thought that. I don’t think she thought young black people were predators. But Hillary Clinton stuck her finger in the wind in the 1990s and decided to make a political calculation that that would be politically expedient to use that kind of language to describe young black people, and that’s why she said it. And so, I think that for people who have been chastising those of us on the left, I did not vote for Hillary Clinton. I have never voted for a Democrat, and I never will, because I think that that is a party of war. It’s a party of the market. It’s a party of poverty, a party of police violence, of executions and the death penalty, and I will never vote for it.
I understand why people do, but I think that as long as the Democratic Party believes that they have your vote in their pocket, they’ll continue to move and act in the same ways. That is a deep problem with the politics and the orientation of the Democratic Party, which is a pro-capitalist, pro-market party in the United States. And so one of the questions that I ask in my book is whether or not this whole — can black people be free in a country that has, as its political, economic, and moral ethos, trenchant support of free market capitalism? As Nancy Pelosi said the other night, “We’re capitalists. Deal with it.”
Nancy Pelosi: Well, I thank you for your question, but I have to say, we’re capitalists, and that’s just the way it is.
KYT: I think there’s a basic contradiction between what free marketers and the capitalism and black liberation, or women’s liberation, or LGBTQ liberation, or what liberation would look like for poor and working class people. I think that those two things are in dire conflict with each other. And so, when you have a political party that is steeped in that system and loves it, and does everything in its power to maintain and uphold it, then there’s a basic contradiction in being able to come through for the things that ordinary people need to maintain, let alone improve, any standard or quality of life.
JS: But I wanted to ask you something. So the neo-Nazi Richard Spencer was punched twice, and there’s all these memes on — you can find on Twitter and YouTube.
KYT: No tears here.
JS: And right, no tears for you. Richard Spencer gets punched twice. Then you have this Breitbart acolyte, Milo Yiannopoulos, who — he’s clearly trying to provoke people by going and speaking at these universities, recently speaking in Berkeley. And Antifa activists and others go after that speech. We understand, though, that Milo was going to be calling out undocumented students, and so that’s much more of a complicated narrative than has been out in the media. But I wanted to get your take on this. There are people even on the left who are saying, “These anarchists are part of the problem.” The people that are setting fire and throwing these things, or punching Richard Spencer, that those people also have a right to free speech, even if we hate it. And punching Richard Spencer or torching something outside of a Milo Yiannopoulos speech is not helping the issue. What’s your take on this kind of debate that we’re having right now?
KYT: Most of us support absolutely the right of a free exchange of ideas, particularly on college campuses, even with people that you don’t necessarily — or don’t agree with at all. So, I think with Nazis, Nazi sympathizers, that it’s a different ballgame, because what they are doing is not just going out to have a fruitful exchange, or even an unfruitful exchange of ideas. What they’re actually trying to do is to recruit people to their cause. They are trying to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for anyone who is not a white heterosexual male who thinks like they do.
I saw a brief documentary — it’s like a CNN thing — where this trans woman made a really poignant point, which is that if Milo comes to campus and gives a talk, he’s somewhere else the next day. But the people who organized it, the people who came, the people who applauded, I have to sit next to in class. And that’s a problem, because these are people who absolutely support violence. They support the extermination of entire groups of people. And so, I think in that case that it’s not just a simple matter of free speech, that it’s really not being naive and understanding what it is for fascists and Nazi sympathizers, what it is that they are actually trying to do.
Now in terms of black bloc tactics, I don’t think that they’re necessary, and I don’t think that they’re particularly helpful. If we are trying to build a mass movement, which I believe is what we need to form a resistance to the Trump regime on many different fronts, there’s — almost everyone is in the crosshairs, then we need a mass movement. And when you’ve got people who are — whose main intent at a demonstration is to create property destruction, is to create a kind of violent spectacle that invites a confrontation with the police, then that in and of itself is necessarily limiting. It means that undocumented immigrants can’t come on to that demonstration. It means that many African-Americans can’t come on to that demonstration. It means that people who want to bring their families can’t come to the demonstration, and to me, that there’s something fundamentally wrong with that.
Now, it doesn’t mean that we should conflate that with police violence or see it as the same thing as the tactics of the state, because that’s not their intent. These are anti-capitalists who want to confront the system. And I’m obviously very sympathetic with that. So they’re not the same thing. But as a movement, as a left, I think that we have to say something about tactics that imperil the right for the vast majority of people to freely participate in that movement.
JS: From your perspective, what should resistance and mobilizations and organizing look like under the Trump/Pence administration?
KYT: So, I think the first thing is that we have to start with an understanding and an analysis that all of these issues are connected. And so, the whole kind of, I have my issues over here, and they’re wholly separate and have nothing to do with your issues, is insufficient, and it’s incorrect. For people who are concerned about police terrorism and police violence, that is not just a black issue. That is an issue that Latinos have to deal with. That is an issue that Arabs and Muslims have to deal with. And we have to highlight the ways in which those things are connected. The attack on women’s rights is not just an issue for middle class white women who were the majority at the Women’s March in D.C. and around the country, but the attack on immigrants. This is a woman’s issue. The attack on low-wage workers is a woman’s issue. Fifty-five percent of black workers make under $15 an hour in this country, and most of them are black women.
And so, we have to see how all of these working class issues are women’s issues. And so, I think the main thing is that we have to see how these issues are connected, and that is the basis upon which we can build a broad movement. it has to be mass, it has to be broad, and there need to be easily identifiable entry points for people, for all these millions of people who are going to demonstrations. They need to know where it is that they can go locally to then get involved. So there are many different dimensions to this. But it will take all of them to be able to create a resistance to the Trump regime.
JS: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, thank you very much.
KYT: Thank you.
JS: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is a professor at Princeton University and author of the book “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation”.
JS: Before we end today’s show, we are going to go to a spoken word segment. And I just want to say this. Part of the reason why we’re asking musicians and artists and others to contribute to the show is that when you live in times of authoritarian rule, one of the first things that ends up in the crosshairs is culture. And we believe firmly that artists and writers and dramatists and actors and musicians play a vital role in defending the integrity of who we are as human beings.
And so for today’s show, to end it, we turn to the incredible singer, Kimya Dawson. Many of you probably know her songs from the movie Juno. But how many of you knew that these were her politics? Here is Kimya Dawson.
Kimya Dawson: Jeremy, this is Kimya Dawson from The Uncluded and The Moldy Peaches. Thanks for having me. This song was written for Black Lives. Black people who maybe aren’t so shocked by where we’re at right now because we’ve been targeted all along. But I also stand in support of the Muslims, Mexicans, Native Americans, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, women, poor folks, children, and everyone else who’s going to suffer greatly at the hands of this current administration. It’s imperative that we all rise up together and resist and make noise. This song is called “At The Seams”.
Left hands hold the leashes and the right hands hold the torches
And the grandpas holding shotguns swing on porch swings hung on porches
And the grandmas in their gardens plant more seeds to cut their losses
And the poachers with the pooches and the nooses preheat crosses
And the pooches see their grandpas
And they bare their teeth and growl
While their owners turn their noises up
Like they smell something foul
And they fumble with their crosses
And they start to mumble curses
And they plot ways to get grandpas off of porches into hearses
But the grandpas on the porches
Are just scarecrows holding toys
And the grandmas in the gardens
Are papier-mâché decoys
While the real grandmas and grandpas
Are with all the girls and boys
Marching downtown to the City Hall
To make a lot of noise
Saying, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!
Black lives matter,
No justice, no peace!”
I know that we can overcome
Because I had a dream
A dream we tore this racist, broken system
Apart at that seams
Sometimes it seems like we’ve reached
The end of the road
We’ve seen cops and judges sleep together
Wearing long white robes
And they put their white hoods up
Try to take the black hoods down
And they don’t plan on stopping
Till we’re all in the ground
Till we’re dead in the ground
Or we’re incarcerated
‘Cause prison’s a big business form
Plantations that profit
On black folks in cages
They’ll break our backs
And keep the wages
It’s outrageous that there’s no place
We can feel safe in this nation
Not in our cars, not at the park
Not in subway stations
Not at church, the pool, the store
Not asking for help
Not walking down the street
So we’ve got to scream and yell
Hands up, don’t shoot
I can’t breathe,
Black lives matter,
No justice, no peace
I know that we can overcome
Because I had a dream
A dream we tore this racist broken system
Apart at the seams
If you steal cigarillos
Or you sell loose cigarettes
Or you forget your turn signal
Well, they see your skin as a threat
Will they kill you and then smear you
And cover it up and lie
Will they call it self-defense
Will they call it suicide
Hands up, don’t shoot
I can’t breathe
Black lives matter
No justice, no peace
I know that we can overcome
Because I had a dream
A dream we tore this racist, broken system
Apart at the seams
And if the altars are torn down
We’ll keep on placing flowers
For the boy whose body was in the road
For more than four hours
We will honor the dead of every age
and every gender
‘Cause we can’t just have it be
The brother’s names that we remember
Black boys with skateboards
And black boys with hoodies
And little black girls
Who are on the couch sleeping
And all of the black trans women massacred
Too many black folks killed and brutalized
Too little justice served
After the lynchings of our people
By the murderous police
Who stand like hunters ‘round their pray
Gasping helpless in the street
Feet from the teen girl that they tackled
And locked handcuffed in the car
Right by her 12-year-old brother dying
And no one did CPR
Hands up, don’t shoot
I can’t breathe
Black lives matter
No justice, no peace
I know that we can overcome
Because I had a dream
A dream we tore this racist, broken system
Apart at the seams
JS: That was the amazing Kimya Dawson. If you want to hear her full a cappella song, you can find it at theintercept.com/podcasts.
JS: Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro, and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Our music was composed by DJ Spooky. Special thanks for our apocalyptic Donald Trump, Anthony Atamanuik. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.
KYT: Four million people protesting one day after the president is elected is absolutely unprecedented.
KYT: Yeah, I know. [Laughing]
KYT: Very sad.