Team Trump says the president can’t be indicted, and he’s indicated he may use the power of the pardon to launder the crimes of his associates. This week on Intercepted: Constitutional law professor Zephyr Teachout is running to be the New York attorney general and she has vowed to put Trump and his organization in her legal sights if she wins. She talks about why she believes Trump may have violated the emoluments clause, the foreign money he has received since becoming president, and her plan to undermine his potential pardons. Socialist academic Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor talks about socialism, capitalism, and what real resistance looks like in Trump’s America. On the 17th anniversary of 9/11, the longest continuous U.S. war in history continues in Afghanistan. Rep. Barbara Lee tells the story of her historic lone vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force and the harassment and death threats she received after her speech on September 14, 2001. Jeremy analyzes the U.S. opposition to the International Criminal Court, what the tributes to John McCain tell us about the U.S. empire, and why the anonymous op-ed in the New York Times was neither heroic nor an act of resistance. With insurgent progressive candidates challenging — and sometimes beating — Democratic establishment candidates, the future of the Democratic Party is at a crossroads. We speak with Nathan Robinson, the editor of Current Affairs magazine, and Intercept Senior Politics Editor Briahna Joy Gray about the state of left politics, the midterm elections, and the reappearance of Barack Obama.
[“Reading Rainbow” theme song plays.]
Narrator: “Fear: Trump in the White House” by Bob Woodward. Chapter one. A meeting was finally arranged at Mueller’s office. “I’m going to tell you about my conversation with the President of the United States on the subject of testimony,” Dowd said. “Well,” Mueller said, “I guess that’s it.”
“And I’m telling you, Bob, the president really wanted to testify and answer a few questions. He just made something up, that’s his nature.”
President Donald J. Trump: People call it Britain. They call it Great Britain. They call it — they used to call in England different parts.
Narrator: “This is horseshit,” Dowd thought.
DJT: How did — c’mere c’mere, you’re not nervous, right? [Laughter.] Speaks perfect English.
Narrator: Dowd knew it was bullshit. But that was one of the Trump paradoxes.
DJT: People make up stories — this whole thing about ‘flipping’ they call it. I know all about flipping for 30-40 years, I’ve been watching flippers.
Narrator: You’re a fucking liar. That was the problem.
DJT: The failing New York Times by an anonymous, really an anonymous gutless, coward.
Narrator: Dowd knew this was self-delusion. Total bullshit.
DJT: I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success.
Narrator: Dowd was aware that he had illustrated the president was clearly disabled. “John, I understand,” Mueller said, “I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with that idiot for?”
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 65 of Intercepted.
DJT: But it’s all working out and just remember what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening –
JS: Well we are back in the saddle again on this show and holy shit. So much has happened since we last gathered. We have had more indictments from the Robert Mueller/Trump Russia probe. George Papadopoulos got a light pat on the wrist for lying to federal agents. 14 days in jail and community service. We have people doing life in prison for nonviolent drug offenses in this country, but apparently lying to federal agents gets you two weeks at Club Fed. Good to know.
Jeremy Scahill on the U.S. Opposition to the International Criminal Court, John McCain and U.S. Empire, and the Anonymous Op-Ed in the New York Times
We had this bullshit anonymous op-ed in the New York Times by a reprehensible extreme right-winger posing as a defender of the republic, because he and some colleagues, they say are trying to stop Trump from messing up their glorious consolidation of a toxic dangerous Republican agenda. That person ain’t no hero or whistleblower. That person is part of the problem and meanwhile, Donald Trump appears poised to ensure that his legacy haunts this country for generations to come with the nomination of a radical, fanatical, anti-woman, anti-worker, pro-racial profiling, perjurer to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. If Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed the Supreme Court is basically going to be like the commanders’ council in the Handmaid’s Tale.
The Handmaid’s Tale: My Handmaid is about to reach her expiration date — but she wasn’t that much fun, to begin with. How was yours?
THT: Oh, she’s proven fruitful.
JS: And let’s not forget, ever, that the genocidal U.S./Saudi war against Yemen is continuing. And millions of Yemenis have either died, are starving, or are withering away from preventable diseases. There are still hundreds of immigrant children separated from their families by this administration.
We understand that there was also this meeting with mutinous generals from Venezuela who had this klatch with Trump and his people apparently to discuss a coup against Nicolás Maduro. There’s a new CIA drone base being built. Gina Haspel who was deeply involved with the torture of prisoners after 9/11 is at the helm now officially of the CIA. We hear almost nothing anymore about her or what she’s doing at the agency.
I’m bringing all of this up because the U.S. Empire is still the U.S. Empire, even if Donald Trump is president. I actually agreed with former President Barack Obama when he recently said that Trump is not the problem himself, but he’s a symptom of the problem.
You know, what are the grand lies that is being pushed by these never Trump-ers by some establishment Republicans, and yes, by the Democrats, is that Trump represents some grand departure, some dangerous veering away from the norms and the ideas that underpin the story of American greatness. Nowhere was this on greater display than at the funeral of Senator John McCain.
Barack Obama: We come to celebrate an extraordinary man. A warrior. A Statesman. A patriot — embodied so much that is best in America.
JS: The endless tributes to him were a lie filled festival celebrating the insidious mythology of American greatness. McCain was a war criminal. John McCain was a racist. He was a staunch militarist.
He was the embodiment of an empire politician who believed that American lives were worth more than the lives of others. Now, it was taboo to say any of this about John McCain during the fictional storytelling Lollapalooza that followed his death. It was, to paraphrase Barack Obama, a symptom of a nation built on lies. Lies, which if you reject them, you’re considered an extremist – an enemy of America. The horrid stain that is Donald Trump’s presidency has opened a space for the most intellectually dishonest power brokers in the American empire to fellate themselves and each other as they dream of a day when a good guy like George W. Bush, a mass murderer, or Bill Clinton, a belligerent warmonger who spent eight years attacking the poor and building up the prison industrial complex, can return decorum to America. Trump is definitely an anomaly. And he does indeed pose his own unique threats to peace in the United States and around the world, but largely, he’s an anomaly in circumstance and style. But more than that Trump is actually a mirror placed before the American Empire and a mirror that all the responsible adults want smashed less they have to face what it really means. That their precious system where war criminals can be rehabilitated instantly by hugging Michelle Obama, or painting pictures, or passing Michelle Obama a piece of candy at a funeral, for another war criminal, produced this monster currently residing, between his golf outings, at the White House.
And here’s a cold hard fact, the Trump regime has more in common with all those presidents and former officials and others hanging out at McCain’s funeral than it does with ordinary people in this country and around the world. Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about earlier this week president Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton gave a major address at his second home, the Federalist Society, to announce a major attack on the International Criminal Court based in The Hague. Now, that’s the court that should have jurisdiction over war crimes including those committed by the United States, its leaders, military personnel, spies, and others suspected of war crimes, not just for the former Yugoslavia. Not just for Rwanda. All Nations.
Now, John Bolton has always been a ferocious extremist opponent of international law and specifically of the International Criminal Court. And what appeared to spur this speech now by John Bolton was the fact that the ICC is said to be investigating the U.S. detention and torture program in Afghanistan.
John Bolton: The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court. We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC and we certainly will not join the ICC.
We will let the ICC die on its own after all for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.
JS: Now on its surface John Bolton speech sounds like that of a defiant despot, openly flouting international law and justice. It’s being discussed in some media outlets as an extreme position that the Trump administration is taking. Now rhetorically, maybe that is true. But let’s be honest here. The U.S. has never respected international law or International justice. War crimes are acts committed by others. War crimes are acts committed by America’s enemies. What we do is justified and sometimes OK, we make mistakes. The U.S. view boils down to this: Our mistakes are not really crimes, even if we kill an entire family, or we blow up a school bus, or we bomb a hospital, or we invade countries.
JB: Had the ICC existed during the second World War America’s enemies would no doubt be eager to find the United States and its allies culpable for war crimes for the bombing campaigns over Germany and Japan.
JS: Now, I’m not sure that Bolton is actually correct about this that there would have been a push to prosecute Americans after World War II.
But let there be no doubt the U.S., its military commanders, presidents, and others should have been prosecuted for war crimes during World War II. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two of the greatest crimes in history. The fire bombing of cities packed with civilians. Those were war crimes. The entire Vietnam War. The secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos –– war crimes.
Yes, all of those should have been prosecuted by an international court and it should have begun at the top of the command structure. If the United States actually respected international law, then every U.S. president would have been tried as a war criminal and rightly so. But this isn’t just John Bolton’s position.
It basically was Bill Clinton’s position that U.S. officials should not be subjected to the ICC’s jurisdiction. And Bolton correctly pointed out that there was support from both Democrats and Republicans for a law that authorizes the U.S. to use military force to thwart attempted prosecution’s or extraditions of its personnel under international war crimes law.
JB: This law which enjoyed broad bipartisan support authorizes the president to use all means necessary and appropriate including force to shield our service members and the armed forces of our allies from ICC prosecution.
JS: John Bolton is an unsavory belligerent undiplomatic scoundrel. He was also a member of the now beloved George W. Bush Administration. Bolton’s position on international law is not the extremism of this white house. It is the firm position of the United States. It’s just that John Bolton laid it out in terms that would be considered uncouth by the so-called adults in the Democratic and Republican parties.
Constitutional Law Professor Zephyr Teachout on Her Campaign For New York Attorney General and Her Vow to Put Trump in Her Legal Sights If She Wins
JS: Well, there has been a pretty wild start to the midterm election season. It’s now in full swing. And there are wars of sorts going on in both the Democratic and Republican parties. You have insurgent candidates taking down incumbents. And the Democratic Socialists of America have made a pretty big splash on the electoral scene. Later in the show we’re going to be digging into what’s going on in the Democratic Party and the battle between more progressive forces and the institutional elite. We’re going to be talking to my colleague Briahna Joy Gray and Nathan Robinson, the editor-in-chief of Current Affairs Magazine. We’re also going to be talking with the brilliant socialist academic Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.
But we kick off today’s show here in New York. The actor and activist Cynthia Nixon continues her campaign to unseat New York’s powerful Democratic machine boss politician as Governor. Andrew Cuomo according to the polls maintains a safe lead as of this broadcast. But as we’ve seen time and again recently, these polls have been wrong and pundits have been stunned.
Nixon has fought a very serious social justice oriented campaign, and she’s both contributed to and benefited from a renewed political energy on the left in this country. We shall see what happens there.
There’s also a fierce competition in the race for the powerful and important position of New York attorney general. And one of those candidates who is running on a progressive platform and has vowed to criminally prosecute the Trump organization and potentially the president himself, should she win.
I’m talking about Zephyr Teachout. Her campaign dropped a new ad this week featuring Teachout, who is pregnant getting an ultrasound.
Zephyr Teachout: What is his or her future look like? Do we save our democracy? Do we flip Congress? Does Robert Mueller indict Trump? I don’t want to wait and see. It’s why I sued President Trump the week he was inaugurated, wrote the book on corruption, and took on the Albany machine, and rallied against pharmaceutical and insurance companies for putting profits over people. I’m Zephyr Teachout and you’ve never seen an attorney general like me. And neither have they.
JS: Zephyr Teachout is a law professor and a constitutional law expert. Early on in Trump’s tenure, you might remember, she filed a lawsuit against Trump for allegedly violating the emoluments clause by personally profiting off of the presidency. The centerpieces of her campaign for attorney general are: Leading the legal resistance against the Trump assault on law and battling financial fraud and corporate scams. Her book on the history of anti-corruption laws in the United States, it’s called, “Corruption in America,” is widely recognized as a groundbreaking analysis on the subject.
Zephyr Teachout, welcome to intercepted.
Zephyr Teachout: Hey, it’s great to be on.
JS: I want to just start with an issue that you’ve been campaigning on that is very much a national, and I think we could all we could argue, international issue, and that is your very overt pledge if you become Attorney General of New York to go after Donald Trump.
JS: Lay out what powers you would have as attorney general and how you would approach that.
ZT: Yeah. I mean, there are so many different problems with Donald Trump’s presidency, but one that we cannot forget is that he is he’s taking foreign government money and he’s the president of the United States.
And he’s doing this through his businesses. So here in New York state we know just based on reporting, there’s a lot we don’t know, that the Chinese government is paying him rent. We know that a Saudi Prince just spent a lot of money in one of his hotels. We know that the government of India, and Qatar, and the UAE, are all paying him through his businesses. And this is in direct open violation of the United States Constitution.
The correct remedy here is that he has to be forced to divest his business interests. And it’s not only a constitutional violation as you mentioned at the beginning, this has real international implications. Every trade and military decision that we as a country are making in regards to China, for instance, has a huge question mark next to it because they are paying the chief decider.
So, this is a corruption threat at a national and global level. It must be stopped. I have essentially with a few other amazing lawyers around the country built this legal strategy immediately after he was elected. I wrote the first op-ed about it in The New York Times. I brought a lawsuit with a handful of the top lawyers in the country against him in the southern district of New York. And then encourage the New York State Attorney General, then Eric Schneiderman, to pursue this in New York state. He did not, but I have been working with the offices of the Maryland and D.C. Attorneys General. They have pursued this strategy and they’re winning. Right now, the most recent judicial decision cited my work extensively and held that our understanding of the Constitution was the correct one, which means Trump will have to divest his business interests.
I know people are looking for immediate action. And they may not understand what a big deal this is. This is a huge deal. Trump will finally have to choose between his business and his presidency.
JS: Well, I’m sure you’ve seen these appearances of the former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who now is serving as a lawyer of sorts for Trump. His primary job seems to be going on TV saying outlandish things. Lying.
JS: But one line that he and his camp are pushing and they’ve given the impression of a that there’s some sort of constitutional debate about this is that the president cannot be charged with a crime. As an individual, a sitting President of the United States Donald Trump, do you believe that he could be charged with a crime and would that be possible under your powers as attorney general if you win?
ZT: Well, I do. I do believe that we are in a constitutional democracy, not a constitutional monarchy – Senators can be charged with crimes. Judges can be charged with crimes. Congress members can be charged with crimes, and the President can be charged with crimes.
We’ve never been in this situation before so we’re in truly uncharted territory. And one of the reasons that I think that the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh is illegitimate is because this precise question may go to the Supreme Court. And no one — the most fundamental principle of law that is that no one can pick their own judges and still call it law. This has been untested. There is not a, you know, there’s no constitutional answer on this but the very structure of our government is not a monarch structure. So, I feel very strongly that it’s possible to bring indictments if that’s where the facts lead. And I think in the background of your question is is a really critical point. Which is beside the illegal activities of the Trump organization, which we must investigate, that the illegal activities of the Trump Foundation, which we now already know about there are individuals very close to Donald Trump. And you know, if the facts lead to the president, the facts lead to the president, that if they committed crimes may likely have done so in New York. And it’s really critical that the New York attorney general working with local DA’s be actively investigating criminal behavior.
There are so many constitutional crises on the horizon. One is if Trump pardons and associate to protect himself, then you need the New York State Attorney General to be stepping in and be ready to prosecute under state law, which isn’t covered by federal pardon any related crimes because we got to be totally clear that no one is above the law.
JS: Okay, let’s say Trump associate X gets convicted of something that is related in some manner to either corruption involving the Trump organization or the campaign. What are your powers if that person is pardoned?
ZT: Right. So, under New York, under federal law, if New York had no double jeopardy statute, the federal pardon doesn’t cover state crimes.
So, there would be no federal ban on investigating and then prosecuting that person under state law. Under New York state law the powers are somewhat limited by the fact that we have a double jeopardy statute and one of the more expansive double jeopardy statutes, which says that you cannot bring a prosecution for the same acts for which there has been another federal prosecution and either acquittal, or pardon, or guilty plea. What that means is that if the only illegal things that this associate did were one or two things and they were all pardoned for then New York State’s hands are tied. But based on press reports alone we have every reason to believe that Trump associates may have been involved in many different illegal activities. So, the key thing would be to be prepared with an investigation into a huge range of illegal activities.
Like you’d want to look at bank fraud, false statements, campaign finance violations, tax crimes, which actually have their own exception which allows for greater prosecution in New York state. And since Trump’s associates tend to be profoundly clumsy, as well as, lawless there is every reason to believe that in almost every circumstance it would be possible to bring it then a state criminal law charge and this is really important because you cannot have Donald Trump — and it’s an important signal to send him to like, “Trump you cannot pardon your way out of you cannot protect yourself with pardons.” That’s a total abuse of the pardon power and we in the states are ready to say, “No. No one is above the law.”
JS: You’re talking a lot about corruption and I want to ask you we’re now on the 10th anniversary of the financial meltdown that was manufactured by extremely powerful wealthy financial institutions and white-collar criminals, who are going unprosecuted, unpunished, and continuing to carry on in the game.
What is your plan to deal with Wall Street and to deal with predatory lenders who are ripping off ordinary working people and poor people?
ZT: This is so critical. I actually have a deep background here after the financial crash of 2008. I co-founded a group dedicated to breaking up big banks and advocating for putting more financial criminals in jail, spent a lot of time lobbying for what became Dodd-Frank. I’ve taught in this area. I know this area well. I don’t take corporate PAC money. I don’t take Wall Street corporate money, unlike all my opponents. And we have this national crisis where you have rollbacks of Dodd-Frank some which have been supported by my opponent, Sean Patrick Maloney – takes a lot of Wall Street money. And Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is run by somebody who does not believe in legitimacy of the bureau. So, we are at genuine crisis mode when it comes to regulating the financial sector, which is based in New York. So, one we have very powerful tools here in New York including the Martin Act which is one of the strongest financial regulatory tools in the country. I am willing to fully use that. There’s a range of other state laws and then there are also powers granted under Dodd-Frank to State Attorneys General, which I am willing to use. One of the many drivers but a key driver of the last crisis was an out-of-control swaps market. And under Dodd-Frank, I have laid out a strategy that is not yet being used but that I would use using the granted power to the New York State Attorney General along with all attorneys general to enforce parts of Dodd-Frank that are not being enforced as banks push more and more overseas. I mean, we’re threatened with financial instability that we are not yet done with the aftershocks of the 2008 crisis.
The amount of wealth loss was extraordinary, the nature of the jobs in our state and country have changed after the crash. This is a real passion of mine and also a real difference. One of my opponents Tish James is that she doesn’t want to be known as the “sheriff of Wall Street.” Another of my opponents has actively undermined Dodd-Frank by twice voting with Republicans to gut key, key provisions. Provisions that I fought for including reporting requirements about discrimination and lending and if we don’t know about what’s happening in discrimination in lending, we can’t protect against it. Wall Street understands this. They know the powers of the New York State Attorney General’s office.
They are doing everything they can to stop me because they know how powerful this office is and luckily we’ve got a lot of momentum. But I am fully ready to use all those powers because Lord knows people need protection from illegality in the financial sector. And yes, a key theme of my campaign is the wrong people are in jail.
We need to focus on white collar crime and fight to end mass incarceration. Our criminal justice system is upside down. It’s the big wigs that need the scrutiny and we need to end cash bail and at least cut our incarcerated population in half.
JS: Final question: based on the publicly available information that we have, do you think that there would be sound legal ground to initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump? Setting aside the current composition of the Congress just on the legal merits of it. Do you believe that there is publicly available evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors by this president?
ZT: Well, there are three different ways to think about impeachment and I’ll tell you how I think about it one is that it’s a purely political tool and can be used however one wants because the power is in Congress. The second is that there’s a particular set of laws and if you break those particular laws than those are quote-unquote impeachable offenses.
I actually ascribe to neither of those views. But the third view which is that impeachment is reserved for very serious betrayals of trust of the office which include, but are not limited to, violations of federal and state law crimes. And for over a year now what I have said is the appropriate path, which we should do immediately is to start an investigation.
And that Congress should start and impeachments investigation. And that given the lawlessness of the Trump Administration it is particularly important to follow those procedural steps to begin the investigation and start using the tools available that Congress has available in order to uncover and lay bare all the facts surrounding real questions of betrayal of trust and I think there is more than enough publicly available evidence and there has been for some time to begin an impeachment investigation.
For me, the firing of Comey was a central moment in the Trump presidency that warranted the beginning of an impeachment investigation.
JS: Well Zephyr Teachout, I’m sure that if you emerge victorious and you are the next Attorney General of New York, Donald Trump will certainly know your name, and it sounds like you’re –
ZT: They ain’t seen nothing yet.
JS: You’re going to be, I think viewed as a very serious threat to the Trump administration and the Trump organization and to the president himself.
ZT: We know they’re paying close attention to this race. We know they’re keeping our eyes on this race. There’s a lot of power in this office, and I’m ready to use it.
JS: I’m sure they are. Good luck Zephyr on the campaign trail, and –
ZT: Thank you, great to be on.
JS: Look forward to talking to you as attorney general.
ZT: Great. Me, too. Take care. Bye-bye.
JS: Zephyr Teachout is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General of New York that primary election is this week on Thursday, September 13th.
Socialist Academic Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor Talks About Socialism, Resistance in Trump’s America, Colin Kaepernick, and Serena Williams
As I mentioned in my conversation with Zephyr, this week marks the 10-year anniversary of the global financial crisis that was created by major U.S. financial institutions, speculators, predatory lenders and, well, let’s just call them what they are: Corporate criminals.
A new report out from the watch group, Public Citizen, says that as a result of the Obama administration’s bailout of Wall Street Banks combined with the Trump administration’s radical deregulation agenda, and massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the five largest banks in the U.S. have been absolutely raking in cash over the past decade.
JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs have accumulated more than five hundred and eighty billion dollars in combined profits over these past 10 years. Public Citizen’s president, Rob Weissman noted that there has been no jail time for executives. And with a half a trillion dollars in profits, the big banks have made out like what he calls, bandits. Public Citizen determined that these banks currently hold just shy of 10 trillion dollars in assets. Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump claimed the American economy is in great shape and both of them recently took credit for that.
BO: And by the time I left office, household income was near its all-time high, and the uninsured rate at hit an all-time low, and wages were rising and poverty rates were falling. I mentioned all this just so when you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let’s just remember when this recovery started.
DJT: I said, we have the greatest economy in our history. We have the greatest job numbers just about in our history. You look at African-American. You look at any, any, any statistic you look in fact, the one I’m doing the worst with is women because they’re only the best in 65 years. Can you imagine?
JS: Few things bring elite Democrats and Republicans together more than good old fashioned capitalism and the church of the so-called free market.
In fact, it was blasting that bipartisan system that was one of the main issues that propelled Bernie Sanders to his still maintained, by the way, very high popularity ratings. Sanders, of course, identifies himself as a Democratic Socialist and he has inspired others to run who campaign under that same banner. But is Democratic socialism actually compatible with the Democratic Party? What happens to insurgents when they become part of the system?
Those are questions that candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are going to be facing next year when they arrive on Capitol Hill. It would also be a question facing Bernie Sanders, should he run again for president and actually win? Both major corporate political parties in this country are in their own battles of sorts over their core identity and time and again in this election cycle, we have seen powerful establishment Democrats step into races where progressives are challenging establishment Democrats to back their old horses against the new blood. We’ve seen a Republican version of this in some races as well though that largely involves Trump intervening to support candidates challenging or fighting off more traditional Republicans.
It’s no doubt a fascinating moment, but it’s also one that comes with great stakes. One of the big questions that really should be asked is the Democratic Party as it has existed for a long time and continues to exist, worthy of progressive support for any reason other than they’re not Trump or they’re not Republicans? As I followed and analyzed this political moment we’re in I’ve been wanting to speak again to my friend and all-around brilliant person, Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. She is assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University. She’s also the author of “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.” That’s an examination of the history and politics of black America and the development of the social movement Black Lives Matter.
Dr. Taylor has just finished her forthcoming book, “Race for Profit: Black Homeownership and the End of the Urban Crisis.” That’s a book that’s going to look at the federal government’s promotion of single-family home ownership in black communities after the urban rebellions of the 1960s. The book is going to drop next year.
Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, welcome back to Intercepted.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: Thanks, Jeremy. Very glad to be here.
JS: Where do you see things now with the Trump presidency, the state of resistance against Trump, and the institutional Democratic Party?
KYT: I think that we’ve seen the kind of racism and reaction that this presidency has unleashed. You know, we’ve seen the constitutive elements of the possibilities of a sustained movement against Trump over the last year. Some of the most heroic and important examples of that are the teacher strikes.
Teacher Strikes: 55 united! 55 united! 55 united!
KYT: That began in West Virginia. The way that it continues in Washington State. So we see the battle on the labor front that certainly is a repudiation of Trumpism beginning to develop. I think that we’ve seen a kind of popular mobilization against the Trump administration’s regressive and disgusting immigration policies particularly the attempts to separate children from their parents at the border. That there was a popular rebellion against that policy that very quickly led to it being dismantled, even though there are still five hundred children who remain in detention at the hands of the Trump administration. We saw what a kind of popular mobilization can do and still has the power to do to resist the overtures of the Trump administration. So, I think there’s smaller examples of protests. There have continued to be protests against police abuse and violence in black communities.
There has been the strike of the incarcerated — the prison strikes. Then I think part of the challenge for those of us who are interested in, not just episodic resistance, but really knitting together the different kinds of movements into a cohered and larger unified social movement, to not just resist Trump, but to resist those issues that give rise to Trump in the first place: Is that we have to be able to put forward a kind of political vision and understanding of how that can happen.
And my fear is that as we get closer to the midterm elections in November, that all of the energy, intellect, and the focus, that has been very important in responding to different aspects of Trump’s agenda get sucked into the electoral cycle, get sucked into the midterm machinery, and that we become so fixated that we forget that the most powerful resistance that we have to Trump’s agenda remains our ability to be organized in the streets. And to also not just protest but that we began to talk to each other, understand our different struggles, and try to find the points of unity, try to find the points at which they come together so that we can build not just a movement that is reactive, but that we can really look beneath, that we can get to the root of what has given rise to Trump that, of course, is not just about Trump.
But what is it about our political and economic system in this country that allows for these kinds of injustices that in many ways are bipartisan to continue? That’s not just a question that can be resolved in the midterm elections. It’s a deeper and systemic issue because when Obama came out last week with his speech at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, you know Obama is very good for a sweet sounding speech especially when we have become used to the Neanderthal in the White House who were not even sure is literate –
BO: The biggest threat to our democracy, I said yesterday, is not it’s not one individual. It’s not one big Super PAC billionaires. It’s apathy. It’s indifference. It’s us not doing what we’re supposed to do.
KYT: Obama always: We can’t be cynical; we have to get out and roll our sleeves up. But at some point, we have to try to examine and understand what the nature of some of the cynicism is, and I don’t think that we can understand the victory of Trump without understanding the failures of the Democratic Party particularly the failures of the Obama administration because those two things are directly connected. And so, we can talk about cynicism within the electorate but we have to understand that what is at the root of what I would describe as the enthusiasm gap with Democratic Party voters is that someone like Obama talks big talk on the campaign trail and all of the things that government can do on the campaign trail in this vision of the Democratic Party is leading the charge for reform. But then once in office, the inability to act in ways that fundamentally change people’s lives for the better take place and that’s why people become cynical. We can look at that, and the failures of the Obama administration, as a significant contribution to why people didn’t turn out in 2016 and why people continue to remain skeptical about the ability of the Democratic Party to transcend the status quo.
JS: As I look at it when we look back at the last 16 years of democratic presidents: Two terms of Clinton, two terms of Obama.
What you largely had come out of those 16 years was a push even further to the right in this country. Certainly, with its domestic politics did the lives of poor people get better as a result of the Clintons and the and Obama? No. Did the war stop? No, they expanded. Did the Republicans mainstream many of their ideas within the institutional Democratic party? Yes, yes they did. And I look at that and then I compare it to what did Hillary Clinton’s people say, they wanted? They said we want women to run for office. We want young people to run for office. We want black people to run for office. We want people of color, LGBTQ — and in so many races that we have seen just in the past year, you see the Hillary Clinton wing of the Democratic Party coming in and endorsing incumbent conservative in some cases old white male Democratic candidates against the very people that they said that they wanted to run.
Joe Biden: We have leaders in Washington who want to roll back decades of progress no matter what the cost. This is one of the most challenging times I’ve ever seen for our country. Andrew Cuomo is the perfect antidote. I’ve known Andrew for over 20 years —
JS: And so why should anyone? Put their energy their effort their faith their trust into a machine that says, “Oh we want all of you to run except don’t run against these old white male senators that are our friends.” How many times are people going to step on this rake in the backyard of the Democratic Party that’s been there always in the same place and people just keep stepping on it and it whacks them in the face every time?
KYT: You know, this is why it’s important to know history and to understand the really subversive relationship that the Democratic party has had to social movements to its left whether it’s the 1930s whether it’s in the 1960s.
There’s certainly the 1980s when Jesse Jackson ran the Rainbow Coalition and certainly ran a left-wing campaign that is used to capture black voters, left-wing progressive, white working-class voters, but really to bring them back within the orbit of the Democratic Party.
Jesse Jackson: Labor cannot win the battle against right to work laws until women are free. Women cannot be free until blacks and Hispanics are free. Thus blacks, women, Hispanics, workers, Indians, Chinese, Filipinos we must come together and form the Rainbow Coalition. We need each other.
KYT: And so, when people have believed that they could use the machinery of the Democratic Party that all too often instead of those forces changing the party, they have been changed by the party.
What happens in black politics in the 1960s, 70s, the Democratic Party had a conscious strategy of absorbing broad parts of the left to try to create the impression that you could be active in formal politics and the political system that political activism didn’t just need to be in opposition to the system, but that the parties and the structures of the political system could be flexible enough and open enough to allow for the activism and activity of black people, of women, and of young people. And the outcome, it had a conservatizing impact on those politics. Because no longer was the discussion about black liberation, or women’s liberation, or anti-capitalism but instead the objectives became much more contained and constrained into what was possible within the confines of the political system.
And so, what was pushing the political discussion objectives to the left in the first place was a mass movement that centered around the black movement as a way to try to respond and engage with that movement. And so, without the political propellant of social struggle on the ground politics became very conservative and they went back into the framework of what was possible, what is pragmatic. It’s not to say that elections are unimportant or immaterial because obviously, they’re not. But we can’t talk about politics within a vacuum of what happens within the Democratic Party or what happens between the Democratic and Republican party because we can see that outside of the context of a social movement politics in this country functions within the framework that the right creates.
And it’s only when there is a social movement afoot that raises the much broader demands that raises the bigger demands, do those needs even come into the view of the discussion.
JS: Part of my concern with the victory and ascent of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And by the way, I interviewed her on this program.
I like a lot of what she’s about. I think she is really smart. And I think she has great potential to really be an unusual voice in Washington D.C. At the same time the way that the situation got handled when she was confronted about her condemnation of the Israeli pogrom against the Palestinians, was to sort of immediately back away and say:
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: I am not the expert geopolitics on this issue. You know for me, I’m a firm believer in finding a two-state solution in this issue.
JS: If we elect people who say that their Democratic Socialists to office and then they go to Washington and most of what they are is Democrats and a little bit of socialism when it’s acceptable or when rabble-rousing is permitted by the party leadership, then it’s going to have the opposite effect that I think a lot of people wanted it to when they cast their votes for somebody different which is you know, we don’t want more of the same. So, with this new kind of attention being paid to the term socialism and to Democratic Socialist candidates you as a longtime committed socialist, how do you see the positives and the risks, the dangers of this moment, where you have the left, you know outside of the Democratic Party piercing into that tent again with the Democratic Socialists kind of playing this inside-outside game with the Democratic Party?
KYT: The idea that you could ever sort of openly talk about socialism say that you were a socialist, this was unfathomable, you know, 20 years ago. It was unfathomable, you know, maybe even 10 years ago. And so today that’s different. And that’s a great thing. I mean Jim Carrey is somewhere on some talk show saying that:
Jim Carrey: We have to say, “yes” to socialism to the word and everything. We have to stop apologizing.
KYT: These are phenomenal developments and they open up the space to have what I was talking about earlier, which is to have a much broader bigger discussion to talk about fundamentally transforming people’s lives. What does it mean to have a life unencumbered by poverty, by concerns about housing, by concerns about health care, by concerns about education, by concerns about being able to maintain any semblance of a quality of life? And so, when we can talk about socialism and talk about the enormous inequality that pervades American society this is a good thing.
The problem, however, is that some of the discussion about socialism is being reduced to issues of state control. You know, do we just need more social welfare programs? Do we just need more public policies that advocate for more funding for public schools or public hospitals or things of that nature? But in discussing socialism as if it were simply a social welfare program, it really truncates the breadth and the depth of what the socialists project actually is that: Ordinary people who are the creators of all wealth in our society and across the world have the right — the Democratic right –– to decide how those wealth and resources that they create through their labor should be utilized. And that means not having millionaire interlocutors speak for us to determine how those resources should be used.
Which to be honest is all Congress has been reduced to. Most of them have absolutely no clue about what it is like to be a regular person in this country and to have to make decisions about rent or prescriptions. And that’s not hyperbole. Those are actual debates that people have with themselves or within their households on a day-to-day basis.
And so socialism is about removing those people and letting the people who create the wealth decide. That discussion: The sense of socialism as the emancipation of ordinary people to be in control of their own lives and to be in control of their own situation is being jettisoned for really is a talk about an expansion of the social welfare state. When we look at the impacts of capitalism and climate change when we look at the enormous amounts of poverty and deprivation that are created by and perpetuated by capitalism, and also when we look at the war and the destruction and the human carnage that is generated through a system for profit, the idea of U.S. Imperialism, the impact of war in our society and abroad has been completely left out of this resurgent discussion of socialism.
JS: On the sort of flip side from Democrats to Republicans in my estimation just really monitoring the developments of the Republican Party in this moment of Trump, the extreme right-wing in the United States right now has an incredible amount of power. And I don’t just mean officially. I mean that this game that is playing out where the Republicans can anonymously say, “Oh, well the real adults in the room we’re making sure that the empire stays afloat, and we’re keeping Trump at bay,” but then benefiting from every single thing Trump does that it seems to me like quite a shrewd play on the part of the, kind of, lifers within the extreme right-wing movement in this country that they’re using Trump in a spectacularly evil and brilliant way. And I think that they’re largely winning with what they’re doing in part because of all the problems you just described with the Democratic Party, but how do you see this moment? I mean you and I both, you know came of political age in the 1990s where the campus free speech stuff was a big deal at that time. A lot of racists were doing the same things we see now where they’re going to try to cause a provocation. But you also had this sense that the extreme right-wing they had a long-term plan and I don’t think that Trump is as much of a monkey wrench in their plan as he is this gift that they had to be dragged into realizing they should accept.
KYT: Oh, yeah. I mean people ask me all the time, “Trump is such an embarrassment. Why do the Republicans put up with this?” If you look beyond the chaos that is generated from his Twitter account, it’s easy to see why the Republicans put up with this. Whether it’s the historic tax cut, the rapid and utterly frightening transformation of the judiciary, the tinkering with the machinery of the state is creating the kinds of changes that will far exceed the tenure of the Trump Administration. We’re witnessing a virtual coup within the confines of the Supreme Court in the ultimate validation of the strategy of dealing with the chaos, the lack of civility, the inattention to political norms, all of the things that people have said that this administration represents while missing what is actually happening under the hood.
You know, it’s an important thing to pay attention to in understanding what the actual impact of this administration is and what its reverberations will be. But the institutional impacts as important as they are we can make them seem infallible or beyond the reach of ordinary people.
And this especially becomes true with the Supreme Court. Clearly, it is a frightening thing to have a disproportionate number of right-wing zealots on the Supreme Court. I think this will create a permanent schism at 5-4. I mean the court presents itself as impervious to political influence and all politics. And we know we, we should know that that is absolutely incorrect that the court trips in politics and basically helps to create politics and is also impacted by politics, but that doesn’t mean that these institutions are all powerful and are beyond the reach of popular demands or popular appeals. But it does point back to why for our side we have to continue to organize and we have to be able to build the kinds of movements that have the power and the capacity to force these governing institutions to accede to the will of those who are most affected by its decision-making.
JS: You brought up earlier the prison strike, which got very little attention. There was a smattering of publications that were reporting on it. And it was a 19-day national prison strike. The strikers put forward 10 demands addressing the conditions of people being held in the prisons. It called for policies that “recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women. An end to prison slavery,” and you have prisoners doing all sorts of manual labor sometimes 24-hour shifts. What is the significance of this 19-day national prison strike that officially ended this past weekend?
KYT: It speaks to the level of organizing that exists within the prisons. It also says something about the humanity of the imprisoned which in this country is so critical to assert and reassert an important aspect of the strike is asserting under whatever conditions someone exists in the jails and prisons of this country that we should be demanding. While some of us fight for the abolition of these cages and of the system of caging people that as long as people are in prison that they have the absolute right to live and exist in the most humane conditions that are possible and so the strike and the organizing of the strike show that to be the demand of the imprisoned themselves and that it’s not we’re not just here talking about them, but that they are asserting their own rights to dignity and humanity. The Black Lives Matter movement has helped to put a national and international spotlight on the racist policing, and practices, and abuse, of American police. And in doing so it has necessarily questioned the criminal justice system, the system of policing, and within that discussion, there has to be a further examination and evaluation of what happens to those who are caught up in the system of policing and the criminal justice system.
I think what we see is that it will take an absolute mass movement just to be able to address the conditions that the imprisoned have raised. Prisons, policing, a racist unequal criminal justice system are absolutely integral to the system of capitalism–– economic and political organization of society that relies on the marginalization and demonization of some. And prison is a way that they help to reinforce the ideas of dehumanization and marginalization. And so, they are core features of the economic system that we live under. And so, the strike is absolutely essential to trying to both connect with other prisoners within the system itself but to also educating the broader public about what it means to be imprisoned in the United States of America.
JS: Final question. There was this huge match in tennis between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams over the weekend at the U.S. Open. And I saw live this incident where you had Serena Williams reacting to a call from the umpire.
Serena Williams: I don’t cheat. I didn’t get coaching. How can you say that? You need to, you need to, you owe me an apology. You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her and I’ve never cheated. And you owe me an apology.
JS: And then standing up and calling out the clear sexism at play in the way she was treated after breaking her racket versus how her male counterparts are treated.
SW: You know how many other men, how many other men do things that are much worse than that — this is not fair. There’s a lot of men out here who have said a lot of things and because they’re men that doesn’t happen to them.
JS: The racism of the commentators that I watched afterwards, it was a bit jaw-dropping. I mean, I’m not shocked at anything I see on TV, but the words they use to talk about Serena Williams they would never use to talk about a man or a white woman.
KYT: Listen, if I don’t know if you’ve seen this cartoon. All is missing is either a huge slice of watermelon or a bone for her nose. I mean, it’s straight out of the 19th century. You know, I will just say that this along with Kaepernick it just there are no discrete categories of culture, politics, sports. These things are in meshed in the United States and I suspect elsewhere and it means that when anything happens, especially when it comes to pro sports that are either black majority — where black players dominate – that it immediately becomes a lightning rod for this kind of racist invective. The fact that that cartoon which is literally some caricature out of a minstral Jim Crow scenario from the 19th century —
JS: Before you continue on, I just want for people that did not follow this what Keeanga and I are talking about is a cartoon that was published this week in the aftermath of that tennis match. And it was published in the Australian newspaper, The Herald Sun, but because of the social media universe that we live in it was promoted all over the internet and social media and also has been attacked for very much the same reasons that Keeanga is articulating now also on social media.
KYT: And the cartoonist was very proud of it. I mean he tweeted out that this was my cartoon for the week. And it’s the same kind of thing that Donald Trump is trying to tap into and instigate: The idea that these are loud mouth black people who have not earned the right to speak out or who have not earned their place in their sport, but who have been given something and are ungrateful. As if they have their prowess in the sport that they play is because of someone else’s hard work. And so it very quickly taps into racist discourses that are at the heart of American society. The idea that you know, black people are entitled, that black people want something for nothing and that that is so seductive to white people who have been raised on this idea of the domestic dysfunction and personal irresponsibility, entitlement of black people. And so, this is the burden that a Colin Kaepernick and particularly a Serena Williams –– who is a dark-skinned black woman in a racist country, dominating a sport that has been owned by white people since its very existence. Many of them can’t come to grips with the fact that Serena Williams dominates the game which is why she’s drug tested more than any other athlete on the tournament circuit and why she has to put up with the constant questioning of her athletic abilities of her game that she has no game that all she has his brute strength.
And so, I think that just the burden that women, especially black women have to carry with them in all forms of work, speaks so much to other social crises that black women are disproportionately represented in. And so, you can imagine with Serena, with her celebrity, with her access to resources that she is able to navigate these kinds of things. You can imagine what this is like, what type of toll this would take in the life of an ordinary person. This is a burden that millions of black women have to deal with on a regular basis.
JS: Hm. Well, we’re going to leave it there. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor thank you so much for all of your work and for joining us again on Intercepted.
KYT: Thanks, Jeremy. Glad to be here.
JS: Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University.
Rep. Barbara Lee Tells the Story of Her Historic Lone Vote Against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force
JS: This week marks the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. is still in Afghanistan and its commanders are still issuing statements about how the end of the war may be in sight. There will soon be soldiers deploying to the longest continually running U.S. war who were not even born on 9/11.
Every year on this anniversary I re-watch the powerful speech given by Representative Barbara Lee of California. It was delivered just three days after the 9/11 attacks on the floor of the House of Representatives. She was the only member of either House of the U.S. Congress to vote against the authorization for the use of military force. That was the bill that gave Bush and Cheney their blank check to wage war on the world. And it had no definable end game and in fact, it’s still on the books to this day.
Barbara Lee’s speech was a prophetic one and a brave one. And she came under fierce attacks and death threats as a result of it. Barbara Lee’s name has been floated recently as a potential candidate to run for leader of the Democrats in the house. Now if that somehow happened it would mark a pretty significant political shift in the leadership of the Democratic Party. So, on this, anniversary of 9/11 we look back at this incredible moment in U.S. history with Congresswoman Lee. This is the story of that speech in her own words.
Rep. Barbara Lee: It set the stage for what we know now as Perpetual War.
It just said basically the president and it any president has the authority to use force, forever, as long as he or she can justify a connection to 9/11. Now that was overly broad. It was unconstitutional and it was wrong. Now I didn’t come to this decision lightly because I knew that there would be only a few who would vote no, given the anger and the real despair and frustration and the depression of the country at the time.
George W. Bush: This nation stands with the good people of New York City, and New Jersey, and Connecticut, as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens –– I can hear you! I can hear you!
BL: But I knew that I had to vote no because this was something that went totally counter to what our constitution requires and also given the fact that we have to fight –– and I’m not looking at the road the world through rose-colored glasses –– I mean we have to fight terrorism, but we can’t engage in actions that are going to make our country less secure and create more anger and more war around the world. But those were some very terrible and difficult days and I decided at the prayer service at the National Cathedral that I was going to vote no. The Minister Nathan Baxter in his prayer he said, “He said let us not become the evil who we deplore.” And at that moment I knew then that there was no way my conscience would allow me to vote for a resolution that would set the stage for perpetual war, endless war.
Minister Nathan Baxter: Let us also pray for divine wisdom as our leaders consider the necessary actions for national security, wisdom of the grace of God that as we act we not become the evil we deplore.
Barbara Lee speech from September 14, 2001: – Thank you to the ranking member and my friend for yielding. Mr. Speaker, members, I rise today really with a very heavy heart. One that is filled with sorrow for the families and the loved ones who were killed and injured this week. Only the most foolish and the most callous would not understand the grief that has really gripped our people and millions across the world.
This unspeakable act on the United States has really forced me, however, to rely on my moral compass, my conscience, and my God for direction. September 11th change the world. Our deepest fears now haunt us. Yet, I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States.
This is a very complex and complicated matter. Now this resolution will pass. Although we all know that the president can wage a war even without it. However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say let’s step back for a moment. Let’s just pause, just for a minute and think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control. Now, I have agonized over this vote, but I came to grips with it today and I came to grips with opposing this resolution during the very painful, yet very beautiful memorial service, as a member of the clergy so eloquently said, “As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.” Thank you. And I yield the balance of my time ––
BL: I received many, many, many death threats. I received many emails and phone calls threatening me and my family. It was very, I think very insightful for me even though it was a very difficult time, but to see how people really don’t understand that central to democracy is the right to dissent and that we have the right to exercise our First Amendment rights.
We don’t have to go along with the program or with any administration if, in fact, we believe that it’s wrong. So, while yes, we needed unity and we needed to let the world know that we weren’t going to accept any acts of terrorism against the United States, we certainly should do it in a way that doesn’t make people afraid nor make people believe that if we don’t vote for something that’s going to make us less secure that we’re committing acts of treason — or a traitor and that’s what I was called over, and over, again. But that blank check is still on the books. And now with this president who claims that he loves war and he has a shoot first policy, you know, I’m very fearful that this resolution unless repealed will give him the authority to do whatever he decides to do one day.
JS: Barbara Lee is a Democratic congresswoman from California. She was the only member of either house of Congress to vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force.
She gave that speech on September 14th, 2001.
Current Affairs Magazine Editor Nathan Robinson and The Intercept’s Briahna Joy Gray on the Left, Establishment Democrats, Midterm Elections, and Barack Obama
JS: Last week an anonymous op-ed was published in The New York Times. I’m sure all of you have followed this by someone that the paper called a senior Trump official. And it was titled, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” Resistance?! Come on, that’s utter bullshit. Whoever wrote that op-ed was clearly a repulsive despicable individual who attempted to lay out the virtuosity of true conservatism in the face of the unhinged Trump, who and I’m quoting here, “continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of the Republic.” You know, I actually kind of agree with Trump that the person who wrote this is a coward. And also at the same time they’re part of this Administration. They’re choosing to stay there and they’re embracing and promoting the bulk of the stated racist, xenophobic, war mongering of Donald Trump. This person instead of this weak and pathetic attempt at internal self-serving protest, they could have publicly denounced Trump, resign, stand up against Trump in a real way, stand up against his grotesque policies. But the reason that person didn’t is because they agree with most of the agenda.
On the war front, Donald Trump is expanding covert operations. He’s green-lighting more assassination missions. He’s taking the gloves off and allowing the military to kill much larger numbers of civilians without even the modicum of restraint previously shown by Obama. And in Yemen, as I mentioned earlier still a genocidal war that the U.S. is fueling, funding, aiding, and deeply, deeply, involved with. But all of this: The relentless wars, the coup attempts, the racism inside of the United States, the U.S. inserting itself into foreign affairs with a flagrant hypocrisy that when we do it, it’s just and humanitarian. All of this occurs no matter who is in the White House, Democrat, or Republican.
This was on full display recently at John McCain’s funeral where you had an entire room of former presidents and statesman all cozying up to each other passing their mints and talking about being on the same team. That could have been a gathering of people at a war crimes tribunal. So, what hope is there for real progressive resistance?
What alternatives do we actually have to a two-party pro-war, pro-corporate system? To talk about the left, the Democratic Party, and this primary season, I’m joined by two people. Nathan Robinson is the editor of Current Affairs magazine. And he, of course, predicted before the Democratic Primary in 2016 that if the Democrats run Hillary Clinton instead of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump would win the White House. He is a prolific writer and commentator of both politics and the absurd. His latest book is “Trump: Anatomy of a Monstrosity.”
And I’m joined by Briahna Joy Gray. She’s The Intercept’s senior politics editor. She’s also a contributing editor at Current Affairs. Her latest column for The Intercept is, “Beware the Race Reductionist.
Briahna Joy Gray, Nathan Robinson, welcome to Intercepted.
Briahna Joy Gray: Thank you for having me.
Nathan Robinson: Thank you. Nice to be with you.
JS: Briahna let’s begin with you. It’s clear that Donald Trump is having another meltdown in part because Barack Obama is speaking publicly now. And last week you had Obama give this speech at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where among other things he came out in support of Medicare For All, which is funny because as a candidate he said he supported Medicare For All:
BO: How do we get the federal government to take care of its business? I happen to be a proponent of single-payer, universal health care plan.
JS: And he was President for eight years and for a decent chunk of that the Democrats had control of the Senate. What did you make of this Obama appearance now in the Trump moment?
BJG: I will give Obama a sliver of credit here because he did say during that speech that he doesn’t consider Trump to be anomalous. He said something along the lines of:
BO: It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause.
BJG: With respect to his discovery of this newfangled idea Medicare For All:
BO: So, Democrats aren’t just running on good old ideas, like a higher minimum wage, they’re running on good new ideas like Medicare For All.
BJG: I, of course, am deeply frustrated by the selective appreciation for progressive programs depending on whose mouth the idea comes out of having endured the last two years of kind of this anti-Bernie Sanders fervor from a certain fairly narrow segment, but very vocal segment of Democrats. However, I try I’m trying to keep that kind of petty part of me under wraps because at the end of the day if Barack Obama saying, Medicare For All is a good idea, helps people come onto the fact the Medicare For All is a good idea and I’m frustrated their efforts to claim that it’s bad simply because it’s something that Bernie Sanders backs. I mean, I have to be excited about it, even if I grumble about under my breath and on my Twitter feed.
JS: Nathan, how do you see the state of the institutional Democratic Party and also the sort of broader left where you have people that were supporters of the Green Party, you now have multiple factions within the Democratic Socialists of America, but DSA is becoming a real thing in electoral politics and has secured some victories most notably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
Nathan Robinson: Yeah. Well, it varies around the country from place to place. So, the Democratic Party is not uniform. But I think that the general tendency is that the if you’ve divided roughly the so-called establishment wing of the Democratic Party is quite vulnerable. I think in a lot of places we saw that with Ocasio-Cortez. But you know, then there was this argument that well that was just in the Bronx, that just happens in Deep Blue areas. But then we just saw it again with Andrew Gillum in Florida who ran on Medicare For All and again a man of color, so again complicating these identity questions. And you know, ran on Medicare For All was very explicit about it.
Andrew Gillum: How about running for governor and being the most progressive Democrat who would invest a billion dollars in education and create Medicare For All? Is it impossible to come from nothing, be outspent 10 to 1, and win?
NR: And won in a huge upset and that’s in a trump voting state. And now we’re seeing that even in a deep red state like Texas, someone like Ted Cruz may be vulnerable to someone who runs on a kind of explicitly progressive message. And I went to Michigan to report on the gubernatorial primary there and I talked to people who were working on the Abdul El-Sayed campaign. And Abdul lost but he won far more of the vote than you would expect of an explicitly left candidate in a Trump state in a Democratic primary. The interesting thing to me was that a lot of people working on the campaign there were young people some of whom had been Hillary Clinton supporters, who after 2016 had said, “Well the time for compromise is over. We now want to find someone who is very sincerely committed to advancing left values.” And I hear that a lot the sort of gambit that the institutional Democratic Party used to make, which was well, you have to compromise your principles for the sake of achieving power. A lot more people are rejecting that and that’s why you see the DSA’s numbers growing. That’s why you see people flocking to the campaigns of these progressive insurgent candidates who say, “I want single-payer,” and don’t make any kind of compromising statements about it.
So I think it’s hard to say it’s hard to predict the future, but I do think a lot of Democratic candidates are vulnerable.
JS: Briahna, I want to ask you about the recent controversy over Jack Dorsey’s appearance in Congress.
Congressman Joe Barton: Do you discriminate more on philosophy like anti-conservative versus pro-liberal?
Jack Dorsey: No. Our policies and our algorithms don’t take into consideration any affiliation philosophy or viewpoint.
JS: And the Banning of Alex Jones from Twitter.
Alex Jones: You’re a public figure too. You probably go to Twitter and say, “He’s bullying me. I’m only trying to de-platform everywhere and celebrating it. And then insulting my viewers a week later saying no one’s doing it.” How dumb do you think your viewers? They have no memory like Dory from Finding Nemo.
JS: Is there any justification for stripping freedom of speech of, and I know that in a constitutional sense, we’re not talking about freedom of speech when we talk about private companies like Twitter but is there any reason why you believe someone should be banned from being on Twitter or Facebook?
BJG: My biggest concern here is that whatever rule is adopted is applied consistently. I’m not a free speech absolutist insofar as it would say these companies, which ultimately still are private companies should allow any kind of dialogue to happen on their partly because I think a lot of why these platforms become popular is because there are certain social norms that end up getting enforced right? The great story of Facebook is that it seems more legitimate. It seems like people are who they say they are. And Twitter has tried to enforce some of those rules as well in terms at least of policing fake accounts and things like that. So, I do think that people are going to want to go on Twitter if it’s a constant Nazi-fest all the time. At the same time, there’s legitimate concern here that there is a selective choice about who actually gets policed in and who doesn’t. And I think that a lot of the rules that these places have adopted are pretty good insofar as they track the kinds of concerns that are set out by the First Amendment in terms of not wanting to incite violence against particular groups, forbidding doxing or certain kinds of bullying that are likely to lead to personal harm.
But the problem is that since they rely on a lot of self-reporting and because the volume of users are so high that you know, all of the transgressors can’t be chosen ends up being the case that political decisions are being made about who gets to stay and who doesn’t get to stay. And I’m not sure that anyone’s really resolved that in any meaningful way, although I know that Nathan’s recently been writing about how Wikipedia is perhaps the best model for that sort of a thing.
JS: Well, Nathan I was about to ask you about that. But just one point and this isn’t unique to me a lot of people have made this point, but you have major institutional threats of violence being made by Donald Trump and other powerful political leaders around the world regularly and their accounts are blue checkmark verified and there’s no chance of them being stripped of their Twitter voice and it seems as though we are essentially ceding principles of free speech to the barons of you know, social media.
NR: Yeah, the serious problem is that I mean, you’re always going to have to have cases where people can’t use the platform. You can’t allow threats. You can’t allow people plotting crimes on the medium. The problem to me is a lack of democracy in rulemaking and rule enforcement. Whether Donald Trump stays on Twitter is dependent on what’s in Jack Dorsey’s head that day whether he decides. And so it’s a problem of who decides.
I don’t think we should Balkanize these platforms by splitting them up. What I think we should do is democratize them. And as Brie mentioned, I’ve been writing about the Wikipedia model. Wikipedia fascinates me because it’s the one among the sort of mass user participation sites that hasn’t had a massive scandal.
I mean Wikipedia in its early days was considered quite unreliable, but the interesting thing about it is that they worked it out and they worked it out through having the community itself develop the procedures for deciding who stays on and off. So, I am reluctant to appeal to the overlords to enforce their rules better because I don’t think there is a way for overlords to enforce rules without it being sort of arbitrary and reflecting their biases.
What I think we need [are] participatory processes where the users help decide and then vote on. Say Wikipedia has the editors decide what the processes are. They decide what the process is for deciding when there’s a disagreement about the processes are. And it’s all user-generated and that I think gives people a lot more trust in a platform when they feel like they’re not being subjected to the authority of people that have no accountability whatsoever and can’t be recalled if they make bad decisions.
JS: Nathan what do you think is the best way to fight fascist elements, fascist movements, extreme right-wing authoritarian institutions and people in this country in the United States?
NR: I mean, I’ve written skeptically about the sort of, “let’s fight them in the streets approach” because I think that that is a little bit short-sighted. I think sometimes it’s actually very effective like, you know, Cornel West said, it was very effective in Charlottesville. The Antifa were very, very, helpful. S, I think I think you have to deploy it very strategically and very cautiously and in a media-savvy way that doesn’t make inflame public opinion against you but generally the best thing that we can do to stop the far right is to have a Left agenda that everybody loves, right? To put forward a left alternative that just is capable of luring mass support and that doesn’t make us fringe, because when people look at the right, they see hatred and they see nationalism and violence. And when they look at the left, they don’t see people just talking about the Trump op-ed and the Mueller investigation. They see people talking about all of the things that the left can do for you, all of the plans that we have for your life, and all of the ways in which we’re better, we’re just more loving people, we’re more sensible people, and we’re more effective people.
JS: But is there any reconciliation with the institutional Democratic Party, the elites of the party, the people that ran Hillary Clinton’s campaign? I feel like there’s this need to accept the big lie — the big lie that somehow America ever was great in the sense that, you know, it was treating its people fairly, not based on race, or religion, or gender, or sexual orientation — that’s always been bullshit. This country was built on white supremacy. This country continues, even if you have a black president, to operate as a major white supremacist institution. And I feel like part of the electoral strategy that is being encouraged is: You have to accept the big lies in order to build a coalition that’s going to take down Donald Trump, or is going to confront the right. I don’t buy it. I can’t be that plastic. I can’t swallow that bullshit. For me, the starting point is you have to understand the history of this country, the big lie that nuclear weapons keep us safe, the big lie that somehow racism ended, and the big lie that the Democratic Party actually represents a voice of struggling working people, or people who are the victims of what this country was built on.
BJG: Yeah. The irony is that Trump won, not with that big lie. Somehow in 2016 things got flipped so that it was a Democratic Party–– the party that has at least in recent history been the party of the marginalized who came out with the claim that America is already great. And I think that that is what is kind of essentializes the Democratic Party’s core misunderstanding of how human nature and the American people are thinking, which is that everybody understands that their lives could be more perfect. And that’s something that Barack Obama got and that’s why he was so kind of brilliant and centering “more perfect” as part of his electoral agenda. It’s not about condemning America because that can easily be twisted in political terms. It’s about acknowledging that we have come a long way, that there has been genuine progress and genuine accomplishments, but that the status quo is not sufficient and that people are suffering mightily under it. If the Democratic Party isn’t willing to acknowledge that because they think doing so cedes some ground to Donald Trump, they’re going to continue to cede a lot more ground to him and his ideas going forward. Populism is about being able to connect your agenda with what everyday people need. And the problem is the Democratic Party has for a long time been able to coast off this idea that we’re not as bad as the other guy and that the other guy basically having ignored the interest of all of these historically marginalized groups has allowed Democrats by playing a little lip service to the idea that “we don’t hate gay people as much as they do” and “we don’t hate black people and Hispanic people and immigrants as much as they do” then you should come onto our side. But this is at a certain point, gay people and black people and immigrants all have other concerns in addition to their identity which are augmented by the marginalization that comes with their identity that they need to be addressed. And when a party is so focused on this idea that the only thing they’re going to talk about is these concerns don’t go to the core economic truths then they’re going to continue to lose and that’s how you’re going to get Trump’s absurd lying version of fascism, of populism, to be successful.
JS: And Nathan, you know for me the death and then funeral of John McCain said everything you need to know about American politics and this empire. The moment where you have the Obamas sitting next to the Bushes. And the cute little painter Bush who passes a piece of candy to Michelle Obama like that was this iconic moment that everyone held up: See this is what class looks like, this is what America is all about. All the while sitting there pretending that John McCain was not an unrepentant war criminal who called Vietnamese people by the most derogatory term that exists in the English language, that he wasn’t one of the biggest warmongers in modern American history:
John McCain: That old Beach Boy song, “Bomb Iran.” Bomb, bomb, bomb –
JM: – because we’re going to win this victory. Tragically we will lose American lives, but it will be brief. We’re going to find out massive evidence of weapons of mass destruction. And we’re going to find that incredible brutalities that this that this dictator has inflicted upon the Iraqi people –
JS: That said everything you need to know about the state of institutional politics in this country and the Democrats and the Republicans are on the same team when it comes to core issues of the empire.
NR: Well, that was actually a direct quote from Barack Obama. He said, you know John McCain whatever our disagreements were I always knew that we were on the same team.
BO: We never doubted the other man’s sincerity or the other man’s patriotism or that when all was said and done we were on the same team. We never doubted we were on the same team.
NR: You watch that, you know the person on the left who opposes everything that John McCain stood for and you think, “Wait a second: That’s the team you were on? Why did I ever support you if that was your team?” Because the whole thing is wait a second, there are very strong differences of value between us and John McCain and you could say, you know, I respect what John McCain endured but, that doesn’t mean that you’re on the “same team” politically and that’s an extremely important difference. And yeah, it was really worrying seeing the kind of unity and the refusal.
I mean you would think that someone like Barack Obama would say well, “Obviously I didn’t agree with anything he said, I have very strong criticisms, but you know, he died and he served his country and what have you.”
JS: But Nathan the real Obama is going to come in Trump’s second term. Then we’re going to hear from the real Obama.
NR: Finally. Finally. We were waiting for his inner self to be released. Well, you know everyone waited then we then we really saw his true self and he left office and he said nothing and he started doing paid speaking engagements and hanging out with Bono and Richard Branson and I thought that sort of told you all you needed to know and then disparaging the left a lot, so.
But there is this thing where Democrats often accept right-wing premises and I think it’s very damaging. I mean, I that’s what I think Bill Clinton did to the party that was so horrifying was to say, “No, we’re the real party of tough-on-crime. No, we’re the real party of capitalism. We just think capitalism is dysfunctional.” And you still see that today. I mean even Elizabeth Warren does this she says, I’m a capitalist of my bones.
Senator Elizabeth Warren: I’m a capitalist. Come on. I believe in markets but I don’t believe in is theft. What I don’t believe in is cheating. That’s where the difference is. I love what markets can do. I love what functioning economies can do
NR: They reinforce the idea that the right’s premises are fundamentally, correct. They’re not centrist. What they are is everyone unifying around the core right-wing agenda, and that’s extremely concerning
JS: Nathan Robinson, thank you so much for being with us on Intercepted.
NR: Thank you for having me.
JS: Briahna Joy Gray, thank you as well for being with us on Intercepted.
BJG: It’s my pleasure.
Nathan Robinson is editor of Current Affairs magazine. He’s also the author of “Trump Anatomy of a Monstrosity.”
Briahna Joy Gray is The Intercepts senior politics editor. She’s also a contributing editor at Current Affairs.
And that does it for this week’s show. If you are not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted log onto Theintercept.com/join. 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. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Emily Kennedy does our transcripts. Rick Kwan mix the show. Our music as always was composed by DJ Spooky.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.