The First 100 Days: Looking Back & Ahead – Feat. Peter Beinart, Jelani Cobb, Jennifer Rubin

The First 100 Days: Looking Back & Ahead – Feat. Peter Beinart, Jelani Cobb, Jennifer Rubin


– Hi. They actually gave me a script this time. I’m gonna try to stick to it. I’m Peter Beinart, a professor here a the CUNY Graduate Center in
the CUNY Journalism school. Tonight marks the final
event in our eight part, first hundred days programming, a series designed to help
navigate this new political era. Conversations over the past few weeks delved into timely
topics like immigration, activism, trade, power,
economics, and other themes. They all featured CUNY experts as well as outside thinkers and leaders. This discussion is emblematic
of what we do all the time at the CUNY Graduate Center. This incubator of
vigorous debate reflected in our doctoral and master programs, our 30 plus centers and institutes, and the dozens of events
held here every week. Now, like our president,
I’ll be more free form. We are very, very lucky
to be joined tonight for a conversation, the last conversation, about President Trump’s a hundred days by Jennifer Rubin, a very
well known opinion writer at the Washington Post and Jelani Cobb, who writes for The New Yorker and teaches at a journalism
school to the north of here. (audience laughs) (applause) I thought before getting to the topic of the moment which is
healthcare, or the lack thereof, that I would start by
asking both of our panelists to reflect a little bit
on a personal level, a human level, about
what it was like for them when they realized that Donald Trump was gonna the next president
of the United States. The reason I thought of
this is that I actually don’t really remember
a lot from that night and the following day. One of the things I actually do remember was the tweet the Jelani sent out at 8:19, the morning after the election which just was arresting
to me because it got at kind of, a gut primal level. The sense of this event in the context of the long history of our country. I want to read it to
you and ask you, Jelani, just to reflect a little
bit on that moment and what Trump’s election was like for you and how it’s affected you. Then I’ll ask the same of you, Jennifer. So, the tweet was quote, “My great-grandparents were slaves. “I choose to stay, to
stand, and to fight.” (applause) – First, thank you for the invitation. Jennifer, it’s good to finally meet you. I’ve read you. In regard to that tweet, there’s actually a back story to that. Which is that I was in North Carolina the day of the election. I was writing about what was
going on in North Carolina. There’s been a lot of back and forth with the legislature and a lot of issues around voter access. I was interested in seeing
how that played itself out on election day. It so happened that
there was a Trump rally in North Carolina that day. And I went. I am not someone that typically worries a great deal about my safety. But I actually worried about
my safety in that environment even though there were other black people who were there who were Trump supporters, a small number of them. But, the environment and
the climate there was so volatile, it seemed to me. It wasn’t simply the idea of
someone validating their ideas or speaking on their behalf, which I could understand, but it was also the kind of misogynistic commentary. The T-shirts and all these
things that they’re saying, the vile language, that
this was not about politics. It was about some other kind
of psychological reference that was happening there. I remember leaving, I actually brought a
friend of mine who left, another black male. He was like, “I can’t
be here,” and he left. I remember leaving and saying, “Whatever this is has to be stopped.” Eight hours later we were seeing all hell break loose in
Michigan and Wisconsin. We’re saying that this is something that might actually happen. I was terribly shaken. The context of that, which I’ve
never spoken about publicly, is that I spoke to David Remnick who’s the editor of The New Yorker, and I was telling him about filing. I said, “This is the beginning
of something horrific. “There going to be people
who have to flee the country “because of what’s being unleashed here.” I remember David said to me, “We can’t allow it to come to that.” It’s in my mind very clear, like, this is a Jewish guy
talking to a black guy. Like, very familiar with what
the historical references for what we’re talking about is. I kind of wrestled with that. The next morning when I tweeted that that was actually what Paul Robeson said to the McCarthy committee. It was the House Un-American
Activities Committee, when they said to him, “If
you like the Soviet Union “so much, why don’t you
leave and just live there.” He said, “Because my parents were slaves.” And he said, “No fascist-minded person “will drive me from the
country that they built.” That was what I was referencing there. – There have been people
who’ve been fleeing the United States to
Canada to seek asylum. Jennifer, what was it
like for you that evening and the next day. At a personal level,
what was it like for you as a conservative? I don’t know if you
identify as a conservative. But, someone who was
very critical of Trump despite having some, you know, having some association
with the republican party. What was it like for you? – I actually had to physically leave the Washington Post offices. I couldn’t take it any more. There was a pall that had
fallen over the office. The only thing I can compare it to, perhaps this is too dramatic
but from a personal standpoint, was 9/11. You felt that everything that came before was different than everything
that was gonna come after. And that it was something so catastrophic, so, uh, monumental that this was not gonna be just another election. What I was gonna be doing
was not just covering a new president. I think, on a even more personal level, I think, like many of my colleagues, it shook me to my core because
I thought I knew America. I thought I understood American values. I thought I understood that we’re a large, diverse, decent people that at times is struck with emotions on one side or the other or has taken plights of fancy but, essentially, is the image
of the level-headed American. The good pale fellow who
returns to basic decent values. The result was something
that I could not square with my image of the American people. I still wrestle with this. How can it be that Americans
could have done this? Just as I now agonize
over what Trump is doing to the country. There is this large ship,
maybe we’ll talk about it as to whether this was
some sort of expression of economic dislocation and, you know, sort of transition
to a global economy that left people feeling
unloved and abandoned. Or whether this was
something deeper and darker. Really that we had not
turned over the rock in a very long time and
now we turned over the rock and this was it. I think all those emotions
and all that sense of discombobulation and
questioning a country, my fellow Americans, the
journalists profession, the journalistic profession sort of all began then. I must say, I think, at
least from my sand biome, still wrestling with that as
we kind of work through that. What does it mean now to
sample public opinion? What does public opinion mean now? How do we evaluate? What does democracy mean if people still support
and really don’t care about the substance of anything, that it’s all become this, sort of, cathartic exercise, it is out-of-the-box and everybody is now
feeding off of each other’s raw emotion. It was bad that night but it hasn’t gotten that much better, I have to admit. It’s, in some ways, it’s
worse than I thought and some ways it’s better than I thought. – That’s actually exactly
where we wanted to go. Jelani, in what ways do you think, it’s still relatively early, but in what ways, so far, would you say that you’re fears have been realized or even exceeded? And in what ways have
they not been realized? – It’s interesting. We’re having this
conversation about America’s, you know, position in the world and its moral authority. But we’re now, kind of, talking in congratulatory tones, you know, to the president of Philippines with the horrific human rights abuses. It’s not just the tacit
loss of moral authority, it’s the act of, kind of, shuttling away of moral authority. The idea of American morality
and American democracy is like a comb-over. It’s a poor attempt to
camouflage something that everyone can see and is now apparent. We’re going like,
“There’s no there there.” It’s that kind of worst-case scenario. I think the thing that has been heartening is that in some ways Trump and Trumpism has been a stress test
for American Institutions. Here’s the other thing that
I think that played out in a way that people talked
about on election night and shortly thereafter. Saying these people don’t know
anything about government. That really did not allay my fears until I realized that
just on a basic level, they didn’t even
understand judicial review. They thought that the president
issued executive orders as, kind of, fiats. They were immediately
frustrated when they found that they couldn’t do just
anything they wanted to do. Even with having the
majorities in both houses, they still wound up with
their first healthcare attempt going up in flames saying, “There actually is a science to this. “There actually is a thing here.” The lack of information
and the lack of knowledge is not a virtue. But, I still am tremendously worried about what the intemperate psychology of Donald Trump will do, especially in international affairs, especially with North Korea. – What about you, Jennifer? In what ways have your
fears been realized? In what ways have they not been realized? – I would agree that I
think American institutions, with the exception of congress
are holding up pretty well. The courts, just about everyone that heard one of the travel ban
cases, held it’s ground. The president, as he does
with every institution and every adversary,
comes to bully the courts and that’s been wholly unsuccessful, even with his own supreme court nominee. I think that has held and, more importantly, the free press has held and there is a sense of renewed activism and determination. You can say it’s desperation,
you can say it’s anger, whatever it is. But people are not
hiding under their beds. They are out in the streets. They are at town home meetings. They are donating and giving
of their time and money to a whole variety of organizations that are dedicated to
combating one or more aspects of the Trump phenomenon. It is quite heartening
because I think we’ve come to view that Americans are sort of, “Well, we take democracy for granted. “We’re lethargic. “People check out,
they’re gonna be subdued. “They’re just gonna roll over. “He’s just gonna waltz through.” And to see the resistance,
as they’ve called themselves, has been quite remarkable in
some ways, quite heartening. It’s been worse in a lot of ways, too. I think it’s been worse
because you realize how little principle and, really, human
decency counts in politics, how strong the tribal urge to
circle around the leader is. Everyone has to be on a team. And if your team is a little
crazy, well, so be it. You gotta take one for the team, you gotta do this for the team. Even at the price of, well, human tragedy in some respect. And that has been dismaying. I don’t want to say I’ve
lost friendships over this but I have lost respect
for innumerable people. I am not in the majority,
if you’ve noticed, on the republican side
or whatever I am now. I’m not a republican anymore, center-right side. Most people have made their peace or rationalized what he is doing, “Well, we’ll get this or
we’ll get deregulation. “It’ll all be worthwhile. “We got a supreme court
justice out of it.” This very, sort of,
small thinking, you know, transactional view of this president without any sense of the
morality of the moment, of the danger to the republic. That has been much worse
and much harder to stomach. On a positive side, I’ve
made a lot of new friends. I think, if we can talk
about this a little bit. I think there’s a great
opportunity, actually, for collaboration and
renewal from center-left to center-right now
because I think we have much more in common with
another than we do with our respective fringes on
the ends of the parties. – Just let me ask you about that. You talked about the
resistance as a source of, you know, something that
gave you a sense of hope but most of those people
who see themselves on the resistance are in the left. Their vision, I would imagine, their vision of the role of
government and the economy, their vision about the kind
of American culture they want, the vision about the kind of role America they want in the world is very, very different than yours, right? I’m interested in what it means for you that they’re a source of hope and what you mean when you say there’s a source of collaboration. Have you, in the wake of Trump, rethought anything that
you believed before Trump? Or are you hoping that
the people on the left will rethink things that they believe? – It’s a great question. I think there are two aspects to it. One is that I have had to return
to first principles. I look forward to the
day when James Fallow and I can argue about
economics and about Israel. I look forward to the day when I can criticize the latest white
paper that’s come out of the Center for American Progress. I hope we return to that day. But there are fundamental
aspects that come first. That is protection of American democracy, American institutions. It’s something as simple as the truth, as a defense of factual
inquiry and factual corroboration. And in some ways I think, as I see it, liberals have
discovered that as well. We now have a joint
appreciation for the strength of the constitution, for
basic structural constraints on the executive. Both parties are guilty of this. When you have the white
house you want to have the executive do lots and lots of things. That happened under President Bush, it happened under President Obama, it’s certainly happening now. But right now we have a
shared interest in that. I think I’ve tried to be a
little bit more consistent in seeing the executive
as a branch of government that should be less
independent, if you will, less powerful than it has come to be in the modern American state. I think there’s lots of
things that we can agree on. I think simply the reaffirmation of facts of certain things that just aren’t so. You have the sense that
we’re all being gas-lighted by the president. And when other people
say, “No, didn’t happen,” or, “No, that’s not right.” Whether it’s trivial things,
whether it’s big things, whether it’s things about him, whether it’s things about their doing, whether it’s things about the world. So, I find comfort in that. I also think sometimes,
particularly in Washington, we magnify differences of degree in ways that are distorting. Most of the people that
I’m now commiserating with do believe in American free enterprise. They want a little bit more regulation, I want a little bit less. These are matters of
degree in many instances. I think the differences there, I think, I see in better proportion,
better perspective now. I must also admit that I’ve always been a, sort of, iconoclastic republican. I’ve always been pretty much
in favor of immigration, for example, free trade,
which used to be liberal and then almost conservative
and now no one likes it. I think I was on aside
the typical republican. But I think perspective, priorities, and fear have, kind of,
been a collaborative juice that’s brought people together. – Could I add something
to that really quickly? To your point, I think one of the things that’s frightening to me,
it’s horrifying to me, is that there is no barrier anymore. There is no disgrace that disqualifies you for the presidency. In that you can actually
put together an electual majority based upon demagogic behavior. We always could say,
within certain parameters that the great demagogues
of American history were generally corralled by,
kind of, immune response. That you could have a Joseph McCarthy but even the republican
party, his own party, brought him down recognizing
the danger that he posed. Or a George Wallace could exist but not be elected president. You could have a Huey Long, the characters that we know
that we’re familiar with that have this lineage in American life. But, now, you can no longer say that. That someone can traffic in misogyny, in racism, in religious bigotry. Someone can ridicule
someone with a disability. Someone can confess to things that equate to sexual assault. And that all these things can be excused and that person can gain the
ultimate authority in society. That’s a terrifying thought to me. The other part of it, too, is, I think that there’s a
part of this narrative about the suicidal left that is implicated in this as well because even
on going toward the election, I was still hearing lots
of people who were saying, on the left, who were
saying there was essentially no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Even outside of the various
positions you might stake out in relationship to capitalism or markets or any of the policy positions
you could talk about, Hillary Clinton’s fundamental
sanity was not in question. We just saw this group of psychologists and psychiatrists at
Yale who said they could no longer hold their silence. And that they thought
something was actually wrong with the person who is the
chief executive of this country. The inability for people to even recognize that distinction is troubling. I think it’s a basic crisis
around our understanding of civics and democracy. – I want to follow up on
this and this metaphor of the immune system right? That our immune system
had weakened somehow so that it wasn’t able to
quarantine and stop this threat. I think most people, I
think if you’d ask them, I think a lot of people during
the Obama era would’ve said, “Well, our immune system
has been getting better. “Public tolerance for
expressions of naked bigotry “are lower than they were
in the 1950s or 1960s.” What explains the fact
that our immune system actually turned out to be weaker than it had been in these earlier moments in American history? – There was this thing
that happened in 2008. Where a black guy ran for
president and he got elected. Nobody expected that to happen. It was not within the preview of anybody who studies this stuff. No political scientist, historians, nobody was saying that
this is about to happen. I think we took it to be
indicative of much broader trends than were necessarily the case. Right after the election,
I had a conversation with a friend of mine
who works in politics and has worked in politics
for a really long time. He said, “You do know that there’s going “to be a backlash to this?” This was when everyone was exuberant and you couldn’t really say this out loud because they’d accuse
you of being a buzz-kill. But he was like, “You
do know there’s going “to be a back lash to this?” I said, “Yeah, I know.” He said, “And you do know the
voting rights act is done?” I said, “Yeah, I know,
you’re probably right.” Both of those things proved to be true. There were people who looked at this knowing the history of this country when there has been a moment
in which black people seem to gain a closer degree of acceptance, it has always been followed by a backlash that looks something like
what that Trump rally looked like when I was in North Carolina. Nobody could know what the form would be but it wasn’t that hard to
know that it was coming. The other thing is that it was
actually indicated in polling that, you know, starting in the Obama outset,
there was a small number, but a number that grew over
the course of his two terms, of white people who, when polled about
disadvantages in society, would say that whites are
the most disadvantaged group in America society. This was laughable at first. Then, when it actually
started becoming pluralities and majorities in some
polls, it stopped being funny because you understood that this was about racial resentment. It was very transparent that
people were beginning to see something that equates to
no indicator, no social, no data points to this being true, but the emotional index of it was that this was very true for people. – You know, it’s interesting,
looking at the right just, sort of, tear itself apart, turn itself into pretzels with hypocrisy. 10 or even five years
ago, if you had said, “You know, there’s this group of people “and there’s been a
break down in the family. “A lot of them are unemployed. “They’re on disability. “They don’t work in great numbers. “They’re addicted to the latest drug. “Are these people really
victims of globalization?” They would’ve said, “Of course not. “Those people can pick themselves up, “get a job and get back in the game. “They’ve done it to themselves.” Okay, it’s a perspective. But, I’ve just described
what we’re all now supposed to be angst-ridden about, which is this segment of white and rural working class America. It’s very interesting how the perspective of victimization and who’s a victim and how you get to be a
victim has kind of played out. I look at it a little bit differently. In that, I think this is the long, the result of a long series
of trends coming together at a given time. You can’t have an education system as insufficient and as unequal as ours and explain people from the osmosis learn civic virtues and civic values. You cannot have a public culture as crass, as rude, in some cases hateful as ours and not have that affect people’s sense of what is appropriate public behavior. By the same token, this
is not just America, it’s across the board. Not saying anything all of you don’t know that institutions, as a whole,
have really taken it hard. That we live in an age of
cynicism and skepticism and, you know, sort of, doubt. I think it has been very hard when someone who is in a mainstream
of an established party to try to appeal to people’s sense of, sort of, normalcy, of continuity. Whether it’s in France,
where you don’t have any of the traditional
parties that have made it to the final round, or whether you have a
candidate like Donald Trump. Established democratic
institutions have not held up very well over
the last several decades. And I think all these
things came together. The other thing I try
to remind irate readers and fellow conservatives is, you know, if 78 thousand people had
gotten off the damn couch and gotten to vote, we wouldn’t
be having this conversation. It was a very small margin. All of us are in the job
of deploying a narrative, making sense of this chaotic situation. But we can also over-interpret
and over-analyze. Every election is made
up of specific events. Every election is made
up of specific candidates who have flaws and virtues. Lest we get too carried
away, I bet if you polled those 78 thousand people
in those three states, if they had had their evening back, they would’ve gone out and voted and we might not be here today. There is a danger in over-simplifying and over-dramatizing an election where he did not get the popular vote and it was so narrow, even
in the electoral college. – Just want to push you on
this, though, a little bit. Let’s talk about the people
who’ve lost in globalization. White people have lost in globalization who voted for Donald Trump. The traditional progressive left answer to those people would be, the
government’s gotta help ’em. The government’s gotta put in
money and do various things to try to give them a better chance, better social safety
net, better opportunity. The conservative answer
has been, as you know, is, basically, get rid of
the government restraints that are keeping them
from, you know, succeeding. Get the government off their back and give them some
tough love about the way in which they’ve got a screwed up culture. Tell them to work harder and stay married and all these things. But, seems to me, the
lesson of Trump is that that traditional conservative
answer doesn’t have much of a constituency. What Donald Trump said
to those people was, “No, no, government’s gonna help you. “We’re gonna help you by
keeping the Mexicans out, “by keeping,” if you want
to get crass about it, “by keeping blacks down. “And by keeping “the jobs from being shipped to China.” As someone who, I think,
is actually sympathetic to that more traditional,
conservative message, what we thought about
conservative message, do you feel like you need to rethink it? It doesn’t seem like it
has much of a constituency outside of the American
enterprise institute. – I’ve actually been making this argument for some time now. That modern conservatism
calcified in 1980. You knock on any door, any think tank and they say same thing they say in 1980. It’s like, you know, Rip Van Winkle. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, the answer is cutting marginal tax rates. It doesn’t matter what the question is, the answer has to be social conformity, whatever you do. That it has calcified and we have, there’s even a phrase for
it that people use now, which is brain dead conservatism. That this was a problem for a long time. It’s why, in my view,
they lost some elections they should have won. It is a result of not
thinking creatively enough about the ways in which conservatism and some of the principles
that underlie it, which are also ways about
governance, modesty, incrementalism, restraint,
all those virtues that we used to look to,
remember, for conservatives before they became radical and extremist and bunch of, you know, Jacobites. I think this has been a
problem for a long time. I think there are certainly
a strain of conservatives who still think that, who have a libertarian perspective. I have thought for a long
time that conservatives did themselves no good by
attacking the safety net and by calling for a strain of purity that was not acceptable, was not feasible in a complex society. I think where I, sort
of, got off the train with the Trump voters was, first of all, they had a higher median
income than Hillary voters. So, many of these people were
simply rich conservatives who decided that they were victims because people didn’t say
merry Christmas to them. Or they decided they were victims because the people at the Oscars made fun of traditional values or whatever this is. I think we have to put that to one side. Those people really have
nothing to complain about. I’m gonna be very blunt. But I also come back to
a more fundamental issue we’re talking about. People have agency. People have the ability to make decisions. We didn’t say, in retrospect, that the poor people of Germany,
during the Weimar Republic, who had struggled so badly,
who had those bushels of Deutsche Marks, “Well,
of course they had a right “to lash out. “Of course, they had a right to look “for the other to blame their problems.” We don’t function this
way in historical terms or in personal terms. Whatever the issues may
be, we, as Americans, do not have the right to express our political desires at the expense of other people’s rights and of truth. So, this attitude that
I can do and I can say whatever I want because my
factory closed down in Cleveland, I just don’t buy it. I do have empathy. Many of us have been suggesting
a whole bunch of stuff, none of which have anything to do with, by the way, what Trump is proposing, which is gonna make everything worse because as we know,
immigration’s actually good for the economy, actually
helps grow the economy. Free trade, opening markets is good for an exporting country like America. So, there’s something
that he’s recommending that’s actually responsive
to them, frankly. Some of the things I have held dear to, including on trade,
including on immigration, which I consider to be classical
conservative principles, I still advocate. They’re not popular
because people have decided to believe what they’re gonna believe. But I still do believe them. I do think that on a number of issues, many of my fellow
conservatives have not realized there is no constituency for that. We could talk about the healthcare, but, who in America is in favor of this? Who in America has accepted the notion that we should go back to having people who do not have insurance coverage? People who believe that
this is what Americans have been yearning for,
that we want to go back to the era of uninsured people. I don’t know who they are talking to. I think they are in a time warp. I think they have not
thought about these issues, grappled with these issues. You look at a lot of other countries. You look at the conservative
party in Britain. You look at Macron in France,
who’s really a centrist, I would think, a
capitalist but a centrist. People have been grappling
with these issues and thinking creatively about
problems for a long time. The American right has not. This is what happens when
you don’t think about problems realistically and creatively. – I’d just like to say something
really quick about that. I think you struck on
something on the cynicism. To your point about healthcare, I think it ties to something bigger. I think it was 17% people agree with repealing Obamacare,
the Affordable Care Act. I think that part of the thing about Trump and him saying that the
government’s going to help you in these particular ways,
is that he’s a salesmen. He’ll say anything. It’s not ideological. He’s in it for the adulation. Well, I think he’s in it for two reasons. One, is the adulation and the other is to, well the money, too, it’s three things. The adulation, the
money, and also the glee with which he can wipe clean the memory of Obama. Of anything that Obama did. I think that he’s, to the
extent that he’s ideological, it is, “What did Obama do
that I’ll do the opposite?” I think that’s how we got here. But to your point about cynicism, I think that it’s also
important to recognize the way that Trump refracts that
in some crucial ways. He has no respect for any institution. But beyond that, he has
no respect for anyone who sacrifices on behalf
of an institution. It made perfect sense that he would talk the way he did about the Khan family. It wasn’t simply about the military, it’s about a person who
would sacrifice their life, which by Trumpian standards
makes you a sucker, because the entire ideal,
especially for the con men is that you come out on
top and anyone who doesn’t is, like, they deserve what they get. I think that’s the kind of moral logic that’s implicit in what he’s saying there. When you look at the
moral ethics of con men, it explains a lot, I
think, about how he has interacted and operated in his
first hundred days in office. – I think that’s how
you got people arguing, “Well, Hillary’s just as bad. “They’re all crooks. You get this complete moral relativism. “They’re all crooks,
they’re all not gonna do “what you want them to, so, he’s no worse “than these other people.” Which is nonsense. But that is born of a deep
cynicism that they think that everyone’s a liar,
everyone’s a thief, everyone’s gonna rip them off. You wind up in this moral nihilism which is where we are right now. – Jennifer was talking
about the effect of Trump on the right and the causes
of Trump on the right. I wanted to ask you what
you think the effect of Trump will be on the left. What the backlash of the
backlash is gonna look like? And what the democratic
party’s gonna look like by the time the next democratic
presidential candidate comes along. – I’m not entirely
certain about this because when we saw what happened with the DNC with Perez and Ellison. When Kieth Ellison lost,
I thought that people would’ve, kind of, seen it as, okay, Tom Perez went the extra mile to make sure that he was incorporated in, that people did not
view this as a zero sum kind of situation. But there were a
substantial number of people who were still, kind
of, railing about this. It was frustrating to me because I thought it’s still the kind of purity. Like, if I don’t get
everything that I want, then I don’t want anything. It’s also a kind of closed-mindedness, I think, about the level of peril that we actually are potentially confronting now. That makes me a little bit worried about where the left will go from here. The other thing that
I think is interesting is that I don’t think that
the dynamics that caused or enabled Trump and Trumpism are unique. What I mean by that is we’ve
had these conversations about America’s changing demographics. There’s a historian by
the name of John Cell who wrote a book called The Highest Stage of White Supremacy. What he did was compare societies in which the empowered class, this is an old book from early 1980s, but he compared society so
much the empowered class was the majority and there was a minority that was on the bottom. Those in which the empowered
class was the minority and there was a majority on the bottom. He pointed out a really key point which is that societies in
which the powerful people are a small minority, tend to be far more
reactionary and far more rigid than the opposite. So, when we’ve had these conversations about this become the browning of America, I’ve talked to people on the left and like, “What makes you think that “that’s gonna be a good thing “in terms of what American
politics look like?” It’s a chance that the
more people look around, there’s been the argument, by the way, that what we’re seeing now is a, kind of, 50 year response to the liberalization of immigration in 1965. If we see a society in
which people of color and immigrants and people
from the far-flung corners of the world actually
outnumber white people, they exactly align with what the fears around that 1965 Immigration Act was. We may be at the front end of
an enduring political trend. – Especially if that minority can keep significant members of
the majority from voting. – True. One other quick thing about this is that white people in America
are 63% of the population. They currently hold 91%
of the elected offices. There’s no reason why
that couldn’t be the case with 49% of the population
or 40% of the population. – Last time and then
we’ll go to questions. Go ahead. – One of my favorite books
that I recommend to everyone I talk to these days is Robert P. Jones, The End of White Christian America. This is what he talks about. That, for the first
time, white protestants are a minority in America. They have been displaced culturally and socially and a lot of this
is this visceral reaction. It’s bizarre for someone who’s a member of a minority group, I’m Jewish, that you should be unnerved
because you’re a minority. Well, what difference does it make? You can practice however you want. Why do you have to be top dog? Why do you have to be
in charge of everything? Boy, did I not understand that. I think this loss,
perceived loss of status is what is at the root of a lot of this. It’s numerical and it’s cultural. They are reacting in
ways that we didn’t think were possible in America. – Maybe something that Israeli
Jews can understand better than American Jews. Let’s go to questions. Do we have a microphone anywhere? Yes, we have a gentlemen
coming with a microphone. Yes, you in the blue. Just wait ’til the microphone
will get to you soon. – [Woman] Hi, I really
enjoyed the talk here. I’m wondering, sort of,
the elephant in the room. Could you talk about Fox News and how that’s just gonna keep, I don’t know how anything
would ever change unless they changed. – They are the primary culprit, I think, in creating this, sort of,
fact-free, resentment-driven, counter-factual world that has immersed many on the right. It’s not just Fox because
we’ve had talk radio for a while. But, Fox certainly
magnified this tremendously. Perhaps we need to organize
the Fox shareholders. There is a generational change. We’ll see what comes out
the other side of Fox. I think it behooves people in the media, people outside the media
to figure out alternatives and figure out ways to respond to this. Both, in economic ways of protest, why do you get a free pass
if you are advertising on some other Fox show as opposed to just Bill O’Reilly’s show when the entire organization
was committed to, essentially, sexual assault? Why is that? Why are we going back
to business as normal? Why aren’t there consumer
boycotts of the entire enterprise? I think part of that is an activism and part of that has to be a response from liberals and non-crazy conservatives to a medium environment and to really push back and to really establish that this is not news, this is not news. It is a huge problem. It’s not gonna go away overnight. – It’s interesting irony, in a way, that the left has the cultural power today to depose Bill O’Reilly even
though it’s politically weaker than it’s ever been in
terms of elected offices. Whereas, in decades past, it was actually politically stronger in terms of numbers of
governorships and state legislatures and members of congress, but actually didn’t have the cultural, it’s not a news flash that Bill O’Reilly was a sexual harasser. That’s been know for a really long time. So, it’s an interesting
moment of, kind of, inversion between left political weakness and it’s cultural influence. Other questions? Go ahead. – [Man] The election of Trump was– – I’m sorry wait, the
microphone is coming. – [Man] The election of Trump was caused, as you describe, by unleashing
some underlying anger. Aren’t we better off by getting Trump than getting somebody like Marine Le Pen, which was maybe that cause or something? Which was, have caused, maybe, a much more severe long term harm than Trump that is
generating a lot of backlash which might come quicker. – Well, we don’t know
what comes after Trump. And we don’t know what kind
of rule book he’s established. He’s exposed a terrible
flaw in American democracy. We don’t know who or how
that will be exploited in the future. I’m not so sure that this is a short-lived thing, one. And the second thing is
that as bad as this is, I feel like the situation
would’ve been far more dangerous domestically or internally had he lost. I think that there were people who were so invested with almost a, kind of, religious association with him that it’s not inconceivable
that there would’ve been acts of violence. Especially if he said that
the whole system was rigged and it was impossible for him to win. – Other questions? Go ahead, sir? – [Man] Hello. I have a question, maybe someone can speak to it. The rebranding of racism, racist, as fascism, as the new nationalism and the globalization of that because what’s happening in America is happening in Europe
and in other places, too. It’s being rebranded as
a form of nationalism. The anti-immigrant, all over the globe, the anti-muslim, the
anti-immigrants and so forth. So, the globalization of nationalism also quote, unquote, fascism. – Who wants to jump on that. – I think it begins with calling
things for what they are. This is racism. This is not alt-right,
this is not hard right, this is not some
convoluted rationalization that you’re gonna come up with. That is cover talk. I think calling it what
it is is the first step. I think this is one of the
things I was talking about, this basic fundamental issues that I think center-right to center-left
have to return to. That we are not, as a
society, gonna tolerate that. We’re not gonna tolerate it in language and in cultural behavior. We’re not gonna tolerate
it in policy terms. I think that is one of the prime directives. One of the principle
challenges for democrats who are out of power and republicans who are stumbling around,
don’t feel like they have a party anymore. To return to some bright lines in American society about racism, about misogyny that I think we’ve lost. – Let me just push you
on that a little bit. When you, as a conservative,
or someone on the center-right, says that we need to
return to a conservatism which is anti-racist,
which has a bright line that says “Not accepting racism,” A lot of people on the left would say, “There’s no usable past there. “There’s no there there.” In the sense of even Ronald Reagan and Oxford, Mississippi,
talking about state’s rights or the Southern Strategy. Or Newt Gingrich talking about
the food stamp president. So, where do you, as a conservative, go for your examples of the non or even anti-racist
conservatism that you want to resuscitate? – Do I have to list somebody
in the 20th century? (audience laughs) – No, I mean, it’s up to you really? – [Jelani] There was Lincoln. – Yeah, that’s where I was thinking or Edmund Burke, you
know, these sort of folks. Listen, there are lots of individuals either writ large or writ small who you can point to who have been heroic. We do forget the heroic
republicans in the senate during the civil rights era. We do forget the
north-eastern and mid-western white protestant clergy that helped push civil rights legislation over the edge. I think we can go back to lots of history. But, in some sense, I think going back to an earlier age when racism may not be a good idea at all. That we simply have to
invoke a moral absolute. We simply have to have to say, if you do believe that the job of government is to protect rights and to allow for self-realization of the individual, then
you cannot be a racist. Those two things are
inconsistent with one another. I think just on a theoretical basis, you have to return to first principles. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe we’re all too vague about it. We need some better exemplars. I think that’s the message going forward. I’m not sure it would help, frankly, to go back to the past anyway because Americans have developed
this phenomenal amnesia about recent history. – Can I just say really
one quick question? Isn’t it weird that
these people are supposed to be nationalists but
Farage and Trump and Le Pen are all in, like, this
mutual admiration society and endorsing each other. – And getting a check from Putin. In that wild debate, I don’t
know if any of you caught it, or speak french, last night in Paris, which was just like a
mud-slinging, you know, hysterical, sort of,
Saturday Night Live parody of a debate. I was dying for Macron to say, “How are you a french nationalist? “You took nine million
euros from Vladimir Putin.” So, it is, it’s counterintuitive and that’s because they see themselves as the true representative of the people. That they are beyond, almost, the governments that have
usurped the powers of the people and they return to this, sort of, christian nationalist. Sort of, evoke, history that they made up. But you’re right, it’s bizarre. I sometimes ask my french
and European friends, like, “Why don’t you bring this up more?” I’m not sure what the answer is. Maybe they have bigger fish to fry but it is completely inconsistent. – But why is it bizarre
for hyper-nationalists to support hyper-nationalism
in other countries, especially in other
countries that they associate as white christian countries, who they also fear of losing their white, I mean Franco and Mussolini
saw identification with one another. – If we’re talking about
white nationalism, certainly. But if we’re talking about these kinds of ethnic nationalism, then, no. They’re being nationalist in the most globalist way possible. But that’s not surprising to me. I’m just talking about the contradiction that which they’re replete with them. One of the reasons that
Putin has the kind of appeal that he has to that sliver of, like, the really serious,
committed, ethno-nationalists of Trump, is that they view
him as a white nationalist. There’s that neo-nationalist movement and skin-head movement in Russia that has connections to the one here. But that’s not what they’re saying. They’re not saying white people first, they’re saying America first. To them, they think that’s synonymous. – Right, right, right. Other questions? I see a hand in the back there. – [Woman] What do you think of the media characterizing Trump, who’s
an out-of-touch billionaire elitist as some populist hero, which I think is a piece of crap? And I’d like to know what
you think of that nonsense. Trump is not a populist, yet, the media keep using that
phrase to describe him. – Ooh, ooh, ooh, let me say. – [Woman] The media. I have written so many emails to the media and I’ve given them a definition
of what a populist is. It’s the common person against the elites. That’s not Trump and he’s 70 years old and he’s never used his
wealth to help anybody except himself. I’d like to know why the media keeps on referring to him as a populist. – He’s leading what people are
calling a populist movement. But here’s the thing about him. Trump is rich, but he’s rich in the way that poor people would
be rich if they could be. (applause and laughter) It’s not the kind of gentile,
upper east side money, it’s the what’s the point of being rich, if you don’t have your name in gold on the side of a building? If you don’t accessorize. I wrote a piece that was satirical. It was tongue-and-cheek at the beginning of Trump’s candidacy, where I said Donald Trump is a rapper. The argument that I made there was that he flaunts his wealth,
inconspicuously consumes, he accessorizes with beautiful women and he owns a fashion line. If you looked at all those things, those are all on the check list of rapper, which is what he was more reminiscent of. So, it’s perfectly fine. People will forgive him his wealth. The same way they did with Ross Perot. They will forgive you your wealth if they think that,
culturally, you represent them or you share their same sorts of ideas. – [Woman] You really think
he’s a populist, I don’t. – I don’t think he is. But, notice I said, he’s
leading a populist movement. I don’t think that he is. I don’t think he has an ideology and I think that his main
interest is his himself. But the movement that he is leading has these kind of populist tones. – [Woman] Well, I disagree. – Well, right-wing populism defines itself in opposition to cultural
elites not economic elites. Go ahead. – [Woman] Why is it that the Clinton’s and the Obama’s are not now speaking up against this atrocity? Bill Clinton is the most
articulate politician of the second half of the 20th century. Why are they being silent and polite and Trump is not polite? – For those who didn’t hear, why are the Clinton’s and the Obama’s not speaking out more forcefully? – I think it’s a strategic choice that they would only, this is exactly what he would love to do. Whenever the news gets too bad for him, his poll ratings go down, he brings up, out of
thin air, Hillary Clinton because that’s, you know,
his favorite whipping girl. I think they have made a decision that, you know, for now, they will support and they’re financially
and otherwise supporting these causes. But to personally take him
on is counterproductive at this point. To some degree, I do agree with that. I think there needs to be a
new generation of leadership. There is a new generation of leadership and they have to begin
to carry the ball now. – [Man] I have a question back here. I wonder if you could
comment on the lasting effect of Trump’s attack on transparency. Whether it has to do with his tax returns or his refusal to vest, divest from his businesses or his hiring of his family members who, in turn, didn’t really
divest from their businesses, his refusal to identify the
people who’ve come to visit him at the White House and the like. Is this going to be a low
bar to be set for the future? – I’ve written about this a lot until, I think, people are probably sick of hearing about the
emoluments clause from me. It is a serious problem
for exactly the reason that you said. Because now people have the idea, well, he got elected president and
didn’t release his taxes. He hired his daughter
and nothing happened. So, they will continue to do this. I think there are a
couple responses to that. First of all, there are the courts and there’s some creative
lawyering going on out there. So, if you’re looking
for people to devote time and money, I would
recommend Crew, C-R-E-W, who is at the forefront of a lot of this financial litigation. So, there are the courts. And we have an unfortunate situation now where you have a passive congress because it is of the same party. The solution to the
problem you have outlined is to flip one or both of
the houses of congress. That right now we have the
worst of all possible enrolled. The problem can be corrected very easily if the congress stands
up and does something because they have that power now, they’re simply not doing it. And they’re not doing
it in a spectacularly hypocritical way. Aside from the courts now vocalizing this, you really have to get better lawmakers because they’re the
ones who have the power to enforce these and pass
new rules and requirements and to return to a certain respect for, as you say, transparency. – I’m afraid that’s all we have time for. I want to thank Jennifer Rubin, thank Jelani Cobb, thank
all of you for coming. (applause) Keep your eye out for future events at the CUNY graduate center.

2 thoughts on “The First 100 Days: Looking Back & Ahead – Feat. Peter Beinart, Jelani Cobb, Jennifer Rubin

  1. I attended this conference and found it very informative. But there was one aspect that detracted from the experience for me and my wife. I do not wish to be rude but only offer this as a constructive comment for the lecturers going forward. Both Jennifer and Peter had the unfortunate habit of saying "uhm" about every fifth word. If they would take the time to listen to this recording, they would surely notice it and perhaps try to reduce the frequency in the future. Otherwise, they had some valuable comments to share.

  2. The way white America is making excuses for white drug addicts amongst them shows their dishonesty.  White supremacy won it for Trump unless we fool ourselves.

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