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tv   Heather Mc Gee The Sum of Us and George Packer Last Best Hope  CSPAN  November 25, 2021 5:35pm-6:35pm EST

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thank you both so much. and both authors will be signing their books right over here. >> weekends on c-span 2 are an intellectual feast. every saturday american history tv documents america's story. and on sunday book tv brings you the latest books and authors. funding for c-span 2 comes from these television companies and more including comcast. >> you think this is just a community center? no, it's way more than that. >> comcast is partnering with 1,000 community centers to create wi-fi enabled. >> comcast along with these television companies supports c-span 2 as a public service.
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>> book tv's coverage of the brooklyn book festival continues. >> so this would bela the part which i'd read their bios on the website, but you haveur your phone. they're both great, heather and george. and their books are great. i recommend the book. to you. and i thought maybe if you haven't read their books, maybe let's just start with a little bit of a capsule summary of them so you get a sense of where they're coming from. i'll start with you, heather, on what motivated you to write some of this? when did you write it and why? >> thank>> you. the last time we were together i wasg interviewing you inside about your wonderful book. and george, you are so fabulous and we met probably almost 20 years ago. and you would come and give book
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events and you were one of the real leading lights on equality and we felt like fellow travelers. so good to be with you as well. what ath wonderful thing the brooklyn book festival is. thank you to you and the organizers and to you all for comingus out. so>> wrote my book out of on frustration. in 2017 i left a job that i'd had, sort of my dream job running the think tank focused on solutions to inequality out of a sense of frustration that my way of going at the problems of economic inequality, to put together research and craft evidence based solutions and hope policy makers would make betterer economic policy decisis was so oftenns falling on deaf ears, and that i needed to really get out in the country and investigate using different tools why we had let the
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american dream slip away, who'd killeded it, why had those policies to destroyt the americn dream been t cheered on by the majority of the american people so often? and particularly finding at its root thise core lie, this world view, which is false but yet is quite predominant in u.s. society, which is this zero-sum idea that we're not all on the same team and we should resent one ranother's progress, and tt progress particularly for peoplg ofcu color have to come at whit folks expense. and this zero-sum world view was for me when i came across it in the soclogical research, a research went off. i said okay that helps explain in a way the economic data doesn't why we are so often at odds and so often self-sabotaging. and. the zero-sum idea taken to
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its most self-sabotaging real world explanation or example is another concept that i developed in the course of this journey i took across the country to write the book, which is what happened to some of the nearly 2,000 funded swimming p pools in the u.s. that were built in the 1930s and '40s. andeg many of them were raciall segregated like much of the american goods in that period. when they becameub integrated my towns drained their public pools rather thanas integrate them. it helped me understand how we move a public goods model into austerity that brought us into
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equality. through attacking collective action, through labor unions. but i also ended the journey with a lot of hope because i found that many people across the country were rejecting zero-sum and fighting like heck for ao school of public goods fr everyone. and i began to call that soldairy nldividends, the gainse can o unlock but only coming together. with all the difficulties and challenges and beautiful transformation that thatau requires. >> it's very good. it was just -- it was just long listed for>> national book awar which is a big deal. i don't know if you guys know that, but it is a very big deal. george, youro wrote a book that i'm veryy jealous of, sort of oe of those books that you read and you wish you'd written. this book seems like in some ways aue sequel to that.
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even though c it's called laugh best hope -- well, i don't know. what is the last best hope? it's a quote, but why did you write this book when you did? >> first of all, heather, it's great to see you again. i think when i met you you were disguised. you've emerged as a strong writer, and congratulations. i wrote last best hope in dread. it was last fall. it was a covid book. i was stuck s with myself for months, beginning to hate myself and my thoughts and wanting to try tond get them out so that i could somehow get beyond them. it was the weeks before the election when i began writing it. and it was a time when i literally wondered if i should buy a gun because it seemed as if we might be entering a period of civil c violence after the election, and i didn't want to
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be n the only guy who couldn't, you know, defend himself and his family. my wife talked me out of it, which was the rightwh thing to . but we did have violence. it took a few months, but january 6th was the closest we've come to a seditionary moment since 1861. and we will have violence again. we are so far from out of the woods as far as the collision between a constitutional crisis, a demagogue egging on a large sector of the population and an entire party willingng and even eager to go along with the lie and the violence that lie is bound to produce. i felt like i wanted to write a book that looked at us as a people and asks is there
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anything that holds us together ass americans? are weme so hopelessly not just divided but existentially in fear and hatred of one h anothe that we can no longer function as a self-governing republic? we can no longer solve problems together. and the pandemic, which, of course was the context for my writing this bookxt along with n the election told me no we can't. in fact, itoi seems to be ever more dividing us. ii wanted to look back at some f the great text of american history in order to find out have we been here before? if so w what are the recurring themes? and what are the idea that might lead us out of what seems like a path towards self-destruction. one is equality and the other is
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self-government. and those are both key words in democracy in america. he wrote equality is not just the founding ideal of the declaration. it's the passion.on it's like this visceral desire of the american people. and whenever it is denied, we haveve conflict.e in some countries there are permanently subordinate collapses with social espeace. but that's not possible in this country because n equality is n just inscribed in the declaration, but it is a desire that people have. and it drives them -- it drives our politics. the desire for it, the resentment when denied. self-government is connected toe equality, i think. because without equality we have no sense of shared citizenship. thatit is the basis for us to share citizenship, and therefore self-government begins to wear away and even to fall apart.
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it is something inside us and in our character. for me the connection between equality and self-government is key, and it's trying to find thatat connection and how to restore it or maybe even create it for the first time is sort of the animating idea of the book. >> so you just talked about covid. and it's very interesting for me to watch the countries vaccination rates over time in which the u.s. sort of gets out to this huge advantage in the
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beginning when it's relying on both the innovation and ingenuity of american pharma and government research, and then it's deployed quite quickly. and then it hits this wall of kind of sociocultural resistance, and now we're basically under the other countries. and the ranking looks similar to the way you'd rank along all sorts of metrics like paid family leave and all these sort of aspects of social democratic countries that we like. so i've been thinking a lot. i've been thinking about politics in the case of the vaccine. something like wildly self-defeating. even more egregiously sociopathic. and i'm curious how it fits into your theory because it seems like such an obvious example. it's pretty buried at this point. i think it's really like -- it's
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not like there's some welfare queen somewhere who wants you to get the vaccine. it's even more abstract. i'm curious how you think about what's laid outut in the book about the q ways we self-sabota through this sort of resentment to covid.on >> really great question, chris. so the way that racial resentment, the self-sabotaging racialas resentment has travele in our society since the civil rights movement and desegregationgr has been throug the character of the government, right? it's not a private pool being drained and private pools and backyard pools and membership-only swim clubs, but it was the public pool. it was the idea that government went from being the enforcer of the racial hierarchy, right, thh
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one that typed up the segregation codes and enforced them too being the upend of the racial b hierarchy by suddenly y part of the integration. when the government did that there was a sensens of betrayal for many white americans who went from voting new deal, big government, big tax, big spend policies throughout most of the 20th century to never again voting for a democrat. the majority of white americans have not since linden johnson signed the civil rights act and voting rights act. so government is i think how you make sense. and government has not always beenze explicitly racialized. obviously when barack obama was the face of it, it went into overdrive and you began to see this sort of massive peeling away of majority white for things like action on climate change, which used to be not thatat political, partisan or
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racialized. i think now what you're i seein in terms of the sort of red state white resistance to vaccination is more the core -- as george would put it in his book,as the don't trail on me freedom from government is inherently suspect. which has been a thread in our society for a long time but did not capture the sort of visceral kind of identity fused caption it does now until government became thern one who could take away youred freedom to do whater you needed to do to feel better than the undeserving. >> in other words, there was no massive resistance to the polio vaccine. >> iyeah, i mean, at one level the vaccine story -- so, george, you talk about these sort of four american narratives and the
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way -- they're not the causal predicate, for balkanizing the country. there aree stories these different groups tell themselve to be. on the flip side of the kind of likeke failures on covid respon, at the same time s75% of peopl have gotten one dose, it's a higher level consensus than basically we get on anything else. sohi in some ways there's kind a positive story to tell about -- p you know, there's people with all kinds of views, all kinds of cultural life worlds that are getting the shot. and in some ways that to me speaks to some of the hope that's embedded in t how you thk about the s country. >> and the opposite is true too. i mean, among vaccine hesitancy, resistance, really it's all races.s. and it's all regions. and it's both sides of the
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politicall divide, although certainly o the republican side more. whatrt isep the common denomina of vaccine resistance? i mean, for a while i thought it's education. but, you know, that doesn't seem totoot hold up in every case. it's very hard to understand. it's like mask resistance, it's something that makes us a bit unique. i thinke. there's probably more vaccine resistance around the world. but t mask resistance was an american thing. and to me that's like kleenex resistance.. like, a t mask is a simple thin. >> my father has kleenex resistance. >> mask resistance, it's such a simple thing to protect yourself and otherwise. a vaccinene is a little more invasive. it really showed how any issue can become polarized in this country if the right ingredients areco there. ande in this case the president
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goading people to resist it. i take your point, chris, we have moved somewhere on this. and iom think we're going to ke moving because the long overdue vaccine mandates, which should have been in place in may or june, are forcing people to get the vaccine. look at what's just happened to new york city health workers who were about to get fired. and the same with the public schools. i wish the faa would enforce it on airplanes. that would be the real game changer. >> yeah, and in some ways that's like the ultimate nightmare, the kind of don't tread on me government enforcement. but it also think that -- i'm fascinated by fights that continue when there is a definitive victor. the thing you're tracing is the roots of fights that continue. where, some fights there is a winner. so a smoking is a great example. that was a really brutal fight. >> mm-hmm. >> huge political fight over
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that. then one side just really won. just, they won. and there's not like dead ender animating smoking politics now. people might be disgruntled about how they have to step outside, blaho, blah blah. compared to, like, abortion, victory. no permanent okay, this is what we're doing now. and i feel like there's a nexus with race somewhere in w there. but, like, what is it -- a hard question, but, like, there's something going on in the fights that we keep having and the fights that one side can actually resoundingly win. >> yeah. umm, yes, it's a hard question. >> what's the rosetta stone for all of american history? >> so, you know, right now i'm just filled with quotes from people than i. power concedes nothing without a fight. you know, it really is -- when
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it comes too core questions of power, i am reminded, for example, that we had a civil rightsor act that got rid of segregation. and the court struck it down. and then 100 years later we had another one. so that to me feels more like most of history, when you're really -- when the stakes are that high and you're really struggling for core dominance and power, the power to make meaning, the power to, of course, ultimately exact profit. you know, particularly when we're talking about a group of people that have so much power, and it's always people -- the bottom of the social and economic and racial hierarchy who are trying to wrest some of it, it will feel cyclical as long we do not both erect the
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structures to create equality and a multiracial democracy, and safeguard them like our very lives depend on it. and i think that the period of time thatst we have had in the last 56ha years since the votin rights act has seen a lot of complacency about the fragility of those structures and the idea that of coursese we're a free democracy and of course both parties areoc going to consent , you know, saying yes to whomever is the victor, and of course we're not going to storm the courthouse or the capitol where the election results are being certified.d. that's not what we do. that's only a complacency that you can have if you forget about much off our history and just hw much white supremacist terror there was, how little democracy there was in theth confederacy d in the old south and under jim crow, and how rare multiracial democracy has been. >> yeah,ar d and i think on the
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democracy. question, george, i'e actually returned to heather on thisd quite a bit, which is the ultimate example of drain pool democracy wis, if ultimately w can't control the democracy, drain the pool. the ultimate end of that nihilism if we can't say what happens in self governance, we don't want self governance, we want that dude. i think you think the blame -- maybe that's too simplistic a word, is more evenly distributed than that. i i view it in those pretty sta terms, basically, we don't want it if we can't control it. but maybe that's excessively noncharitable to people that are on the other side of this. >> i don't want to be i
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charitable. i just want d to try to -- >> understand, right. >> -- see them realistically. look, i'm under no illusions, chris, that thereal is one part and onene strain in our democra that is a clear and present danger to it. wele all know which one that is. there's absolutely no doubt about it. and one of the imperatives of the next few years, maybe the most important, is to save it, to protect it, to prevent that. and there'so all kinds of ways, from legislation to mobilization to journalism. there's all kinds of imperatives that have to be activated in order to prevent trump and his cult from destroying our democracy. we're closer to that than at any time in my adult life. but we're all part of the same society. i think when i talk about four narratives, it's not as though they're sprouting in completely
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unrelated biospheres. they'reet all coming out of som kind of common soil. andin part of that soil is huge economic change over the last half century, from the industrial age to the information age. and there have been stark winners and losers in that economic change, which has coincided with the rise, for the first time in this country, of what i call a multieverything, multiracial, mumultiethnic, wo multicultural, multireligious society. those two trends have coincided, have produced that sense that heather writes about, that it's a zero sumer game, and there's struggle not just for resources but for status and respect which you can't win unless you lose. when that becomes the dynamic, i think itds tends to be a two-wa dynamic. there are books about rural america, rural white america, like ut"the politics of resentmt
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byat catherine kramer or "strangers iner their own land" where the idea of respect seems to be a a key fault line or a fragile point where people feel, whether they have any right to or eonot, they feel that they a no longer respected, they're no longer kind of part of the core or the core, because other people are cutting in line in front of them, as they said to arli hochschild. there are thingsri we have in common that others maybe t from otherr countries can see immediately that we can't see because we're too close to each other. and thatbe closeness is part of our animosity toward each other. >> so to go one step further, heather, i>> think you can maken argument -- from the perspective -- one thing the folks you're talking about,t, people who are, you know -- live in places who are over
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overwhelmingly white, and interest not in centers of higher ededucation, college tow, there's one thing they're really right about which is when you look at the survey, the commanding heights of americanot culture, none of their people control that. that's just true. it's not their folks who write the tv shows, who write the ad jingles, publish the books. pick whatever it is, they're not wrong, they're just not wrong. that's just a descriptive fact. what produces culture in america? it is produced by a fairly narrow class of people in a fairly narrow geographic zone when you look at the vastness of thehe country. that doesn't mean that the publishing industry still isn't dominated byy white people and wealth. but it p a also means that wheny view cultural production in america,vi there is a sense in which -- i don't think they're
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wrongg to think it's zero sum. there is at bunch of control it ands it's not us. >> and the people that is controlled by people who are saying we are you, it's really caustic zero sum media. >> the worst. >> i think it matters. it's tough, right, because the working class that i want to know more about are the home health aides, are the schoolteacher assistants, are the mostly women, women of color, who are, you know, also sometimes vaccine hesitant and alsols have a really -- but vaccine hesitant, not resistant, and it's not sort of a core ideology, and the numbers are moving a lot more.y but who are as underrepresented in the halls of cultural production and h certainly in t
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halls of decisionmaking, but who became, you know -- are known as our essential workers, finally., and whoho have been the backbon of our economy for so long. and as the sort of totemic american worker, the guy in the hardhat, changed to a white woman or a brown woman with a broom, the dignity and respect of those jobs fell accordingly, slipped down the social hierarchy and economicoc hierarchy. and to me, i want to -- i mean, like what we're basically talking about right now in this section ofin the conversation i like how much do we -- how much sort of -- what do we do with
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our fellow american who is outside of the cosmopolitan bubble we live in and is a white, rural, resentful push. and so many of the economic explainers of where that resentment came from, happened to other working class people who have a different narrative and a different set of values and are being spoken to by a different set of media and are not being lied to in the same aggressive way, who don't have the same feeling of falling immobility. so when we talk about respect andd dignity which any labor organizer would sayay that's always thelw thing, it's never just about wages. workers will always say, i just want respect and dignity at the job, right? the walmart campaign is united for respect atit work, right? it's reallys about having some agency. always 's what it's about. but when that agency feels like it wasas robbed by, you know, tt demographic change has robbed
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you of that agency, it creates a different set of solutions that are not usually actually good economic solutions for your own wellbeing than if you feel like was robbed by the boss and therefore you want to unionize, for example. >> let me ask you a question. and for mee this is maybe the salient question in our politics today. how. do we create a transracial workingg class political movement? and without which i am in despair, because to me that is where the heart of the matter is, and it's also where the big fault lines are. and without one, i think balkanization will lead to something even worse. i'm sure you think about it a lot. do. >> i wonder what your answer is. >> so w i don't have all the answers. but in writing "the sum of us,"
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i felt like i had glimpsed people who had figured out an element of it. and friends in labor and community organizing who are right there trying tore create diverse workplace, or a diverse working aclass, a community tha needs toee vote on a ballot initiative to refill the pool in some way whether it's higher wage or medicare expansion, they know they can't win without a multiracial working class that sees themselves in one another.h and ultimately the fault line, the impediment to that seeing of one another is race. and there is more usually of a pragmatism m and a knee-jerk empathy pong the peoplehy of cor they're trying to organize than the white people who have heard for so long the zero sum line, have heard it so long, and they're hearing it with a technological sophistication and a volume of b the bullhorn that
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we've never been up against and a party that has completely understood that that is their last, best hope. so that multiracial organizing comes from finding places for solidarity, places where, for example, when i travel to kansas city and i met with fast food workers there who were joining the fight for 15, and i talked to a white woman named bridget who was working class, irish american, was -- you know, grown up pretty anti-immigrant, believed a lot of antiblack stereotypes. and it wasn't until -- and by extension, i think, sort of bought the whole kind of myth about thehe hierarchy of human value and felt like because she had been paid $7 an hour her whole life, she wasn't worth much either and never would be but it was her fault. and it was only through organizing, like real church basement organizing, when she
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final saw herself and her life reflected in the life of a latino womanin and a black work basically a similar life story. she said to me, i know now it's not about us versus them, in order for us to come up, they have to come up too, bridget says in the book, because as long as we're divided, we're conquered. she actually said the thing that ended up being the great insight atsaid, that's e why this movement has got to workers, that racism is bad for them too because it keeps us divided from our black andac brown brothers and sister. so whats. does that mean in ter of strategies and tactics? i think it means we have to have this reckoning we're having now inre understanding how central racism is as the core weapon of the plutocracy. it meansit white liberals and whiteal progressives need to understand race but not only as something that, you know, benefits white people, but also
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something that is so fundamental that nobody iso unscathed by it distortions and the dysfunction that it creates. and i think, you know, tactically, i think we need a national process of truth and reconciliation, because we're telling ourselves all of a thes different eastories. it's like this weird shopping cart versionif of a national story, it's like, great that people buy our books, but that's not how a country heals, right? we have to do this in a way that brings everyone along. and it's going to be hard and it's going to be resisted as it is in 12 states right now where they'ree banning lessons about rosa parks because it makes white children feel bad. but it works, it always works. >> one of the great things i got from your book is, the great thing about dignity, it isn't zero sum, it doesn't have to be. andd that's sort of a tocquevile insight too in some ways, about specific core of the sort of freedom creed of americans, and
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obviously there's enormous bracketss placed around bondage. >> he wass writing in the 1830s which meant that essentially white men were able to exercise the rights of toself-governance. >> but he recognizes something which i think you're right about, to the extent there's somethinghe glorious here to promote,o reclaim, it's that, like -- you know, the sort of idea was, every man a king, right? and the idea behind the phrase, i mean, this is a specific phrase from -- >> hughie long. >> hughie long in louisiana, the whole idea of a king is there can only be one. so every man a king means actually like the sense of potency, power, dignity, that a king would have, could be everyone's. and in some ways the best promise of american civic
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equality that is embodied in particularly i think frederick douglass' vision but many others, that thing which is not quite a material thing although it's relate to material things, it's not quite a spiritual thing, but it is a sense, and that that sense that, like, i have self-determination, i am part of a proud people that collectively manage our affairs and i have thisge sort of autony as a person, "i am a man" signs in the march on washington,, basically saying that in a different way,er dignity, respe, see me, that that doesn't have to be a zero sum resource, that's the superysuperpower, to extent that you can distribute it evenly. but the message is it is zero sum, dignity is zero sum. when someone says white lives matter, what they are claiming is thatwh a dignity claim from black person that black lives matter is actually a zero sum
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claimer about how many pieces o the pies black folks get when they say their lives matter and a counterclaim about how many slices we want to grab, as opposed to the fact that,, yes, human life is precious in an equal sense. >> you said it's not quite spiritual. you're right, but at times i thinkk it is spiritual. when you read whitman, you feel as if this is a religion, the religion of democratic equality. and honestly, i don't have another religion. that's it. so if that's not a religion, then i am a completely fallen, profane being. and i think it is not a zero sum game because it actually doesn't work as at zero sum game. the pointer of what i wrote and what heather wrote is, without a sense of civic or democratic equality, call it what you want, which has a material side, if the gap is too wide, there is no longers a sense of shared
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citizenship. but i think it really is to the core of your being as a person. if that is not shared, then we fight each other. thatt is just the nature of thi country. and i think we're in one of those periods right now. >> something that comes through in some of us, the interviews, the example you just said, i think your vision of this, correct me if i'm wrong, is some way that you build from the material to the practicalhe to e more abstract. like, you can't start -- right? like the lesson i got from your book is you don't start these coalitions at ar creedal level. it's like, no, we should all get paid more, is a more -- a sturdier place to start, but thatth the project goes somewhe else, is how i understand the argument you're making. >> that's right. so, you know, i wrote the book from 2017 to 2020, my lovely editor, chris jackson, allowed meov to keep the book sort of
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open, the text open to find out, you know, whoex won the electio. but that meant it happened before we saw what this new administration was going to do, before the american jobs plan, the american rescue plan, the american family plan, this whole set of ideas and policies. the first line of the book is something like, "have you ever wondered why we can't seem to have nice things." and by "nice things" i don't mean laundry that does itself and hovercraft. >> we should get that too, though. >> that would be amazing. childcare and paid family leave andnd health care and a well-funded school in every neighborhood i and world class infrastructure from the country thats used to lead the world in infrastructure, right? those are the nice things. andn then suddenly, you know, this new administration, this guy who was not my guy in the primary,wa who really sort of embodied the center of a democratic party that george has written about for a very long time, sold out the working class
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and bought into a winner take all economic model, was suddenly saying, you get good things, you get nice things, you get nice things, i'm going to build world class infrastructure and universal broadband and it's not just going to be for this part of the country, it's going to be everywhere. and that to me is the necessary predicate for the kind of politics f of cross racial solidarity that we need, because then it is too easy for the right to say, look, these coastal elites don't actually care about you, because they don't care that your kid can't do remote schooling because you don't have fast wi-fi, because they have fast wi-fi on the coast. >> i think biden is a throwback to a period before the period of my book and maybe your book. i mean, he fits none of my four narratives. free, smart, real, and just
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america. he is someone out of the truman years. he's an old fashioned democrat of theem fair shake. that was sort of the phrase, which is a kind of common folksy phrase, but with biden it means, i think, that when he thinks of government asnk something -- of course this wasn't true of the roosevelt/truman years because wese know of the ways the new dl left out large numbers of americans but at least the idea of the new deal was a national narrative that put the worker and the ordinary person at the center ofhe the narrative rathe than putting business at thena center. for me, for all the centrism, it wasn't hardar for biden to make that shift because i think he does belongg to this period almost before the late '60s and the earlyth '70s. and i call that narrative equal america. and0s i think it's pretty much what biden's doing, although he neverha articulates it. he has no, unfortunately, rhetorical u inspiration.
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and that's important. you really need a president to lett the country know, here's whereta we're going and here's y we're going there. and i think the result is -- one of the results, let's just say, is thehe incredible mess we're looking at right now onbl capit hill where the entire agenda is facing possible demise. >> so i'm glad you brought that up, because i think this is another interesting,g, like, da point tog theorize from the frameworks you're both coming from. i actually think in some ways, i think there's a lot of people in the upper echelons in democratic circles who have read both your books. i thinkok the zero sum idea has gained quite aed bit of tractio. and i think generally, even if it hasn't been whitman-esque, thete rhetoric from the white house has been basically in line. like, the whole thing is very much, this isy good for everyon. there are specific communities that we're also looking for and want to make sure that's equity
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forng them, but the larger thin is, like, childcare and elder care andnd green investments ar collectively good for e.everyon this is not a zero sum enterprise, a. b, i think it's been weirdly effective, in a way. >> yeah, the polling is great. >> c, it's a really interesting moment because i think you see the difference between the most striking thing about this moment and this fight on capitol hill is the difference between ten years ago and the aca. so ten years ago and the aca, people were showing up at town halls about the aca to scream and yell and threaten to burn the place down. those literal same people are doing that nowow but they're showing up s at school board meetings about masks and crt and could give a -- about this bill. like, they just don't care. i watch fox every day, there's no blood in it, it's just not exciting the base. what's exciting the base are like, vaccine mandates, masks, crt, that stuff, and people are showing up at school boards to scream about that. >> right. >> and i think in some ways
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that's a weird success, for, a, the messaging, b, the approach, and c, the "sum of us" theory. >> i agree. one thing i'm not sure i go along with from heather's presentation is truth in reconciliation is a powerful toolol but it's also a potentiay explosive tool.. and wely are going through a ki of slow motion explosion right now in universities, in elementary school, in secondary school classrooms, in newsrooms, in our entire culture. i think a government that is seen to help people and improve the conditionsse of their lives is, fores me, the likeliest wayo lower the toxic level of our politics and to bring about that transracial or multiracial working class that we want. if reconciliation is necessary, i worry that it is going to lead us in thet other direction. >> sohe it's tough, right, becae
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i think we have to do both/and. obviously i think that the economic agenda is paramount. and i don't think it's a zero sum between the economic agenda and the racial agenda because the thing is, absent a truth in reconciliation process, the right wing is scaring white parents intos being afraid of literally children's books about ruby ridges, who was 6 years old. so it's like, we can't -- this is a long struggle, right, within the center left, is how, knowing that the right will use zero sum fears of -- zero some sort of racial d culture wars t distract and divide and to their own electoral gain, what do we do abouto it? do we run, do we confront, do we make it smarter, do we make it more pervasive?
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what do we do? that's why i think we simply can't disarm on the question of what our national story is and what's the truth. and when it works well, and i'm really lucky right now to be doing a project that's sending me back out on the road and talking to people who are doing this work welle in community, o trying to forge cross racial solidarity, when it works well, it's really much w more powerfu and potent. it looks a nothing like kind of like -- yeah, it's very powerful and potent, and human to human. and it's transformational. it's multiracial. it has allowed white people who have been lied to about their own history to be angry that they've been lied to as opposed to beingng resentment and want holdos onto the lie. it iss a sort of mass deprogramming which is actually what we need. and is just don't think we can give up. i don't think we can t give up, because they. will create the
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racial conflict wherever they can. they can't just say it's too hard, because they'll infuse the field with lies and use it to their electoral and economic advantage so wee just can't giv up. >> i think that the -- [ applause ] >> i agree with that. i also think that the -- this is like, that was a very rhetorically elevated thing and now i'm going to say a very boring and practical thing, but the child tax credit to me is a fascinating experiment in this, because that -- in some ways like that's the model that a lot of center left thinking has been going towards. and i think both b of you are st of in this -- which is like, equitable, universal benefits that are tangible to people and that kind of break down some of the, oh, you're getting this and i'm not politics of particularly that really pernicious welfare politics of the welfare queen and allio that stuff. this is an answer to it.
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and i think there's a real ideological consensus about this. so here you have this thing, the child tax credit, which gives this benefit to 90% of households with kids, people in this audience -- do you have it? raise your hand if you've gotten thego child tax credit. >> oh, you have, you just don't know. >> i'm going to show this to the white house. did toto me it's also, to your poin about how you need a story and you need -- and also i think what you're writing about, you need things thatha are more material, they did the material thing, they really did go out and give households with kids like ld500 bucks a month. they reallyy did do that, direc deposit. and the political consequences are, like, essentially nil. >> yes. >> i don't think it won a single vote. i mean, there are quite literally millions of trump-voting republican households in rural america that are getting that money every month from -- i mean, there was
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no republican vote for it, from the democrats and joe biden. and, like, i don't think it's going to change a single vote, honestly. so that's just, to me, about the both/and, you can't just do -- there's got to be rhetorical symbolic other work happening. >> of course there does, politics is rhetoric. all i'm saying is, let's not make it too easy for the other side tohe take our rhetoric and turn it into a sword against us. of course they're going tot try. but there are good examples of whatat heather is talking about and then e there are clumsy examples. there are somexa examples that find farha too doctrinaire. and rather than teaching the history and the ideas as part of a set of critical skills that children need, students need in order to be citizens ofed a democracy, in not so practiced hands it becomes a set of absolutee truths that there's a strain of, i would say,
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illiberalism, on the left as well as on the right. far more on the right, but we're on the same soil, they react to each other and they drive each other in these o directions, ani see that happening on both sides. and it worries me on both sides, because i think it leads us to a zero sum game. >> what do you think about that? >> well, you know, it's difficult>> without specific examples to say what i think about that, right? i mean, yes, in theory, that sounds bad, i don't want that,i don't want illiberalism, i don't want, you know -- i don't wanto us to -- you know, the people who want equality and justice andd fairness to use the same tactics that the right uses. i don't want people like you, frankly, to be sort of turned off of the project of a multiracial left. but i don't -- it's about
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specific examples. it feels like the right keeps throwing up more and more examples that seem very clear and devastating in their consequences, like literally there are 12 states that have laws banning history and lessons that would cause guilt or anguish among students because ofan actions committed members of their own race in the past. like,he that's real. >> i am absolutely opposed to that. >> i want to give a concrete out a , i'll throw concrete example because it struck me. so, senatore. gillibrand, senat from this state. she ran for president. you may not remember that. she -- i hosted a town hall with her. and this is a little different than the kind of illiberalism talking about but i think it speaks to a concern about a certain kind of messaging and a certain kind of rhetoric. at the town hall she was explaining thatt part of the
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logic was that she could explain racism and intersectionality to white women. >> okay. >> and i was thinking, like, it was a little bit of like, i was like, who are you talking to? like, you're talking to me about what you're going to tell white women who are, like, not aware of this, but, like, don't -- like you're talking about them. you're not talking to them. and there is i think sometimes a way that, like, particular rhetorical tropes of, like, a very, like, committed to racial equality l liberal left -- >> yes. >> -- can be alienatingly like removed from talking to people. that to me was an example of the opposite of what. the people in your book are doing. >> o yeah. >> in whichha they're talking t the person as opposed to talking about the person. and i do think there are tendencies, rhetorical tendencies inn this messaging t
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talk about people, because in many ways the institutions of actual communion are so rotted out that, like, no one's actually doing -- like, you're here in the room with me, what's our deal. and there's a lot of those people over there, this is my truth about what i think the country should be, and i think that isha often quite alienatin i do. >> that's right.ry >> it's like splitting the difference. >> which is very much a t function, to bring your latest writing into the room, chris, of our social media age. the -- expressing your identity online as a mode of political activism is not persuasion. >> no. >> it's not, right? the things that get. you the mot likes are not the things that compel andng that persuade. and, you know, so chris wrote a piece in "the new yorker" last week, ie guess, about -- what ws it called?
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great title. >> on the internet we're always famous. >> and chris, would you like to say a little bit about what your piece is about? >> basically the piece is that wewe as human beings see as our most fundamental desire, recognition involving seen as this person by her to person and that the internet and social media holds out the possibility of something like recognition that isn't quite recognition but close enoughh to make us come compulsively pursue it. >> i think my business, journalism, has been profoundly misled by ai, basically, by all thee invisible incentives of th algorithms that drive t people be their least reasonable and most unpleasant selves in
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public, and to spend far more of their unpaid time than i can possibly understand cultivating their most unpleasant selves in public. none of it makes sense, and all of iten to me, in ten years we' going to look back and say, can you believe what twitter did to journalists and to historians and all kinds of people i respect. and in some ways, we're all victims off silicon valley and f mark zuckerberg and jack dorsey, who are getting very, very wealthy and powerful off the human tendency not w just to wa to bef recognized but to want t join a group and submerge your identity in that group and stoke the conflict between your group andup the other group and to be applauded byhe your side about every seven minutes. and one thing i would like to see in a kind of rehabilitated america is journalism that does
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what i t think journalism shoul do, which is go out into the country and talk to people who are not part of the c media, wh are not part of the little insular world that journalists live in.n. the pandemic, by the way, has been terrible in this way. it has intensified all these tendencies. and instead, go talk to people you don't even think you would like, but certainly people you don't know, and try to see the world from their point of view. it's an amazing privilege. and p i don't know why journalis don't exercises it more. as heather did in "the sum of us." >> yeah, and i think one of the things that comes through, and i think to the extent that there's good versions of this, a huge part of the story that i think you're both telling is that the institutional landscape that used to facilitate this stuff has really been laid waste to. labor unions are sort of the most critical example here i think in "the sum of us," that's literally what they are and what they do, they create this,
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particularly a multiracial soil. local newspapers. >> localal newspapers is anothe one. these are institutions that have been really, really flawed and superim racist at times. it's not like there's a panacea to have good local newspapers and unions, because they can be really bad inut some ways. but as an institutional venue this work can get done, that institutional landscape has been denuded, viciously. i do think the lack of those institutions that can mediate in those kinds of ways is a part of the story. >> absolutely. for me that is part of the drain pool politics, it destroys those institutions. you see itt in the attacks on so-called critical race theory, the attacks on honest education. it's throwing local school boards into chaos. it's having financial penalties. tennessee, 10% of a school district's state funding can be cut and a teacher teachers the our history.bout it's really trying to, as drain
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pool politics always does, move like just enough of white public opinion away f from a public go, make them fear it and distrust it so that then only the private wins, and of course we all lose out. >> i think, chris, when you emphasize institutions, you'ree right, you're absolutely right. when i was reporting "the unwinding," it was a decade ago, it was during the recession. i was in white rural tobacco country. i was in youngstown following a black assembly line worker who then became an community organizer. i was in the exurbs of tampa bay, alled these subdivisions h turned into ghost towns in the middle of the financial crisis. and the thing that struck me over and over m was the loneliness, the sense that there wass no -- no institutional support for people's lives. there was no union there that they couldun turn to. there was no newspaper where they could at least get some
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local factsea that they could tn build their ownou ideas on. there was no -- they didn't go to church any longer. evenrc if they remained religio. ore to whatever other religious temple they wentt to. and the political parties were completely missing. >> they're notth on the ground. there was nothing. >> there was nothing. it wasng a laid waste landscape. i think for those of us in new york or in san francisco or in chicago or in denver who live in the world of, let's say, the educated professional class, we haven't felt that as much, because c we have the instituti of careers and of each other. there's kind of more of a community, i would say, even if it's not always o the most pleasantnt one. and this is why -- >> i try not to take that personally. >> note talking about anyone here. it's one reason why i feel as if, if the left can build a multiracial working class, which is an institution in itself, so
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many of the things we're talking about, theywe won't go away. in fact they'll remain trenchant. but we'll be doing it in an atmosphere in which we can actually talk about real problems instead of continuing fight hopeless wars. >> i think that george and heather are going to sign books, right? >> yeah. >>e okay. why don't you give a round of applause. george packerr and heather mcghee. [ applause ] >> thank you all so much. and chris hayes. the brooklyn book festival continues now on book tv. >> good evening. well, afternoon, almost evening. i'm the associate director of public programs andir exhibitio at the schomberg center for researchla in black culture. for those who don't't know, the

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