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Don Lemon Tonight
Misinformation Killing Americans and American Democracy; President Biden with New Child Care Package; Kevin McCarthy Maintains His Relationship with Trump; Joe Biden Asking Trump's Help is Far from Happening; Critical Race Theory Misunderstood by Many Americans. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired July 15, 2021 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Thank you for watching and giving us the opportunity. It's time now for Don Lemon Tonight with its big star, D. Lemon.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Did you hear me screaming a minute ago?
LEMON: I got all the way up here because I had to tape something earlier and I thought I left my jacket in this studio. I got here just a minute ago and went. And I had to run downstairs in order to get my jacket.
CUOMO: I'm very impressed you are able to do that.
LEMON: I thought you would hear me because it was loud. So, how are you feeling?
CUOMO: Better than I deserve.
LEMON: Yes? We've been talking a lot about the vaccines about vaccine misinformation about all the -- about FDA approval, and on and on. We've been doing some research on that. And I think a lot, I think listen, it's important obviously that the FDA approves the vaccines.
But everything that I'm reading saying that the FDA approval doesn't really matter that much. What matters is the efficacy and that the emergency use authorization actually came through the FDA and that what matters is efficacy and people put too much, it's actually become a talking point for people who are putting too much emphasis on FDA approval when the FDA approval really doesn't matter as much as people think. What matters is the efficacy, and the vaccines are effective.
CUOMO: Forty-nine percent of people who haven't been vaccinated say it being FDA approved would matter.
LEMON: No, I don't believe that.
CUOMO: That makes it matter.
LEMON: I think that's an excuse. I think that's --
CUOMO: That's what the number is.
LEMON: I know. But I tried to argue you the numbers the other night and you are saying I was perception. And so maybe that's part of perception as well.
CUOMO: No. What are you talking about?
LEMON: I was trying to give you facts the other night and you said what mattered was that the facts didn't really matter, it was perception, it was reality, it was a whole thing. Whatever, I don't want to -- whatever.
LEMON: But it's the same thing about this. The fact of the matter is that the efficacy is what makes -- what makes a difference when it comes to the vaccine not someone's idea about FDA approval when there is no research or facts to back it up.
So, maybe 49 percent believe that, but what they are believing is not actually the truth and our job is to tell people the truth about the vaccine and that is effective.
CUOMO: The truth is, nothing gets FDA approval without efficacy. So --
LEMON: That's not -- that's not true.
CUOMO: You can't get FDA approval if you can't show that a vaccine is effective.
LEMON: Well, you can get the emergency authorization.
CUOMO: That's not approval.
LEMON: OK. Right.
CUOMO: That's an EUA. They are different --
LEMON: There are different -- emergency use authorization.
LEMON: Yes. That's what I just said to you a minute ago.
CUOMO: So, the people do -- listen, Don, your ability to speak is amazing. Your ability to listen is limited, OK? LEMON: No, I'm trying to tell you.
CUOMO: You are like, yes, but you must listen as well.
LEMON: Yes. OK.
CUOMO: Efficacy is --
LEMON: Many people interpret the lack of FDA approval to mean that the vaccines have not been properly tested and are there for a suspect. But this is a misrepresentation of the facts.
CUOMO: I don't disagree with that. Just because -- I'll do this way. Just because something hasn't received FDA approval yet doesn't mean it's bad. But if it has received FDA approval, it means you can count on it as good.
LEMON: Does that mean it's good?
CUOMO: And that's why you have 49 percent of people. If it's been FDA approved, it better be good otherwise you can't trust that whole --
LEMON: But does that mean it's good for everyone? I just, look, I just think that -- I think that is, that has become, it's an escape mechanism. I don't want to get the vaccine. I have hesitancy about the vaccine or I just want to have my political angle on this vaccine. I don't want to tell people, so therefore I am going to say that if it's not FDA approved, therefore I'm not going to get it. I don't believe it. I don't believe --
CUOMO: They have better reasons than that for politics.
LEMON: Well, but I just don't believe -- I don't believe that if all of a sudden this was FDA approved starting yesterday or starting tomorrow that people would run out and say, it's fine now. I think the next excuse would be the next excuse not to get the vaccine.
CUOMO: Well, look, the numbers are suggestive, and I do think it is odd that you have -- put it this way. I've never heard of any other conversation we've had about any drug that wasn't FDA approved about whether or should be mandated, that everybody should take it, and that this is something you have to do now.
I've never heard of that before with something that wasn't FDA approved. I know we are in a pandemic, but I'm saying it's just a box they could check.
CUOMO: Why not remove it? It's just paperwork at this point. I think that the biggest problem you have with people not taking this vaccine is misinformation.
CUOMO: And I think that the biggest problem is that the people spreading it benefit from it.
LEMON: I'm going to agree with you on that. So, I think that we should stop saying or people should start saying it's not FDA. That's B.S. Misinformation is the main thing. I think that's what needs to be --
CUOMO: I think it's both. I think it's both.
LEMON: I don't -- yes, I don't believe that. But I got to go.
CUOMO: I want you. I'm leaving. I'm leaving. You can't go, I'm leaving. I love you, D. Lemon.
LEMON: What ass. Love you too, I'll talk to you soon.
OK. This is Don Lemon Tonight. And there we go, every night, this is what we do. But I'm glad we do that because this is what you should be doing, discussing it with people whether you agree or disagree, you know.
And I'm going to be blunt here, OK. I'm going to be blunt, and I want you to listen to me. Misinformation is killing us. Not just killing us, it's killing our democracy, literally killing us.
The fact is people who are refusing to be vaccinated, who are listening to the lies and the misinformation are propelling the spread of the virus. A virus that kills. Misinformation is killing us. Misinformation is killing us. Just ask the surgeon general.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VIVEK MURTHY, U.S SURGEON GENERAL: Millions of people don't have access to accurate information right now because on social media platforms and other tech platforms, we are seeing the rampant spread of misinformation and its costing people their lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And we know we're hole out of misinformation is coming from, don't we? It's coming from some in the GOP putting owning the lips ahead of lies. We realize of their own supporters. Like the QAnon congresswoman who compared COVID vaccine outreach to Nazi Arab brownshirts, like another member of Congress calling vaccinators, quote, "needle Nazis."
Like the crowd cheering at that big conservative jamboree over the weekend, cheering the fact that the Biden administration fell short of its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of adults by July 4th. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX BERENSON, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Because clearly, they were hoping, the government was hoping they could sort of sucker 90 percent of the population into getting vaccinated, and it isn't happening, right? There's a younger people --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, CNN's Donie O'Sullivan talked to some folks at CPAC about why they are refusing vaccines. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN REPORTER: Do know any people who got sick or died from the virus?
UNKNOWN: I know three people who got it and died, but you know it, I know people who got cancer and died too.
O'SULLIVAN: So, you know three people who died from coronavirus, and you won't get the vaccine?
UNKNOWN: No, like I said, I don't need the vaccine.
O'SULLIVAN: Have you guys gotten vaccinated?
UNKNOWN: Won't do it.
O'SULLIVAN: Can I ask why you chose not to?
UNKNOWN: I'm allergic to a lot of things, the chemicals and stuff like that. And freedom. You get to choose. If you can have an abortion and choose your body, I should be able to choose if I get a shot.
O'SULLIVAN: How about you, sir?
UNKNOWN: I have heart problems.
UNKNOWN: So, I don't feel that it's -- there is not enough data on it to warn me doing it, got away a little bit and see how everything works out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, they have pre-existing conditions which makes more susceptible to the virus. OK, listen. Your body your choice. I said it before. People who are vaccinated aren't the ones in hospitals, though. They're not the ones who are dying. If you are not vaccinated, you are right in the sight of this virus, especially if you have pre- existing commit conditions.
And giving the more contagious Delta variant, it's really a chance to take hold by doing that. Misinformation is killing us. Misinformation is killing us, and it is killing our democracy. The big lie is alive and well, and if you are telling yourself, it's all in the past, here's the proof that it's living and breathing right now today.
Kevin McCarthy kissing the ring, getting his marching orders from the undisputed leader of the GOP, the big liar at his bed Bedminster, New Jersey golf club, like he did when he scurries to Mar-a-Lago after the bloody insurrection at the United States Capitol. The insurrection fueled by the big lie.
A source is telling CNN that the meeting today didn't include any discussion of the insurrection, or the select committee about to investigate the insurrection. Sure didn't. After all, Kevin McCarthy knows exactly what his boss wants him to do.
Remember Michael Cohen, he told us the former president doesn't give orders, people who work for him just know what he wants. And Kevin McCarthy works for that guy. So, he's got to know what he wants. After his meeting with his boss today, McCarthy turned around and headed to the White House for a dinner where President Joe Biden welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The guests including Hillary Clinton, and you will remember that new book from the Washington Post reporter's Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, "I Alone Can Fix It," quotes that the former president in an Oval Office meeting calling Chancellor Merkel that b-word and there is more tonight from the bombshell book.
The authors describe the scene where the then president is watching TV on January 6th happy about the crowds and MAGA hats and waving Trump flags at the capitol, quoting from the book, "he thought this is cool. He was happy, recalled one aide who was with Trump that afternoon. Then when it turned violent, he thought, crap."
So, sources telling CNN's Jamie Gangel that he wasn't worried about people getting hurt. He wasn't worried that it would make him look bad. He was worried, I should say, that it would make him look bad. And it sounds like he may not have been the only one.
The authors write this about Ivanka Trump, as soon as she saw on television in her second-floor office that the rioters were inside the capitol Ivanka Trump said to her aides, I'm going down to my dad. This has to stop. She spent several hours walking back and forth to the oval trying to persuade the president to be stronger in telling supporters that he stood with law enforcement and ordering them to disperse. OK. Whatever.
They go on to quote presidential adviser, the presidential adviser saying that the president's daughter was described as like a stable pony brought in the calm to calm down and agitated racehorse. I don't know, sounds like reputation laundry. Maybe reputation dry cleaning.
Let's not forget that Ivanka Trump tweeted then deleted this on January 6th, calling the insurrectionists, quote, "American patriots." Her dad putting out a statement today responding to the books reporting that the chairman of the joint chiefs General Mark Milley was so shaken by Trump's refusal to concede that he worried he might attempt a coup.
Well, it's not so much a statement. More like a schoolyard insult. Quote, "if I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley. I totally didn't do, it but if I did, this is how I do it."
So, these new books make the case that the threat to our democracy is not in the rearview mirror. It is clear and present danger. The lies and misinformation they're killing us and they're threatening our democracy.
But President Joe Biden speaking on his new child tax credit that will put hundreds of dollars in parent's pockets every month says its efforts like this that prove democracy can still deliver.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are proving that democracy can deliver for people and deliver in a timely way. Saving lives, improving lives, helping fill record setting recovery. Giving working families a fighting chance again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, what if the president came out and urged his supporters to get vaccinated? The former president. With that count as misinformation that's killing us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MURTHY: We see misinformation literally costing us our loved ones, costing us lives. All of us have to ask how we can be more accountable and responsible for the information that we share?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: The surgeon general issuing a stark warning about the dangers of health and misinformation as COVID cases are on the rise. Dr. Vivek Murthy calling misinformation a serious threat to the public health and saying it's convincing Americans not to get vaccinated. They are believing its myths and myths about, excuse me, they are believing in myths about the COVID vaccines. The world is warning reach the ears it needs to reach. That is the question.
I want to bring in now Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster and communications strategist. Frank, thank you so much. And I'm glad you are here to talk about this.
Let's talk about our misinformation nation that we are living in right now. Some elements of the other -- of the right and we know who they are. They are leading people to make life and death decisions not based on facts, but on party lines. So, give me your take on this. Perhaps it should not be based in politics. What do you think?
FRANK LUNTZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND POLLSTER: It shouldn't be, it can't be. If you want people who have not been vaccinated to get the vaccine, and you have to give them credible evidence, you have to provide them with accurate facts which is not always happening here. You have to acknowledge their hesitations and concerns and respect them for it and remind them that it's not just themselves who are making decision, it's their family, their friends, the people they come in contact with.
The fact is those people who are getting the Delta variant right now, the fact is that virtually all of them have not been vaccinated. And so, you are putting you, your family, your friends and your community in jeopardy by refusing to do this. But we get it. We get why you don't want to do. And we are just asking you if the evidence and the facts are 51, 49, please see it on the side of being careful, being cautious and getting the vaccine. That that's the right decision.
So, I am telling people, don't shout at those who aren't vaccinated. Don't insult them. Empathize with them and then try to provide that information in a calm, rational way to make a difference. We will all be better off if they make the right decision, and frankly, we are all going to be worse off if you've got people you want to protect.
LEMON: So, a couple things here, the whole idea about it not being, it shouldn't be political. But we know who made it political. OK, fine. And continues to. So, that -- that is really the issue here. Because I can sit here every night or the White House, or you know, the folks and our health experts can say these are the facts, this is why you need to get it, everything you just said, Frank, and then you have someone who has a very big microphone, telling people otherwise.
So, how do we do all those things? And quite frankly, if someone is putting my light at risk, my loved ones lives at risk, my colleagues lives that risk, don't you want to yell at them and say hey, wake up.
LUNTZ: Don, I'll make it easy for you because of where I come from and the people I support or have supported and worked for, I'll make it easy for you.
Joe Biden should specifically asked Donald Trump publicly, publicly, to join him. And he will say to come to the White House and be filmed saying Mr. President, Mr. President Trump, you develop this vaccine in record pace, and you deserve credit for that. Because we would not be able to vaccinate people if it wasn't for you, Donald Trump.
And then he should say Mr. Trump, tell your people right now, right now that you developed the vaccine, your administration. You know it's safe, you took it, your wife took it, your kids have taken it. Now it's time for the American people to take it. Now it's time for your people to take it.
Actually, I would ask Joe Biden right now not to call him out, but to call on him to do the greatest public service he could. I get Trump's e-mails every day, and as I said I'll make it easy for you. Every day they talk about the election being stolen. If he would just spend one day, just one day asking his people to make the right decisions, to read the evidence to see the facts, this is not the government telling them what to do. This is not Washington, D.C. or some bureaucrat, this is only Donald Trump, the person they supported and voted for who himself has taken the jab.
I'm in London right now so I'll use their language and I did it, and I ask for you to consider doing it as well.
LEMON: OK. Let me jump in here. Because Joe Biden has done some of what you said. He has given the former president credit on a public stage in a press conference more than once about developing the vaccine. Now, as far as the part about getting him to come to the White House and, you know, film him, whatever, do you actually think Donald Trump would do that?
LUNTZ: I don't. I actually don't, and that's the tragedy of it. But it would put pressure on him to Mar-a-Lago, wherever he happens to be, instead of highlighting anti-vaxxers, that he highlighted the fact that he got this -- people need role models.
And Don, you know this, and I think in the past you talked about it. The importance of role models in society, role models in politics, people who are on the right path who do the right thing, and we point it out, we highlight it because we spend so much time being critical, being negative, tearing people down, instead we need to build people up we're doing the right thing for the right reasons.
And that is what you challenge President Trump to do. You challenge him to save the lives of his own voters. Not because they have to, but because they want to. And that's key. If it looks like a mandate requirement, then they won't do it. And the other group, because we are forgetting them, because it's easier to talk about the political group, it's the young people. Eighteen to 29-year-olds who think they won't get the vaccine --
LEMON: And they are getting it. They're getting -- they're becoming ill, they are becoming susceptible to COVID, some of them, young people as well. Sorry, go ahead, Frank, we have a delay. Go on.
LUNTZ: And so that's what we need. We need those -- that -- those young people to know that they are as vulnerable as their parents are. And in fact, I will say on your show for the first-time, the group that I really want to get involved right now before the school starts to open up is AARP because the strongest relationship, familiar relationship, isn't husband and wife. Isn't brother sister or parent child, it's grandparent, grandchildren because, Don, they both have the same enemy.
Let's get grandparents all their grandkids right now and say before you go to school, I want you to do your grandmother a favor, I'm going to ask you, I won't make you eat my tuna noodle casserole if you will agree to be vaccinated, and grandkids can turn down their grandparents.
LUNTZ: A, it has an important role to play and the other group we need to focus on are pharmacists. Because there are a lot of people, we know their pharmacists as well as their doctor, and the pharmacist getting involved, sending out a 60-second video to people who use them, that makes a difference.
So, Don, I'm trying to find solutions. And we've got a project that's starting right now that will be advising anyone who's listening, including the current White House because in reality, we now know partisan differences. So, if I can provide information, language for the White House if they're willing to use. Good for them and it's the right thing to do.
LEMON: Well, I will tell you, I know exactly how this will go. I'm older than I look, only by like a year or so we. Sleepy Joe couldn't get it done, he had to call me in to get people vaccinated because he couldn't do his job. So why would Joe Biden open himself up to that? And that is exactly the way that Fox propaganda network would cover it as well.
I just think that we've reached the point, we've gone, listen, I agree with what you are saying and in a perfect world that would be amazing. I think that's how it should work, but I don't think that we are at that point right now. We are too far divided. It doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying, but that's where we are.
I've got to run, though. Thank you, Frank.
LEMON: Thank you, Frank. I will see you soon. Thank you very much.
The same day that we're learning the top military leaders fear the president could attempt to coup, his party is proving they are -- they're willing just to be loyal to him. Stay with us.
LEMON: Kevin McCarthy is House Minority Leader and he is scurry -- scurrying to Bedminster today to kiss the ring, and well, allegedly to discuss the 2022 midterms. This, as he is still weighing which House Republicans, he'll choose for the select House committee to investigate the capitol insurrection. The visit coming in the wake of the new report that the chairman of
the joint chief of staff, General Mark Milley was concerned that the then president might attempt to coup following his election loss.
So, joining me now to discuss, CNN political commentators Ana Navarro and Charlie Dent.
Good evening to both of you. Good to see you.
Charlie, McCarthy is going to Bedminster, he's going there to kiss the ring, getting his marching orders the day that after that we're learning about leaders of our military, that they are concerned about a coup attempt by Trump. Speaking about it on Sean Hannity tonight, I want you to listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): These were some of the actions and discussions I had President Trump. Talking about the border, talking about our success in the last election, talking our first six months and fund-raising. And we've talked about you a little bit too, Sean, and that was all good.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS: OK. Well, I don't want to know that part. We'll see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, look, it's clear that Kevin McCarthy and the GOP leadership have made a very calculated political decision that they need to be close to Donald Trump in order to win the midterms. And, look, they just raised $45 million. The National Republican Congressional Committee raised $45 million in the second quarter. That's an incredible hall. It's massive.
And so, that part seems to be working for them. But they are not calculating here, is that they are limiting their growth potential by tying themselves so closely to Donald Trump. You know, I don't know how they are going to win back these swing districts where Trump is seriously underwater, in the suburban areas. So, they made this calculation, when you think --
LEMON: They're trying hard. Charlie, I'll tell you really quickly, and a let you finish, they're trying hard with the critical race theory because they think that appeals to suburban parents, educated people, maybe it's having an effect, I don't know if it shows in the polling, but you are saying they're underwater. Sorry to cut you off, but go on.
DENT: Yes. But the bottom line is, it's even more, you know, mind- boggling that he would have a meeting with former President Trump on the same day that we are hearing General Milley, you know, talk about equating the burning of the Reichstag in 1933 by the Nazis to, you know, to the insurrection. I mean, we heard this before.
I mean, it's just -- the news gets worse about the insurrection about the attempt to really prevent the peaceful transfer of power. So, again, this is a political calculation, they think it will work, they don't need to win many seats, but I think they are really taking a great risk. It's a gamble and clearly, it's not good for the long-term prospects of the party.
LEMON: I see you are raring to get in Ana, go ahead.
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think that Kevin McCarthy has mastered the art of sucking up to Trump. He realizes that he is dealing with a man who has a fragile little ego to go along with his little hands, and he has got to constantly be soothing and stroking that ego.
So, I think look, on the one hand, Kevin McCarthy does not want Trump as an enemy. He doesn't want Trump meddling in primary races, in hard to win districts that Republicans may be able to flip or win unless Donald Trump gets behind somebody who will win the primary that cannot win a general. And I also don't think it's a coincidence, and again, it's about the fragile little ego that needs to be constantly stroked.
I don't think it's a coincidence that on the day that Kevin McCarthy, or the night that Kevin McCarthy is going to be at a small dinner with Angela Merkel, who Trump dislikes, and Hillary Clinton, who Trump loathes, and Joe Biden, who is the president of the United States who beat Trump. Kevin McCarthy had to go kiss the ring and soothe, you know, Trump's nerves.
And what he has, what he is trying to portray as like the White House an exile in Bedminster. We saw him use a podium, have all these flags try to make it look very White House-ish. So, I think it has a lot to do with that. You know, I think Trump was going to throw a jealousy tantrum like a spoiled child.
LEMON: Yes. Bottom line this for me, Charlie, you know, you hear what Ana says on the very same day as this, and they are meeting, and they are not talking about the insurrection. What they're talk -- they are strategizing.
DENT: Of course. Look, there's no question that Kevin McCarthy feels that he needs to keep Donald Trump close to him, he needs them hit more as an ally than an enemy in order to win. Kevin McCarthy wants to be speaker so badly that, you know, he knows that if Trump turns on him, that a significant number of House Republicans will, too.
And you remember what happened to Kevin McCarthy in 2015 when John Boehner stepped down? He was taken down when he try to ascend to the speaker all by many on the hard right of the GOP can't. And so, Kevin McCarthy is doing everything he can to maintain that support from that wing of the party, I think that's what this is diary about.
LEMON: Thank you very much, Charlie and Ana. I appreciate it. So, he says there is nothing wrong with a patriotic education, but the
creator of the 1619 Project takes issue with that. Can critical race theory and patriotism coexist? Stay with us.
LEMON: So, here on the show we have explained the critical race theory really is and how it's being used and manipulated by the right as a wedge issue to rile up their base.
It's led to protests at school board meetings and efforts by Republicans in several states to try to ban the theory. The intense debate striking at the heart of what's vitally important to so many parents in our country. And that is our children, and what we teach them about our nation's history.
So, joining me now, New York Times opinion columnist, Ross Douthat. He has written several recent articles about education and how we teach kids about racism. And I found the last one really fascinating. So, Ross, thank you so much, I appreciate you appearing on the program.
ROSS DOUTHAT, OP-ED COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you for having me, Don.
LEMON: I want to start with one of your articles. Why a patriotic education can be valuable? You talk about, first, teaching kids a patriotic foundation that focuses on great achievements from both black and white heroes, and then introducing the ugly side of our history, warts and all. Why is that the best way to teach kids about our history?
DOUTHAT: Well, I mean, the argument in the column is basically that if you think of, you know, if you think of the history you learn as something like the history of your family, right? Like, as you come to maturity, as you become an adult, you're going to want to know the whole history of your family. You know, warts and all. Right? You're going to want to know about the scandals in the past and the things it didn't work, the things that didn't go well, but that's all going to be easier to learn if there's a basic foundation of love and affection.
And that's easier in certain ways with the family because, you know, except in really terrible circumstances you sort of, you know, you're in community with your family. You can't help loving them for better or for worse. Right? But history is distant. Obviously, it still echoes today but, you know, the founding of the United States, the Civil War, all of these things to kids especially are unimaginably distant in many ways.
So, just like with your family, I think you want to start on a foundation of, not even so much love as appreciation. You want to be able to say, these are things that people did in the past, that helped found the United States, established it as a country, make it a better country over time that are admirable, are fascinating, are interesting, are cool.
And that doesn't mean, you know, like, you can tell a five-year-old about the Civil War, right? It doesn't mean that you don't -- it doesn't mean like you scrub the whole history, but if you tell the five-year old about the Civil War, the story is going to be about how Ulysses S. Grant was an incredibly heroic general, right?
And similarly, if you are telling a little kid about slavery and about, you know, the experience of black Americans, the story is going to be about Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and all the way down to Martin Luther King. A story of coming up from slavery. The escape, the triumph over slavery.
And then you know, the darkness, the fact that it took hundreds of years and there was incredible cruelty and suffering along the way. I think more naturally comes in as kids get older. And so, that's basically the argument.
LEMON: Well --
DOUTHAT: And you are trying to establish a foundation, and part of it too, is you want kids to be interested in the past, right. I think one of the dangerous when people for admirable reason set out to teach sort of, you know, the absolute whole truth is you can establish a sense among kids that the past is just sort of a long list of terrible crimes, and before you get to the crimes, you want people, you want kids to find it --
LEMON: But isn't there a balance. I'm just wondering. I'm wondering that may be OK, I guess for, quite honestly, for white kids, but for black kids, I learned very early on about slavery. I went to an all- black Catholic school, and we, you know, the -- some of the first things we learned about history was about slavery and about, you know, the degradation of slavery. And part of our project.
I don't know how old you are, but part of my homework was to watch roots. And that certainly it wasn't a pretty picture. And I'm OK. All of the black kids in my class who learned about it were certainly OK.
Listen, I want to ask, because I think Nikole Hannah-Jones has a really good response to this. I asked her, you know, she's a 1619 Project creator, I asked her about your idea, and this is what she said to me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: It must be an amazing luxury to hold off on the painful stuff until the right moment. Because I can tell you, as a black American, as indigenous Americans, as Asian Americans, we can't hold off on those painful parts because they explain so much about our very existence, and what became the United States.
So, how does one teach about black patriots and not say that the war that black people were fighting was actually against their countrymen to be recognized as equal citizens?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And my response to her, Ross, was, so how then does one teach about Harriet Tubman, and not tell the reason for what she did? Why she did what she did?
LEMON: And about the underground railroad? Doesn't she have a point?
DOUTHAT: Of course. No doubt. The argument is not that you don't tell the kids what Harriet Tubman was doing. The argument is that, you know, -- I mean, the story of roofs itself, it's a story of, it's a story with an arc. Right?
It's the story of, you know, similar to the black national anthem. Right? It's a story where you are telling a story about suffering, but you are emphasizing the idea that suffering is something that heroic people have fought, and partially overcome. I mean, honestly, I think the story of black Americans is the most heroic story in the entire American tapestry.
And of course, you are telling the kids why Harriet Tubman was doing the thing that she was doing and why she had to do them, but the point of starting with her is to start with the story of heroism, and to start with agency, and to start with the idea that there are people in the past who we want to identify with.
I don't think my -- I don't think argument is that far off from actually from what, you know, some of the things that my colleague Nikole wrote at the beginning of the 1619 Project. Right?
DOUTHAT: That this is a story about how black Americans were, you know, the people who sort of, who sort of, called the country to become what its founding documents said that it was supposed to be.
LEMON: OK. I want you to hold that thought, because I'm going to keep you around because we have much more to talk about. This conversation not over yet. More with Ross, next.
LEMON: So, we are back now with Ross Douthat, the New York Times opinion columnist. Ross, thank you for joining us again.
You can see that structural racism exists, and that there is strong evidence for it, but you do say it's a progressive solutions being offered that are fueling the backlash. How is that? DOUTHAT: Well, a lot of what's happening that is driving controversy
in schools right now is not teaching that racism exists and has consequences today. It's a much more specific sort of theory of how you basically deal with contemporary issues where you have a group of rioters, thinkers, and educators, sort of influenced by ideas and critical race theory, but really, the constellation of ideas is somewhat separate from it, I think.
They basically have a pedagogic, a way of teaching where they are encouraging kids to sort of, think about, you know, you'll have, like, you know, the most extreme example is this woman named Tema Okun, right, who has sort of this curriculum where she will do workshops for teachers and say, well, we need to think of all of these things, like the worship of the written word as like sort of features of a toxic whiteness. Right?
There is like this kind of misuse of whiteness as a category where you are essentially putting things like meritocracy and like, you know, a whole host of things that I think most parents assume schools are supposed to be generally in favor of into some kind of basket of white privilege, whiteness, and then you're encourage kids, white kids to have, sort of, in effect, cultivate a kind of sense of their own whiteness.
With the idea being that, if you encourage that, these kids will then be able to sort of recognize their own white privilege and transcend it. I don't think it's clear that that works. I don't think it's at all clear but sort of constructing a stronger sense of racial identity in order to make people feel a sense of their own privilege and guilt is actually effective at doing this.
And I think this is a -- but that's a lot of where the controversy is. right? It's about these programs that aren't teaching about the history of racism, aren't even teaching about sort of contemporary effects --
LEMON: I mean, we have to --
DOUTHAT: -- they are specifically saying, you know, white kids, especially need to think of themselves in these categories and in these ways. And that's I think that is a big part of what people are reacting against.
LEMON: Yes. Listen, I don't know if in fact that is happening, but I mean, Ross, we should say that critical race theory is not being taught. It's not part of the curriculum for elementary or grade school students. It's something that is taught in law schools. Just so we know -
DOUTHAT: No, that's not -- but that's not exactly right. Critical race theory is an incredibly influential set of ideas that has solid influence in education, schools, and elsewhere, and again, it's not -- it's not the foundational text of critical race theory that are being taught in primary schools, but curricula are being developed that do reflect ideas, that come out of critical race theory in some attenuated sense.
And it's passing through figures like Robin DiAngelo and Ibram Kendi, these are prominent public intellectuals/sort of, activists/authors, so it's being popularized, it's moving out of the academy. But there is a real set of ideas here that is different from we're just -- we're teaching more about Jim Crow. We're teaching about the Tulsa massacre. There is a distinction between teaching more about racial history, and the history of segregation, and these kinds of programs of, you know, how we are fighting whiteness in schools.
LEMON: And you think that critical race theory is teaching kids that whiteness is bad? Because that's not part of what critical race theory is. Maybe that's part of an agenda that some teachers may have --
DOUTHAT: No. Critical race theory sets, I mean, one, is a very complicated field, right?
DOUTHAT: Critical race theory emphasizes the structural effects of racism that are not about individual racists. Right? It's about sort of the long-term consequences.
LEMON: Institutions and -- right.
DOUTHAT: But then there are thinkers within critical race theory who argue that in order to break these patterns you need to force white people to reckon with the extent to which they themselves benefit from the structures. So, then you are back to individualizing it, and when that kind of idea is being turned into curriculum for fifth graders, I think it's very easy for it to go wrong.
At best, I think you could say it's a froth way of teaching. And you shouldn't be surprised that parents -- that one, it maybe that done -- you know, there may be situations where it's done well, but there may also be situations where it's done very badly, and it wouldn't be surprising that parents would be a little bit, shall we say, puzzled by having their kids come home and say, you know, today we talked about how, you know, meritocracy is connected to, you know, white privilege and a toxic whiteness. Right?
DOUTHAT: Like you can see where people where the backlash would come from, I think.
LEMON: Ross, thank you so much. I appreciate you joining us. And we'll have you back. We'll continue this conversation. Because it's certainly not going anywhere anytime soon. Thank you so much.
DOUTHAT: Not for little while. Thank you so much, Don.
LEMON: He feared the then president would attempt a coup, and now we're hearing about the final conversation between General Mark Milley and the former president who talked about the wild protest coming on January 6th.