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How Will Democrats Pay For The Proposed Spending?; Tiki Torch Stunt; Will Tiki Torches Ignite Virginia Governor's Race?; Virginia Governor's Race Down To The Wire; How Should The Media Cover Trump?; Does Antiracism Betray Black America. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired October 30, 2021 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Billionaires one, millionaires zero. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Congressional Democrats continue trying to resolve their own differences in order to pass two huge spending packages, the $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan which enjoys bipartisan support, and the larger Build Back Better Plan now priced at roughly $1.75 trillion.
To pass the ladder, Democrats need every member of the party in the Senate. But Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema is opposed to conventional tax increases on corporations and has only recently signaled openness to raising taxes for some high earners, according to Bloomberg. And of course, West Virginia's Joe Manchin seemed wary of a proposed billionaire's tax saying, quote, "I don't like the connotation that we're targeting different people. There are only 700 or so Americans in that category."
Both holdouts do seem open to a 15 percent minimum tax on corporations with the highest reported profits, but how will Democrats pay for the rest of what remains in the bills. The framework announced on Thursday still not finalized includes a new surtax of five percentage points on income above $10 million, and that additional three percentage points on income above $25 million. That's not going to affect most billionaires whose income tends to be low, and whose wealth usually resides mostly in assets.
In fact, as Neil Irwin noted in the New York Times this week, "The most striking thing about the tax provisions that made it into the framework President Biden announced on Thursday, is how they preserve the ability of business owners to accumulate vast fortunes with minimal taxation, while extracting more money from the highest-paid people those owners employ. It is these working rich as the investor Clifford Asness has called them, who would pay much of the bill for the expanded social welfare system."
The billionaires' tax was similar to ideas espoused by my next guest, Senator Elizabeth Warren, during her presidential bid. Supporters at her campaign rallies routinely chanted 2 cents in recognition of her desire to make America's wealthiest families pay 2 cents on every dollar of wealth above $50 million each year. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): We can do all of that on 2 cents.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): 2 cents! 2 cents! 2 cents! 2 cents! 2 cents! 2 cents!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: So where is it all headed? No one better to ask than Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who joins me now. By the way, she's just published a brand new children's book, it's called "Pinkie Promises." We'll talk about that in a moment.
Senator, tax strategies for which you were often criticized by Democratic opponents in the 2020 presidential campaign suddenly gained resonance this week. What changed?
WARREN: Well, I think part of it is Washington is catching up with where the American people are. And that, for a long time, what I've been talking about is very popular across the country. And let me point out, it's actually both halves. I talked about the wealth tax on individuals, the bazillion heirs, and a minimum corporate tax based on book profits for the billionaire corporations.
You know, the Amazons of the world that report $10 billion in profits and turn around and pay nothing in taxes. So, I've been pushing both of these ideas. Looks like for sure one is going to make it into this package. The second one may not make it into this package this time. But you know how I look at this. The American people get it.
They understand that the tax system is rigged, and they are sick of it. And they are finally pushing Washington to do something. So, I'm still fighting to try to get both of them in. But even if we don't, this idea of taxing billionaires on their wealth, it's not going away.
SMERCONISH: I thought of you when I saw a tweet from Elon Musk. I'll put it up on the screen. He said, quote, "Eventually, they run out of other people's money and then they come for you." And I was thinking of that sort of iconic, I think, it was 2011 campaign moment. It's Liz Warren getting ready to run for the Senate. You're at a coffee klatch and you say, you didn't build that. What would be your response to Elon Musk?
WARREN: You know, come on. Right now, just let's be clear where we stand on taxes. The 99 percent in America, last year paid about 7.2 percent of their total wealth and taxes. That top one-tenth of 1 percent where Elon Musk lives. They paid about 3.2 percent, that's less than half as much.
If Elon Musk were paying at the same rate as the rest of Americans on their wealth, then Elon Musk and his kind could be funding a huge part of what we need in America. Universal childcare, universal pre-K, Home-and Community-Based Care, expanded health care, investments in housing, and a big, big flak in fighting back against climate change. The folks at the top, they've been freeloading for long enough.
SMERCONISH: Well, let's relive the moment to which I referred a couple of seconds of it, and then I'll ask a follow-up question. Roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory up there, good for you. But I want to be clear, you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of is paid for.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
WARREN: You hired workers, the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: By the way, I've always wanted to ask. You look like you're winging it, are you extemporaneous there?
WARREN: Totally. I wasn't even a candidate for Senate -- at Senate quite yet. And it was just the question came in, and I told him how I felt about it. And it's how I still feel about it, Michael. I mean, Elon Musk, you made a bazillion dollars, good for you. But do keep in mind, the rest of us invested in all the things that were necessary to have a foundation so that you could do that.
And no one would --
SMERCONISH: OK, but let me go back to his point.
WARREN: ... (INAUDIBLE) which is a fair share.
SMERCONISH: Here's the fundamental question. Is there any limiting principle in your philosophy? Is there any moral or constitutional constraint against the government taking all private property? Because that's what he's saying. He's saying, first, they're coming for me, and then they're coming for you.
WARREN: Look. What he is saying is, it's OK to tax everybody else, just don't tax me. We've been taxing Americans for more than 100 years. And we've said, everybody puts in a portion. I believe taxation ought to be progressive, meaning, those at the top ought to be paying not just more in dollars, but actually a little larger share of what they've got.
They should be pitching it in so the next generation gets a chance. And the next generation after that, and the next generation after that. That's what hard working families across this country are doing. That's what teachers and firefighters are doing. That's what everyone else does. And Elon Musk rides on the back of that and pays a much smaller share. That's not right.
SMERCONISH: Is it possible to tax the assets of the wealthiest among us? I mean, what are you doing with art? What are you doing with someone who owns a patent? What are you doing with someone who owns a copyright? How do you assess annually, what has been the gain?
And by the way, Senator, look out next year, if they lose their tail, and now the government has to give money back for a paper loss.
WARREN: So, look, we have been valued. Let's start with the fact that about 60 percent of the wealth of those at the top is tied up in marketable securities. So, boy, that one is easy to value. Just look at your stock market quotes and we're done.
For a big hunk of the rest of it, it's already valued every year. Real estate? Are you kidding me? We already do that. Art, it's insured. And to be insured, we know what the valuation is, and so on through the assets.
Also, it's very small number of people. So -- and it works from year to year. If you had a Rembrandt last year, you ought to either have a Rembrandt this year, or at least have an equivalent amount of money or some other art. Look, it's a small number of people. It goes year by year and stays fairly steady.
This is something that we can put the IRS on people specialize in valuation, we can make it happen. And the consequence of this is that we have the money to invest in our children. We have the money to invest in our future. Roads and bridges crumbling around us, people going bankrupt over medical bills. Mamas who say, I can't go back to work because I can't find childcare.
We make those investments. And once again, we all get richer. If more women and and parents, daddies can participate in the workforce, that raises GDP for everyone. I want to --
SMERCONISH: OK. Come back --
WARREN: -- (INAUDIBLE) investments and that means Elon Musk has got to pay his part.
SMERCONISH: Come back to continue that conversation. Tell me quickly why a children's book, "Pinkie Promises."
WARREN: Because when I campaigned, I did about a bazillion pinkie promises with little girls. We would talk about all the things that girls do, including running for president. And when I dropped out of the race, I lost. I kept thinking about all these little girls.
So I wrote this book. For all the little girls, I had already done "Pinkie promises" for and all the little girls that is -- was my future Pinky promise to them and to their brothers, to their uncles. The reminder, there's a lot that girls can do.
SMERCONISH: Senator, thanks so much for being here.
WARREN: Good to be with you.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me at Smerconish. Go to my Facebook page. I'll read some responses in real time throughout the course of the program.
Cody says, "Personally, I think the Progressives are willing to take nothing rather than create around 2 million American jobs repairing the infrastructure. Everyone is crying that everything is hung up in transit, well fix the choke points." If I understand you, Cody, I think we should take the 1.2 and call it a win and continue then to have discussion about everything else that's in that larger bill. President Biden, I think had hoped by the time he landed in Rome, he'd have that one as a notch in his belt.
One more Catherine (ph) if we have time for it, do we? One more from Twitter? No more. OK.
We have plenty. She's just telling me I don't have time.
Up ahead, unable to tweet, former President Trump published a letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal. The outrage reaction made me wonder should the media ever censor a former president who may be his party's nominee in the future?
And at a campaign event for the Republican candidate for Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, the Lincoln Project showed up with tiki torches as a call-back to the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally. But the detainees actually torched the Democrat, Terry McAuliffe.
I want to know what you think. Go to my website right now at smerconish.com. Whose campaign did the Lincoln Project tiki torch stun help the most? Was it McAuliffe or was it Youngkin?
SMERCONISH: Election Day is Tuesday, all eyes are on the tight Virginia governor's race. And in the 11th-hour, the Lincoln Project added tiki torches to the mix. But will they burn the candidate they were trying to help?
On Friday, the anti-Trump group, the Lincoln Project sent people holding tiki torches to a campaign event for the Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin. The men reportedly approached Youngkin's bus saying we're all in for Glenn. In a statement, the Lincoln Project said, "Today's demonstration was our way of reminding Virginians what happened in Charlottesville four years ago, the Republican Party's embrace of those values and Glenn Youngkin's failure to condemn. If he will denounce Trump's assertion that the Charlottesville rioters possessed verifying qualities, we'll withdraw the tiki torches until then we'll be back." McAuliffe's campaign condemn this done, and the Virginia Democratic Party said the event was shameful and wrong. Youngkin is a political outsider who served as co-chief executive of the private equity firm Carlyle Group. He's running against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, former DNC chair who served as Virginia's governor from 2014 to 2018. Polls have them neck and neck. The latest from the Washington Post and The Schar School has no clear leader. McAuliffe at 49, Youngkin at 48.
In a state where Biden beat Trump by 10 percentage points, many are viewing the contest as a bellwether for Democrats in the midterms, and possibly beyond, and another referendum on Trumpism. Since getting the nomination, Youngkin has been keeping the former president at arm's length, but the torchbearers were as trying to force the issue.
Joining me now to discuss is Dr. Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, where he's a professor of politics. By the way, congratulations, Larry, on a 50- year association with UVA. I'm told that you began when you were age six.
I thought that Toni Morrison's "Beloved," was the 11th-hour intangible in this race. It turns out, it's tiki torches. So how do you see it? Who benefits?
DR. LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIV. OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Well, it was ill-advised. Let's say that, first of all, very ill- advised. Because right now, and maybe people outside Charlottesville don't know this. There's a major civil suit unfolding that will probably go on for weeks and weeks, where the Neo-Nazis, the Unite the Right Rally people are having to answer questions and undergo potential loss of funds and all the rest from those who were injured in the occurrences in August 2017. So they couldn't have picked the worst time.
Now, at the risk of somebody calling me a snowflake, I would say that was a triggering event to send people looking very much like the Neo- Nazis who passed a few yards that way on my lawn at the University of Virginia. They look just like them in the khaki pants and with the tiki torches. Bad timing, bad idea. I don't know that it will have a major effect on the campaign. I doubt it simply because so much is happening at the end.
SABATO: There are too many things to keep up with.
SMERCONISH: So, my gut check on it for what it's worth is the question, is it fraud or is it satire? Did they truly try to represent themselves as being associated with Youngkin or supporters of Youngkin? Or was it a use of satire, you know, trying to draw attention to what had gone on in the association and the words of Trump but maybe that's too much in the weeds.
I'll ask you a different question, what is the curse of the gubernatorial race that you and I spoke about on radio?
SABATO: Yes. This curse, which is long-lasting really started in 1977, when the candidate of the incumbent President Jimmy Carter, lost badly to a Republican. In other words, the candidate of the party represented in the White House lost the election for Virginia governor that took place a year after the presidential election.
And that has held firm every four years with only one exception, since 1977. The exception, by the way, was when Terry McAuliffe managed to beat it in 2013. That doesn't guarantee he can beat it twice.
SMERCONISH: Former President Donald Trump, a tele rally Monday night. Youngkin won't be involved in it, as I understand, but it occurs to me from a distance, Larry, that Youngkin has created the playbook. Even if he loses in a tight race, he's created a playbook for how you appeal to the Trump base, but still maintain a distance from the former president.
And my view is the Trump wants to be close enough to lay claim for the victory if it happens, but far enough away that he can say, well, it wasn't me because Youngkin never allowed me to come into Virginia. Talk about the Trump factor.
SABATO: Sure, it worries me, Michael, that you do, in fact, understand how Trump's mind works, because that's exactly right. What you just said is exactly right. He comes in not physically, but he comes in to make I think it's the fifth or sixth endorsement of Glenn Youngkin.
The day before the election, so if he wins, he can say look at the difference I made, they elected a Trump Republican. And if Youngkin loses, he's going to say, did you see how Youngkin avoided me? If only he had embraced me, he would have won. It's always about Trump. We all know that.
SMERCONISH: How big of an unforced error was what McAuliffe said in the debate relative to parents and schools.
SABATO: There was a big gaff (ph), no question about it. When he first said it, I didn't recognize it as the gaff, as large as it is turned out to be. You rarely do because a campaign, the opposition campaign has to seize upon a phrase or a sentence or a paragraph that they believe they can use politically.
And I have to say, smartly, the Youngkin campaign picked up that sentence and turned it into an attack on parents, supposedly, in a whole wide range of areas. This has been a campaign almost for school board here the last month, where Youngkin has been using issues that have disturbed conservatives and conservative parents for a long time. And it's worth to the extent I can see.
SMERCONISH: Democrats have thrown the whole kitchen sink in with McAuliffe. And a quick final comment and reaction from you, if I may. When I was trying cases, and representing a plaintiff in a civil action, I liked it when the defense table was loaded with lawyers and then it was just me with my client. Is it possible that bringing in Kamala Harris, bringing in President Biden, bringing in Obama, bringing in all of them and allowing, you know, Youngkin just to go out solo on the campaign trail benefits Youngkin in the end?
SABATO: Yes, it could very well. Look the call of had no choice. The Democrats in Washington --
SABATO: -- from President Biden to both houses in not being able to get together and actually past something have created the conditions that depresses Democrats. So McAuliffe is trying to get him revved up again and he brings in these top figures. But as you say, every time Youngkin comments on it, he says, look, it's just me over here. I want to -- I want people to get to know me. I'm the one who's going to be governor. And that has a lot of appeal for Republicans at least some Independence.
SMERCONISH: Totally plays into a David Goliath kind of thing. That was excellent. Thank you so much. Congratulations. Fifty more years.
SABATO: No chance. But thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying via my social media. Where does this come from, YouTube, I think. All right, that's cool. YouTube. "The Lincoln Project shot themselves in the foot, stupid move." Well, Brynn, that is the survey question today.
Look, let me just quickly react to that, Brynn actually. It should have been way over the top so that it was clear that it was satire. You just heard from Dr. Sabato, there's a civil case right now going on, pertaining to the Charlottesville incident. It just cuts too close to home. You got to go SNL. If you're going to do this and make it effective politically, otherwise, I agree with you.
Go to my website at smerconish.com. Now you're equipped to answer the survey question. "Whose campaign did the Lincoln Project tiki torch stunt help the most? Did they help McAuliffe? Did they help Youngkin?
Up ahead, the Wall Street Journal was hammered for publishing Donald Trump's letter to the editor which they then defend it.
But moving forward, there's going to be a dilemma for journalists. How do you cover Donald Trump?
Plus, is the anti-racism movement in this country so striking that it's actually hurting and infantilizing the people it's supposed to be helping? That's what Columbia Professor John McWhorter addresses in his brand new book, "Woke Racism." And he's here to explain.
SMERCONISH: This week a letter to the editor became a flashpoint for journalism because it was signed by a Palm Beach resident, former president and likely 2024 candidate Donald Trump. "The Wall Street Journal" seemed to have published it with little to no editorial input, not even punctuation fixes. To me the episode is indicative of the thorny issues that will confront the media as 45 starts to campaign to be 47. The "Journal" posted the letter under the headline "President Trump Responds to Pennsylvania's 2020 Election."
Pushing back against a journal editorial about the Keystone state results Trump wrote this, "Well, actually, the election was rigged, which you unfortunately, still haven't figured out."
He then launched into a familiar laundry list about -- quote -- unquote -- "voter fraud" which was filled with disinformation. It has so far spawned over 1,900 comments on the "Journal's" own Web site. Within a day, the "Journal" ended up running an editorial defending its decision in the facts on Trump's fraud letter they wrote this, "We trust our readers to make up their own minds about his statement. And we think it's news when an ex-President who may run in 2024 wrote what he did, even if or perhaps especially if his claims are bananas."
They couldn't finish without taking this dig at media scolds -- quote -- "As for the media clerics, their attempts to censor Mr. Trump have done nothing to diminish his popularity. Our advice would be to examine their own standards after they fell so easily for false Russian collusion claims. They'd have more credibly in refuting Mr. Trump."
So, moving forward how should the media cover Donald Trump? Joining me now to discuss is Frank Sesno, the director of strategic initiatives for the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University where he ran the program for more than a decade.
Frank, thank you so much for being here. How should "The Wall Street Journal" have handled this issue?
FRANK SESNO, DIRECTOR OF THE SCHOOL OF MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, GWU: Completely differently. What they should have done is they should have put -- when they published the letter, if they were going to publish the letter at all, and I really question even that, they should have put the skepticism and the corrections and the context around it that they did afterwards when they came back -- the letter you were just quoting from.
I mean, Michael, if I came to you or your guest book or you book or came to you and said, "Hey, I've got a great guest, but they're bananas. Would you put them on the air and would you put them on the air and not point out that they're bananas or what they're saying is wrong?"
So, there was a lot of really bad stuff here. I mean, in coming back in their corrected editorial, they pointed out, for example, some particular examples in Trump's litany there that were just flat-out wrong. And why they didn't do that the first time? It merely gives him more free real estate. And so it's a -- it's a very damaging thing for a professional news organization to do something like that.
SMERCONISH: I read the "Journal" as perhaps as many of us do online every day. So, I went looking for a print issue. I want to put up on the screen a picture I took with my iPhone to show the layout because to your point -- I mean, there it is, "Letters to the Editor."
And I don't know if you have a return, Frank, but they printed it like they would any other letter. There's no sidebar. There's no explanation. And then a day later, they came back with the explanation where, you know, they explained in some part where he had promoted information that was false.
My point is, like you said, they had the data. They could easily have done it all in one shot. But I think I heard you say that even with a sidebar you're not sure that they should have run it.
SESNO: Right. I mean -- look, this is -- this gets to point that you were making a moment ago and this is really the big one. This is how Donald Trump is going to run his non campaign until it's a campaign, presuming that it is. And every news organization is going to have to decide this on a near daily basis.
Look, in their response editorial here's what -- here's what the "Journal" wrote, Trump tosses off enough unsourced numbers in 30 seconds to keep a fact checker busy for 30 days. When one claim is refuted Mr. Trump is back with two more. Their headline for their own counter editorial was the facts on Trump's fraud letter. They call it a fraud letter. Why would you publish a fraud letter? So this is the kind of thing --
SMERCONISH: But, Frank --
SESNO: -- that every news organization is going to have to do.
SMERCONISH: But they also say -- I'll read a line that I highlighted since you're reading one that you found interesting. "We offer the same courtesy to others we criticize, even when they make allegations we think are false."
Isn't that part and parcel of what a letter to the editor is to allow someone you've criticized to now respond?
SESNO: Op-ed editors edit. They do that all the time and that's why James Bennet isn't still working at the "The New York Times." And the problem that you've got when you have letters to the editor is you get -- you'll get letters from all kinds of people and some of them in your community, right, and they're crack pots. You don't publish those.
Here's the difference. Donald Trump was president of the United States and he may be again. And the problem for news organizations is they cannot ignore him. Nor can they or should they just completely eye roll and dismiss everything he says, because he's got huge support and he was president of the United States.
So he's got to be fact-checked. He's got to be put in context. His comments need to be compared to actual reality, but they need to be done in a very methodical and calm way and a consistent way. That's what was missing here. That's what's going to be the challenge going forward.
SMERCONISH: And I would say even though his is an incredibly strong record for prevarication, still, you need to be ready. This is the whole Facebook issue, as I see it. You better be applying that same standard to everybody else. If you're going to fact check him and -- and I know his record demands that you do, but you need to fact- checking everybody. And whether the media is equipped to do that -- I don't know, Frank. You get the final word.
SESNO: The media is not equipped to fact-check everybody but not everybody is running for president of the United States or governor or mayor or that kind of thing. So, there's a higher bar for people who are running for public office or asking for the public trust or in a position of power. That's what journalism is supposed to do. It's supposed to hold power accountable. It's supposed to seek the truth.
And even an op-ed page or a letter from the editor has standards. And, obviously, "The Wall Street Journal" got stung or they wouldn't have published the second editorial that they did explaining what went wrong and saying, apparently, they thought this guy was bananas.
So, you know, as I say, very difficult going forward but we've got some idea of -- what to anticipate here. News organizations and social media platforms both need to understand the role that they're going to play in this disinformation infodemic that we're up against now. And it's really challenging the very guts of our democracy.
SMERCONISH: Frank Sesno, nice to have you back. Thank you.
SESNO: Nice to be with you.
SMERCONISH: Checking in on your tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have, Catherine?
I believe acknowledging Trump in any way gives him power. Ignoring him makes him boil to a useless vapor.
I don't know about that, Joe Z. I think when you ignore him or -- I'm sure his word will be when you censor him, it plays into the hand this narrative of the government and the media all being in cahoots, deep state, left-wing media, yada, yada, yada. And therefore, he uses that to capitalize on it.
This was the easy one. Can I just say this quickly? This was the easy one because he submitted it in print. And the "Journal" had time to think, hey, what are we going to do about this?
The harder call comes when he's got an event and it's in real time, are you going to broadcast it in real time? Are you going to give him that air time? If you don't, if you deny him, he'll complain about that, too. No easy answer.
I want to remind you, answer this week's survey question at Smerconish.com. Whose campaign did the Lincoln Project tiki torch stunt help the most? Who benefited McAuliffe or Youngkin? Still to come, my next guest says there's a new religion in America. If you don't strictly adhere to its tenets you're cast out as a heretic. He calls it "woke racism." John McWhorter is here to explain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN MCWHORTER, AUTHOR, "WOKE RACISM": Yes, you are on the side of the angels if you acknowledge that racism exists. Yes, but that might not win you elections and the second thing is what matters more in our current situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: If I as a White guy wrote the book that my next guest just published he says I'd be likely dismissed as a racist. It concerns America's racial dialogue, "Woke Racism: How A New Religion Has Betrayed Black America." The book argues that progressives have elevated their ideology on race into a religion which the author calls "third wave antiracism." The author is challenging the idea that racism is baked into society and that living within that society is itself a form of complicity.
In other words, it's no longer enough not to be racist. Today you need to be aggressively antiracist. And even that might not be enough to stop you from being labeled a racist which today is the equivalent to being called a pedophile.
The author is John McWhorter, associate professor of linguistics at Columbia University and a columnist for "The New York Times." John, I read and thoroughly enjoyed the book. As I was reading it this week I thought of you because the NAACP came out with an announcement and they said, if you're an athlete don't sign with a Texas team because of the voting and abortion laws in Texas. And I thought to myself, "So how far removed are we where an athlete signs with a Texas team and then all of a sudden someone says, well, you're a racist because didn't you get the NAACP memo?"
MCWHORTER: Well, you know, actually, I would say that I as somebody of the left and quite dismayed at certain things that have happened in Texas -- and I understand where that call came from but it is part and parcel of a general sense that one must go about not only kind of checking yourself for racism. But the idea is if in any sense you are seen as complying with the system then you're some kind of moral pervert, that it isn't enough to be a normal person, that there has to be this giant psychological revolution.
And I don't think that anybody has ever thought that this was the way a society should be run in the whole history of our species. And I haven't heard of any real justifications as to why we have to conduct ourselves that way now as opposed to doing things on the ground to help people who need help. SMERCONISH: The audience for this book are not those that you're criticizing, right? It's the people you're trying to counsel, I'll say, the rest of us, as to how do we respond.
Do we respond at all? Do we respond knowing that we might be called a racist for doing so?
MCWHORTER: Yes. I think that if you know that you are checking yourself for racism, and you're doing things to help people who need help as opposed to the virtue signal that, I think, a lot of people are being told they need to do. If you're doing those things I am asking White Americans to get used to being called racist by a certain vocal minority of people who think that it's their job to call people names and make people cry in the name of turning the country upside down and making everybody go through this psychosocial revolution.
We have to get used to being called names and then go off and do the good that we know that we're doing. But we can't let that particular kind of person be in charge, because they'll basically ruin all of our lives and infiltrate all of our intellectual and artistic institutions and turn us into -- pardon me -- and turn us into China during the cultural revolution analogously, not the physical violence but the whole idea is that same sort of thing.
SMERCONISH: There's a chart in the book. You actually publish it twice for emphasis. You call it a "catechism of contradictions." I'll read one of them that I circled.
"If you're White and date only White people, you're a racist. But if you're White and date a Black person, you are, if not only deep down, exotifying an other."
What's going on there? Explain that to me as it relates to your thesis.
MCWHORTER: Yes. I want people to me stop saying that you can say both of those things and that it's somewhat deep or complicated. That there's something called the race thing that you have to study the way you have to study quantum physics. It's not complicated but it's also not fair.
Both of those statements are designed for people to show that they know racism exists or can exist. And if that's the one thing you're devoted to then you can say both of those completely contradictory things and feel like you're doing some kind of a job.
But if the two things cancel each other out then the problem is no matter how noble you feel those things don't make any sense. It's got to be one or the other or, you know, maybe neither. But the idea that you can date a Black person and you're racist or not date a Black person and you're racist makes no sense. And the catechism is another nine things like that.
Take all those things together and it's why we say that talking about race is complicated when often the way we're encouraged to talk about it doesn't make any sense. I want our race conversations to make sense.
SMERCONISH: Another vignette from the book. Put this up on the screen as well. "A friend wrote in Facebook that they agree with Black Lives Matter -- they agree -- only to be roasted by an anonymous person. Wait a minute. You agree with them? That implies you get to disagree with them. That's like saying you agree with the law of gravity. You as a White person don't get to agree or disagree when Black people assert something. Saying you agree with them is everything bit as arrogant as disputing them. This isn't an intellectual exercise. This is their lives on the line."
MCWHORTER: Yes, I feel condescended to by that. That is a person. I presume that person is not Black, who things that their job as a good person in America is to accept absolutely anything that a Black person says. And the problem is if you accept absolutely everything that a Black person says you're dehumanizing them, you're pitying them, and pity is not honor.
All people make mistakes including people who are the descendants of African slaves brought to this country to endure slavery and Jim Crow and redlining. There's no such thing as perfect people. And to have this notion that anything a Black person says must be bowed down to I see how White people think of that as honoring something and as atoning for something but that's not what this is about. It's supposed to be about helping, especially poor Black people with the problems in their lives. All of the rest of this is just a kind of play acting. And, frankly, it's all extremely fake and condescending.
SMERCONISH: John, can I say I like having this dialogue? I really do. I know that when I have it, of course, you get called a racist for even engaging in this dialogue. It goes with the territory if you do what I do for a living or if you do what you do for a living.
My fear is that for the reminder of society, they're just going to take a pass. Like, oh, man, I'm not even going to talk about these things because I don't want to get -- I don't want to get called that word. And you say, no, we've got to have this conversation.
Anyway, great book. Thank you for being here. I hope all the emails now go to you and not to me, OK?
MCWHORTER: We'll see. Thank you.
Checking in on your tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have? From the world of Twitter. Wow. That's a long one.
This part of our nation's history is awful but my children and grandchildren should not feel guilty for what occurred. The conversation needs to be made for school equality. The way for advancement is through educational achievement not curriculum. Very interestingly I should have said this. His solution to this issue is three things, stop the war on drugs, teach reading via phonics, and make vocational training as accessible as a college education.
I think all three makes sense. Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. Have you voted? Because here come the final results of the survey question. Go to Smerconish.com and tell me whose campaign did the Lincoln Project tiki torch stunt help the most, McAuliffe or Youngkin?
SMERCONISH: All right. Time to see how you responded to the survey question this week at Smerconish.com.
Whose campaign did the Lincoln Project tiki torch stunt help, McAuliffe or Youngkin? Survey says -- oh, pretty close. I mean, that could be your -- that could be your margin of the election. Very low voting, only 8,097 inexplicably but McAuliffe benefited. Look, if McAuliffe benefited people must think that they see it as satire because if they saw it as fraud, I think, it would be Youngkin that benefited.
Quickly, we've got time for one social media reaction. What does it say?
Hurting the Democratic Party. Their profit-driven grifting has shown that they drive independent voters toward voting for the GOP. They are despicable.
Hey, next time tell me what you really think. They certainly have had their own problems. And, I guess, a separate question is, where the Democratic Party in Virginia and the McAuliffe campaign have both condemned it, is it fair to hold McAuliffe accountable for something with which he had nothing to do? That's the fair question as well.
Anyway, go vote on Tuesday. It is Election Day. I'll see you back here next Saturday.