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Is "Follow Your Passion" Good Advice For Grads?; In The War On Pride, Companies Suffering Wounds; Zelenskyy, Ukraine's NATO Membership Will Have To Wait. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired June 03, 2023 - 09:00   ET




MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: What's in a name? I'm Michael Smerekanycz in Philadelphia. Smerekanycz, not a bad ring. I might ask CNN to change the branding of the program. We can go with either the more accurate Polish version. Or how about this, the Ukrainian spelling and pronunciation?

The Polish version probably closer to my Carpatho Rousson roots. Of course, I'm not the only one with name pronunciation on the brain these days. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis kicked off his presidential run last week. Perhaps the only thing more confusing than trying to watch the campaign launch on Twitter spaces was hearing the candidates' last name.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Ron DeSantis. And I'm running for president to lead our great American comeback.


SMERCONISH: Come again? The same day that Governor DeSantis released that video he appeared on Fox News and he said this.


DESANTIS: And anybody that's so inclined to help us, I would love to have your support at


SMERCONISH: Of course this was low hanging fruit for the Trump campaign.


DESANTIS: I'm Ron DeSantis.

I am Ron DeSantis.

This is Governor Ron DeSantis. Hello, this is Governor Ron DeSantis, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.


SMERCONISH: Who knew the long versus short version of a vowel could cause all this political calamity? But the governor seemed unfazed when asked what the final word was on how to pronounce his name. He said this.


DESANTIS: This ridiculously stupid things. Listen the way to pronounce my last name winner.


SMERCONISH: While the name or pronunciation change in the midst of a presidential campaign, that is unusual. Surname alterations especially intended to American eyes, that's a time honored tradition for many American families. Among the presidential, Bill Clinton, remember he changed his name from William Jefferson Blythe III. Former President Gerald Ford was born Leslie Lynch King Jr.

And presidential candidate and former Colorado Senator Gary Hart, you'll recall was born Gary Warren Hartpence in November of 1936. His family changed his name long before the thought of running for office entered his mind. The Trump family, they're not immune. It's not always been Trump, it was originally Drumpf and got changed sometime between the 1600s and when his late grandfather Frederick Trump arrived in the United States in 1885.

However, he pronounces his name, the governor of Florida now finds himself in an even more crowded field of challengers to the former president proving the point I made here last week that everybody is jumping in the candidate poll despite Trump's commanding lead in the polls. No doubt because they think his standing is imperiled by a combination of prosecutors.

Beside Trump and DeSantis, now it's Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, Asa Hutchinson, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Larry Elder they're already declared. Next week formal announcements expected from former vice president Mike Pence, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. And New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu said to be mulling it over, maybe Glenn Youngkin from Virginia as well. Trump claims he's baffled as to why he has so many opponents but seems to relish them all cutting into DeSantis' second place.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know why people are doing it. They're at 1 percent, some are at zero.

Are you really go after the one who's second? And I think the one who's second is going down so much and so rapidly that I don't think he's going to be second that much longer. I think he's going to be third or fourth.


SMERCONISH: Of course, Trump's analysis assumes that everything remains static, but that's highly unlikely. This week, in the classified documents investigation came the news that federal prosecutors have an audio recording of Trump acknowledging that he held on to a classified Pentagon document after leaving office. And the document in question still seems to be MIA. Sources tell CNN that in mid-March Trump attorneys turned over material connected to a classified military document and Iranian attack plan. It's unclear if the document itself was ever actually returned to the government.

And then there's the other side of the aisle led by President Biden, or should I say President Obydhun (ph), the President's roots are Irish. His ancestors came from County Mayo which he visited this past April. His name, too, evolve to what it is today at some point during immigration to the United States. Last night, the POTUS took an Oval Office victory lap after solving the battle over the debt ceiling, maybe because he wanted to turn attention away from a tumble that he just taken.


You know, it's an old Washington trick to name a bill with a unifying sounding title? In this case, Biden's term for the Fiscal Responsibility Act, he calls it a bipartisan budget agreement. It actually applies. The resolution of the debt deal got done with 63 votes in the Senate, that included 17 Republicans, and 314 votes in the House 149 of them, Republican.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, he was able to hurt enough cats in his caucus and work with the President. And it should be noted in the end, President Biden did negotiate the extremes in both parties, they were the outliers. Analysts offered different opinions as to who won politically, to which I say America did by staving off economic default.

Here's how the "New York Times" put it. The compromise was structured with the aim of enticing votes from both parties. It allowed Republicans who refuse to raise the debt ceiling and diverted default without conditions to say that they succeeded in reducing some federal spending even as funding for the military and veterans programs would continue to grow while allowing Democrats to say they spared most domestic programs from severe cuts.

Well, here's hoping there's more compromise to come on other issues. Despite the fact that President Biden used his veteran skills to orchestrate a bipartisan solution to the debt ceiling crisis, the news this week instead dominated by an unfortunate video of the President taking a tumble as he completed handing out diplomas at the Air Force Academy commencement. He later joked that he'd been sandbagged.

Interestingly, when a reporter in Iowa gave Trump the opportunity to reinforce the right wing talking point that this tumble showed Biden's feebleness and old age, Trump was uncharacteristically charitable. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, I hope he wasn't hurt. I hope he wasn't hurt. You got to be careful about that. You got to be careful about that because you don't want that. Even if you have to tip toe down a ramp.

That was the best speech I think I've ever made. And it was pouring rain, and it was horrible and cold and windy, and they have a ramp that was pure like an ice skating rink. So I dip toe down, and I suffered for that. They never covered my speech. But everybody, the smart people understood that.

But that's too bad. If you fell, it's too bad.


SMERCONISH: Pouring rain? You saw. Maybe Trump knows that all of his challengers are waiting for him to slip and fall legally and Bigley. We're still eight months from votes being cast, but the campaign already seems to have a rather frenetic pace to it. The majority of attention still being heaped upon two very unpopular front runners, giving half to talk about third party challenge maybe from the group, no labels.

And when all of a sudden done, I'm still wondering if neither Biden nor Trump will be their party's candidate. All the GOP jockeying is to see who can best position as a Trump alternative, if and when the field should winnow because of the weight of Trump's legal troubles. And if it's not Trump, for the Republicans, even more pressure is going to mount for a Biden alternative among Democrats. Remember, it remains a marathon, not a sprint, and America may still be searching for other names however they're pronounced.

Up ahead, it is Pride Month, but big national retailers with campaigns and products that celebrate the LGBTQ plus community, they're experiencing threats and boycotts and plummeting market value. Is such affinity marketing more harm than help? I want to know what you think. Go to my website and answer this week's poll question, Is it in the best interest of companies to embrace Pride Month?

Plus, it's graduation time and many commencement speakers are telling students to follow their passion. Is that actually a bad idea? Professor G Scott Galloway has some thoughts, and he's here to share them.



SMERCONISH: Hey, it's commencement season, I have a question. Is it sound advice to say to graduates follow your passion? So many commencement speakers do exactly that. It's what Senator Raphael Warnock said to Bard College's 2023 class.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): I challenge you to find your passion. I challenge you to find that thing in the world that feels like such a deep moral contradiction that you cannot be silent, you have to express yourself, you have to stand up and try to make the world better, find that thing that you would do for free, except that you have to pay the rent.


SMERCONISH: Senator Warnock echoing similar words from Dr. Ken Jeong at UNC Greensboro back in 2019.


KEN JEONG, ACTOR: I encourage you, good times, and bad, keep moving, keep finding your passion. And I honestly say to every single soul in this coliseum, if I can do this and if I can do what I want, so can you.


SMERCONISH: In fact, through the years many esteemed leaders have given similar advice. Here are Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey, both addressing Stanford graduates.


STEVE JOBS, AMERICAN BUSINESS MAGNATE: You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life. And the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

OPRAH WINFREY, FORMER TALK SHOW HOST AND MEDIA MOGUL: When you're doing the work you're meant to do. It feels right. And every day is a bonus regardless of what you're getting paid.

Follow your feelings, if it feels right, move forward. If it doesn't feel right, don't do it.


SMERCONISH: Joining me now to discuss is Scott Galloway. He's a Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern School of Business. He's a serial entrepreneur, the host of the Professor G podcast and author of several best-selling books most recently "Adrift, America in 100 Charts."

Scott, always great to have you. So many in Gen Z, they look up to you, so do you buy into the conventional wisdom of out just follow your passion?


SCOTT GALLOWAY, PROFESSOR OF MARKETING, NYU STERN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: Michael, it's great to see you. It's terrible advice. You know, when I heard from your producer, I realized last week was the 30 year anniversary of my commencement at Berkeley and I was -- and this is a brag, I was the student commencement speaker, and then the guy after me, gave the same advice, follow your passion. And in the audience was my mother who lived her life as a secretary who had cancer, we had $40,000 and I had a bunch of student debt, but I was supposed to go follow my passion? What utter bullshit. This is your job.

Your job is to find something you're good at. Invest 10,000 hours and becoming great at it, endure the sacrifice, the perseverance, the injustice that is guaranteed in the workplace, and become great at something and become great at something that people will pay for. You had an actor giving a commencement address, 98 percent of actors don't make a living. You and I both have a podcast, 1 percent of podcasters make 99 percent of revenue, your chances of becoming a global fashion designer are one in 160,000. That's the bad news.

The good news is, if you become great at something, the accoutrements of being great, prestige, economic security, relevance, pride, camaraderie will make you passionate about whatever it is. When someone tells you to follow their passion or follow your passion, it means a couple things, it means they're already rich. And typically the guy telling you to follow your passion made his billions in iron ore smelting. Find something you're good at, find something you're good at, that people will pay you for. And then making money in a capitalist society and being relevant and being able to take care of your parents, being able to take care of your kids and take care of yourself will make you passionate about whatever that thing is.

And here's the problem, people mistake passion for hobbies. And work is hard. And you will struggle, and you might you might stop and think, I'm not loving this, it might not -- t must not be my passion. No. That's called work.

SMERCONISH: OK. What if I'm good at it, but it sucks, it's drudgery? Is that still your advice?

GALLOWAY: No. You can't be great at anything that you think is drudgery. My first job out of UCLA was at Morgan Stanley, I got the golden ring, I got it in job in investment banking. If I'd stayed there, I would have been economically secure. But I hated it.

And if you hate something, you're never going to be great at it. So I left and I did something else. If you're good at something and have a shot at being great at it, by virtue of that, it means that you don't hate it, it means that you have an aptitude for it and you will start to like it more and more because being great at something has a tremendous amount of reward. So, they're oxymorons, you're never going to be great at anything that you find drudgery.

SMERCONISH: I heard your reference to 10,000 hours, so of course I think of Malcolm Gladwell. I take it you buy into that school of thought which says you're going to really have to invest a lot of time before you are expert in whatever that chosen field might be. GALLOWAY: Not only grit, but also perseverance. I know you Michael, the key to our success is rejection. The only thing you know that's going to happen to you is you will get fired and you will endure rejection. If you want to be successful professionally and romantically, the key is batting 100.

What do I mean by that? If you're in the TSA or the anti-terrorist group at the FBI, you have to bat 1000, and in the MLB, up to bat 300. If you're willing to endure rejection, you just need to bat 100 to be ultimately successful. Try things, be aggressive, express friendship, ask people out, express romantic interest, call people who don't know and ask for an interview.

And guess what, if you get rejected, that means you're on your way to success. The key to success is getting beamed in the face, and then getting up again and getting back to the plate.

SMERCONISH: You know, you don't know this about me, but I delivered a commencement address a couple of years ago and I walked through all of the times I'd been rejected in this business. All of the hosts for whom I had guest hosted thought that I had sweat equity so that when it was no longer their gig that I get it and like in five very high profile circumstances, Scott, I didn't get the job. I don't know if it resonated that day with the grads, but that's exactly the tact that I took.

GALLOWAY: Yes, look, people think success is a line that's up into the right, it's not, it's a squiggly line. I'm considered a success from an entrepreneurial standpoint, I've started nine companies, I'm generously two, three and four. And the key to my success is rejection. I have been beamed in the face, I mean shot in the face a few times professionally and personally, and I never lost confidence.


The key to success is the ability to mourn, give yourself time to be upset if you get fired or something happens terrible to you personally, there's nothing wrong with being down, and then get up and move on. That's the key.

There is no person that's successful that I know that hasn't endured real failure. That's part of it. If you're skiing, and you're not wiping out every once in a while, you're not going to get better. You're never -- what a world class skiers have in common? They have wiped out severely several times, that's OK.

Rejection means you are on your way. But this notion that you should go into fields that have 2 percent employment rates, that's just a recipe for, you know, upset. Beyonce followed her passion and is now a billionaire. Assume you are not Beyonce.

SMERCONISH: Can we do this over a drink sometime? Because I want to tell you about the five years that I was the filling host for Bill O'Reilly's radio program. And when he signed off, they said, you're really not a known name and they went with Fred Thompson, the actor. Same five years I was Chris Matthews fill in for Hardball, and they said to me, you do a great job, but we are young, liberal and nerdy, and you are none of the above, so, you're not going to get this gig. So let's catch up and have a cocktail and swap our war stories, OK?

GALLOWAY: I just want to finish with one thing, Michael. I want to be --


GALLOWAY: I look at this through the context of my experience, recognizing the context and circumstances may be different and some of us may be wrong. The only thing I can tell recent grads that with 100 percent certainty they won't regret is write a list of everyone that was at your graduation, and call them and tell them you care about them. Expressions of affection, always age well, that is the only piece of advice I know to be true.

SMERCONISH: OK. And I'm going to add to that, don't do it in an e- mail, write it out old school if you really want it to be heard. All right, Scott, you know, I love it when you're here.

GALLOWAY: Hundred percent.

SMERCONISH: Thank you so much.

GALLOWAY: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Via social media, Katherine (ph), what do we have? That was fun.

Passion in a career is a rare phenomenon. Those who have it, why not follow it? When AI takes over, the safest professions today may be the first to go.

Yosmin, I know from prior conversations with Scott, if he followed his passion he had been pursuing a sport, you know, for which he just didn't have the expertise. It makes total sense to me the way he expressed it, which is you got to figure out something for what you have a skill set and your passion will come. It's like the total reverse of each of the commencement addresses that we played at the outset of the program.

Up ahead, the Ukrainian military reported on Friday that in 24 hours, Russia had carried out at least 62 airstrikes, 15 missile strikes, and more than a dozen ground assaults. As the war intensifies, Poland is setting up a training schedule to help Ukrainian pilots learn how to fly F-16. Is that going to help? The United States Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski is here to discuss.

And it's Pride Month, you have companies that have tried to reach out to the LGBTQ plus community like Bud Light and Target, they now find themselves in the crosshairs of a costly cultural war with their market value dropping by the billions. Might it be better for corporations to stay out of it? Just be Switzerland? Go to my website this hour and answer this question, is it in the best business interest of companies to embrace Pride Month?



SMERCONISH: The war most resonating with Americans, it's got nothing to do with Putin's invasion of Ukraine, instead it's the domestic war on Pride. This year, Pride Month, a commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall uprising is taking place during strong pushback against the LGBTQ plus community. And the conflict has been costing some of America's biggest corporations dearly. Companies that created Pride friendly campaigns including Disney, Bud Light, Target. Kohl's, North Face, and others, they've been suffering the punishing consequences of boycotts, often from both sides.

Things are now so complex and contentious that even Chick-fil-A, a company with Christian roots is finding itself accused of being woke. It's proven to be a no win situation. Their attempts to respond to the crisis haven't pleased either side or investors.

Target stock went on its longest losing streak in 23 years. The company's value has taken an estimated hit of $13.8 billion. Anheuser- Busch estimated to have lost 27 billion in value.

So, what's driving the battle? Well, it depends on who you ask. This week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis described his fight against Disney and others as being against the sexualization of children.


DESANTSIS: I'm standing for parents, I'm standing for children, and I think a multibillion dollar company that sexualizes children is not consistent with the values of Florida or the values of a place like Iowa.


SMERCONISH: Is it that or is it a cloak for just old fashioned bigotry? By way of example, Target angered certain right wing customers for selling a Pride Month collection that included a transgender friendly swimsuit. It was misrepresented on social media as being aimed at children when in fact it was for adults. After there were some rough altercations in some stores around the displays, the company pulled some of the items, citing the need to keep its workers safe, which then of course angered some of the LGBTQ plus community.

In a statement, Target's CEO Brian Cornell said quote, "It's been gut- wrenching to see what you've confronted in our aisles." And then reaffirm to the LGBTQ plus community, "We stand with you now and will continue to do so, not just during Pride Month, but each and every day."


The war on Pride it comes at the time, when according to the human rights campaign, more than 520 anti-LGBTQ bills are in play in state legislatures including ones restricting access to gender-affirming care for trans youth. So what's a company to do? On a recent earnings call, the Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO was asked about the Bud Light boycott over its campaign using trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. He said this, "While beer will always be at the table when important topics are debated, the beer itself should not be the focus of the debate."

Well, I want to know what you think. Please visit my Web site at, answer the week's poll question. Is it in the best business interest of companies to embrace Pride Month?

Joining me now to discuss is Daniel Diermeier, chancellor of Vanderbilt University and a management scholar there. He's also the author of several books on corporate reputation, most recently "Reputation Analytics: Public Opinion for Companies."

Mr. Chancellor, thank you for being here. Yes, reputation for business. That's your bailiwick. I notice that a lot of times the conflict here is between the employees of the business and a large swath of the public. So how do you deal between those competing thoughts?


This really a new environment for companies. It's different compared to a year ago. Companies were still kind of very much thinking about how to embrace very different stakeholder groups and constituencies. But they are now living in a hyperpolarized environment. And that polarization is among their customers often but it can also be between employees or between different employee groups or between employees and customers.

And the first thing that companies have to understand is, how does this affect their business? There is no general answer here. What is good for Patagonia may not be good for Budweiser. And the second question is to really think carefully about how do you want to communicate your stance, your positioning in a way that is least likely to inflame these kinds of culture wars.

SMERCONISH: Do you think that increasingly businesses will just decide to stay out of everything?

DIERMEIER: I think the period when businesses were willing to take a stance on almost anything, that is coming to an end. I think business will be much more reluctant to get involved in areas that are beyond their business, general policy questions, for example. But very often it affects their operations, what products they sell, how do they sell it, what their marketing campaigns are.

My sense is that they have to take this more seriously. Companies take a lot of time to get their logo just right but make decision on these political issues in a very, very polarized environment with much less care and with much less, I think, intentionality. So, I think they are a little behind the times. They will look at these lessons and then they would be more -- they would be more thoughtful and more intentional about how to do this the next time.

SMERCONISH: Does it matter whether the issue in play directly pertains to the business that you are running, the business is running? Does it matter if it's far afield from what their mission statement might be?

DIERMEIER: Absolutely. I think that there was a period where companies were willing to comment on broad policy issues really, really driven by the sense of a kind of social responsibility. But now I think that this is a more and more challenging territory and politicians have been willing to push back.

And on certain aspects you're going to have to be clear about how that affects your business. That's the first question. And then the second one, if it does, how are you going to position yourself?

We saw this, for example, with the controversy of Walgreens (ph). And getting these decisions right when they affect your business is really tricky in today's environment because it's so hyperpolarize. And many of these things are related to culture war. So symbolic issues by themselves have a very high impact of how people feel about a company.

SMERCONISH: Chancellor Diermeier, the Anheuser-Busch example to me is the most stunning. They were never intending to sell beer cans with Dylan Mulvaney's image. Instead, an individual in marketing thought it would be wise to engage in a so called social media influencer by sending those cans and letting them then be used in social media purposes. But the backlash against it was stunning.

And by the way, I know you're a political scientist, I made the comment to somebody this week, if you want to understand why Donald Trump starts at 40 percent, no matter what it is he may have said or done, just look at the blowback against Bud Light.

DIERMEIER: This is all the same phenomenon. What we have seen over the last decade or so is that polarization in the United States is much more calcified and it is much more defined by identity politics and kind of culture issues than traditional economic issues.


And what's driving electoral politics for the national campaigns it's the same dynamics that are affecting companies as well. So, when you are taking a decision like that, and my understanding from what Bud Light wanted to do is really kind of reposition the brand in a particular way, you have to understand that you're now doing this in a hyperpolarized environment. And what's driving presidential politics is driving brand perception in exactly the same way.

SMERCONISH: Let's answer a social media together. I'll read it aloud in case you can't see it. Catherine, put that up on the screen. This individual says, should corporations be guided by money and not morality? Equal rights is worth fighting for.

What would you say to that individual?

DIERMEIER: I think successful companies always -- almost always have a purpose. And that purpose is driving the decisions every day. You just have to be clear what your purpose is and how it relates to your company and then be smart about how do you live your purpose.

So, for example, when Nike was embracing Colin Kaepernick in their commercial over the Black Lives Matter protest of kneeling during the national anthem and so forth, that worked really well for Nike because Nike has more of an edge to its brand compared to let's say Pepsi or Budweiser.

Budweiser wants to support its LGBTQ plus community, of course, but it has to do it in a way that accomplishes that without embroiling the company in a kind of ongoing polarized battle. So getting this -- it's not so much about -- you know, it's not so much about stepping away from supporting your people. You want to support your people, but the question of how to do that is really important and tricky -- and much trickier than it was two years ago.

SMERCONISH: I agree with you. I mean, you have got to do the right thing, but at the same time, there's a retiree out there somewhere whose 401(k) is dependent upon the stock that he or she has in your company. And the idea that their retirement would be jeopardized because of not understanding the political perception has got to be factored in.

Thank you so much. That was really interesting, and I appreciate your time.

DIERMEIER: My pleasure. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: I want to remind you answer this week's poll question at It's going to be interesting to see how this one turns out. This is the way that I framed it. Is it in the best business interest of the companies to embrace Pride Month? Go vote at

OK. Up ahead, with the war in Ukraine again intensifying, on Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke in Finland, the newest NATO member, where he said, "Ukraine's membership in NATO will be a matter for allies and Ukraine -- not Russia -- to decide."

One of those allies, one of the strongest, has been neighboring Poland. The U.S. ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski is here to discuss what's ahead.



SMERCONISH: As the war between Russia and Ukraine intensifies, President Zelenskyy admits his country's membership to NATO will have to wait. While visiting Finland, NATO's newest member, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about Russia's strategic failures and why imposing a cease-fire would only help Russia.

The NATO's alliance requires its countries to assist fellow members if they are ever attacked. Of course, Poland, Ukraine's western neighbor, has joined the fight. Poland became the first NATO member to pledge fighter jets to assist the war torn city of Kyiv back in March.

A year ago, I had the privilege of being in Warsaw and spoke with U.S. ambassador to Poland about the war efforts in Ukraine and how Poland was then helping. Well, Ambassador Mark Brzezinski is back with me now.

Mr. Ambassador, great to see you again. I remember that day well. What has changed in the last week, and who's winning?

MARK BRZEZINSKI, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO POLAND: Thank you for having me, Michael, and great to see you again. What has changed in the last week is that NATO has expanded in a way that just emphasizes the strategic failure of Putin's decision to invade Ukraine.

Did Putin invade Ukraine to bring Sweden and Finland into NATO? No. Did Putin invade Ukraine to have 1 million Russians flee Russia, scientists, tech people, a brain drain that we see here in Poland benefitting Poland's economy because Russian scientists quickly assimilate here.

Did he invade Ukraine to have 100,000, I repeat, 100,000 Russian casualties in the last six months? And Putin is all about money. So did Putin invade Ukraine to see a 43 percent drop in oil revenue?

What we are seeing is an amplified total failure on the part of Putin regarding his decision to invade poor, weaker Ukraine. And there is no way, no way Putin's war in Ukraine has improved the lives and the futures of the Russian people. And that makes this a true tragedy.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Ambassador, you know, the news far removed is always about the spring offensive or summer offensive and counteroffensive. There's never a report of peace negotiations. Are there peace talks taking place between Ukraine and Russia today?

BRZEZINSKI: I was so proud that my boss, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a speech in Finland yesterday welcomed Finland in its membership in NATO, made clear that diplomacy is a path Russia could choose. And every minute of every day, the American government stands ready to advance the path of diplomacy. But instead, Russia is advancing the path of aggression.

What I thought was particularly important that Secretary Blinken emphasized yesterday is that we're going to make sure not only that the Ukrainian people win this war and survive, but that they thrive.


And that when they win, it will be the biggest endorsement of political democracy and free market economy in this part of the world in 100 years. You have to take a step back and look at this from an historical perspective, Michael.

Thirty years ago, the Soviet bloc fell apart. Twenty-six countries emerged out of the rubble of the Soviet bloc. Some were successful like Poland, the Baltic States. And some were weaker and victimizable like Ukraine and Moldova and others. And as you can see in the case of Ukraine who are victimized. And we are committed to a path of making sure a lasting peace includes a complete reconstruction of Ukraine and a drawing into it as it wants into the western institutional orbit. And that is -- that's the opportunity here to have a renaissance emerge out of this crime of a war in Central and Eastern Europe where if you consider all the countries, 330 million plus people live. So it's a big block of humanity here that is being put under siege by Putin.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Ambassador, here at home, it's game on for the 2024 election. How worried are you about continued support for Ukraine being at issue in the presidential election and potentially being jeopardized by whoever wins this thing?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I can tell you this, Michael. When I was ambassador to Sweden for four years I hosted over four years six members of Congress. In the last year alone in the U.S. Mission in Poland I hosted over 150 members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, Kevin McCarthy, Nancy Pelosi, the previous speaker and the current speaker respectfully. And what I have seen is that in this crisis, politics stops at the water's edge and that our members of Congress are political representation -- support the people of Ukraine.

And the good part of this story is, as well, the Ukrainian people are winning. They are pushing back the -- quote -- "organized" -- unquote Russian army in a way I don't think anyone anticipated. And the person who called this right from the very beginning, the person who read the room when it comes to Central and Eastern Europe, was President Joe Biden, who before the war broke out shared intelligence with the Poles, with the Balts, with Romanians to carefully clarify for our allies over here what are the defense and offensive structures to the Russian military, and what does Putin intend to do with it in Ukraine? And that decision by President Biden allowed us over here to get ready.

We were ready on game day, February 24th, 2022, when millions of Ukrainian refugees began to pour across the border into Poland. And the reactive mobilization of the Polish people who embraced the Ukrainians, brought them into their homes and their apartments. They did that because the Poles did not feel scared. Yes, this is 1939 for Poland and Finland. This is an invasion by an oppressive foreign attacker. But this time --


SMERCONISH: I saw it. I saw it for myself. I saw if for myself in refugee facilities. Before I lose you, let me quickly put up on the screen a social media reaction. I'll read it aloud and we can both respond.

This whole idea that Ukraine cannot attack the country that attacked them is probably the dumbest way to win a war in military history. Quick response from you, ambassador.

BRZEZINSKI: Ukraine is showing the world that it knows how to fight, and the people -- Floridaman, who wrote that social media post, the people who know that best are the Russian soldiers who marched into the meat grinder of Russian men in Ukraine right now.

SMERCONISH: Nice to see you. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. I appreciate it.

BRZEZINSKI: Michael, thank you as always.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, more of your best and worst social media comments and the result of this week's poll results. Have you been to yet? Go there now. Answer this question, is it in the best business interest of companies to embrace Pride Month?



SMERCONISH: All right, there's the result of this week's poll -- wow, look at that, 27,890 votes. Is it in the best business interest of companies to embrace Pride Month? Sixty-one percent say, damn the torpedoes, yes, do it, regardless of what happens to your bottom line.

But how about the point that I made to the chancellor from Vanderbilt, where I said, how about the retiree who is out there? You know, maybe the corporation thinks they're doing the right thing. Meanwhile, there's a retiree out there somewhere who has got whatever they have parked in a 401(k) that has as investments businesses that now see a hit, like Target and like Anheuser-Busch InBev is now sustaining.

What do you say to that person? We got involved in this culture fight and now your retirement is in jeopardy. It's complicated. That's my point.

Social media reaction, what do we have? This is -- the answer to the poll is, it depends.


No, it's not a good idea if your business is near Cracker Barrel. Yes, it's a good idea if your business is near Whole Foods.

Hey, Guy Pearson, what about me? Because I have a Cracker Barrel and a Whole Foods within two miles of one another near my house and I go to both of them. But can't we all just get along?

And what happened to live and let live? Like, I'm going to turn away from Bud Light because, what, Kid Rock shot up a bunch of cans? He was so pissed off about Dylan Mulvaney. If I like the beer, I'm drinking the beer.

Give me another one. What else do we have? Republicans buy sneakers, too, said Michael Jordan.

I mean, yes, Whoopee Boy. I remember that quote. I almost dropped it in. Quickly, one more if I've got time, and I think I do. Michael Jordan did say that.

It's as simple as many people just don't want the intrusion of politics when they leave the house. It isn't trans or homophobia.

I don't know, Steve. I mean, I get that there's age-appropriate material that ought not to be in a classroom. I also think that some people are just so damn bigoted and they think like, uh-oh, if my son or daughter sees that, they might turn out that way. Guess what, it's the same answer as it's always been. It's in your DNA. OK?

What will be, will be. I'll see you next week.