Will Patriotism and Optimism Defeat Trump?
At the DNC Wednesday night, Linda Sarsour and T.M. Scruggs react to the speeches of VP Biden and President Obama
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention.
So it was the night of President Obama and Vice President Biden, and it was a night filled with emotion, perhaps a little bit of reason, but I would say mostly emotion. Here’s a sample from both, first Vice President Biden and then President Obama.
JOE BIDEN: The 21st century is going to be the American century. Because–because we lead not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. That is the history of the journey of America. And God willing, God willing, Hillary Clinton will write the next chapter in that journey. We are America, second to none. And we own the finish line. Don’t forget it.
BARACK OBAMA: That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists, or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end. That is America. That is America. Those bonds of affection, that common creed. We don’t fear the future, we shape it. We embrace it as one people, stronger together than we are on our own.
JAY: So an evening of ridiculing of Trump. We didn’t play any clips of that, but there was a fair amount of ridiculing of Trump in the evening. Probably the most effective came from Bloomberg. And that’s the kind of thing, something we’ll talk about a little further into this interview. Bloomberg there as a representative of the elites who might not normally support a Democratic Party president, but this time they are, as we’ve seen the Washington Post do the same. But also, an evening of a tremendous amount of patriotism and Americanism.
Now joining us to talk about, give us their impressions and talk about what happened this evening, in the studio joining us are, first of all, Linda Sarsour. She’s the executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York, and TM Scruggs–I’m sorry, TM, I am getting lip flap here. TM Scruggs. He’s an ethnomusicologist who specializes in Latin America. He’s also a board member of the Real News. Thank you both for joining us.
Linda, your impression. Certainly, President Obama as an orator got everyone rather excited. What did you make, though, of the content?
LINDA SARSOUR: I mean, President Obama is known for his oration, his speech. It riles up the crowd. He knows how to speak to specific audiences. I thought he was speaking to skeptics of Hillary. I thought he was trying to bring in the Bernie supporters. I thought he was looking at young people, you know, trying to connect in a way that really no one has connected in this convention, at least from my observation, as someone who organizes with young people.
I’m still a little bit flabbergasted that the Democratic Party thought that Bloomberg was a good idea after they, you know, criticized Ted Cruz for talking about patrolling Muslim neighborhoods. They put up a former New York City mayor who legitimized, justified, defended, and implemented unwarranted surveillance of his New York City Muslim community. So I don’t know what he brought to the table other than telling the Republicans that we, too, have billionaires on our side.
JAY: Well, to discredit the business experience of Trump we now have a more successful businessman who will now ridicule Trump.
Now, I should have in your introduction mentioned that you are a delegate from New York. A Sanders delegate.
SARSOUR: I am.
JAY: President Obama and his policies, to a large extent, are the policies that Hillary Clinton campaigned on. And the Sanders people, obviously, were not very happy with Hillary’s policies, which means they shouldn’t be very happy with President Obama’s last eight years. What was the mood of the Sanders–of yourself and Sanders delegates around you during all of this?
SARSOUR: I mean, I was very proud of myself in 2008 when I voted for President Obama, but I’ve been a very consistent critic of his policies, especially as someone who’s a civil rights and Constitutional lawyer, someone who is organizing around the very issues that I care about. His, you know, anything when it comes to drones and policies on Palestine-Israel. Anything around the Patriot Act and supporting wiretapping. I mean, I’ve criticized President Obama plenty, and I think that Hillary’s just going to continue the same status quo policies that we saw under the Obama administration.
JAY: TM, what was your overall impression?
TM SCRUGGS: Actually, I would just add to that. I think Hillary might actually be worse than Obama, because she’s so much of a neocon–.
JAY: I think you’re going to have to speak up a bit. It’s very loud in here. It’s okay, just speak up more.
SCRUGGS: She might actually be worse than Obama. You know, she wanted to actually have a more direct intervention in Syria, and was advocating for it, and even had the people that–.
JAY: For a no-fly zone in Syria.
SCRUGGS: Yeah, the people that support her kind of politics were, you know, wrote that unprecedented letter trying to pressure Obama to make a move in Syria. So she couldn’t actually be worse, in that respect.
It’s really quite a contrast, isn’t it, comparing four years ago when they really had to bring out Bill Clinton to whip up the crowd a little bit, and then kind of have Obama almost sheepishly come out from behind and say, thank you for connecting with the people. But the Democratic Party’s riding high right now, after the Republican Convention. They really feel like they’ve got this wrapped up. And the kind of triumphalism and positive “we rule the world” kind of rhetoric that you often see reserved for the Republicans, I thought the Democrats felt like this time, well, we can go full throttle with that same kind of an approach. When Biden was practically screaming into the microphone, we own the finish line.
JAY: One of the big fights that took place that’s been pushed aside now was over the, in the platform committee, Bernie Sanders appointed Cornel West to represent him at the platform committee, which I personally was actually somewhat surprised about, that they were willing to make Palestine and Israel such an issue at that point. It’s been completely excluded, now. But what was your take on that whole issue, and what this is going to mean in terms of going forward? Not just Palestine-Israel, but the whole issue of foreign policy. A lot of Sanders people, who they want, in theory, to support Clinton, are very concerned about Clinton and foreign policy.
SARSOUR: I mean, Bernie Sanders validated the growing sentiment of pro-Palestinian human rights here in the United States of America. The polls are showing, Brookings Institute showed, that 2/3 of young Americans are in support of the self-determination of the Palestinian people and human rights for Palestinian people. Bernie brought that conversation into the center of the campaign. And a New York State debate, he doubled down and really put Hillary in a very–in a position where she still didn’t answer the question, but just the idea of him putting that out there, I think, was important. You know, Bernie didn’t attend the AIPAC convention. There was really never a time when a competitive, major competitive candidate was like, actually, I’m not going to the AIPAC convention. That was a big message. And as a Jewish-American candidate, and the only Jewish-American candidate, to not go to AIPAC was a big deal.
The Democratic Party is failing, and it failed me as the person who is here as a New York State delegate, the fact that they did not want to use the word ‘occupation’ in the platform. Something that has been used by Secretary of States, by the United Nations, by the Obama administration itself. The fact that we don’t want to be peace brokers, that we don’t want to put the Palestinian human rights–there’s nothing radical about saying that Palestinans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
So the Democratic Party needs to–if they want to be a forward-thinking party, they need to come up to where the young people are in this country. And the Bernie Sanders campaign showed me, and I went across the country from Madison, Wisconsin, to Santa Clara, California, to Patterson, New Jersey. You name the state and I was in it. And these young people–.
JAY: Campaigning for Sanders.
SARSOUR: Campaigning for Sanders, because I was a national surrogate, also, for the campaign. And everywhere I went, people were cheering, “Free Palestine,” the minute they saw me walk on that stage. And it was young people.
So if the Democratic Party wants to fold in real progressives, they want to fold in young people, they have to start talking about Palestine from the perspective of the humanity and the dignity of the Palestinian people.
JAY: I thought that was a very interesting distinction in the speeches tonight. I guess it was Kaine that came out and talked about Hillary’s role in using sanctions to force Iran into an agreement, where President Obama said it’s the triumph of diplomacy that achieved the Iranian agreement. And there’s a difference there. Like, one is the issue of look how good we were at using coercion, and connecting that with Hillary.
And it goes back to something that happened in 2007, that there was a vote in the Senate on whether to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard terrorists. And Hillary Clinton was almost the only senior Democrat that voted with the neocons to declare the Revolutionary Guard terrorists. The counterargument, which came from people like Webb and others, and Biden for that matter, was that if you declare them terrorists then you’re really declaring the government terrorists, and you’ll never be able to negotiate with them. And Hillary votes for that, and now takes credit for the deal.
Foreign policy is actually something vulnerable for her when she fights against Trump. Because even though he’s, in my opinion, a complete hypocrite on the issue of Iraq and Libya and Syria, there’s a vulnerability there because she is responsible for a lot of the mess.
SCRUGGS: Yeah. And that is, of course, one of the problems that was frustrating for a lot of the people who got involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign, was the lack of attention to foreign policy, or international issues. And that–as Bernie’s campaign went along, when he really got to kind of the middle part of his campaign, and in a way it was like him at his strongest. And that’s when he began to move, for example, towards considering Palestinian rights in a way that you just had never heard a national candidate for so long. But he would have to–he didn’t really go after some of the results of her, you know, neocon politics. Only kind of some mentions in around the edges. He didn’t make it a central part of his campaign.
And I think if he had he would have found resonance in the people who were the motor force for his campaign, which were the young people, as you were saying. Amazing generational divide in this election.
JAY: And I thought there was another weakness of his campaign, and it expresses itself again in what happened tonight. He didn’t properly critique the economic policies of Barack Obama. You know, you can–you know, point at Hillary and say, will you not have Goldman Sachs on your financial team? And then–but you can’t then say that and then praise President Obama for getting us out of the recession with exactly a Goldman Sachs financial team. And if you don’t talk about the growing inequality over the eight years of President Obama, which tilled the soil for the rise of Trump, then you’re left with a half story.
And tonight, with all this feel-good stuff about America and all the rest of this stuff, what are you going to say to the white working class that’s voting for Trump that doesn’t believe any of this? They’re still worried about losing their job, and they’re still worried about their wages. And in all this praise for the last eight years about the accomplishments, I don’t get how that resonates with people who are suffering.
SARSOUR: I mean, signs that you saw in this convention since Monday were the No TPP signs, which is an issue that Donald Trump brings up over and over again, and is something that is very core and essential to Bernie Supporters. So the fact that Bernie supporters and Donald Trump supporters actually on that particular issue actually agree. And that actually scares me, because a lot of people who have these anxieties and fears are working-class, white working-class people who have felt like they’ve been ignored by the liberal progressives who have not really focused on this issue, including President Obama and including Hillary. I mean, Tim Kaine has come around on this issue, he’s evolved.
But this was essential. If you saw the entire, like, people holding up coal opposition signs, they were, 90 percent of them were the No TPP. So the Democratic Party’s going to have to figure that one out, because that is a central piece of this conversation. Because people are worried about jobs. People are worried about poverty. People are worried about feeding their families. And that is across the board, whether you’re a Democrat, independent, libertarian, that’s where people are right now. Like, how am I going to pay my rent? Somebody explain that to me.
And I think another area of weakness in the Democratic Party, if they want to also fold in more people, is criminal justice. Like, young black people are saying, okay, somebody explain to me how we’re going to stop executing unarmed black men and women in the streets by law enforcement. So what’s the plan? And there really isn’t anyone who’s addressing any specifics in this conversation.
So I’m worried about that group of people that’s going to be–and I keep reminding people that more young people voted for Bernie than Donald Trump and Hillary combined. So these young people that were out on the streets so passionate don’t come to the polls, right, or go vote a third party, which many of them are saying. We are in a dilemma right now. So the Democratic Party’s going to have to get their messaging straight, and they’re going to have to stop talking to your choir, which that’s what they were doing in the last three days I’ve been here, and start talking to the skeptics.
And back to, like, the Americanism and this, like, we’re the best and greatest country on earth. Young people are not buying that. Young people are more open-minded, they understand their history. It’s okay to go up there and say, you know what, we made bad mistakes. You know, we’re not perfect. But I want to, we want to be on a journey with you. We want to be part of the revolution with you to make our country the greatest nation on earth. Young people are not buying this is the greatest nation. That’s not resonating with these young people.
JAY: Not just young people. This whole section of the working class, not only white, for that matter. I got my shoes shined today, and my 87-year-old shoe shine guy who was tap dancing to prove to me how, what great shape he was in, I asked him, what do you make of this? He started giving me an entirely pro-Trump rant. Black shoe shine guy, accusing Latinos of misusing food stamps. But mostly he’s just angry about the situation. And there’s nothing in this thing tonight that’s going to get people over that anger. You can’t just have some lovely speeches that emotionally feel good, and somehow you’re going to get over what people are feeling about their objective situation.
SCRUGGS: Well, there’s a conundrum there. You know, like, that Bernie faced, also. If you need to go back to when you had the New Democrats come in, and that goes all the way back to the 1990s, and that was Bill Clinton. And they called themselves, capital N, capital D, the New Democrats. And that was to move out of the financial sector then aligned with the Democratic Party–align with that more than they ever had, and abandon the manufacturing sector, where they had been getting their votes from the union. From the unions and the laboring classes.
To do that you had to do–they wanted to wholesale just destroy the manufacturing sector of the United States, and export it, because you had the technology to be able to move goods around the world in a way that you didn’t before. But they had to split the Democratic Party to do that, and that’s what Bill Clinton did. And it’s been different ever since.
So Bernie Sanders, if he’s going to try to really come in and critique TPP, which is NAFTA on steroids, he has to critique NAFTA. And if he’s going to talk about the inequality since the collapse of the economy, he has to talk about how did that build up? Well, that’s the buildup of the financial sector. And let’s talk about what the single largest contribution the Clintons have made to the United States so far, is a new addition to American English: the rust belt. That didn’t exist until the Clintons came about, and that was enabled by Bill and Hillary Clinton, who were both strong supporters.
So Bernie, you could see him kind of like, well, how far am I going to go, seeing as how I’m running inside the Democratic Party, to really criticize what has produced this disastrous results for all these hardworking people who, you know, the solution was supposed to be education for everybody? Well, go to Flint. Go to Detroit. Go to Pennsylvania, Ohio. These are all these swing states. They didn’t get an education to get them out of it. It was a ruse. You know, there you have lousy service paying jobs, they have to work two jobs to support their families.
And you have this great facade here, but you look behind it and people are hurting. And it’s kind of like, you want some more of this? Really? That’s why there was such an immediate resonance from people when Bernie Sanders came.
And it is interesting how young people are able to say, no, we don’t accept this, and we will jump with something different. And the older you get, people have less and less of a tendency to want to just stay with something that they’re secure with, you know.
JAY: When I interviewed Bernie and I asked him what happens, if you don’t win this, what do you think your supporters are going to do? And will they support Hillary? And his answer was, if Hillary doesn’t condemn the oligarchs–this is his words–then I don’t know if they will. And after, you know, listening to this whole convention tonight that if he doesn’t get back to that message and say yes–and I think he needs to say it outright–yes, Hillary represents a section of the oligarchs. But in my opinion, Trump is more dangerous.
But if you don’t tell people the truth of the stratum that controls the Democratic Party, which he more or less was during the campaign, you know, he was tactical about it but it was pretty much implied that when he says, you know, she needs to denounce the oligarchs, we kind of know that he thinks that she really is part of that.
But if they don’t get back to that language, maybe we will see a Trump presidency. Because most people aren’t experiencing this la-di-da that we heard tonight.
SARSOUR: I mean, Bernie’s in a conundrum. And I think, you know, Bernie was heavily criticized for his criticism of Hillary, this idea that somehow he’s the obstacle to the first woman president. You know, when he talked about her qualifications or being unqualified, we know exactly what he meant. We know that she was the Secretary of State. We knew that she was the first lady. We knew what her track record was. But he was so criticized as if she is an untouchable figure that cannot be criticized. And I think he got to the point where he won’t go back to that language.
There is a negotiation here that Bernie is to be brought onto the campaign to campaign for Hillary. So he’s not just doing this here, he’s going to be traveling the country. And I know him well enough to know that he doesn’t do teleprompters. I’ve been with him on the campaign trail. He doesn’t read from a teleprompter. And depending on what audiences he’s going to be talking to, depending on who shows up to the “event” with Bernie, he’s going to go back to that language. He might not go that direct, as you’re saying. But he’s going to go back to the, the top 1/10 percent of the 1 percent. Like, he’s going to go into what he’s been saying all along.
Bernie doesn’t change his messaging. You heard him. The same speech he gave here is the same speech I heard 987 times during the campaign. The guy has been saying the same thing for 40 years, and he will continue to say it. Maybe he won’t be that direct on Hillary–and I think that he doesn’t want to be the guy that gets blamed if, for some reason, we don’t win this election in November. He doesn’t want to be the man who’s going to be remembered because we’re going to have a worse time under Trump. And people are going to remember the last thing that happened. They’re not going to remember what led up to Trump, you know, 40 years. They’re going to remember Bernie Sanders messed it up for all of us. And I don’t think he wants to be that memory.
JAY: What do you say to people on the left, especially there’s a lot of Sanders delegates who are furious. And they’re saying it doesn’t–you know, Trump is not as dangerous as it’s being portrayed. They’re saying don’t use the fear factor against us. Clinton is unacceptable. What do you make to that argument?
SARSOUR: I tell people this. I said, look, if you don’t live in a swing state vote for whoever you want to vote for. Jill Stein, you want to write in Bernie. You know, whatever your heart tells you, just do it. If you live in a swing state you have a responsibility with that vote, because those that are most marginalized in this country are going to be even more marginalized.
So if you’re a true social justice activist and you’re a true left progressive, you’re like, Black Lives Matter, I care about immigrant rights, I care about Muslims, if that’s who you are, then if you are in a swing state in November you are doing a disservice to the people that you claim to care about if you put us under a law and order fascist and racist regime like Trump. Trump is worse, domestically. And if your priority is the American people, and our social justice movement, there will be massive crackdowns. And I can tell you, the top of the movements, the most visible of us, are going down. And Trump has made that very clear. The fact that Rudy Giuliani is on the table to become the head of the Department of Homeland Security should really be scaring anyone.
So I’m not trying to tell people vote based on fear. I’m trying to tell you to vote based on reality. And as a Muslim-American, as someone who organized with black communities, undocumented communities, Donald Trump’s supporters, his advisers–forget Trump, put Trump to the side. If you see the people that are around him, they are very scary people who are out to get anyone who does not believe in a predominantly white America.
JAY: All right. Do you want a last comment?
SCRUGGS: It would just be interesting to be able to ask Bernie Sanders, well, suppose Jeb Bush had become the nominee. How differently would you be presenting what people should be doing in the election?
JAY: Meaning it wouldn’t–.
SCRUGGS: If he didn’t have someone that’s crazy and as scary as Trump, that one can use as an excuse to then rally behind the Democratic Party candidate, would you say to people that, well, you should maybe put your energy into other things and not worry about that person next election, because it does not make that much difference. I mean, it’s just a hypothetical. We’ll never know.
JAY: This time it [does], you think. All right, thanks very much for joining us. And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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