Ep. 95 - Van Jones

Update: 2016-11-101


Van Jones, political activist and CNN commentator, talks with David about Tuesday’s election results and the cultural chasm that exists in America, his childhood in rural Tennessee and the important relationship he had with his father, and why he won’t be running for public office any time soon.

Following script is auto-generated by Speech to Text Technology:

the board for the acts files comes from rockin' mortgage my Quicken loans lift the burden of getting a home loan with rockin' mortgage and get a secure transparent home loan approval in minutes skip the bank of the waiting then go completely online at Quicken loans dot com slash X Files This podcast is brought you by sixty DB listen to conversations that go beyond the headlines business sports politics today's news plus all of your favorite podcasts download the free sixty DB at Today the the the and now from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN The X Files with your host David Axelrod the the the Van Jones is an activist a writer commentator known to viewers of CNN and to people across this country for a variety of things including bridging the gap between left and right and trying to shine a light in places were more understanding is needed and so it seemed fitting to sit down with him the day after one of the most historic elections in American history to sort out exactly what happened and where we go from the Van Jones my friend my colleague normally listeners of this podcast know that I like to talk to people about their lives in their path and I want and yours is extraordinary yours is an incredible inspiration but I want to just defer that for a couple of minutes him back into it because we speak at time in American History Univ sat together on a set for a year and a half talking about the selection and in a sense I think we both saw a wave coming but at least I did and you are way ahead of the curve I didn't really think that it would wash up onshore quite the way it did it did and now we have the president Donald Trump so tell me why you think that is what are its implications and how should people react to that well I think that across the western democracies we are expecting people to absorb an awful lot of change especially white working middle class is democratically we expect them to a lot of change as typically have fewer kids in there they're bringing in people from other parts of the world Africa Asia Latin America a lot of change economically technologically geo politically and changes heart in every bite and do change well some people and your family your workplace is some changes L great other people they hang on like a weight to your plan said this thing were you doing and so we have what I sometimes call a white flash of a backlash from white workers from from from struggling communities of white people who feel both the economic pinch but also some cultural anxieties and that is shown itself throughout the west exit in some ways was an expression that you see the rise of the sort of populist phobic native this party throughout the West and now we have this in people sometimes get frustrated when they hear that because it will you saying we're all racists no I'm saying there's legitimate anti elite ism there's an economic populism marbled often with this other stuff that is very very frightening I think for a lot of folks and you know it's painful I mean I've got staff members in California who were breaking down crying on the staff call I have Muslim friends who literally said Should we leave the country will there be internment camps as a no no we have a Constitution we have courts well you had that before new in turn the Japanese I think that we should prepare to leave now I mean there's no real real fear you now are talking before hand and you know I'm I'm a believer in this process of democracy as flawed as it is because people are flawed um but it seems to me that there are two ways that you confront most like this if you don't like the result we should also I think note that people if the result of been the there would be people crying and bemoaning it in other parts of the country from their perspective and I think that's part of the problem here is that we're we're like shaking fists at each other across this chasm and we don't really hear each other understand each other setting aside the racism and Xena full oso Bo big xenophobic views and sex whatever but the things you mention are profound and their expressed you know why is it that we have a that we have this drug epidemic in some of these communities just as we do in some inner city communities you know something going on out there is a lot of pain out there and right at the end of the campaign has started to get very worried about the day after a bout of I talk about wins Tuesday that they are the start worrying about Wednesday was going to happen my assumption being that Hillary Clinton would be elected president and then you would have fifty sixty million voters overwhelmingly white voters who would feel badly about that outcome what would happen so I literally went to Pennsylvania went to Gettysburg after Trump was there and met with Trump voters in their homes not just at a rally but we all each other sitting in the home listening talking we shot a couple episodes three episodes called the messy truth the messy truth it's on my Facebook page got two million views over the course a weekend with no promotion because we have been talking about each other not talking to each other and it turns out that when we talk to each other there are tremendous differences but it's it doesn't have to be as inflamed mean I love democracy for one reason I don't have to agree with you dictatorship I have to agree you have to agree we all have to agree that democracy nobody has to agree that the whole point I love that but the question is you can get to a level where you go from constructive disagreement where you're working to try to come up with the best answer is maybe you're more market oriented I might be more government oriented we come to some public private partnership and becoz of that disagreement with a better answer constructive disagreement as opposed to destructive disagreement with is no point ever know by the even trying to find the right and is trying to bludgeon the other side and you wind up not with opposition parties but with obstruction parties and you know where gridlock is actually the goal that this serves everybody and then can open the door to all kinds of bad stuff as people begin to lose faith in institutions and sometimes in democracy itself now and so I agree with you I am big I am a radical Democrat small D I believe in participation and my big concern now is that you have not just to Americans economically ship to America is increasingly culturally yes in you and then I can curl into a kind of tribalism and once you have tribalism in your country and you're not all striving toward that one goal they can become really mess this is the This is a consequence you know one of my concerns is the technology including communications technology churns at such a fast rate now that we we we don't have we don't have the capacity it seems to get our arms around the social implications of it and you know a we have a media environment in which on the one hand you have a multiplicity of sources of information which is positive but people also have the ability which many seas on to us to to to seek out those outlets that affirm their views instead of in form there you know the worst thing is I am so guilty that I try not to be the surprise of all listen to Rush Limbaugh I watch Fox but actually now you can kind of track what you're doing and you know I look at the cable it lasted because he would CNN CBS MSNBC way down the line Fox because I myself am participating in that whole thing was and I was in my hotel the other day and for whatever reason my TV was broken and I could get Fox but not the others and it was good it was good to hear what was being discussed there but you know I I work with young people is you do I know you travel across the country speaking to young people all the time and I do at the Institute of Politics of my concern hearing from these young people today including my own family is that their reaction is Well I've had it with this not to participate anymore it seems to me the appropriate response is you know what this stuff matters there are implications to this there is going to be a new Supreme Court as a result of this election and it's going to take the country in the lawn a profoundly different direction potentially Mitch McConnell announced as we speak and record this today that the first order of business will be to repeal Obamacare for twenty million and that is that is being faithful to those who voted for Donald Trump or twenty million people who have health care today becos of the Affordable Care Act every person with a preexisting condition and this is important to me because I have a child with a preexisting condition of cannot be denied health care today because of the Affordable Care Act young people to the age twenty six can be on their parents' health care and on and caps all of this stuff is was on the ballot yesterday and elections matter the metre line and I'll love young people I was a young activist and radical the first order of on the left side of Pluto when I was younger I was considered a leftist in the Bay Area get up early I work weekends though I get it and I love it but this is not does not work because the consequences of such a large generation I mean Leo generations bigger baby boomers have one bad primary outcome you don't like Bernie Sanders who drop out the whole system I mean you know my dad was you know they sic dogs on and they put fire hoses on him he didn't quit and you know his parents and their parents am a ninth generation American yeah I'm the first one of my family bore with all my rights in the ninth generation American firsts one nineteen sixty eight both of my rights none of my relatives gave up a fight every day so you know you like one guy and that person doesn't get and now you just got to walk away from America walkway from any engagement I just think you know it's I tell young people on time that's crap that's just a bunch of crap and you can't do that and it's embarrassing embarrassing yourselves that wicked generation you can take one bad outcome election without quitting yeah it's for you know you mention I want to get into your story um but I when I talk about why I'm a believer in all of this I often talk about this woman Jesse Berry who raise me shoes an African American woman who took care of me when my mom was at work and she came up from South Carolina no formal education and she took me when I was five years old to see John F Kennedy was campaigning in New York ten days or twelve days before the election in nineteen sixty which tells you how long ago that was when a Democrat was campaigning in New York twelve election but she took me there because she thought it was important for me to see Shan Xi some I knew she she she believe that some of this young man might do something positive to affect her life in the lives of other people and of course he didn't live to see the passage of the Civil Rights Act or the voting Rights Act but they very much were passed in the spirit of his life and and she could never this woman who would have died trying to exercise the right to vote potentially could not imagine that we have an African American president that I would be working for him and you know it just it always reminds me of the present likes to quote Doctor King about the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice but only bends if we grab it and try and bend one of the things around for the younger people think they they feel may be on manipulated or talk down to sometimes when I go off on these little tangent about the civil rights movement I do think that isn't that history matters and also think that a lot of stuff that they're suffering through their concern about criminal justice are very concerned about police reform very concerned about immigration are very concerned about LGBT their concern about climate all these very present tense issues are on the ballot all the time on you know I was born in sixty eight the year that killed Doctor King in the year that killed Bobby Kennedy is year they beat up those young kids to Chicago who are trying to stop a war in some ways it was the year they tried to kill hope in America a lot of people a generation ahead of me say sixty eight was the year some even the most momentous year of my life yeah and some say in the history the world's biggest news here in history the world was born into that and what I was five years old miss Brown my kindergarten teacher shocked me by showing me that grown people could could cry I didn't I'd never seen an adult crime that only children cried and Patrick Carmody in my class was a horrible little bully but for some reason he races in the ass Miss Brown who was Bobby Kennedy and she started to cry and it just shocked me and them some later I don't know I gotta look a little weekly reader and had a love story about John F Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy and a little guy and I that they were at that Bobby was killed and six KBR was born and I somehow just transfer to me that I had to do present a solo shot to tie emotional time but you know five five zero kids are pretty smart and I just thought like Oh this guy was trying to make America better and he had seen them so you know this stuff matters and I think that for me I know that we're going to go through a very difficult very chaotic time in the Trump rebellion is a a part of a bunch of rebellion to Sanders rebellion the Black Lives matter in the occupy rebellion that should the Tea Party but in some regard the Obama rebellion there's just there's something happening that's hard for us to understand but I do know that you get the future to fight for eventually that story my feet yeah yeah um just one point on Bobby want to talk about your family and your journey which is incredible um but I was the I was thirteen when he was killed what worked for him when I was nine years old I was hand that is a strategy for handing out leaflets as a little boy and one of the things about him was that he was fearless he was also and he was also someone who who bridged the chasm yes he was someone who could speak to all Americans and particularly those Americans who felt left out whether they wore white white Americans an Apple ha African Americans in the inner city thus one of them Cesar Chavez and you know that's why I so admired him grieved so when he won we lost him but when Barack Obama ran for president I said to him you know we've got to recreate what we haven't seen in this country for forty years which is that sense of hope and possibility and bridging the chasm and so on you know and I mean I'm I'm actually sad for the president that his presidency ended this quite this way because that's the goal to achieve but he be the first to say we heard him today saying this is the system this is this is our democracy and we've got to work through it you know in about a great job you know so funny about forty years in the wilderness between sixty eight and two thousand a announcer of biblical in my mind around the country trying to find its way back to hope and that's really I think I may hope and change are hardcore had never been involved in any electro anything out from Election Day protest and as my stress that Obama brought me into diff relationship with the whole process and I went up in the White House for six months which was his own kind of crazy experience we'll talk about him but for me I think you could if you want to be provocative worry about the collapse of moral leadership within the white community where the Jack counts where the Bobby Kennedy's where those white leaders that are able to reach and I think often commutes of color they are very scrutinize will know what's going on in my er jie succeeding in where your leaders that kind of thing and every one of our leaders that something bad man just like horrible we all feel terrible and yet it takes two sides to stick and trying to figure out how the right kind of folks can reach out to each other was partly why I went to buy went to get you know and I found some of the most beautiful amazing people Trump voters amazing people and yet we're speaking almost completely different languages yeah yeah well I am I think that we should note that Hillary Clinton won a majority votes in this country and that for Republicans and Democrats the rector of the recognition that whether you're comfortable with change or not changes coming because that is the nature of the demographics of the country it's the drift of history and the question is can we love lock arms and march forward together and harness that change in a way that is not convey all souvenirs constructive or or or or not so smart people when you say are there leaders of the with the white community and their leaders within that party who understand that the future is not in separatism the future is in pluralism will take a short break and we're back with the Van Jones rocket mortgage by Quicken loans proudly supports the X Files when it comes to the big decision of choosing a mortgage lender is important to work with someone you can trust leisure best interests in mind with rockin' mortgage you'll get a transparent online process that gives you the confidence you need to make an informed decision skip the bank of the waiting and go completely online at Quicken loans dot com slash X Files equal Housing lender license in all fifty states and MLS consumer access dot org Number thirty thirty solicit talk about you you you mention a little bit about your growing up experience talk about Ford from Tennessee for grown up there what what what helped form you la my dad was Willie Anthony Jones' mother Loretta Jean Kirk and all Jones my father was born and segregation and poverty in nineteen forty four in Memphis Tennessee grew up in Orange mound Memphis which is that I was the biggest black ghettos in the country and he joined the military to get out of poverty rebels running out the military my debt ridden and then it's off to college do with the SU new snow he was using the Air Force he was in Korea and briefly in Vietnam and came back went to a small black college call Elaine College in Jackson on the GI bill exactly bill married the college president's daughter was because my dad like that and had me in my twin sister my mom dad and my dad that my uncle his little brother through college and then put a cousin through college and then he and my mom put me and my sister through college and was he doing he has been a cop in the military that was a big part of his personality nothing like a cop and he became an educator became a middle school present in Double A C P had to sue my home county for my father to be able to become a middle school principal those kind of like an unwritten rule that you could be assistant principal you can be principal of these integrated than in one integrated yet to schools and will be the principal now I want school so much black is possible that much a white principal so then doubly CP suit my dad went up getting the worst school in our county which he turned around to be one of the best schools the state and has great pride and when he died in two thousand a lung cancer and emphysema hard drinker or smoker or worker in the picture that we put on the funeral program was a picture of me graduating from Yale Law School the picture of him the day I graduated from Yale Law School with his hands in the air just no triumphant me told me before I went to Yi Li said they wouldn't even let me be a yard work at a school like that but you gotta go be with those Bigfoot those big families kids and it was a huge source of pride for him but my dad was also very concerned about he gets his own and snobbery and elitism because he was born very poor and then he winds up marrying a college president's daughter and suddenly he's caught in that class divide in the black community where it's like well you know your two generations I'm wondering from your too so you're better than the remorse knew that whole kind of class the stuff that happens inside a community and so he hated any kind of elitism so before I went to law school he some head getting bigger and bigger he took me outside to sit there in a carport and salute a sms is only two kind of smart people for their smart people who take very simple things make him sound very complicated to try to impress everybody in this smart people who take very complicated things make him sound very simple to try to help everybody come back in my house yes I can spark a mount and that's like wisdom yeah it was as Lily just that the best political mind of anybody I've ever met to this day like a lot mean for the black community is politically as you know there's this financially not so much politically bears and my dad to sharpen me we sat there we watched CNN I wish you'd live to see me on CNN and he would rip the Liberals and the concert part he had just knows for BS of nonsense and that's the contempt for the elites because he had killed his whole life and so I really am my father sat in that regard you know I'm going to expose myself to knit me the gender some negative reaction but um you work with young people and you work in communities really under stress and I come from Chicago knows remember um Barack Obama will use a state senator telling me that he goes sort of heartbroken way that he'd go to kindergarten and first grade classes and there'd be these kids and they had a light in their eye and say what you want to be in that I want to be a lawyer I want to be a doctor a long and then he'd go to the middle schools and that would all be gone and of them part of this there's so much that one has to contend with than some of these communities but it strikes me that all of us benefit from family and from the support of a father like your father and a lot of these kids they don't have that one of the tougher conversations I think we're struggling with this is conversation about fatherhood thing is that big hit in topic a lot of liberal feminist coil it even the idea that there might be some special role for Father because it seems to be such an insult to what mothers do such a re if occasion of these gender binary that they're trying to fight against and it's just sits poorly in the mouth and yet there's something that I don't know how to talk about that my father was able to give me that my mother would have been able to undo some militia by with my sons my wife sees it and she celebrates it and we've got to be able have a sane conversation about both patriarchy and the horrific oppression of women which is also omnipresent we don't even notice it all too often without creating the situation where men are in a confuse state where they try to step forward you know in some sense of show Maury that's considered noxious if they stepped back too far then their deadbeat dads I mean there's this transition to a more egalitarian gender system which were going through is not without some rug burn and heartburn among good guys who are trying to find a way forward and I do say that had I not seen in my house every day of strong black man get up every morning I mean make the phone calls the ad to make go to put on a suit and tie go to work come back sometimes frustrated but taking responsibility for that household and four for all the kids at his school I mean our phones ring you know late night Mr. Jones Mr. Jones and he took those calls coming in he could he could call the judge he could call the mayor could make things happen had I not seen that I don't know who I would be and my grandfather was a college president thirty five years old those things matter and I think about everyday you know I saw the president to speak to kids particularly young men teenage men
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Ep. 95 - Van Jones

The Axe Files with David Axelrod