- Glenn GreenwaldPulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept. His most recent piece is headlined “Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit.”
On Wednesday, hours after Donald Trump won the presidency, Senator Bernie Sanders issued this statement on Trump’s election: “Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids—all while the very rich become much richer.” In his statement, Senator Sanders also said he would work with Trump “to the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country.” But he said that he would oppose Trump “to the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies.” For more, we’re joined by Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, on Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders issued this statement on Trump’s election. “Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids—all while the very rich become much richer.”
Senator Bernie Sanders, who opposed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, went on to say, quote, “To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.” That’s the statement from Bernie Sanders.
Glenn Greenwald, many have said that if Sanders had been the Democratic presidential candidate, then perhaps Trump would not have won the election.
GLENN GREENWALD: Right. So, that’s a counterfactual that none of us can know for certain. What I do know for certain and what I wrote about back in March or February, I believe, was the fact that all empirical evidence, which, remember, is what Democratic opinion-making elites and liberal pundits and data journalists tell us is the thing that should guide our thinking—all available empirical evidence showed that Bernie Sanders was a much more popular and a much stronger candidate than Hillary Clinton against every single Republican opponent, including Donald Trump. He was running many points ahead of Clinton on every poll, in terms of who he might run against versus her, in terms of approval rating, in terms of popularity.
Democrats insisted that we should ignore all of that empirical evidence, that it was unreliable, that once the general election campaign started, Republicans would depict Sanders as a communist, that he would have no chance, in contrast to Clinton, who has already been deeply vetted. We’ll never know for certain whether those arguments were true or not, but what I know for certain is two things. Number one, that the empirical evidence, weak or unreliable or incomplete as it might have been, all pointed to the fact that Hillary Clinton was highly likely to lose, and Bernie Sanders had a greater chance of winning. And, in fact, I wrote an article, back in the primaries, saying, with Donald Trump looming, can we really take the gamble, the huge gamble, of nominating a candidate who is as weak and unpopular as Hillary Clinton? But lost that argument, lost that debate. And as a result, Hillary Clinton was the nominee, and she lost to Donald Trump.
The other point that I think is really worth making is that Sanders—that statement from Senator Sanders is actually quite remarkable, because he isn’t coming out and saying everybody who voted for Donald Trump is a racist troglodyte. He’s not saying that everyone who voted for Donald Trump is a misogynist who hates women and cast their vote for that reason. He’s saying that there are a huge number of people who voted for Donald Trump, and not for Hillary Clinton, who have very valid grievances. And those grievances are grounded in a system of policies that both political parties have played an equal role in creating.
Look at what he is describing: jobs going overseas, industries being destroyed, Wall Street being protected. You can go back into the '80s, into the era of Reagan and trickle-down economics and the destruction of unions, to find the genesis of it. And then you look into the ’90s, with NAFTA and free trade mania and the liberation of Wall Street from all kinds of constraints, and into the 2000s, when in the post-2008 economic crisis the Obama administration prosecuted not a single Wall Street executive responsible for that crisis, while continuing to build the world's largest penal state, largely for poor people, people with no power. And it’s this inequality, this oppression of huge numbers of people in the name of globalism and free trade, that Bernie Sanders is describing in that statement as why Trump won.
And it’s the Democrats and the Republicans who played a huge part in constructing that system, and Hillary Clinton, probably above every other politician who could have run, is the symbol of safeguarding that system, of believing in it, of advocating for it and, most of all, of benefiting from it greatly. And so, you sent a Democratic nominee into the general election, in this climate, who could not have been more ill-suited to voice the kind of systemic critique that Donald Trump, being the con artist that he is, was able to voice and that Senator Sanders has spent his entire career trying to advocate for. And I think you see the contrast really well in terms of how Senator Sanders would have run against Trump in that statement that he just issued versus how most Democrats are reacting to this Trump victory.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have the media part of this—right?—where you have the unending Trump TV, not the new Trump TV, but all the networks’ Trump TV, when it came to Donald Trump. They showed more footage of his empty podium, waiting for him to speak, than they ever played of the words of Bernie Sanders. So you had the endless platform for Donald Trump, but rarely did you have Bernie Sanders showing, in any way, the extent of the speeches that he gave. You’d have whole speeches of Donald Trump. But when it came to Bernie Sanders, that famous night, March 15th—that was, what, Super Tuesday 3—every single victor and loser that night, from Rubio to Kasich to Clinton to Cruz to Trump, all their speeches were played—except for Bernie Sanders, who was speaking to thousands and thousands and thousands of people that night in Arizona. This is just emblematic of the rest of the coverage. They never played a word that he said that night.
GLENN GREENWALD: Right, and I think there’s a lot to unpack there in terms of how the media functions and in terms of the media role in this election. So, let’s begin with the fact that Donald Trump’s public persona prior to this election was consecrated and constructed by one of the most powerful media organizations in the world, if not the most powerful media organization in the world, which is NBC News, which—or NBC, rather, which for many, many years paraded Donald Trump in the format of a reality TV program, watched by tens of millions of Americans, that portrayed him as the embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit. He marched into boardrooms, in charge, and unflinchingly fired people who weren’t working up to standard performance. He built new businesses. He was the embodiment of everything that Americans are taught to revere. And this is the person who, for decades, has been a racist, a demagogue, a con artist, and yet NBC turned him into this swaggering hero at great profit to itself.
And so, already, he was a byproduct of media worship. And then, once the campaign began, the media, as you said, nonstop fed on Donald Trump, to the exclusion, certainly, first and foremost, of Bernie Sanders, but even to the other candidates, who got far less TV time than Trump did, because he was a ratings gold mine. And they would literally wait on the tarmac and excitingly and breathlessly show his plane about to land. And this built up this image in Americans’ minds that Donald Trump was this all-consuming, towering new presence on the American political landscape. And the American media did a critical job in building him up during the primary and entrenching in the minds of Americans that he was not this out-of-the-norm, radical, extremist, dangerous, racist authoritarian that he was, but instead was this new and powerful figure who was going to come in, revolutionize American politics and the American political culture, that so many citizens of the United States have come to despise.
And I think that what you just contrasted, in terms of how Trump was treated and how Sanders was treated, shows a really important truth about how media operates, which is, if you talk to most journalists who work at major media outlets or newspapers, as you know, and you say to them, “You have all kinds of ways that you censor certain opinions, that you have of excluding certain viewpoints,” they’ll insist that that’s not true, that they never are told what to show or not to show, they’re never told what to say or not to say. And, of course, that’s true. And yet, embedded within all of their editorial judgments about who is worth hearing from and who isn’t worth hearing from are all kinds of ideological and partisan biases. So the idea that Donald Trump, the billionaire, celebrity, TV star, should constantly be heard from, whereas Bernie Sanders, the old Jewish socialist from Vermont, who nobody took seriously, doesn’t need to be heard from, with all of his boring speeches about college debt and healthcare and the like, in that choice is a very strong and pedantic ideological choice that the American media embraced and played a huge role in enabling Trump to march to the primary.
Now, the only other point I want to add to this immediate issue is that I do think that media behavior changed fundamentally with regard to Donald Trump once he became the nominee. So, you have the primary period, where they treated him like a normal candidate. They revered him. They gave him endless free TV time. But once he became the nominee and they took seriously the prospect that he might be president and they started to realize and internalize the responsibility they bore for enabling him to get that far, I think they went all the way to the other extreme, where they completely united in this kind of mission of destroying Donald Trump, of preventing his victory and ensuring that Hillary Clinton was elected. And in a big way, that also played a role, unwittingly, I think, in helping Trump, because, of all the institutions in the United States, the institutions of authority that are hated, the American media leads the way. And so, when people saw the media basically trying to coerce them or dictate to them that they should turn their backs on Donald Trump, that they should vote for Hillary Clinton, I think a backlash ensued, where people believed that the media was being unfair, and were not going to you take marching orders from these media institutions, that they also have come to regard as fundamentally corrupt. And, unwittingly, I think that played an important role, as well, in ensuring that he could win.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, there’s the leaked Clinton campaign memo to the Democratic National Committee from last year regarding Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. The memo said, quote, “We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are the leaders of the pack and tell the press to [take] them seriously.” Glenn Greenwald, your response to that?
GLENN GREENWALD: There are a lot of fascinating insights in those Clinton emails. I know Democratic partisans are furious that they ever saw the light of day, and they’re furious precisely because they contain a lot of really important and interesting insights about how political operatives manipulate the media, about how the media aids certain factions and tries to work against others, about how campaign operatives within the Democratic Party manipulate public opinion.
And one of the more interesting aspects is exactly that, the fact that the Clinton campaign did view certain Republican candidates, like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, as being serious threats to them and to Hillary Clinton’s election, and, in what they thought was a very clever maneuver, wanted to elevate the candidates that they thought were less threatening, such as Donald Trump, to the top of the pack. And in a lot of ways, they have reaped what they have sown, because Donald Trump did end up essentially becoming the nominee because of the media’s treatment of him, and, in retrospect, he probably was one of the more threatening candidates, because the Clintons know how to defeat conventional Orthodox Republican candidates like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. They can do that in their sleep. Donald Trump was a very unconventional candidate. I think he animated parts of the voting population who either haven’t voted in the past or who haven’t voted Republican to vote for him. And the strategies that the Clintons anticipated they would use, because they’ve always worked in the past, simply didn’t work this time. And you could conclude that, in some ways, they sort of outsmarted themselves.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion. And after we finish with Glenn, we’ll be joined by 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben on where the environmental movement goes here, with a president-elect who calls climate change a Chinese hoax and is calling, among other things, for permitting the Keystone XL pipeline. Glenn Greenwald is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept. This is Democracy Now! Back with Glenn in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: “Burning in Birmingham,” sung by Amy Leon last night at last night’s “We Stand Together” rally in New York City to “Reject Misogyny & Racism & Embrace Each Other.” That was the name of the rally. Special thanks to Democracy Now!’s Renée Feltz.