Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is himself named after Confederate leaders, is now tasked with investigating the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, which killed one person and injured dozens. But few have any confidence this investigation will bring justice, given Sessions himself has a long history of making racist comments and defending white supremacist policies. The violence is escalating calls for Trump’s resignation, including from award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.
AMY GOODMAN: You write in your book, Ta-Nehisi, talking about Trump and leading the birther movement against President Obama, “After his cabal of conspiracy theorists forced President Obama to present his birth certificate, Trump then demanded the president’s college grades (offering $5 million to anyone who provided them), insisting [that] Obama was not intelligent enough to have graduated from an Ivy League college, and that his acclaimed memoir Dreams of My Father had been ghostwritten by a white man.” If you can talk about that push, from birtherism to what President Trump is doing today, and what you’d like to see him doing? One of the things he said yesterday is that he had met with his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who would be leading a federal investigation into what took place in Charlottesville. Does that give you any comfort, Ta-Nehisi?
TA-NEHISI COATES: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. What I would like to see him doing is resigning and leaving the White House. I have no expectation for the president. I certainly have no expectation for—I mean, this is like where we are. We’re in a house of mirrors right now, where Jeff Sessions is the one who’s going to bring the white supremacists to justice—Jeff Sessions who was denied a federal courtship because, you know, it was thought that his proximity to the segregationists of Alabama was much too close. I have absolutely no faith, no more faith than one should have in foxes being appointed to guard the hen house.
We—and I say “we” as a country now. I say “we” as a country, because I put myself in that. We elected a president who openly courted and openly activated the forces of white supremacy in this country in order to become president. We now have to live with the consequences of that. And I just—I don’t see much changing, certainly not in the next four years. I expect more of this, not less.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And are you disappointed, to some degree, that President Obama has maintained relative silence since he left the presidency, I guess, following in the footsteps of George Bush, who basically receded from the public scene for quite some time?
TA-NEHISI COATES: No, because I don’t—I’m not convinced that would do anything. You know? I’m not convinced that would bring the country any closer together. I think, if anything, what he would do is he would provide more ammo to Donald Trump. What you have to understand is, Donald Trump’s very essence, his very identity, is the anti-Obama. You know, he doesn’t really have independent thought beyond the idea that if this country could have a black president, it must be able to have Donald Trump as its president. That’s his core and animating theory. I mean, there was a piece, I think, like just last week in BuzzFeed. It was talking about, you know, Trump’s foreign policy. And his basic deal is: “Is Obama for it? Well, I’m against it.” You know? And that’s not just Trump. That’s a substantial portion of Americans who also voted for Trump, who, obviously, you know, still, at least to some extent, share that point of view. So, I don’t know that—I don’t know that there’s any way around this. No one’s coming around the mountain to save us. We did something. You know, we handed over the nuclear codes. We handed over the safety of our entire country to somebody. And now we have to live with that.
AMY GOODMAN: In another incident on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacists were captured in a photo and also video beating 20-year-old African-American protester Deandre Harris, who’s a hip-hop artist and assistant special education teacher at an area high school. Harris later described the attack to the Los Angeles Times.
DEANDRE HARRIS: We was just all standing here, and then we was walking down as they were walking down. And then I think we got like right here, and they just rushed us.
REPORTER: Where’s here?
DEANDRE HARRIS: Yeah, like right here, in this open way right here.
REPORTER: So right in front of—the police station is right here.
DEANDRE HARRIS: I keep hearing all this chaos going around on me, and I feel myself getting hit. So I’m trying to get up and run, but I can’t. Every time I got up, I just lose consciousness and fall back out, ’til the last time I got to open my eyes, and I see all my friends there. And they pick me up and take me over there so I can get help. I was gashed in the head, broke my wrists, chipped my tooth, busted my lip, got a bunch of cuts and abrasions all on my knees and elbows. I got eight staples in my head.
AMY GOODMAN: He was beaten up very badly. They were hitting him, smashing him with sticks. Now, there’s been a lot of criticism of the Charlottesville Police Department, or overall law enforcement—I think they brought in something like a thousand officers for this—that they just stood there. And, I mean, he was right by a police station, but overall. And I was wondering your thoughts about this. And it also goes back to Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general, named after two Confederate leaders, right? Jefferson Davis and—
TA-NEHISI COATES: Beauregard. Beauregard—Davis—Sessions, you’re right. Go ahead, sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: And as head of the—and, as attorney general, is leading the movement to stop the consent decrees that would see the Justice Department oversee cities like Ferguson and their police after the killing of Michael Brown.
TA-NEHISI COATES: It’s infuriating. I mean, it’s absolutely, absolutely infuriating. I mean, I just want to pick up where you just left off, and that is with Ferguson. And what one has to do to really understand the horror of the situation, you have to try to imagine black people in, say, Ferguson, showing up, some of them with guns, some of them dressed in militia outfits, some of them with shields, some of them with clubs. You have to try to imagine, and then having them brawl in the streets with counterprotesters. And you then have to try to imagine the police doing nothing. And I think that just fails the test. I just don’t think, you know, that there’s enough imagination to perceive that, you know, as a possibility.
I was watching those things in Charlottesville on Saturday, and I was amazed. I mean, I should not be amazed. I mean, it pretty much follows, you know, the basic theory. But it is just amazing to see, you know, the police absolutely do nothing, on the one hand, and then when you see all these other cases—you know, imagine if that was how black folks responded when Eric Garner had been choked to death. Imagine if that was how black folks responded to Tamir Rice, if we came out in guns and militia gear. I mean, does anyone think the police would just sort of stand back like that?
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Ta-Nehisi Coates, the national correspondent for The Atlantic, he has a new book that is coming out in October, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with Ta-Nehisi in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: “Hold Tight” by Sinkane, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Let’s turn for a minute to some of the voices from the rally that took place this weekend after the terror in Charlottesville, where Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, activist, deeply committed to social and racial justice, was killed, as she was run over, hit by a car that had driven into the protesters, the counterprotesters against the white supremacists. Donald Trump was concerned, at that point, talked about violence on all sides. This was the sounds of protest outside his Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
PROTESTERS: Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Donald Trump has got to go! Whose streets? Our streets!
DAVID BODEMER: My name is David Bodemer. I felt it was important to come out today and to come out every day and to oppose a president that condones white supremacy. He did not—it took him three days to denounce David Duke last year during his campaign. It’s very interesting that he made a big point in his campaign about naming radical Islamic terrorism, and also he made this huge show of denouncing MS-13, but he can’t come out and denounce white supremacy. I mean, that’s outrageous.
VICTORIA RICHTER: Victoria Richter, and I’m here because I’m very concerned about this administration. What’s going on is terrible. And what happened in Charlottesville, I thought that was part of United States history, not its current—but not what’s happening now. And it’s just disgraceful.
NICOLE SHIPPEN: I’m Nicole Shippen. I’m a professor of political science at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. Our students are very vulnerable, and we mostly have students of color. Most of them are immigrants. They’re from all over the world. And that’s what New York sort of stands for. Trump’s rhetoric and ideological claims really brought a lot of people out of the woodwork, people who used to be ashamed or could be shamed, and now they can come out, and they’re proud. And he was able to bring out a lot of those biases, a lot of those resentments.
JOHN VEGA: My name is John Vega. I am with Rise and Resist. The terror that I felt when I saw the burning torches, the pictures, and—I couldn’t actually believe that that was something that was happening this day and age. And then you’re thinking about—I was thinking about it, that a person was killed yesterday protesting Nazis in the United States. That clearly blew my mind, just that concept that what we fought for in World War II—we fought against the Nazis. Our grandfathers, our fathers, our grandmothers worked on World War II to stop this, and now we have to deal with that in 2017, that somebody is dying because of white supremacy and Nazism? That literally blows my mind. And I—it’s a hard thing to kind of shake.
PROTESTERS: We’ll be back, and we’ll be stronger! We’ll be back, and we’ll be stronger! We’ll be back, and we’ll be stronger!
AMY GOODMAN: So, those were the voices of dissent on Sunday, after the Charlottesville terror. Last night, as President Trump came home, first time since his inauguration, late last night, there were still a thousand people outside his residence. Now, that’s the grassroots response. And then there’s the corporate response, Juan.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Well, on Monday morning, the CEO of pharmaceutical giant Merck, Kenneth Frazier, who is African-American, resigned from the council, saying, quote, “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” unquote.
While it took President Trump two days to condemn the violence of the white supremacists in Charlottesville, it took him only an hour to attack Frazier for resigning, tweeting, quote, “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” unquote.
The CEO of Intel and the CEO of Under Armour also resigned on Monday from the council in protest, even after Trump made his statement Monday.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, your sense of how these corporate executives now also bucking and saying, “We’re not—we’re not going to be part of this anymore”?
TA-NEHISI COATES: I mean, I guess it’s good to see, but, you know, again, I just go back to this: He is who we thought he was. This is not new for Donald Trump. Steve Bannon did not suddenly materialize in the White House. Donald Trump has a record. And so, I just—you know, maybe it’s just me, but I’m sort of amazed that people are sort of just, you know, throwing up their hands and saying, “I’m shocked that President Donald Trump, the foremost proponent of the racist birther myth, did not give an appropriate response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.”
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what you just referred to before, your response, what you think Trump should do? You said resign. Can you play this out? What would that look like if President Trump were to resign? And—
TA-NEHISI COATES: Well, it’s hard for—yeah, it’s hard for me to advise about what he should do. But I think if he—you know, obviously, if he resigned, Mike Pence would become president. You might not still see these kind of overt displays and open displays of white supremacy. It would not shock me if the investigation into the voter rolls, that you talked about earlier, continued. Certainly, you know, at the state level, the sort of gerrymandering that’s been going on now for some time, to engineer these states so that, you know, black folks—you know, the power of votes is diluted, would certainly continue. I would expect that Jeff Sessions and his efforts to roll back the reforms on criminal justice would continue. I would expect no action, for instance, on the sprawling income inequality. I would expect the continued assault on Planned Parenthood to continue.
And so, you know, obviously, I’m not trying to defend Donald Trump here, but I think people really need to get that he did not come out of nowhere. You know, it’s nice to see that people, at this late hour, you know, are denouncing Trump. I mean, folks denounced Trump when he was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault, you know, and a few months later some of those same people were still standing with him. You know, so I just—I don’t put much faith in it, because it’s not an individual in and of itself. It’s an entire system. It’s a political apparatus, you know, working all in concert. And so, I think if you were willing to stand with a president who bragged on tape, you know, again, about sexually assaulting someone, I don’t know why the line is now—I understand that somebody got killed, but I’m not sure why the line is here.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to get back to a quote from your book that—when you’ve talked about the importance of those eight years when President Obama was in the White House, that you believe he was one of the greatest presidents in American history, that he was—quoting you, “He was phenomenal—the most agile interpreter and navigator of the color line I had ever seen. He had an ability to emote a deep and sincere connection to the hearts of black people, while never doubting the hearts of white people.” This was one of the core—”This was the core of his 2004 keynote, and it marked his historic race speech during the 2008 campaign at Philadelphia’s Constitution Center—and blinded him to the appeal of Trump.” So his belief in the heart of white people, you feel, also blinded him to the dangers of a Trump. Could you expound on that?
TA-NEHISI COATES: Sure. There are certain qualities that are required to—that would be required to become the first African-American president. The office of the presidency is necessarily limited in a particular way. You represent all Americans. You represent all Americans in their, you know, most beautiful ambitions, and you represent all Americans in their moral limitations also. And so, but when we think about great presidents throughout history, when I think about my—you know, the presidents who I hold up—Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, you know, for instance—I can certainly find, you know, periods of moral limitation, periods where I feel like they didn’t do the right thing. Abraham Lincoln was a man who urged African Americans, late into the Civil War, to leave the country, to enroll in this scheme of colonization, to depart because white people would never accept them as Americans. You know, and at the same time, he was heroic enough to be, as my friend Jelani Cobb often says, shot in head in defense of white supremacy. So you’re talking about, you know, limits from the get-go.
And I think to be the first black person, to be the first African American to inhabit the Oval Office, you have to have a sense of white people that I would say most African Americans do not have. You have to—you would have to have a degree of trust, a degree of belief, in fact, I would go so far as to say, that we were past things like Charlottesville that we just saw this weekend. That was the only way I think somebody was going to be president. The catch is that at the same time that you extend that belief, it blinds you to what actually can happen and what actually can come out of it, like the election of a Donald Trump.