Democratic candidates also spoke on race and white supremacy, with Senator Elizabeth Warren arguing that the United States needs “to call out white supremacy for what it is: domestic terrorism.” Marianne Williamson of California brought up the Flint water crisis and highlighted environmental racism saying, “We have communities, particularly communities of color and disadvantaged communities, all over this country who are suffering from environmental injustice.” We speak with Mehdi Hasan, columnist for The Intercept and host of its “Deconstructed” podcast. He’s also host of “UpFront” at Al Jazeera English.
More from this Interview
- Part 1: Sanders & Warren Fight “Republican Talking Point” That Medicare for All Is About Reducing Coverage
- Part 2: Warren Denounces White Supremacy as Domestic Terrorism; Marianne Williamson Calls for Reparations
- Part 3: “We Don’t Want Another President Obama”: Activist Urges Democrats to Reframe Immigration Debate
- Part 4: Warren Backs “No First Use” Nuclear Policy as Buttigieg Calls for Withdrawal from Afghanistan
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We are continuing to cover last night’s Democratic presidential debate in Detroit. Let’s go to CNN moderator Don Lemon questioning Elizabeth Warren.
DON LEMON: Senator Warren.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Yes.
DON LEMON: I’m coming to you now. Last week, the FBI director, Christopher Wray, said that the majority of domestic terrorism cases this year have been motivated by white supremacy. In fact, the alleged shooter in this weekend’s attack in Gilroy, California, referenced a well-known white supremacist book on social media. How are you going to combat the rise of white supremacy?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: We need to call out white supremacy for what it is: domestic terrorism. And it poses a threat to the United States of America. We live in a country now where the president is advancing environmental racism, economic racism, criminal justice racism, healthcare racism.
The way we do better is to fight back and show something better. So, I have a plan, for example, on education, that says we have to build a better education system for all our kids, but we’ve got to acknowledge what’s happened on race. So my plan has universal tuition-free college for all of our kids but also increases the Pell Grants and levels the playing field by putting $50 billion into historically black colleges and universities. It cancels student loan debt for 95% of the kids with student loan debt and helps close the black-white wealth gap in America.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Senator Elizabeth Warren. The issue of reparations for slavery also came up during the debate. This is Don Lemon of CNN questioning Marianne Williamson.
DON LEMON: Speaking of reparations, Ms. Williamson, many of your opponents support a commission to study the issue of reparations for slavery, but you are calling for up to $500 billion in financial assistance. What makes you qualified to determine how much is owed in reparations?
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: Well, first of all, it’s not $500 billion in “financial assistance.” It’s $500 billion—$200 billion to $500 billion, payment of a debt that is owed. That is what reparations is. We need some deep truth telling when it comes. We don’t need another commission to look at evidence. I appreciate what Congressman O’Rourke has said. It is time for us to simply realize that this country will not heal—all that a country is, is a collection of people. People heal when there is some deep truth telling. We need to recognize that when it comes to the economic gap between blacks and whites in America, it does come from a great injustice that has never been dealt with.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Marianne Williamson talking at last night’s debate.
Joining us is Mehdi Hasan. He’s a columnist for The Intercept and host of their Deconstructed podcast. He’s also host of UpFront at Al Jazeera English. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, former candidate in Michigan’s 2018 gubernatorial primary election. In September of 2018, he founded the political action committee Southpaw Michigan to help elect other progressive candidates in Michigan. And from Phoenix, Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer for RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.
And I want to start with Mehdi Hasan. Now, I’ve been watching these presidential debates—I hate to say it now—going back to the first one, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon back in 1960. I have never seen so much emphasis in a debate on the issue of race and white supremacy and what presidential candidates might do about it. I’m wondering your reaction to the exchanges last night on this issue.
MEHDI HASAN: I’m glad they discussed it. And I’m going to disagree with my good friend Abdul El-Sayed, what he was saying before the break, that he’s glad they started with healthcare. I wish they had started the whole debate on race, because that’s where we’ve been for the last few weeks. You have a racist in the White House making racist remarks about members of Congress, people of color, and backed by the Republican Party, which is basically now a white nationalist party. And I think that should have been where the debate began. It’s amazing that we didn’t talk about that at the top of the debate. It’s amazing we didn’t talk about impeachment at all across the whole of last night, didn’t come up even once.
But I’m glad they got to it eventually. And Elizabeth Warren put it best, when she said white supremacy is a domestic terrorism. It’s not said often enough. Marianne Williamson talked about reparations, in the clip you played. I wish someone other than Marianne Williamson, who’s a little bit kooky, let’s be honest, and isn’t really going to be president of the United States or vice president of the United States, had made that case, although she did so eloquently and passionately. I’ll give her that. But yes, we do need to talk about these subjects more often.
You know, CNN talked about immigration reform, I think was their second subject of the debate. And I tweeted last night, saying I wished the Democratic candidates—and there were only really two proper progressives up there—had answered by saying, “You know what? Let’s talk about racism first, because it’s racism that’s underpinning this so-called immigration debate, to begin with.” But, of course, as you’ve already mentioned, the framing of the debate was right-wing from start to finish.
AMY GOODMAN: And on that issue of race, this is an issue that Dr. El-Sayed knows well, the combining of race in environmental racism, healthcare and racism, as a former head of the Health Department in Detroit. I wanted to turn to moderator Dana Bash questioning Marianne Williamson.
DANA BASH: Ms. Williamson, what’s your response on the Flint water crisis?
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: My response on the Flint water crisis is that Flint is just the tip of the iceberg. I was recently in Denmark, South Carolina, where it is—there is a lot of talk about it being the next Flint. We have an administration that has gutted the Clean Water Act. We have communities, particularly communities of color and disadvantaged communities, all over this country who are suffering from environmental injustice. I assure you—I lived in Grosse Pointe—what happened in Flint would not have happened in Grosse Pointe. This is part of the dark underbelly of American society.
The racism, the bigotry and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight—if you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days. We need to say it like it is. It’s bigger than Flint. It’s all over this country. It’s particularly people of color. It’s particularly people who do not have the money to fight back. And if the Democrats don’t start saying it, then why would those people feel that they’re there for us? And if those people don’t feel it, they won’t vote for us, and Donald Trump will win.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Democratic candidate Marianne Williamson. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, this is a story you know very well. Combine these issues, from race to healthcare to the poisoning of an American city, Flint.
DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED: Yeah, look, I think Mehdi’s right. There is no way to talk about health in America, or even healthcare in America, without appreciating the subtext about the question of who gets to have it and why. And in this country, we’ve had policy that has unfortunately said to us that we are going to allow the patterning of access to certain resources, by race and also by socioeconomic position, in accordance with where you sit in a particular framing of a history of racism in our country.
I served the city of Detroit as health commissioner. And in my role, I had to rebuild a health department that had been shut down because a set of policies that took away the right to self-governance for people in the city of Detroit, just like happened in Flint. And I used to do a lot of work in 48217, that ZIP code that you talked about at the top of the hour, because that was the space where environmental racism was at its worst. You have this combining and concentration of the pollution that’s put out in the air that people have to breathe, that literally we’re burning black stuff from the ground into the lungs of children. And we don’t think about that as a health issue.
When we think about what we can do to address the systematic racism in our country, we have to remember that there is a 10-to-12-year life expectancy gap between a white American and a black American in this country. Solving that is about addressing what causes the ill health in the first place, in places like 48217, in places like Flint, and also making sure that people have access to the ability to heal, which is what healthcare is. But the point that Mehdi made is a good one. We cannot ignore the way that race plays its role in shaping who gets to have basic things like healthcare. And when we stand up for something like Medicare for All, what we’re saying is everybody ought to have it. It shouldn’t matter how much you can pay for it. You should have it because you are a human and you are a resident of our country.