A few weeks ago, you said the media should stop covering Donald Trump’s tweets in order to force him into giving a press conference. Now that we’ve seen one, did you find it useful? It wasn’t a press conference, and it wasn’t useful. It was a weird third-world pep rally. Trump could make a very fine African or Middle Eastern dictator — it’s the same combination of machismo, charisma and lack of any concern for morals, ethics or standards of behavior that we saw in Hosni Mubarak or Mobutu Sese Seko.
I do think that the media, both left and right, is fascinated by Trump, but our fascination detracts from our ability to cover him. The media needs to start ignoring him until we can make him talk to us in a normal way: not on Twitter and not at a show, which is what a press conference is. He can’t take not having our attention.
Your show fills the time slot left by Melissa Harris-Perry, who left MSNBC after she felt the network was “silencing” her because of her politics. Do you think her claims had any merit? I wish they had been able to figure out a way for her to do her show in the context of an election. Not every executive could understand the importance of a show like hers in a political year. In the business of television, there’s an emphasis on providing politics to viewers — but for black women, the Melissa Harris-Perry show was political.
Right, and if you’re a person of color, you’re more sensitive to the lived experience of racism and how it manifests itself in the real world, which might’ve been useful for anticipating the rise of Trump. Do you think that there was a difference in how black journalists were able to understand why Trump appealed to people? I think the way that black people, particularly, experience Donald Trump is interesting. If all you knew was the Trump from “The Apprentice,” from the “Home Alone” movie, from hip-hop songs, and if all he’s doing is saying: “I’m a business guy, I’m going to get you jobs, I’m going to eliminate these terrible trade deals that we hate” and being a celebrity, he could’ve actually been a pretty effective crossover Republican candidate! The problem is, from the moment he became a “birther,” he exposed the inner Trump — the racist Trump, the Trump that New Yorkers know — to the whole world.
During the campaign, you interviewed dozens of Trump supporters and surrogates — was there anyone who presented a sound argument for why they supported him? No. We had one Hispanic woman say that she was for Trump because she needed her taxes to be cut. She was the only person who ever made that argument — for other people, it was always immigration or ISIS or some other thing.
“Make America Great Again” seems to be nostalgia for a time when white supremacy was a more effective institution. White male supremacy. One of my most incorrect assumptions was that white women, particularly white women with college degrees, would have voted in much higher numbers for Hillary Clinton, just because of the sheer outrage over Trump, but the outrage was a lot less in the end than a lot of us thought.
I read a precampaign-season interview with you, and you were apprehensive about Hillary’s appeal to black voters. I firmly believe that she and Bill did real damage to their reputations among African-Americans in 2008, and we saw that play out in the lack of enthusiasm about her.
What did you think about her efforts to capture the African-American vote? At the end of the day, you have to go to those cities and be on the ground. Clinton believed the data that black people were just going to show up just because we’re Democrats. But black people know how to live in a terrible system; we’ve been living in a terrible system most of the time we’ve been in America. You’re not going to scare us by saying: “If you don’t vote, a racist is going to be the president.” Black people are just like: “Really? Again?”