DemocracyNow! edited by O Society August 2, 2019
Dr. Cornel West, I want to ask you about the structure of the debate itself. Many on social media criticize this kind of pageantry, complete with movie trailer-like montages, which opened the debate last night, as well as Tuesday’s, with some terming it the opening of a sports event. Andrew Yang criticized the format on the debate stage saying, “We’re up here with makeup on our faces and our rehearsed attack lines, playing roles in this reality TV show. It’s one reason we elected a reality TV star as our president.”
CORNEL WEST: One of the reasons what you all do is so crucial is you refuse to simply be part of the dominant tendencies of the corporate media, obsessed with not just revenues and profits, but with a kind of glitz and blitz and titillation stimulation, as opposed to deep engagement with substantive dialogue. Now, as you all know, I’ve been very blessed to be on Brother Anderson Cooper and various Fox News folk, as well, just in order to always be contrary and counter in a way, but it’s very difficult to do that in corporate media.
And let us be very clear: The fascist Frankenstein Trump is very much a product of corporate media, because they followed every minute, every tweet, every speech. If they had done the same thing to my dear Brother Bernie when we were traveling together — we had 15,000, 20,000, 10,000 people. They’d have a little two-minute slice. Trump got every second. Why? Because it was entertainment. They made big money. One of the CEOs of a leading corporate media entity said, “We know it’s bad for the country. It’s good for us.”
And so, what did we end up with? Narcissistic tweets on the one hand, and counter-narcissistic responses. “The president is racist.” Of course he’s racist. But it’s more than just racism. There’s no such thing as racism in the modern world without predatory capitalism. The racism is integral but hiding and concealing the social misery linked to oligarchic power. They never get to oligarchic power. They never get to plutocratic power. It’s just “He’s racist. He’s racist.”
And you end up with this loop, this corporate media loop, over and over and over and over again. And the liberals think they’re doing something militant. It’s just liberal self-righteousness. We know he’s xenophobic. We know he’s racist, homophobic and so forth. Let’s keep track of the rule of big money, big military, tax cuts, ways in which he’s undermining the working classes and not saying anything about the poor, pretending “the market” can take care of the poor with these “wonderful” statistics and so forth. Those are the issues we have to stress, it seems to me.
CORNEL WEST: How does the Democratic Party come to terms with Obama and his legacy? Because it’s clear hardly anyone wants to critically examine it. So you can’t say too much about the Wall Street bailout explicitly; you can’t say too much about the drones; you can’t say too much about the wars in Libya and Somalia, and the bombs in Yemen; you can’t say too much about the very ugly Israeli occupation; you can’t say too much about the ugly Egyptian authoritarianism—though they are tied to the Obama administration.
So, the Democratic Party is in a very tough situation, because you’ve got Democrats who are in love with our dear Brother Barack Obama, and we know he’s a zillion times better in many ways than the Trump in the White House right now, but, on the other hand, it wasn’t a golden age. And I think we have to be very candid about this.
And this is part of the tightrope that needs to be walked, I think, by those part of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, because you have to be able to tell the truth. You have to be committed to the suffering of poor and working people. I don’t care where they are. They could be in Tel Aviv, in Gaza. They can be in Mexico City or El Paso. They can be in Guatemala or El Paso. They can be in Guatemala or Ethiopia or Somalia, Dalits in India, Uyghurs in China, and so forth.
And so, those of us who are on the outside, more social movement activists, let’s say, as opposed to insiders, we have got to be able to speak our truths and bring power and pressure to bear, even as we connect with various statesmen and politicians.
And one of the reasons I spend the wonderful time and precious moments with my dear Brother Bernie Sanders is not because I think he’s pure and pristine, but in many ways he is the last hope in terms of dealing with the planet in catastrophic mode, in dealing with the grotesque wealth inequality, in dealing with the legacies of white and male supremacy and transphobia, homophobia.
How do we keep track of Jewish humanity, Palestinian humanity, Arab humanity? What kinds of politicians will speak to those issues? Very, very few. Most of them are so well adjusted to the unjust status quo, who benefit from the oligarchic and plutocratic money. And Brother Bernie is one of the last hopes. I’m not saying he’s the last hope, but he’s one of the last hopes, as our empire undergoes such decline, even as we lurch for real democratic, radical democratic awakening and regeneration.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Dr. Cornel West, you mention this, of course, is an empire, even if an empire in decline.
CORNEL WEST: That’s right.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And one of the most remarkable things about last night’s debate, as well as Tuesday’s, is that there was virtually no mention of foreign policy. According to a Washington Post count, last night, candidates spent a total of six minutes talking about foreign policy, which is down five minutes from the 11 minutes they spent on Tuesday night. And also, many commentators have pointed out, as, you know, the rhetoric calling for war with Iran is increasing within the Trump administration, there was one in Iran question, which was bizarrely asked to Andrew Yang and Jay Inslee alone. And when Bill de Blasio tried to bring it up, he was interrupted twice by moderators, and said we have to move on to the Mueller report.
CORNEL WEST: No, I think part of the problem is, is that when you talk about empire, you’ve got the pillars of the military-industrial complex, you’ve got Wall Street, but you also have corporate media. And I thank God for Democracy Now!, thank God for the two wonderful sisters that you all are, to try to say, “You know what? Corporate media is an integral part of the empire that is in denial about America being an empire, and therefore doesn’t want to keep track of the nine countries—five Middle East, four in Africa—where United States is even dropping bombs or assisting in the dropping of bombs.” Nobody wants to talk about the 128 countries of special operations, the over 586 military units of the U.S. military in all around the world, and the 4,800 that we have throughout the United States and the world. Corporate media won’t touch that with a 10-foot pole.
And so you end up with this very narrow, deodorized, truncated conversation that denies the reality of the U.S. presence in the world. And as Brother Martin Luther King used to say, those bombs that are dropped in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, they land—indigenous peoples’ reservations. We are not a nation of immigrants; we’re a nation with immigrants, with indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans in our origin. Those bombs drop in hoods, black hoods. They drop in barrios. They drop in white working-class and white poor communities. Sixty cents of every $1 of U.S. budget goes to the military-industrial complex, Trump’s $750 billion military budget. Who voted for that? Democrats as well as Republicans.
That’s part of the imperial extension, that makes it difficult for us to speak to issues of healthcare, jobs with a living wage. It suffocates the domestic agenda. And Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez and others, those grand exemplars of the social movements of the past, they understood that. And I think that’s part of the challenge we have to bring.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to go to break. And, might I point out, we’re not going to a drug advertisement or a weapons manufacturer advertisement—
CORNEL WEST: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: —or an oil, gas or coal industry ad.
CORNEL WEST: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re turning to a little music…