Our Body Politic

A Conservative on Rejecting Trumpism, Why the Vaccination Push Here and Abroad Must Continue, and Making Sense of the Infighting among Republicans

Episode Notes

Farai Chideya talks with political advisor and long-time conservative Tara Setmayer on repudiating Donald Trump from the beginning, and where she fits in our divided body politic. Valerie Jarrett, Board Chair of the non-profit Civic Nation, shares what they're doing to get more disproportionately impacted people vaccinated. Our public health contributor Dr. Kavita Trivedi is back with an update on what to do and not do once you’re vaccinated. And Farai Chideya welcomes Errin Haines of the 19th and Jess Morales Rocketto of the National Domestic Workers Alliance for a round of Sippin’ the Political Tea all about the week's news.


0:49 The Lincoln Project advisor Tara Setmayer on the turmoil within the Republican Party

12:41 Former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett on the importance of vaccinating people of color

20:56 Public health contributor Dr. Kavita Trivedi on what’s really going on with the CDC’s recommendations

31:18 Sippin’ the Political Tea with regular contributors Errin Haines and Jess Morales Rocketto covers the week’s news

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thanks for listening and sharing Our Body Politic. As you know, we're only a few months into this show and we're shaping it with lots of input from listeners like you. So I want to ask you a small favor. After you listen today, please head over to Apple Podcast on your phone, tablet, laptop, or anywhere you listen, and leave us a review. We read those because your ideas matter to us. Thanks so much. This is Our Body Politic. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Today, a conversation with a long-time conservative on the state of the GOP. Tara Setmayer is senior advisor for the Lincoln Project and a resident scholar at the University of Virginia's center for politics. Earlier this month, she signed the call for American renewal letter, along with over 100 other conservatives, demanding that the Republican Party loosen its ties with Trump. Tara, welcome to Our Body Politic.

Tara Setmayer: Thank you for having me.

Chideya: As part of my upbringing, I was raised in a black, but very cross ideology family, where my family has Black Catholic veterans and a lot of social conservatives, some of whom vote predominantly for the Democratic party and some of whom vote predominantly for the Republican party, but I'm going to be real with you. And I'm sure you're not shocked, that in recent years, some of the most conservative members of my family have really struggled with how to exercise their vote, given the choices that they had. So for you, how do you see the current split in the GOP playing out? And how does it relate to you as an individual and maybe your family as well as just as overall politics?

Setmayer: Well thank you so much for having this conversation because I know that there are so many people who struggle with this. The last five or six years have been really challenging for those of us who have spent most of our professional lives in the Republican space. I was actively involved in college Republicans when I was at GW, George Washington University in Washington. And as a young conservative in the '90s, that was a really exciting time for us. You had the Republicans taking over Congress for the first time in 40 years, the contract with America, you had very big personalities, like Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay and Dick Armey and John Boehner and these guys. Some of these names now, people shutter because they're horrible people. But for us as young conservatives coming out of the Reagan era at the time, it was all very exciting. And that's where I came up. I've always been more about the ideology versus the party loyalty. My mom was a single parent, had me at 21. She taught me to be an independent thinker from the time I was a kid. So fast forward to the Trump era, which followed the tea party era, which is where I started to see some of what we ended up seeing in the Trump era percolating. And it was really very easy for me to reject Donald Trump, reject the ilk that he was spewing. And I firmly believed that he was so against traditional Republican orthodoxy, that there was no way that Republican leadership would put up with it. And when I saw that people began to fall in line and become blatant hypocrites, like certain things that were basic Republican foundations that they excoriated president Obama for for eight years, all of that went right out the window when they saw the political power and their grasp through Donald Trump, which still makes me crazy because he's just such a despicable human being on every level that it was amazing of all the people that this is who the cult of personality is built around. You've got to be kidding me, plus I'm from Jersey. So I grew up around the tabloids of Trump and I knew his history. I was onto him and I wasn't falling for it, but it created, as I saw more and more people who I respected, who I thought were ideological stalwarts sell their souls. It became more and more untenable for me to stay in the Republican party.

Chideya: So what were some of the personal consequences of starting to question the direction of the GOP and where politics was headed?

Setmayer: I did lose a lot of friends, political colleagues, people I'd worked with, I spent seven years in Capitol Hill as a senior staffer, I was a communications director and it was the greatest seven years of my life. I loved it. That's what I was about. I was a political nerd. I liked being in the thick of it. I liked problem solving. That's why I got into politics. And I saw so many of those folks and elected members of Congress who I admired and respected just fall in line, including the one I worked for. It was very disappointing. But it was very difficult to navigate with some of the friends who I was very close with losing them. To this day, one of my closest friends, she was like a sister to me, I was the maid of honor in her wedding, we don't speak anymore because she's a journalist and she's a journalist for the wrong people on the other side and helped to push some of these narratives that have been so damaging to our country. Like the Big Lie. And this-

Chideya: The Big Lie, meaning specifically that the election, the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Setmayer: That's right. That, and the Russian hoax, how there was really no collusion with Russia and how that was all just some hoax in the deep state. Like all of the things that you see on right-wing talk radio and media, she was pushing. And so that was one of the hardest relationships to lose. It felt like brother on brother, like the civil war, I was a general in the union and she's a general in the Confederacy.

Chideya: You talk about this as a civil war within essentially conservative Americans or Republican Americans. You can define for me how you see it, but what are the sides that divide you from your former friend or your perhaps future friend?

Setmayer: At first, it felt like it was just a civil war within the party. Like I said, I was involved in the Republican party for 27 years. There were a lot of people who did not agree with Donald Trump, that knew he was crazy and incompetent and lazy, but they just thought, "Well, we'll be able to control him because some adults will be in the room in the beginning. Because, Oh, because Hillary, we can't have Hillary." And I think that they underestimated the damage that he could do. And they underestimated the depths of his depravity. That began to create some fissures within the party where people had to make decisions here. But now they're fully ensconced, power's very intoxicating. For me it wasn't worth it. I was never supporting him. I didn't care what the situation was because in my opinion, none of this, and this is very broad, was worth it. None of it, not the Supreme Court justices, not the tax cuts. None of it was worth the assault on democracy that we ended up seeing and the assault on our institutions. Then Charlottesville happened. And I was like... I gave a little bit of a pass to some folks who still thought that they could just cast aside Donald Trump's character flaws because they wanted to get some things done and here's our chance. We had control of Congress, we had the white house, but Charlottesville happened in 2017. And I said, "That's it." The list was long already by the time Charlottesville happened, but him playing footsie with white supremacists and these neo-Nazis, I said, "That's it. I no longer have... The grace that I gave Trump supporters at this point is over. And the grace that I gave any of my friends who went into the administration is over. I'm going to call them out on this." Specifically, my friends who were Black Republicans, because I'm like, "Now you guys are literally just engaging in cognitive dissonance in a way that is really hard to explain away."

Chideya: Let's talk about January 6th. When you talk about people who've been also walking the road of being in politics or engaged with politics in some ways and who didn't really see Charlottesville as a wake up, has January 6th been a wake up or not really?

Setmayer: Not really, which was also shocking to me. It was amazing to watch people who we thought were reasonable, your neighbors, your coworkers, your family members start to spew some really anti-democratic sentiments. And I started to ask myself like, "Was that there all the time? Did these people always feel this way? Was I just naive about how much this was still in our culture?"

Chideya: How would you answer your own question now? Was this stuff that you'd been missing?

Setmayer: The friends of mine who we are still of like-mind I didn't lose to Trumpism, We often talk about this. And it seems as though there was this very ugly underbelly that ran through not just the Republican party, because a lot of these Trumpers are not necessarily Republicans. It's a different type of ideology here. But there was this through-line I think within the country based on race and xenophobia and fear of the other that I was definitely naive to. And I look back at some of the tactics of the Republican party from all the way back to the Southern strategy, Nixon's election and his campaign, some of the law and order terminology. And I used to look at that and say, "Well, it was pure politics. It was numbers. That's why they did it. It wasn't necessarily about race." I disagree with that. Now this level of authoritarianism that has been creeping into our democracy under Trump, that's how democracies die. It's clear that we have to remind Americans why democracy is important and why we need it. And that's what attracts me to what the Lincoln Project does and how they do it.

Chideya: Yeah, let me jump in because the natural transition is to talk about the letter, A Call for American Renewal, which you signed on to, and a lot of prominent Republicans, conservatives, former Republicans signed onto. How realistic do you think implementing these goals within the traditional party politics framework is? And if this does end up being a call for a breakaway party, a third party or something else, how realistic do you think that is? What are your dreams either way?

Setmayer: Well as someone who I've always wanted to run for office myself at some point, and I thought it would be as a Republican. I considered myself to be a pragmatic, common sense, conservative. But it looks less and less likely that the Republican party is redeemable, which is why I said, "I held on, I thought there was a chance," but after the election, and then after January 6th, I'm not so sure that the Republican party can be redeemed in its current form. It has to be burned to the ground. It's just the way our system is set up. It's so difficult. It's such a Herculean task to start a new party. That's why we've only had two parties for the last 160 years. But that doesn't mean it's not impossible because we are watching a once great party implode. And it's time for those of us who are in positions, where we do have influence where we do have access to give the millions of Americans who feel politically homeless now, something to look forward to, work toward, be a part of. I think there's an opportunity for real political change in this country that's long overdue.

Chideya: Well, Tara, thank you so much for spending some time with us. I really appreciate it.

Setmayer: Thank you so much for having me.

Chideya: That was Tara Setmayer, senior advisor for the Lincoln Project. Since the start of the COVID 19 vaccination rollout, we've been focused on access and hesitancy about the vaccine among people of color. The centers for disease control has data on race and ethnicity for about half of the people who've gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. Most recently, the Kaiser family foundation used this data to find that Black and Hispanic people have received smaller shares of vaccines compared to their share of cases in most states. Valerie Jarrett is working to get more people of color vaccinated. She's the board chair of the non-profit Civic Nation and former senior advisor to President Barack Obama. It's wonderful to have you on Our Body Politic, Valerie. Thank you.

Valerie Jarrett: My pleasure. I'm delighted to be here with you.

Chideya: So you are the Board Chair of Civic Nation. They've got a campaign, Made to Save, that's really about getting different people from across civil society to help improve access to COVID-19 vaccines. Tell us a little bit more about that work.

Jarrett: Yeah. So what we as Civic Nation have is an incredible network of organizations and leaders around the country. We have worked on everything from gender equity to ending sexual assault on college campuses, to encouraging people to participate in the most important responsibility of citizenship, and that's voting. And what we realized, as the vaccine thankfully became available, is that there was a certain degree of vaccine hesitancy and lack of access to the vaccine in communities that have oftentimes been neglected in the past. So what we wanted to do is to use this broad network that we already had in place to reach out, particularly to people of color and to young people, and help educate them about the science and how important it is to take the vaccine. And then also work with partners to try to ensure that we're meeting people where they are so they have access to the vaccine. Recognizing that the only way that our country gets back on track is if we have sufficient number of people who've actually been vaccinated so that we can all go back... Or not even go back, go forward to the new normal of life.

Chideya: How does your work on Civic Nation interact with vaccine hesitancy and also with not just the hesitancy, but the belief that this is nothing I want a part of?

Jarrett: Yeah. So with the vaccine hesitancy, our goal is to find who are the trusted people in every community who can have that conversation and recognize that you have to go to the people the people trust. Walgreens, for example, I recently did an event with the new CEO there, Roz Brewer at a black church on the West side of Chicago. Why? Because when your pastor says, "Come on a Saturday and get vaccinated," you're more likely to listen to him. So who are those influencers in the community? How can we arm the influencers with the information that they need about the safety of the vaccine and how important it is that everyone be vaccinated? And how do we follow up and make sure that those who are hesitant get multiple touches? Because sometimes it's not one conversation, it might require multiple conversations, and that's something that we're good at. This should not be a political issue. It has everything to do with keeping you and your family safe and making sure our country and the economy can start working again because that's what's going to help rebuild what we've lost as a result of this tragedy.

Chideya: You wrote a book that came out last year, Finding My Voice, it covers so much incredible ground, your international childhood and all of the different ways in which you have been of service in American society and global society. And one thing I wonder is given that you already had so many different layers of service when the pandemic hit, what were you called to do during the pandemic?

Jarrett: Yes. Well, so when I left the Obama administration, Tina Tchen and I founded the United State of Women, that's focusing on gender equity, and we know that this pandemic has had a harshly disproportionate effect on women. So we've been looking at the United State of Women as a vehicle to try to help women who have either lost their jobs, have been unable to work because of lack of access to childcare, or are those essential workers that have had to put themselves in harms way each and every day, how do we address their needs? Thinking creatively about how to close those gaps in equity is something that our partners in the Biden administration are focusing on. And then they look to Civic Nation to, again, have this network on the ground. I know when I was in the Obama-Biden administration, it was so helpful to us to spread our network through community-based organizations that could reach people where they are. So now Civic Nation is proving that we can be that trusted partner for the Biden administration on a whole host of issues that we both care deeply about.

Chideya: What did being part of the Obama administration give you that you've carried into your current work?

Jarrett: Well, it gave me an appreciation on the national level of how important a functioning, efficient, competent federal government is. I began my career in the public service working for local government in Chicago, and I used to resent the federal government because I thought they just tried to force us to fit our needs into their pigeonhole programs. But having the opportunity to see every single issue that went across President Obama's desk gave me a real appreciation for how government should work. And I think one of the reasons why this is wearing not my Civic Nation hat, but my individual, Valerie Jarrett hat, I'm so supportive of President Biden and Vice President Harris is because they want to rebuild credibility of a functional government again to help people understand how their lives are improved when a government is working for them.

Chideya: What do you see ahead in the near term for the U.S. engaging with the world at this time, after a lot of tumult?

Jarrett: I believe we have a competent, dedicated public servant in the president of the United States, and he's selected a running mate who shares his values and his perspective on how the United States must behave if we expect to be the world leader that the world expects us to be, which means that we have to be consistent and steady and transparent. We have to work closely with our allies and we have to hold the rest of the world accountable. If we're that beacon of hope of an ideal democracy, well, then we better act like it. I think the events of January 6th sent shock waves around the world. How could the United States be experiencing an insurrection? How could there be members, elected members of Congress in both the House and the Senate who are questioning the legitimacy of a completely legitimate election? That's not the United States that the world depends upon, and we can't hold others accountable unless we are living up to our own ideals.

Chideya: Well, thank you so much for your time. Valerie Jarrett, thank you.

Jarrett: You are welcome. I enjoyed it.

Chideya: That was Valerie Jarrett, Board Chair of Civic Nation and former advisor in the Obama administration. Her book is Finding My Voice: When the Perfect Plan Crumbles, the Adventure Begins.

Chideya: After the 1918 flu pandemic came the roaring '20s, and we may be in for a similar period of letting loose. The Washington Post is predicting a "Hot Vax Summer." But with confusing messages from public health officials about masking and vaccination still underway, how can we continue to stay safe? To help us make sense of the latest news on COVID-19, I'm happy to invite back Dr. Kavita Trivedi. She's an epidemiologist and our body politics regular health contributor. Hi, Dr. Trivedi.

Dr. Kavita Trivedi:

Hi, Farai. Nice to be back.

Chideya: Yeah. Great to have you on during this time of all sorts of changes in protocols and in vaccination rates. And vaccination rates have slowed, why is that?

Trivedi: Yeah. I think there are lots of reasons. Some people are certainly skipping their second dose of vaccine due to concerns around side effects, others are still really hesitant to getting the vaccine and then others simply don't have good access. So there's certainly lots of people who still are working full time and cannot leave their jobs to go get a vaccine because their employers are not allowing that space. So I think there are lots of reasons for why rates are going down. We did see a little blip in rates coming up end of last week when the 12 to 15-year-olds were starting to get vaccinated. But overall, we are certainly seeing vaccination rates drop off.

Chideya: Let's talk about the CDC's mask guidance. There's been all sorts of different reactions that people have had from what took you so long to are you crazy? Help us figure out what is good science.

Trivedi: Yes. So number one, I think that this most recent guidance really highlights that communication is difficult and crafting a public health message, even when you know the science can be really difficult, because you're trying to address a complicated problem with a simple solution. So my first takeaway is that the vaccines we have available to us are extremely effective at protecting us from severe disease, hospitalization and death. I think the second thing that is important to note is that the new guidance really allows businesses to lift infection prevention measures for their employees and visitors if they're all fully vaccinated in the indoor settings. So I have a lot of clients who are asking this question. "We have 20 employees who all sit in one space and they're all vaccinated, is it okay for them to interact without masks on without distancing, essentially in pre-pandemic ways?" And I think this new CDC guidance does really highlight that businesses can do that if they are confident that everyone in that setting is fully vaccinated. What I think the CDC guidance didn't do, which is where the confusion lies, is what do you do when you have mixing of unvaccinated and vaccinated people? We still have many, many children below the ages of 11 who are ineligible for vaccination. We have plenty of immunosuppressed patients who cannot get the vaccine. There was an article out this week that highlighted a patient who was immunosuppressed asking others to get vaccinated in order to keep her safe. So we have a lot of people in our communities who are ineligible for the vaccine, and we have to think about how we want to protect them. What might have been more helpful and more reasonable is if the CDC had established some thresholds. So for example, maybe less than five cases per a hundred thousand in a population and a test positivity rate that's less than 1%, or a vaccinated population that's over 59%. So maybe some of these thresholds so that people have some metric to look at whereby they feel more comfortable taking masks off indoors.

Chideya: Do you think that scientists are, of course not intentionally, confusing people at this point? If so, I mean, how do you make your best choices whether you're someone who generally prefers to be unmasked or masked? Let's say that you're vaccinated, some people who are vaccinated are like, "I'm keeping the mask on."

Trivedi: I think the short answer, Farai, is that I will continue to wear a mask indoors until vaccination has increased in my community and transmission has decreased. I'll only go maskless indoors if I'm sure that everyone there is vaccinated. So that means that there are no children who are unvaccinated indoors where I'm going. Or if the unvaccinated people that are there will all be masked. Again, this goes for children or any immunosuppressed patients who can't get the vaccine. And then the third thing will be when the COVID rate is so low that even an unvaccinated unmasked person is very unlikely to have active COVID. And that, I think, will happen when we have enough fully vaccinated people in our communities and when the case rates have come down enough.

Chideya: Let's switch from what's happening in our own homes and neighborhoods to the world. We've seen that certain nations, most prominently India, are having huge surges right now. The U.S. has decided provisionally to share some vaccines. What's the relationship of the U.S. to the world right now as it's been evolving in terms of having a vaccine policy that's not just U.S. but that's also global?

Trivedi: Yeah, I mean what's so important to remember is that the pandemic is not over until the pandemic is over everywhere. So we must prevent the development of these variants that inevitably will outwit our vaccines, right? So as cases are coming down in the United States in some places, we are seeing cases go up in places like Guinea and India. And we really have to think about how we can help the global population benefit from vaccinations. So there was an announcement this week from Biden acknowledging that they are now going to be sending over 80 million doses globally. And I think that's what we have to do. We have to get the global population vaccinated. Remember, India alone is a country of over one billion people. So 80 million doses is still not enough for us to make a huge dent in this. I also find it really hard for those of us of Indian descent to watch what's going on in India with a collapsing healthcare system. And not only not getting vaccines into arms there, but not even having oxygen. And at the same time, here in the U.S. having indoor mask mandates lifted, even in places that don't have high vaccination rates. It's really a hard thing to watch happening at exactly the same time.

Chideya: What should we be doing to focus on COVID in ways that are thoughtful and helpful, and not paranoid or just over-reactive? There's a lot of change going on right now. And change is hard, even when it's change for the positive. How do we stay steady?

Trivedi: I think balancing what is important to you and recognizing that this vaccine we have is such a gift, is such a gift, and is allowing us to get our lives back. One of the things that we need to continue doing is thinking about our communities and people around us, and making sure that we mask in indoor settings so that we are protecting people in the community who cannot be vaccinated until case rates go down enough.

Chideya: All right. Dr. Trivedi, thank you so much.

Trivedi: Thanks, Farai.

Chideya: That was Our Body Politic Contributor and epidemiologist, Dr. Kavita Trivedi. Since starting Our Body Politic, we've invited listeners to share your thoughts with us by calling the Speak platform and leaving a voicemail. Speak uses technology to collect listeners' answers and analyze the data. We're wrapping up this collaboration with the Seelig Group and their Speak Project, so we want to take stock of everything we've heard from you. We ask lots of questions about the pandemic, the new presidential administration and how your priorities have changed in the last year.

Speaker 1: I realized how much I truly cherish being connected to the outdoors, having a view of birds in my backyard and with my cats at home.

Speaker 2: If it was my first day in office as president, the top priority would be corralling the governors into a weekly cadence whereby we make progress on the funding of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Speaker 3: I work at a university in a housing setting. And so the last year has brought a lot of ups and downs. I take pride in knowing that there were things I tangibly did to make their experience better.

Chideya: Earlier this year in February, Our Body Politic collaborated with the Speak Project to add a question to the GenForward Survey. That's the survey focused on adults 18 to 36 that we talked about last week with doctors, Diane Wong and Jen Jackson, that specifically targets young people of color. We asked if you had one hour to talk about one topic affecting your local community with the U.S. Senator who represents the state where you live, what would you talk about and why? Over 1,500 survey takers responded to our question. The top concern that these listeners would address with their senators, the economy. Respondents were concerned about the job market and high cost of living. The next top concerns were COVID-19, including vaccine rollouts, social justice issues like racial equality and women's rights, and people on the West coast were disproportionately likely to cite housing and homelessness as being on their minds. We are so grateful for your participation in the Speak questions. You can still check out ourbodypolitic.show for ways to send us your input and search for the Our Body Politic podcast to leave us a review. Each week on the show, we bring you a round table called Sippin' the Political Tea. Joining me this week is Jess Morales Rocketto, Civic Engagement Director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Welcome back, Jess.

Jess Morales Rocketto:

Hi, so glad to be back.

Chideya: And we've also got Our Body Politic contributor, Errin Haines, Editor at Large at The 19th. Hey, Errin.

Errin Haines: Hey, Farai.

Chideya: So is this another week in politics, an explosive week. What are we dealing with?

Haines: Oh, Farai, so much. But I think we have to start with our continued coverage of January 6th and the establishment of the January 6th commission. So this week, you had house minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, standing up against the commission to investigate the January 6th insurrection. On the Senate side, minority leader, Mitch McConnell, joined McCarthy in opposition. So Jess, what's actually going on behind McCarthy's opposition to this commission? And is there any intel you have about his calculations here?

Morales Rocketto:

Yeah, I mean he made a really big mistake here. A little bit I'm like, "Did you ever take a negotiation class? Have you ever been engaged in negotiation, Mr. McCarthy?" Because he sent a proxy who was willing to negotiate and it seems like McCarthy was not willing to negotiate. And he got basically everything he wanted while still voting no. And so now has no message standing when he says stuff like, Democrats have been obstructionists or they haven't done their job, because they actually did come forward and negotiate. So it's a real pie in the face moment for McCarthy. And I think it's ultimately going to undermine their efforts around the commission more broadly, particularly as we head into whether or not Republicans can really be trusted on this issue at all. This all comes under the cover of what could possibly be revealed by the commission, which is that McCarthy was involved in this effort. And at the very least, was extremely supportive. There's been lots of reports that he had a very heated discussion with President Trump literally while the insurrection was happening, that people insinuate was because he was supportive. So there's a lot riding for him on this. And it appears that he made his first big mistake.

Haines: Yeah, certainly this commission moving forward means that he could very likely have to tell what he knows, right, in public as recently ousted Member of House Republican Leadership, Liz Cheney, pointed out in a recent interview. So Farai, I want to talk about this anonymous letter on Capitol police letterhead that was sent encouraging congressional members to support the commission. Did that surprise you?

Chideya: I think that it's just a fascinating situation where you have a democratic lawmaker representative, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who circulated this on behalf of officers who wanted to remain anonymous. And that's important because if this were a hoax and this weren't at all from officers, I'm sure we would have heard by now it's a hoax. And no one has said that. So this was something where not only did some officers feel they had to speak up, but they also felt they couldn't do it within the structure of their employment easily. But what it said was on January 6th, where some officers served their last day in us Capitol police uniform, and not by choice, we would hope that members whom we took an oath to protect would at the very minimum support an investigation to get to the bottom of everyone responsible and hold them 100% accountable. And it also continues no matter what title or position. And there are still things in this investigation which include looking into whether sitting members of Congress gave tours to insurrectionists. So I think that that point about no matter what their title should put some people on notice that some of these officers haven't forgotten that part of the investigation is to whether or not, perhaps as ordinary constituents or perhaps with a bit more intent, some of these domestic terrorists got a walkthrough from members of Congress. So there's a lot that's still playing out here.

Haines: Yeah. I mean a rare public rebuke of top Republicans for opposing this proposed commission, yet these are, to your point, Farai, folks who are all working together in the same environment and the environment that in fact was the scene of this heinous event every single day. So after the insurrection, you had major corporations pledging to withdraw their donations to Republican lawmakers who supported the big lie that former President Trump won the election and that the election was rigged or somehow stolen. And now, you have reports that corporations like Google, Deloitte and Citigroup also participated in this working group with the Republican Senate Leadership Committee to actively support new voter suppression bills. So participation in this round table required something like a minimum annual contribution of $15,000 to the Republican Senate Leadership Committee, Comcast donating $135,000 in 2020, AstraZeneca donating $200,000 in 2020 and another 200,000 in 2010, companies like Enterprise and Walgreens were also major donors. So Farai, I mean are corporations playing both sides here?

Chideya: Corporations usually play both sides in politics because it's a good way to get what you want. But this is something where the issue at hand is really about whether or not corporations which have explicitly said that they are not going to be both sides and actually are. And one of the ways that we see legislation being made is essentially by proxy, with lobbyists dictating legislation. So on some of the voter suppression bills, there are conservative groups that are drafting state level voter suppression legislation. And I think that this whole line of inquiry as to whether or not corporations that have said they repudiated this actually are is the relevant point.

Haines: Yeah. I mean I think what's so interesting about this moment that we are in, just building on the idea from the philosopher from Utah, Mitt Romney, who said that corporations are people too, right? Corporations have been lobbying our government for a long time. But now, you have voters really lobbying those corporations really to reflect their values. And so that climate is producing some really interesting action from the corporate community as it pertains to our politics. And Jess, so I'm going to give you the last word on this and just ask how important do you think the corporations are on the political playing field right now? And what is their role? What do you think their role should be?

Morales Rocketto:

I definitely think their role needs to be curtailed. I think that there is a piece of this where people try to talk about themselves as a good corporation. And we've seen both with these donations that you just talked about, Errin, but also like in Georgia, Delta and Coca-Cola and others, and their response or lack thereof around voter suppression bills, there's ultimately a moment where corporations are not going to be able to continue playing both sides because both sides is not really a concept that exists anymore. You're literally either on the side of racial justice or you're on the side of the white supremacists, it's getting pretty stark. So I think that that's going to be a problem for a number of corporations as they continue, because they won't be able to have this veneer of corporate social responsibility. And they'll actually have to leisurely put their money where their mouth is.

Haines: Well speaking of voting, a report came out last week from the City University of New York that shows about one in 10 voters in the 2020 elections was Latino, which is huge. The big forces behind Latino participation were record registration and turned out by younger Latinos between 18 and 44. You also saw surges in voting in States where Latino populations are relatively small, like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia. Farai, how will this change the courting game that politicians play during election season?

Chideya: Well, I mean, I can't help but think of the great briefing we had on the show early in our run from Equis Labs, which has done beautiful work on really trying to unpack the complex Latino electorate, which is, of course, like so many different types of Americans, multi-racial, of different national origin, US-born and naturalized citizens. So you have a lot of diversity, but I definitely was keeping my eye on the number in Arizona. So if the voting rate went from 47% in 2016 to 61% in 2020, that's a huge surge in participation. And 2016 was a historic election in Arizona in any case, because that was one where Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was reelected for 26 years as the sheriff of Maricopa County and played a big role in immigration enforcement that violated civil rights, according to the Justice Department, was ousted. So I think sometimes seeing how far you are able to go with your voice, then empowers you to go further.

Haines: What about you, Jess? What strikes you from these findings?

Morales Rocketto:

I'm kind of obsessed with this idea that there's been a surge in places where Latino populations are small. I say this because, for instance, I love the story of Wisconsin, where I think people would be surprised that that has a large Latino voting block. But actually, what we found is that the margin of victory that Biden won by in Wisconsin is also similar to the number of Latinos who have been voting. So even in places where Latino population proportion is relatively low, they can have a really big impact in the electorate. This is also important given that we have seen the surge in Latinos in the population more broadly. Specifically, they're now the second largest potential voting block in the country. So this has really important implications not only in increasing Latino turnout, but in thinking about where Latinos are and how they impact policy in some of these battleground swing states, especially where they're generally catering to a white swing voter.

Haines: So I want to take a minute to check in on a person who came to talk with you recently, Farai, Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times investigative journalist, creator of the 1619 Project, Pulitzer Prize winner, MacArthur Genius grant. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has just denied her tenure for a new professorship that was recently announced. Farai, I wanted to just ask you what you make of this.

Chideya: Yeah, I mean, I think that I have the same reaction as the faculty. There was a statement that was posted by the Hussman School of Journalism and media faculty saying, "We are stunned at the failure to award tenure," and it goes into all of her awards. She's won all of the biggest awards in journalism. So let's be clear here. The faculty and the dean of the Hussman School completely supported Nikole Hannah-Jones getting tenure. It was the board of trustees of the university who either brought their own notions to the table or perhaps were pressured by others, and it's highly unusual for boards of trustees to get involved in any faculty situations unless it's like somebody who's been, frankly, caught having sex with a student or that level of infraction. This is really outside of the bounds. So the faculty statement continued. The failure to offer Hannah-Jones tenure with her appointment as a Knight chair unfairly moves the goalpost and violates longstanding norms. I can imagine that it will have steep ripple effects internally as the university, like all universities, examines its tenure and prioritizing equity at the university.

Haines: Yeah, and we know that Hannah-Jones, who, full disclosure, is not just a colleague of mine in this work, but also a friend, this is her alma mater. So that cannot be a good feeling, but also the place where her Ida B Wells Society for Investigative Journalism is housed, right? So this is somebody that the institution has certainly supported in the past, and yet now, that is not happening because of a project which continues, frankly, to draw objection from folks, which I think is quite telling, as telling as the work itself. So shifting gears to New York, New York's attorney general, Tish James, announcing that her office is now pursuing a criminal investigation into the Trump organization, Farai, Donald Trump may run for the Oval Office again in 2024. If these criminal investigations turn into actual charges, how would it affect those prospects?

Chideya: Well, I mean, so much could change between now and 2024. I don't yet have a sense of whether Former President Trump actually will run, which he certainly has talked about. He is calling the New York criminal investigation corrupt and basically coming from desperation, and there's so much speculation. His former attorney, Michael Cohen, said that he thought that the former president would flip on his family to protect himself. There are so many different lines of inquiry that a criminal investigation might target and also so many different individuals, not just the former president, but his children and his employees. So I'm just holding space to see whatever AG James comes out with.

Haines: Yeah. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are better than me, because I had to file my extension, but they released their taxes this week. The President, First Lady, and the Vice President and Second Gentlemen are making enough to end up paying higher taxes under the new tax structures that they are proposing. So Jess, what's your biggest takeaway from seeing the Biden-Harris taxes laid out so plainly?

Morales Rocketto:

I do appreciate that they continue to be transparent. It's very important that our elected officials are transparent about what tax bracket they're in, particularly as so many of them continue to support policies that would benefit them, but not others. Even though I really love me some Vice President Harris, it is kind of hard to square the party of working families with being led by millionaires. Even the Bidens, who are less well-off than the Harris-Emhoff family still make more than the average family by orders of magnitude. So I hope there's somebody who's giving them that piece of paper every day that says what the cost of milk is, because if you don't really understand that, I think it's really difficult to be able to actually legislate for people who are really affected by, let's say, tax policy.

Haines: Farai, this tradition of releasing tax returns, obviously, that was a norm that was broken in the previous administration, and we're now seeing it return. What does that tell us about the kinds of expectations that we should have of our leaders and how they spend their money?

Chideya: First of all, their money gets combined with a salary that is coming directly from the taxpayers if they are in the highest office of the land. I think part of the reason that there has been this tradition is that you want to avoid inside dealing and violations of the tax codes and the ethics codes of the land. Part of the question around the significance of tax returns is what is the point of this being a precedent? I think the entire Trump administration kind of was like the answer to that question. What is the point of having a precedent of releasing the tax returns? Here you go. This is why, so that we can separate what is the federal government from what is the leader of the federal government at the presidential level? It's not a l'etat c'est moi, the French phrase that the royals used to be like, "I am the state." That is not what we're looking for.

Haines: Well, I mean, listen, tax day is one of those markers of the passage of time, especially in our politics, right? Unlike the State of the Union or the pardoning of a turkey, this is a thing that we expect our President and Vice President to do. So that come back, it's just kind of part of the, I think, level setting that this administration is attempting to reinstate at the highest levels of government. But to Jess's point, according to the US Department of Agriculture, in April, the US simple average price for a gallon of milk was $3.58, in case y'all were wondering. So unfortunately, we're going to have to leave it there for now. The tea was hot. It was nice talking with you again, Jess.

Morales Rocketto:

So nice talking with you all.

Haines: It was nice to chat with you again, Farai.

Chideya: Always great to talk, Errin. That was Jess Morales Rocketto of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Errin Haines of the 19th. Thank you so much for joining us on Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Our Body Politic is produced by Lantigua Williams and Co. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua-Williams is executive producer. Paulina Velasco is senior producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode. Our producer is Priscilla Alabi. Emily Daly is our assistant producer. Julie Zann is our talent consultant. Original music by associate sound designer, Kojin Tashiro. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt, Natyna Bean, and Sarah McClure. This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the BMe Community, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. “A Conservative on Rejecting Trumpism, Why the Vaccination Push Here and Abroad Must Continue, and Making Sense of the Infighting among Republicans.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. May 21, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/