Our Body Politic

Senator Mazie Hirono Tackles Anti-Asian Hate Crimes from the Senate, the Supreme Court Rules on Minors in Prison, and What the World Thinks of the U.S. After Trump

Episode Notes

Farai Chideya talks with Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawai’i about opposing Donald Trump vociferously, her bill to tackle anti-Asian hate crimes, and her new memoir. Our Body Politic legal analyst Tiffany Jeffers explains the Supreme Court’s latest decision on life imprisonment for minors, and updates Farai on voting rights across the country. Dr. Jenn Jackson and Dr. Diane Wong, research analysts at the GenForward Survey, discuss what makes good data, and what sets their survey apart. And Farai Chideya welcomes Errin Haines of the 19th and Karen Attiah of the Washington Post to Sippin’ the Political Tea for a roundtable focused on international news.

0:57 Senator Mazie Hirono on evolving her leadership in the Senate

12:33 Legal analyst Tiffany Jeffers on the Supreme Court case about sentencing minors to life without parole

21:13 Researchers from the GenForward Survey on working hand-in-hand with community

28:56 Sippin’ the Political Tea: an international news roundup analyzes the changing role of the United States in worldwide issues, with special guest Karen Attiah of the Washington Post

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. On this week's show, I go over the latest about the legal system for juveniles and talk with data scientists about their unique survey of young people of color. First, my next guest is leading the congressional response to anti-Asian hate crimes. Senator Mazie Hirono serves the state of Hawaii. Her family immigrated to the Aloha state from Japan when she was a little girl. She talks about it in her new memoir, Heart of Fire, An Immigrant Daughter's Story. In a rare bipartisan vote, her bill to address hate crimes against Asian-American Pacific Islanders recently passed in the Senate. Welcome Senator Hirono.

Sen. Mazie Hirono:

It's good to be with you, Farai.

Chideya: Let's start with your origin story. Like any superhero, you have one, and it's a tough one. Tell us about your early childhood and also what your mother was going through at the time.

Hirono: I was born in a prefecture in Japan and at the age of three, I went to live with my grandparents, my maternal grandparents, because I had an injury and my mother wanted me to get the care necessary, and that would be through where my grandparents lived, not where my own mother lived. So I lived with my grandparents from age three until just before we came to this country. In the meantime, my mother endured an abusive marriage to my father, who I did not get to know, really. And his family, who treated her like a slave. So that family, and a lot of Japanese families, the bride becomes part of the husband's family. And they really did not treat her well. So at one point she finally decided she had to get away, get far, far away. And she brought me and my older brother to Hawaii. We had very little. In fact, we had nothing. We had one suitcase. And my mother started off with the two older kids, me and my brother, who could go to school, and sadly having to leave my younger brother in Japan, in the care of my maternal grandparents. But, he was three years old and too young to go to school and there'd be nobody in this country to take care of him while mom worked. So very, very humble beginnings.

Chideya: You are the only immigrant in the US Senate, and in your book, you say, "You're right. It pains me that our nation's immigration policy still does not reflect an adequate understanding of this trauma and the importance of families remaining together." How do you draw the line between your own experience and the heightened sense of migration, border, and family separation over the past few years?

Hirono: As I mentioned, my mother had to leave my younger brother behind. That trauma of being separated from his mother, stayed with him for the rest of his life. Of course, we did not know that it would be a trauma for him that would impact his learning, his socialization, all of that. We did not know. So of course, when the president, the former guy, instituted his separation policy, and literally wrenching thousands and thousands of children from the arms of the mothers and fathers, it brought it home to me, the harm that was being caused by our nation's policy, and that it would be devastating to these children for a long, long time.

Chideya: And so, when you think about the Trump years, in some ways they seem to have empowered you, or that they were a precursor to you stepping into your power. How do you process that?

Hirono: Farai, I've always been a very determined person. I do come from a culture, both in Hawaii, as well as my own Japanese background, where being vocal, aggressive, confrontational are not traits that are rewarded. So, although I was very determined, I just got things done in the political arena using other strategies. And it was the Trump presidency though, and the big bully that he was. Because, I have a thing about bullies. We must stand up to bullies, and here I was confronted with the biggest bully of them all. And I decided to become much more vocal. The more I spoke out in a very plain way, the more I realized that it was important for us to be speaking out against all of these harmful policies, then the divisiveness. The divisiveness that he represented to our country.

Chideya: Yeah. And I just want to do a correction on myself. You weren't stepping into your power, you already had plenty of power. You were stepping into your voice. And does that feel comfortable now that you've been doing it for a while?

Hirono: Yes. Much more so. I express it as, I am my more complete self, now that I also use my vocal powers, not just my heart and my brain.

Chideya: I want to transition to some questions about Asian-American Pacific Islanders and power and peril in this moment. There's a lot of both. And our colleagues over at the 19th recently shared some survey data from the Pew research center, finding out last month in April more than 80% of Asian-Americans say violence against them is increasing. Half, at some point that they have feared for their physical safety since the pandemic started. So what would you say to other Asian-Americans right now who are facing the... I was just talking to a friend of mine who was like, "Yeah, you know, I'm vaccinated, but I don't really feel like leaving the house. I don't feel safe."

Hirono: We know that there's been a significant rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans. These are totally unprovoked. I don't know of a single Asian person who feels that we can just walk around as though nothing might happen. I certainly don't walk around with my ear buds on listening to audio tapes. I have to be aware of my surroundings. We've all seen the horrific videos. So we need to one, condemn this kind of discriminatory actions against our community. And it's, sadly, not new to our community just as there is systemic racism against our black community and systemic racism against minorities of all stripes in our country. And the more we face up to that fact, the more we can address it, deal with it, prevent it.

Chideya: And tell us about the bill that you have been working on with Representative Grace Meng.

Hirono: We introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Bill, she in the House, me in the Senate. The way I look at this bill is, there are two really important aspects of this bill. The first is that the Senate was given the opportunity and, thankfully, most of us took it to stand with the AAPI community in condemning these kinds of discriminatory actions against our community. The second is that there are provisions in the bill that should result in data, enabling people of our community who experienced these kinds of crimes and incidents to be able to more readily report them so that we have a database from which to make further decisions as to what else we should do. But passing this bill is not going to change people's hearts and minds. So there are many other things that we can do, including probably changing our curriculum so that it more accurately reflects how AAPIs have been discriminated against in our country. And while we're at it, to portray, realistically, how we have not dealt with the systemic racism against the Black community, as well as what has happened to our Native communities.

Chideya: I want to move on to the economics of working families, which is, in many ways, something that you start the book with. And in the preface, you have this beautiful section talking about how your mother worked hard, and you and your brother and she would lie on one mattress. And at one point, she had to raid your piggy bank just to keep the family afloat. What do you think that working families in America need now, and in your state, which is one of the most expensive states in America?

Hirono: We all know that, at least most of us recognize that there's a huge economic divide that is ever-growing in our country between those who are very wealthy and those who are not. The American Family Plan that will provide childcare and family leave, those are all important parts of enabling our working families and individuals to have the kind of opportunities that they ought to have in our country. Clearly, the richest corporations and individuals should be paying their fair share of taxes.

Chideya: Do you think that the plans that president Joe Biden and the Democrats have to change the tax code will, in fact, proceed in this very stratified political environment?

Hirono: Well, we may have to do it without any Republican votes because Mitch McConnell has made it clear that he has little to no intention supporting that method of paying for the programs that Joe Biden wants to put forward. So while the Democrats set the agenda, the Senate is divided 50, 50. We need every vote in order to get things passed. And when we need 60 votes, we obviously need Republican votes. When you have the Republican leader saying that he is not going to do anything, or anything much to help Joe Biden reach his goals, you create a situation where compromise will be very hard, where bipartisan efforts will be very hard. If Mitch McConnell, tomorrow said, "I will work with the Democrats to get things done for the people of our country," things will happen, because I think the majority of his caucus wants to help their own constituents, One hopes that would be a motivator. And there will always be those who will hold out. There will be the Ted Cruzes, the Josh Hawleys and some of the others. But if Mitch McConnell were to say, "I'm going to work with the Democrats," it will happen. But he won't say that. He hasn't said it, and quite to the contrary. Of course, the Democrats, we all want to achieve big things in a bipartisan way, but that doesn't mean that we haven't learned something from four years of nothing much happening for the people of our country through Mitch McConnell's leadership. Having learned from that, if we want to get things done, we are going to have to look at other processes such as reconciliation, and I do believe that we need to do filibuster reform so that these big bills do not require 60 votes to go anywhere.

Chideya: Senator, thank you so much for spending some time with us.

Hirono: Thank you, Farai. Aloha. Everyone take care.

Chideya: That was Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. Her book, Heart of Fire is out now.

The U.S. legal system is harsh on children. It was only in the 2000's that our courts abolished the death penalty for people under 18 for example. Late last month, the Supreme court ruled on sentencing miners convicted of homicide to life without parole. Here to explain the ruling and its consequences is Tiffany Jeffers. She's associate professor of law, legal practice at Georgetown University Law Center and our legal analyst here on Our Body Politic. Welcome Tiffany.

Tiffany Jeffers: Hi Farai, it's great to be here.

Chideya: Well it's always great to have you on, and we're going to run through a few different issues. Let's start with the Supreme Court case Jones V. Mississippi. What's at issue? Just break it down for us.

Jeffers: So what's at stake here is making a determination as to whether juveniles can be sentenced to life without parole for the crime of murder. And the court has said yes, they can now, which is a drastic change from where the jurisprudence has been over the last decade or so as it relates to sentencing juveniles. And this all stems from the eighth amendment cruel and unusual punishment phrasing, the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment in the context of being punished for crimes.

Chideya: And so what was the precedent that the cruel and unusual stipulation meant that this just wasn't done in the past? Or was it done sometimes?

Jeffers: It was, juveniles had previously been sentenced to death, and that's where the court started with saying that juveniles could not be sentenced to death. So that was the initial case precedent. And then moving from there, the discussion changed to can juveniles be sentenced to life without parole? And the issue here is whether they can be sentenced to life without parole without a specific finding that their actions are incorrigible, meaning that they are so reprehensible this particular crime shows that they cannot be rehabilitated. And so that's what the court is saying that state courts are no longer going to be required to make a finding that a juvenile can not be rehabilitated before sentencing them to life without parole for murder. And the science doesn't support this finding at all. A child's brain is not fully developed really until the mid 20's. And so that science is saying essentially that all juveniles can be rehabilitated until our brain is set as adults and the court has just strayed from their jurisprudence all the way up until this point.

Chideya: And Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent to the case speaking about how this was gutting the precedent and including the line, "The court is fooling no one." Them's fighting words. So how do you interpret her descent?

Jeffers: I think it's so interesting, Farai, how justices write dissent and then get up and go to work the next day to face these colleagues after they've said something like that. But Just Sotomayor's dissent was scathing. Not only did she say that these justices, the majority of justices, are not fooling anyone, she used Justice Kavanaugh's own written words against him in the dissent to show how he has supported not upending precedent without really big support in his own written opinion. She cited his own words to him and Justice Sotomayor in her dissent talks about how it's not just an upending of precedent, but it also does nothing to help states have some type of guidance as to how they should proceed in sentencing juveniles convicted of violent crimes, but also doesn't protect juveniles in any way.

Chideya: And so what does this say about the bigger picture the direction that our criminal justice system is going either on the Supreme Court level or on broader levels?

Jeffers: What I found interesting, Farai, in this opinion specifically Kavanaugh's use of procedure, he wrote as if he cared deeply about the system and its impact substantively on juveniles, but for this procedural nuance. And so what I see is the courts using technicalities and rules to upend protections for people convicted of crimes, both in sentencing and prior to sentencing in the conviction process itself. And it's a scary thing when a technicality is what the conservative court will rely on to really dissolve rights that we all have under the constitution.

Chideya: Let's move on to another set of legal issues. Last month, two cases were decided related to voting. In one, a man named Bruce Bartman from Pennsylvania who's white illegally voted for President Trump in 2020 on behalf of his dead mother. He got five years probation. In another case, a Black woman from Texas named Crystal Mason cast a provisional ballot, which wasn't even counted in 2016 that was illegal because of her criminal record. And she was on supervised release after serving five years for tax fraud. She's facing five years in prison. What is your biggest takeaway from the difference in sentencing and how it reflects on the differences between states and the differences between enforcement by race, gender, et cetera?

Jeffers: I think it's hard to separate the racial history of the makeup and foundation of this country from the laws that are implemented against its citizens. So here we see a white man receiving mercy and a Black woman having essentially the possibility of the book being thrown at her all under the guise, again, of a technicality of procedure. So the differences are that technically this Black woman had been on parole after serving time for tax evasion. So on the surface of it, it looks as if, well, she was on parole that was her chance. But when you look at it, when you take out the layers, if you look below the surface, the alleged crime is minuscule compared to the crime of the white man actually casting a ballot in his deceased mother's name. The intent levels are completely different. And so that does speak to the disparity in sentencing, not just based on race, but as you said Farai, based in jurisdiction. There's no consistency among the states. And that's, again, I think we've had this conversation before talking about the 10th amendment and how states have these rights to really govern their citizens and enact their own state and local laws. But what does that mean for citizens of the United States collectively? It means that there's no parody among states when these types of similar instances are happening. One person is sentenced to probation, a white man, another person's facing five years in prison, a Black woman. And it's just unfair.

Chideya: Now let's go to the broader topic of voting rights. You have been one of our guide stars in looking at this issue and how it's unfolding on the state and federal level. Last time we spoke, we really focused on Georgia. What's the big picture?

Jeffers: It almost feels like there's no stopping the snowball effect of suppressing votes of Black, brown, indigenous, and poor people in communities in states like Georgia. And it almost seems unstoppable at this point with the state legislation that's happening in these Republican led states. So it means that we really need to start paying more attention to local elections in these 40 plus jurisdictions. And really the people who have control over how ballots are counted, how ballots are received, how voting is implemented in that local jurisdiction. That's where those grassroots organizational efforts are going to be most impactful in local elections.

Chideya: Professor, always great to talk to you and thank you so much for joining us.

Jeffers: Farai, it's always a pleasure to be here. Thanks.

Chideya: That was Tiffany Jeffers of Georgetown Law and Our Body Politic legal analyst. Journalists like me use surveys and polling to support our research. And it's important to find data that accurately reflects reality, especially since people of color are often poorly measured. So I've invited two data scientists to collaborate with Our Body Politic on a continuing basis, Dr. Jenn Jackson and Dr. Diane Wong are research consultants with the GenForward survey. It's the first survey of its kind specifically targeting young adults ages 18 to 36 and oversampling together accurate data from Black, Asian, and Latinx Americans in particular. Dr. Jenn N Jackson is assistant professor at Syracuse University. Hi, Dr. Jackson.

Dr. Jenn Jackson:

Hello, glad to be here.

Chideya: And Dr. Diane Wong is assistant professor at Rutgers University Newark. Hey, Dr. Wong.

Dr. Diane Wong:

Hi, it's so nice to be here.

Chideya: Dr. Wong, what constitutes good data? What does that even mean

Wong: For me when I think of good data, I think of representation and access. So representation in terms of ensuring that the voices of those who are multiply marginalized within our communities are adequately represented in the data in ways that are meaningful beyond just demographics, and access in terms of developing multiple embodiment and approaches to thinking with the communities in which the data is collected for and by in the first place. So I think largely often as a community rooted scholar, what compels me to build with projects like GenForward is this desire to move away from gatekeeping models of data collection that we so often see in academia. In order to access data, you need to have often proof of university or institutional affiliation or thousands of dollars to pay for the dataset, which limits who has access to data. And so I think about this idea of research justice to challenge these extractivist logics of academy and to recognize that communities have long been stewards of their own knowledge, construction, and data production.

Chideya: And so Dr. Jackson, pick up on some of these threads. There was a lot of information in what Dr. Wong was saying, talking about having an approach that is either extractive or community-based. How do you look at the purpose of data in this question of good data?

Jackson: Yeah, I think that what Dr. Wong is saying is really, really important specifically on this idea of research justice. I think that there are a lot of ways that as social scientists, we set out to answer questions, but we don't often understand that we're talking about real people's lives and their experiences and their day to day actions. How they go to work, how they feed their children, how they navigate health care, how they access economic resources. And what's been really important about working with GenForward was this was the specific need that this organization was started to answer. And so what I really want to highlight here is that when we talk about good data, I always talk about this GIGO method, this is the garbage in garbage out method. This goes back to my engineering days. And the truth is that what you put in is precisely what you get out. And a lot of folks think that when we see these polls and the surveys that we see the results from on a national news media, that they are reliable and that whatever we see there is necessarily representative of the majority of what Americans are experiencing and thinking. But the truth is, is that the ways that we conceive of who counts as a citizen and whose opinion matters and whose lives are actually a part of politics, all of that matters when we think about how we collect data and how we interpret it. So we're not here to give voice or to tell the story. Rather we see ourselves very much so as learning from folks who are already experiencing the types of injustices and the types of concerns that we amplify with our work.

Chideya: So Dr. Wong, one thing that I think we should just be transparent about is that we intersect with a lot of different types of media. And a lot of people who do traditional political media would be like, "Oh my gosh, why are these people even talking to organizers? Doesn't that taint the survey?" So Dr. Wong, how does that play out in your mind?

Wong: It's interesting you mentioned that because just thinking about the team who makes up GenForward, a lot of us have different hats on all the time. So we're scholars, we're educators, we're activists, organizers, cultural workers. And so I think we bring all of that into how we shape and see the data. And it's just thinking about the kinds of questions that come through that data each time it's builded. It depends on the pulse of the people, it depends on the pulse of the movement and what community organizers and activists are focused on at that particular moment in time. That's critical. So as a team we really try to stay nimble and think expansively as possible about academic and non-academic collaboration. And so just an example, right, after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor last summer, there was a lot of momentum around abolition, policing, defunding the police. So in response we launched a survey on protest, racism, and policing because of what was unfolding on the ground and the kind of data that organizers at the time needed for testimonies and things like that. And so we see it as in tandem and largely interconnected work.

Chideya: And I'm just going to wrap up with you Dr. Jackson. What gives you joy about this work? You've gone to a lot of trouble to get fancy degrees and all that stuff. What makes you engaged?

Jackson: Oh my gosh. I love this question. So I am one of those people, I grew up in Oakland, California. I grew up a queer Black girl in a city that was gentrifying and I experienced a lot of things that I didn't have the words for. I didn't know that there were terminologies that were referring to my life chances and to the ways that I was navigating the terrain around. I didn't know about these kinds of notions of racial threat that scholars were publishing in 1949 and all of that. And so for me what I really enjoy about the work and about being in community with the folks that I work with at GenForward is that it's really gratifying to be able to see parts of my life that have shaped who I am as a person, and as a scholar and a researcher, reflected in such a meaningful way. And able to kind of use this platform and this work as a resource for communities that also are birthing young, Black, queer folks, young Black queer girls, folks at multiple margins of identity. So that's probably the most significant part of it for me. And I'm excited about what the young people are doing in their communities and how they have been reacting to the work that we're doing. I'm excited for what comes next.

Chideya: So are we and Dr. Jackson, thank you so much.

Jackson: Thank you.

Chideya: And thank you so much Dr. Wong.

Wong: Thank you.

Chideya: That was Dr. Jenn Jackson of Syracuse University and Dr. Diane Wong of Rutgers University, research consultants for the GenForward survey. Each week on the show we bring you a round table called sip in the political tea. And joining me this week is our body politic contributor, Errin Haines, editor at large at the 19th. Hey Errin.

Errin Haines: Hey there Farai.

Chideya: And Karen Attiah, global opinions editor at the Washington Post. Welcome back to our body politic Karen.

Karen Attiah: Thanks so much Farai.

Chideya: All right, Errin. It is yet another week in politics. What are we talking about today?

Haines: So it is, and since we have a global editor with us today Farai, I thought we would start with the global perception of the United States. So earlier this month a poll was conducted by the Alliance for Democracy Foundation and found that the U.S. Is seen as a bigger threat to democracy than Russia or China. There were 50,000 respondents in 53 countries, nearly half of the respondents said that they are concerned that the U.S. Threatens democracy in their country and compare that to fear of Chinese influence, which was at 38% and fear of Russian influence at its lowest at 28%. Karen, I want to come to you and ask why do you think that this is happening now? And what does this say about our own assumption that the U.S. Is a worldwide defender of democracy?

Attiah: This is such an interesting question and development, perhaps probably in many ways as we're seeing a bit of the aftershocks or the political hangover, the global influence hangover from the Trump years. Look, let's be real for a long time, for decades across the world whether it's Latin America, whether it's Africa, whether it's the East they've long been criticisms of the United States' domestic record when it comes to human rights. I mean if we think that to the Civil Rights era. In many ways, I mean, the Civil Rights era here was cross pollinated with what was being seen and done around the world. Martin Luther King was criticizing the U.S.'s actions in Vietnam for instance, same with Mohammad Ali. So it's not new that the U.S.'s sort of self assumed position as the quote unquote leader of the world has been challenged. I think what is perhaps new now is in the last let's say maybe perhaps five years, both with the advent of social media with global media networks, and frankly with witnessing the pandemic and the insurrection on January 6th at the Capitol building, it's really just been... And the protest of course over Black Lives Matter and George Floyd. It's really just been literally, we can't escape, the whole world can't escape the U.S.'s issues when it comes to its stated positions on democracy and human rights and its actual actions. So for these reports, they're just adding data points in many ways to what many again, people, activists, scholars, legal analysts around the world have been saying for a long time, that the U.S. doesn't walk the walk when it comes to democracy and human rights. It talks the talk. We've exported a lot of our nice ideas about democracy and freedom and fairness. And yet here at home all of our problems are on display for the world to see.

Haines: So Farai, we saw a major threat to our democracy when former president Trump called for foreign interference in the elections that he ran in. What do you make of the a hundred Republicans who are now threatening to form a third party if the GOP doesn't loosen the grip of the former president?

Chideya: It's really fascinating. I mean I can't help but think about some of the reporting I did during the 2016 cycle when Jeb Bush made this very minor dog whistle about Republicans not just offering Black voters free stuff. And I went into the history of free stuff as a dog whistle. But it's so mild compared to kind of what we got and I can't help but think where I'm going with this. If as many centrist Republicans had stood up during the early days of the 2016 dog whistle cycle and before candidate Donald Trump had gathered momentum, would there have been a different outcome? So I think it's a very complicated thing because right now the power center is still with Trumpists, as evidenced by the leadership ouster of Liz Cheney. So I will be very interested to see whether this has a long range effect. But it's certainly making a statement that centrist Republicans are not happy with the direction of the party.

Attiah: Yeah. Let me jump in here. It is so interesting this notion of Republicans and Trump asking for foreign help to help them with their elections. It's frequently a talking point of conservatives for a long time that an argument for why the U.S. Doesn't need the UN and we don't need foreign interference. We can do things on our own. I remember maybe a few months ago I had somewhat a sarcastic tweet about our issues with democracy and we have a political party that's calling for basically overturning our democracy. And it's like it should be this is where we would have a UN sanctioned intervention. And I got so much heat from the sort of conservative side. So again, it's just this sort of it's interesting when they call for help, right? When all of a sudden they need foreign assistance. But again, it speaks to the hypocrisy and the kind of a lack of a cohesive political ideology on their side.

Haines: I mean Karen look, you're making such great points. I want to stay with you here for a second to just ask kind of what are you hearing from your contacts around the world around former president Trump's continued role in domestic politics? I mean this isn't something that we traditionally see from the former president, right? Are there parallels to be drawn with other leaders in countries who kind of continue to play outsize roles in their parties after they are voted out of office? I mean he seems to still have power even though he is not in power anymore.

Attiah: It's so interesting you asked that. So my family is from Ghana actually and I think a lot about now the late former president, Jerry John Rawlings in Ghana, who was he seeds... He actually was a military leader and formed one of the democratic parties. But also had various violent authoritarian tendencies, depending on who you ask. And even after he left power and I lived in Ghana for some time any comments he made about anything would still get outsize play in the newspapers. He was again out of politics, but still every... No politician in his party in the NDC seemed to be able to escape his shadow. But I kept thinking about our example with Trump and how I think a lot of people around the world are looking at us and they're like yeah, been there done that, America welcome to the club. Then it's just a reminder that our system perhaps again, is not designed to withstand the shocks of personality politics. The danger with Trump is that we do have this blueprint, an effective blueprint for how personality politics can really upend the systems and institutions that we've built.

Haines: Okay. So let's keep going with the intersection of international and national political issues. Last month human rights experts from 11 countries released a report saying U.S. police killings of Black Americans amounts to crimes against humanity. There were 12 experts from countries all over the world who determined this. Okay, 188-page report says the U.S. is violating international law, pointing to what they call police murders as well as severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution and other inhuman acts. Farai, how do you feel about these reports and the difference that they either can or can't make on the ground now?

Chideya: It's interesting, so I have done a lot of different roles in journalism that have allowed me to see essentially what is the impact of different types of stories. And you look at something like the 1619 Project, we just had Nikole Hannah-Jones on last week and that has had a huge impact on the field of journalism and how we're looking at black history and American history and that's what we talked about on the show. But there are so many stories that are great journalism and unfortunately sometimes the ones that are bad journalism that have lots of ripple effects that we don't know directly about. And so like journalism, reports like this are only as good as the long tail. Will people pay attention? Does it make sense to Americans who are not always super global minded, just being real, to pay attention to what international experts say? I'm not sure how much people will pay attention, just based on some of our cultural biases.

Haines: Karen, I want to ask you what you make of this report and if you see a scenario where this kind of outside pressure can make an impact on domestic policy?

Attiah: I think that your second question is the real key question. Again, it just adds to what so many have been saying for such a long time that police brutality is an international human rights issue. And that the U.S. again, for its efforts to try to be seen as a global leader has not only sort of fallen far short, but almost sort of feels that it can act with impunity when it comes to particularly the killings of Black people. Whether or not this is something that will have a ripple effect in domestic politics, look we're a hegemon, there's a reason why being empowered is nice in that it is very difficult to hold the U.S. very accountable in many of these ways. But that being said, it does give credence and credibility to what we have been saying for a long time.

Haines: Yeah, you're exactly right. Historically we know the rest of the world has kind of looked at the impact of racism, particularly against African-Americans and called out our country's hypocrisy, right? In terms of how our actions don't always square with our ideals around freedom and liberty and justice for all.

Attiah: If I could add to that. One thing that this does give kind of ammunition and credence and power to is actually perhaps to other countries that might say why should we listen to the U.S. on our security reform? Why do we need to listen to the U.S. on human rights? We just had this international board condemn this country for this, right? So I think internationally again I mean these are countries where the U.S. actually sends police forces to go train other countries. So none of this is in a vacuum. So I could see and China and Russia actually have kind of already done this where they're like we don't have to listen to you. Other African countries actually have issued statements when it comes to this saying, well, just pointing out this hypocrisy. So I think it does erode the U.S.'s legitimacy when we are trying to, again, lecture other countries.

Haines: Yeah. Yeah. I think that's definitely something we saw during Jim Crow and it could be happening again in this era. So, a major headline right now in international news is of course the escalating violence between Israel and Palestine in East Jerusalem. Some of the worst violence that we've seen in years. And Karen there's a history of solidarity between movements like Black Lives Matter and Palestinians, how are people of color in the U.S. weighing in right now on that violence in Israel?

Attiah: I think back to Ferguson and when protesters in Ferguson against police brutality were being tear gassed. And I distinctly remember Palestinians on social media offering advice on what to do with tear gas. Use milk ,don't use water, offering tactics for resisting oppression. And there has been a long history of black scholars and academics speaking out about Palestine and seeing these struggles linked in terms of really what it comes down to, which is resisting imperialism, the tenets of colonization, and capitalism supported by the West. Again, it speaks to, is this going to lead to a change in U.S. stances towards the Israel Palestine conflict?

Haines: Yeah. Well Farai, the Biden-Harris administration so far is toeing the line on an issue it seems to not really have wanted to engage with. So what's at stake here in the administration's response?

Chideya: I'm actually going to start addressing the Biden-Harris administration through what I know about newsrooms. So at one of my many former newsrooms an editor I respected was like, we do not cover, after I pitched some stories during a previous conflict, we don't cover Israel-Palestine. There's nothing in it for us. Everyone hates what we do no matter what we do. And I think that to understand how the Biden-Harris team is probably reckoning with the situation is to understand that this is a highly politicized issue in ways that are really unique. And that it's kind of a third rail in politics.

Haines: So if we're having a round table about international news we have to talk about COVID-19. In a recent state department report diplomats said that they were having a hard time because of a lack of US leadership in the first year of the pandemic. The white house's delayed travel warnings to US citizens until airlines started to cut flights in March of last year, the US withdrew from the World Health Organization. Canceled plans to host the G7 summit last June and declined to join the COVID-19 vaccines global access facility back in February. So Farai, what does this report tell us about the role that the U.S. could have played in the COVID response and how our response impacts our national security now?

Chideya: Yeah, I mean I do think that... I was just having a conversation with someone who worked in the federal government for years on international health policy. And it is not only something where with COVID what happens in other countries very directly impacts us. It always impacts us, but just very directly in a pandemic. But also it's the kind of thing where we are judged by our level of compassion. And that's why it affects national security. I mean right now there's essentially a global resource race on where super powers are going and cutting deals with nations in Africa, Asia, et cetera to try to stake out territory. Physical, but also I think mainly around natural resources. And this both affects the supply chain of every type of resource, the COVID response, but it also affects how we're seen in the world.

Attiah: Yeah. And Karen, I want to get you in here on just that worldwide COVID vaccination. Back in February you wrote wealthy nations gobble up more than their fair share of available vaccine doses saying high income countries which represent only 16% of the world's population have taken 60% of available doses. The Biden-Harris administration has pledged to rejoin the World Health Organization and roll back a lot of these Trump-era America First policies. So as far as COVID is concerned, is this administration meeting your expectations?

Attiah: Yeah. I mean since I've written that piece there's been a lot of advocacy and pressure, particularly for the Biden-Harris administration to basically sign a waiver on the patents of vaccines, which would in theory allow for less wealthy nations to be able to access the knowledge and the know-how to begin to produce their own vaccines. I think Farai's point is really key here. This global pandemic is truly global. We could be sitting here in this as a global community until 2023/2024 if the projections hold. So right now this is a critical time for us to get it right.

Haines: Yeah. And as we talk about how this country restores its standing in the world, vaccine diplomacy and how we are a part of a major partner in that solution is definitely going to be something to keep an eye on. So we're going to have to leave it there for now. Unfortunately we have run out of time, but it was really nice talking with you this week Karen.

Attiah: Thanks Errin and Farai for having me. This was fun.

Haines: Always nice chatting with you again Farai.

Chideya: It's always great to talk to you Errin. Thanks 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 mix this episode. Original music by associate sound designer Kojin Tashiro. Our producer is Priscilla Alabi, Julie Zann is our talent consultant. Emily Daly is our assistant producer. 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, Meadow Fund, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the Harnisch Foundation, the Be Me community, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. “Senator Mazie Hirono Tackles Anti-Asian Hate Crimes from the Senate, the Supreme Court Rules on Minors in Prison, and What the World Thinks of the U.S. After Trump.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. May 14, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/