Our Body Politic

Voting Rights under Attack, Talking to Loved Ones about the Covid-19 Vaccine, and Freeing Ourselves from Political Myths

Episode Notes

Farai Chideya talks with journalist Judd Legum about why he digs deep into corporate money in politics, especially after the insurrection of January 6th. Our Body Politic health contributor Dr. Kavita Trivedi shares how to stay safe with the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19, and convincing your loved ones to get vaccinated. In her new book, The Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik challenges us to rethink our paradigms for understanding politics. Plus, political contributor Errin Haines and legal analyst Tiffany Jeffers join Farai on the roundtable, Sippin’ the Political Tea, to discuss assaults on voting rights, the staying power of Trumpism, and the myth of objectivity.


00:54 Journalist Judd Legum on holding corporations accountable for their political spending

12:54 Health contributor Dr Kavita Trivedi on the latest Covid-19 news

23:42 Nesrine Malik on her book “We Need New Stories: The Myths that Subvert Freedom”

31:23 Sippin’ the Political Tea: Errin Haines, Tiffany Jeffers ,and Farai Chideya talk about the week’s news 

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thanks for listening and sharing Our Body Politic. As we grow and evolve our show, we need 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 podcasts on your phone, tablet, laptop, or anywhere you listen and leave us a review. Thanks to you, Our Body Politic broke the top 100 podcast on apple for news commentary this week. We could not do any of this without you. So again, thank you. 

Chideya: I'm Farai Chideya and you're listening to Our Body Politic. The House of Representatives has voted to set up a select committee to investigate the insurrection of January 6th. Despite efforts to invite Republicans to participate in an investigation, GOP leaders are still calling it a partisan effort and most voted against it. My next guest has spent the last few months exploring why this and the issue of voting rights have become so politicized.

Chideya: Judd Legum is the author of the daily newsletter Popular Information. In the last few weeks, he's done some impressive investigative work digging into the companies that donate to legislators who didn't vote to certify President Biden's win back in January. Judd has years of experience observing politics. He was a research director for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and worked at the Center for American Progress where he founded the news site ThinkProgress. Welcome to Our Body Politic, Judd.

Judd Legum: Thanks for having me.

Chideya: So Judd, we're coming up on six months anniversary of the insurrection at the Capitol. How do you feel the media is doing in terms of framing what needs to be talked about?

Legum: I don't think we're doing that well, I would say. None of the members of Congress or members of the Senate who voted to overturn the election that day have really expressed any remorse. And I don't think that there's been any real consequences yet. So in my view, we are letting it slip into the rear view mirror without appreciating how close the country came that day to completely falling apart.

Chideya: You're also doing in-depth reporting on corporations, particularly ones that are funding politicians who did not vote to certify the 2020 election results. Take us into that a little bit. What are the top issues?

Legum: Well, what we saw right after January 6th was fairly extraordinary. You had a lot of very large corporations who said, "We're going to put a pause on this," either put a pause on all of their donations coming out of their corporate PAC or in many cases, corporations saying, "We're going to put a pause on donations to the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election." Largely the companies that made those pledges have stood by them, but we're starting to see a growing number of companies who are trying to evade their pledges, if not the letter of them, then the spirit, mostly by donating to multi candidate committees that benefit those 147 Republicans. So for example, you have a lot of companies who have pledged to not support any of those Republicans, but they're donating to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is the fundraising committee for the Republican caucus and the House of Representatives and is going to be supporting the reelection of 130 plus members of the House of Representatives, two thirds of them, Republicans, who took that vote to overturn the electoral college results. So it's hard for me to say, if you've made that pledge, but then you're turning around and donated to the NRCC or the same on the Senate side, the NRSC that seems to be against it. At least the spirit of a pledge, not to support the folks who were perpetrating the lies that really led to the violence that day.

Chideya: What do you think the limits are on how corporations should be held accountable? And who do you think besides people like yourself who are really deeply documenting things as journalists, who should be looking into this?

Legum: I think that corporations have an obligation to match up their political giving with their stated public values. Corporations spend a lot of time crafting an image and a lot of that goes beyond just selling products or services, they want to stand for something. One of the groups that I'm watching and then I think is becoming more effective, are groups of activists, shareholders, there's been a big move to add more transparency to political spending that corporations make. So that to me is the most powerful lever, but also the employees at these companies who definitely want to work for a place that they feel is living up to the values that they were told when they signed on and consumers as well. So I think there's a lot of different pressure points. It's tough though, because this is a system, this idea that you write a $5,000 check to Congressman X, and then when you need a meeting, you know who to call and you get your meeting and you can shape legislation in ways that benefits your company. That's been around for a long time. So it's hard for a lot of these companies to let some of that go.

Chideya: It's the mother's milk of politics, money. Honestly, it's remarkable to me, you live long enough, you see a million things. 15 years ago, some corporate leaders were writing letters to President Bush in support of extending the Voting Rights Act, are corporations now doing an about-face, or do they always play all sides conditionally?

Legum: You are absolutely right that not so long ago, we're not talking about ancient history, the early 2000s, the mid-2000s. This was not a partisan issue that corporations could weigh in in defense of voting rights and that was seen as a non-partisan political stance. What you see going on right now is the complete politicization, not only of the methods of voting, but also of the administration of elections themselves. So the dynamics have really changed. And you did see when actually too late, Delta and Coca-Cola came in and said that they opposed the Georgia voting law. It was after it was signed into law, but they did issue fairly strong statements and the Georgia legislature attempted to retaliate.

Chideya: If corporate money ends up following political sentiment, one thing that's interesting to look at is where is political sentiment going? And the Pew Research Center put out a new poll in the New York Times classifying Americans into one of nine political groups. The categories with the most Black members were disaffected Democrats and another category they called devout and diverse. This seems to point out some of the reasons why there might have been a bit of erosion in the democratic numbers in the last election 2020, compared to 2016. As someone who has been a long time political observer, political writer, analyst, where do you see the fault lines not just by Democrat, Republican, but on these other axis like race and gender leading the country?

Legum: It's more complicated than perhaps people generally think about it. One of the big surprises I think out of 2020, especially is looking at along the border and Latinos in Texas, in South Florida, trending towards Trump in ways that were unexpected. And of course this intersects with class as well, because a lot of them are reacting to very stagnant economic conditions, not just during one presidency or another, but over decades. So it, to me is about actually creating material progress. I see these as all interrelated, meaning despite over voting rights that's going to be a prerequisite to create the kind of change that would actually address the concerns of these communities. I think ultimately people don't just want to vote, they want a better life.

Chideya: Right, absolutely. Both in personal conversations and also in things like the Twitter verse, you see a huge amount of just everything from resentment to despair on the part of some African-Americans in particular that people seem to benefit from the Black vote as something that affects democracy, but don't want to actually protect Black voters. How's that going to play out for the Democratic party as well as the Republican party?

Legum: I think it depends on what happens, but I understand it completely and I see it as absolutely essential. I think everyone knows that Joe Biden would not be President and the Democrats would not control the house of the Senate without the strong support he got from the African American community. In fact, it was the African American community in South Carolina specifically that really rescued his campaign. But you have to take this fight on, on voting rights and it has to happen at the federal level. If that doesn't happen, there will be a lot of people that are disaffected.

Chideya: So what gives you joy about the work that you do? You're dealing with some pretty heavy things, so what makes you keep doing this and what gives you joy about it?

Legum: That's a great question. That's a great question and I admit, things can seem bleak, but I do believe in the power of an informed public. That's why I try to dig through these FEC reports, trying to get people information about what powerful institutions are doing, how they're exercising their political power. And I do feel that change is possible and can come. For example, just in 2008, there wasn't a single democratic nominee who even supported the concept of legalizing same sex marriage. You couldn't be mainstream and have that. So here we are 13 years later and you couldn't really have a serious run for the democratic side and hold that view and of course it's now legal in all 50 states as well. So there was a pretty good amount of progress. So when you see these problems that seem intractable, I do think that the long run what motivates me and what keeps me engaged is I think it is possible to see change, but it's not going to happen if people lose their interest and lose their engagement and get disillusioned with the whole system.

Chideya: Judd, thanks so much for joining us.

Legum: Thanks so much for having me.

Chideya: That was Judd Legum. Subscribe to his newsletter at popular information, by looking up popular.info. Each week we've been bringing you, our listeners, updates on COVID-19 and the incredible women of color working to combat it. One of those is our regular contributor, Dr. Kavita Trivedi. She's a public health expert based in the Bay Area and consult with businesses and organizations on COVID-19 safety. Dr. Trivedi, welcome to Our Body Politic.

Dr. Kavita Triv...: Thanks Farai, nice to be back.

Chideya: One of my friends calls this era pandemonium because it's not the same pandemic, but it's not not a pandemic. What are you thinking we're in? Is the pandemic over?

Trivedi: No, definitely not. It's seriously not over in most parts of the world. And we are so incredibly lucky to have a vaccine that could end the pandemic. However, we need to vaccinate the global population not only to protect everyone, but also to prevent these new variants from developing, which are inevitable as the virus continues to move from person to person and mutate and become more fit as it does that. So, no, we're not done with the pandemic yet. Although, in some places I know in the US it feels like we are getting back to normal.

Chideya: And let's start going into a little bit of the science. Does mixing vaccines help? Do you think we'll need boosters?

Trivedi: Yeah. Great question. So does mixing vaccines help? We have some recently print publications around mixing vaccines, and it does look like if you get one shot of Pfizer followed by one shot of AstraZeneca a few weeks later, that can boost your immune system to higher levels than just getting two shots of AstraZeneca. So mixing vaccines is absolutely on the horizon and it is something that definitely will help global vaccination because in many places you don't have an option of which vaccines to get. So if there is only one type of vaccine available one week and then a different vaccine available four weeks later, it's good that we have this data to show us that that is a reasonable strategy. And then in terms of boosters, Farai, we have more and more data showing us that especially the mRNA based vaccines that we have available to us in the US, these are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, both of them are showing us long-term immunity. We are seeing memory B cells, memory T cells, these are parts of our immune system that are learning how to combat not only one particular form of the COVID-19 virus, but many different variants. So it is likely that we may not need any boosters at all, because so far our current vaccines are very capable of dealing with the variants that are circulating.

Chideya: Yeah. Well, let's move on actually to the Delta variant. One thing I'm thinking about as I choose when to mask and when not to mask as someone who's fully vaccinated and really happy to be, is this Delta variant, how will the risks of that figure into our personal math as individuals about vaccination?

Trivedi: The Delta variant is certainly testing us right now. We are seeing cases go up in communities that do not have a high vaccination rate, and certainly kids under 12 years old, who remain vulnerable to the Delta variant because they are not vaccinated need to be looking out for them as well. I think a few things that are important for people to understand is that it looks like two doses of the vaccines do work against the Delta variant, two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, two doses of the Moderna vaccine, and two doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. It looks like one dose of any of these vaccines are not as protective and we see a real drop-off in protection when we only are partially vaccinating people against the Delta variant, which was not the case against the original wild type stream. So I think the Delta variant is showing us that we really need to get fully vaccinated.

Chideya: So LA County just made a decision about its masking policies. What was it? Why was it and what do you think it says about the pandemic?

Trivedi: Yeah. So the World Health Organization made a similar statement a few days ago, encouraging people to mask again and now LA County with cases going up has also decided to ask folks to mask again. And I think this can be confusing, but it's important for us to understand two things. I think number one, that the vaccines are still extremely good at protecting us from hospitalization, severe infection and death. However, because of the Delta variant being more prominent, we may consider masking in situations where there still are potentially a large number of unvaccinated folks. So when you're going indoors, to a grocery store where unsure about all the people that are unmasked in that situation, you might consider wearing a mask. If you're going indoors to a restaurant where maybe weeks ago we may have felt more comfortable keeping our masks off, especially because we were vaccinated, maybe now we need to be even more careful and wear masks in situations where people are unvaccinated around us to help decrease transmission of infection and decrease the number of hospitalizations and severe infections in our communities.

Chideya: And how do we have conversations with people about vaccinations and there's people in my extended family who've chosen not to vax, but if I were talking to my cousin who doesn't want to get vaxxed, how can I have a gentle but important conversation, knowing that it's up to her?

Trivedi: There was recently, and I thought an excellent set of recommendations published in the New York Times newsletter outlined by a neonatologist. So I thought it would be useful for me to just outline those five steps on how you have one of these conversations. And I do think actually, Farai, these questions or this way of having a difficult conversation can be used in many different topics. First, start with an open question. So the goal here is to establish trust and determine why somebody is hesitant about getting the vaccine. And then you want to listen. This is really important and remain open. You want to show that you're in favor of vaccination, but also open to the idea that there are real legitimate reasons why people are fearful of getting the vaccine. Then you can introduce new information that may include explaining how the vaccine was developed or all the rigorous testing that was done and the millions of people now that have received the vaccine and the few number of side effects that have been observed. And then I thought this was really excellent, ask them what they might be able to do if they're vaccinated or feel more comfortable doing once they're vaccinated, that would be an upside for them. Maybe it's traveling, maybe it's hugging and protecting a grandparent, maybe it's going to school without a mask. And then the last thing is to take it slowly. You may not change their minds in one conversation. And if you move too fast and are more definitive with this conversation, it might end up being counterproductive. So it's important to understand that these might be a series of conversations, not just one conversation.

Chideya: The Supreme Court recently upheld the Affordable Care Act and our legal contributor, Tiffany Jeffers of Georgetown said it was a win in one sense, but also that others are going to continue to chip away at legislation. What is the state of our healthcare infrastructure? Coming out of the pandemic with the Supreme Court ruling how should we think about this?

Trivedi: Our healthcare system was certainly taken to the brink during the pandemic. We saw it everywhere. We saw it happen in urban centers and we saw it happen in a rural settings. So the analogy I would use is if the healthcare system was a patient, it would have been on its last legs in the intensive care unit. That is how much we saw the healthcare system struggle. And care suffered during the pandemic, both for patients with COVID-19 and for patients with regular problems, heart attacks, heart failure, COPD exacerbation. So a big lesson learned is we have to learn from this near disaster and prepare now for the next emergency and next pandemic.

Chideya: All of this seems anxiety producing. How do we deal with the anxiety of constantly keeping up on things and how can we take care of our mental health?

Trivedi: Yeah, it's a great question. And I was just telling you that I woke up this morning and read all these new articles about COVID and it definitely feels like there is movement and change every single day. First of all, we have to be good to ourselves and understand that this is a really hard time for all of us, and we need to show compassion to ourselves and to others. And then I think, especially in the workplace, in the healthcare setting, we just need to give each other a break and flexibility to take care of ourselves and our families. And it's just really important for us to acknowledge that mental health has really suffered both for the young and for the old, for children as well. And we really need to just acknowledge that and help us ground ourselves so that we can be there to help the rest of our families get through this as well.

Chideya: Dr. Trivedi, great to talk to you.

Trivedi: Great to talk to you, Farai, as well.

Chideya: That was Dr. Kavita Trivedi. We'll have her back again soon to keep us informed and involved in fighting back COVID-19. All social movements have life cycles when different groups of people engage around a cause and times when people disengage. At least two polls have found that fewer people who are not Black themselves support the Black Lives Matter movement today. A year ago in June, 2020 USA Today and Ipsos found that 60% of US adults trusted the Black Lives Matter movement. A year later, that number has dropped to 50%. A Morning Consult Political poll saw a similar drop from May, 2020 to this year. At the same time support among Black Americans stayed strong. Nesrine Malik thinks a lot of us are missing point. She's a British Sudanese columnist for The Guardian and author of the new book, We Need New Stories: The Myths that Subvert Freedom. She outlines six myths that get in the way of social progress, Donald Trump's election in the US and Brexit in the UK where Malik lives inspired her to rethink the way we talk about politics.

Nesrine Malik: I had an epiphany that we were stuck, and particularly in the US, stuck thinking about life and politics in terms of right and left, in terms of conservative and Democrat, when actually we should be thinking more about life in terms of winners, and losers, insiders, outsiders, the establishment, the marginalized, those at the top of the hierarchy and those at the bottom or the middle of the hierarchy. So I began to think that the problems that we were constantly revisiting, the struggles with racial equality, the struggles with gender equality, all these things were movements for equality that were being blocked or pushed back by the insiders, the winners, the establishment, and those people are not particularly wedded to any ideology.

Chideya: For example, take Derek Chauvin's guilty verdict for the murder of George Floyd. Malik says it's a mistake to think it was the result of the justice system working, and that we shouldn't buy into the myth of harmful identity politics.

Malik: That people of color are getting together to basically undermine the political system and to make demands for their own identities in ways that stop us from reaching wider goals, whether they be economic, or social, or political, because everyone's kind of fighting for that a little bit of the pie. So the way the myth works is that it takes this very potent, extremely threatening, extremely effective movement for equality and freedom and smears it as violent, as destructive, as vandalism, as threatening the kind of pristine benign workings of the state that would have found justice for George Floyd anyway, but it would not have happened without that street movement. From the moment the phone camera began rolling, when Derek Chauvin put his knee on George Floyd's neck, everything that led to the trial was crowdsourced. The evidence was crowdsourced, the moral outrage was crowdsourced, the pressure on politicians was crowdsourced, and that was via the practice of identity politics. It was via the practice of Black people, people of color, and their allies going out onto the streets in the largest street protests in the US and the largest global movement for a single cause. So the accountability always rests with those on the inside, those in power, those are the top of the hierarchy and the establishment. What we have to understand is that until we are on the inside, our role is to just constantly push back and constantly maintain the pressure. That's not a matter of accountability, that's just a matter of life and death, basically. It's just the position that we're in by existing in these societies. When we see things in the long lens of history, when we see the civil rights measures or policies that were secure, when we see the laws that were passed, what we don't see is the messy, consistent, unruly behavior that preceded it and that is [inaudible 00:27:37] politics and it works.

Chideya: When looking at how COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people of color, Malik says we should focus on the structure of the economy.

Malik: A lot of the prosperity and this is a large theme in the book that for there to be winners, there must be losers. A large way in which our prosperity is accumulated, particularly in America, is by chipping away at the rights of workers. That is the only way that huge amounts of prosperity can be accumulated. It happened in the slavery era, the wealth of the US could not have amounted to such a great deal if it were not off the back of unpaid labor and in the modern age, the way that people's wealth accumulates is via breaking away people's employment rights. The curtain is stripped away, when COVID happens you realize that what you're doing is creating a large precarious group of workers that are racialized and from minorities and marginalized in many ways in terms of their employment rights and all that is required for them to be pushed off the edge is one little virus. That is what we need to learn is that for us to maintain our levels of economic success, we have to have a large cohort or people functioning on the absolute brink all the time and hoping that nothing pushes them off the edge. So this myth that those on the inside, those who are successful have achieved their success because of their talent and their hard work is a way to subvert the calls for freedom on the part of workers, primarily racialized workers who want to explain that your prosperity is off the back of not their work, but their employment rights.

Chideya: Malik says she hopes that identifying the myths will be empowering.

Malik: One thing I say at the end of the book is that what the Black Lives Matter movement taught me or practically showed me something that I had a hunch or I felt instinctively before was that there are a lot of us. And the way the myths subvert freedom is to convince us that there aren't that many of us. And by not showing us on TV, not putting us on podcasts, not publishing our books, stopping us from finding each other and making us feel that there is this dominance of one demographic, one kind of class of winners that is constantly dominating us from the airwaves. And one thing that I believe in very strongly, and I would like people to take away from the book is that there are a lot of us and all we have to do is find each other.

Chideya: That was Nesrine Malik, columnist for The Guardian and author of, We Need New Stories: The Myths that Subvert Freedom, out now.

Chideya: Each week on the show, we bring you a round table called Sippin' the Political Tea. Joining me this week is Our Body Politic Contributor, Tiffany Jeffers, our Legal Analyst and Georgetown Law Professor. Welcome back, Tiffany.

Tiffany Jeffers: Thanks Farai.

Chideya: And Our Body Politic Contributor Errin Haines, Editor at Large at The 19th joins us as well. Hey Errin.

Errin Haines: Hey there Farai.

Chideya: Errin, It is a nice hot political summer. So what are we sippinn' on today?

Haines: Other than the air conditioning, we are sipping on a lot, so let's get right to it. We are coming in hot because we have big news this week out of the Supreme Court, which just upheld Arizona voting restrictions, saying that it does not violate voting rights, and isn't racially discriminatory in a 6-3 vote. Tiffany, I'm coming to you first to get your reaction to this ruling.

Jeffers: If you thought the Roberts Court in Shelby County dismantled the Voting Rights Act, apparently we hadn't seen anything yet because what's happened is that when governments, when entities and when people, when voters are going to try to challenge these restrictive, voting laws that are coming out of Republican led states, there's essentially now no way that section two of the Voting Rights Act is going to be able to protect them. Section two was all we had left of the Voting Rights Act. The only thing left essentially protecting the right for people, for everyone to vote, for voters to not be inhibited or restricted by their government, for discriminatory practices of closing polls early in certain areas of not collecting ballots in certain communities, for those types of discriminatory practices to be legal. That's, what's going to be allowed now based on this ruling and Justice Kagan has a lot to say about it. She calls out what George is trying to do in her dissent, this is not a good day for people who believe in democracy.

Chideya: Yeah. I just wanted to jump in on Arizona, of course, this is where Senator Kyrsten Sinema is, who is one of the, centrist Manhattanites, if I can coin that phrase, it's particularly resonant for me to look at the modern history of Arizona and how it keeps coming up in civil rights and voting rights over and over again. And also the pole position that Senator Sinema has in the questions of whether the legislature will take on voting rights.

Haines: Yeah Farai. The Justice Department just filed that lawsuit against my home state of Georgia this past week, accusing the state's new election laws of discriminating against Black voters. And let's listen to Merrick Garland, the Attorney General in that news conference last week, announcing the complaint.

Merrick Garland: The civil rights division continues to analyze other state laws that have been passed. And we are following the progress of legislative proposals under consideration in additional states. Where we believe the civil rights of Americans have been violated, we will not hesitate to act.

Haines: So Farai, here you see the Justice department, once again, attempting to be proactive on voting rights. What does this tell you about the Baton Harris administration's tactics on voting rights and kind of the post the, for the People Act vote, not knowing what's going to happen with this John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. What do you think?

Chideya: It seems as if the Justice Department, which of course has its own structural integrity and can make decisions of its own is going to forge ahead in looking at the issue as a national issue and as a state's issue in terms of whether or not the rights of citizens of certain US states are violated when it comes to voting. It breaks down to Civics, which I still had to take, it's not taught as much anymore. The judiciary, the legislative, the executive branch, they don't all have to be in sync. And it seems as if a lot of the action to protect voting rights is going to come either from the influencer power of the White House on Congress or from the Attorney General's office.

Jeffers: Can I throw something in? So recently on June 30th, the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States released a report, it's on the white house website and the title is, "The Contemporary Debate Over Supreme Court Reform: Origins and Perspectives." It's written by Harvard Law, Professor Nikolas Bowie. And this talks about how the Supreme Court undermines democracy in that these are not elected officials. And if you look at the history of the Supreme Court, what's happened is that these, by majority five or six Yale and Harvard graduates have appended rights that our legislature, our elected officials and the administration have implemented. We think of the Supreme Court through the lens of Brown, but we forget Dred Scott, we forget Plessy. And we forget that oftentimes in situations where our legislature has been unanimous, but where the elected officials put in office by the people have said one thing, then the court says from their high bench, "No, no, sorry. That is not what the constitution actually says, and you are not permitted to do what the will of the people actually is." So I encourage listeners to read this commission, what level of authority do we really want these individuals to have that are not elected officials? That we've just given carte blanche, the ability, they've actually given it to themselves, if you look at Supreme Court history in the Marbury versus Madison decision to make a determination of what is constitutional and what is not.

Chideya: Thanks for that, Tiffany, I'm still learning so much about how our government works, 25 years into covering the government. And I have to say that just from the inside, I have so many conversations with Black women and women of color who are spiritually exhausted by being the equivalent of the night's watch, for any of you who watch Game of Thrones. It's like, there's these guys who are just standing up on this wall, protecting everyone, no one even sends them fresh fruit and vegetables. They're just kind of up there. And I got to feel like, that's the metaphor that sticks for so many Black women and women of color. I know it's like, we're up here on the wall, protecting your rights, giving you the chance to live in a democracy that we can't even access in its fullness. It's just really hard to watch. I have to say.

Haines: Yeah. Look, I literally just got off tour with the Black Voters Matter bus. These women just really asking where are Black Americans supposed to go for redress? Is it the Supreme Court? Is it the Department of Justice? These are the questions that are on folks' minds as they watch this voting rights battle, just continue to unfold. And Tiffany, to your point, I will definitely be reading that report, which sounds very interesting and bring back Civics, long live Civics in our education system.

Jeffers: Hear, hear.

Haines: speaking of Commissions, let's go to January six, which we can not forget. This week, House Speaker Pelosi announced that there's going to be a Select Committee to investigate the attacks. Let's listen to a clip of her talking about that.

Rep. Nancy Pelo...: The house will be establishing a Select Committee on the January 6th insurrection. Again, January 6th was one of the darkest days in our nation's history. I've Have said it now three times.

Haines: So in response, you have Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, threatening to remove any GOP house member from their community assignments. If they accept Pelosi's offer to be on that Select Committee. Farai, what is this threat from McCarthy say to you?

Chideya: I'm not surprised Errin, the Republican Party has been vociferous in just blocking its own participation in investigating this. And in fact, McCarthy just met with some of the officers who survived the attack and defended the Capitol. And we can't forget that three officers lost their lives, one from a medical condition and two more from suicide. And these officers, regardless of their political party are saying, "Do not whitewash this, do not disappear this from history." But he did not promise to talk to his members about the insurrection and its aftermath. And right now we're seeing that he's made good essentially by saying that he will undermine the careers of any Republicans in Congress who participate in this. So this is a signal that says, "We can't talk about this." And that's really dangerous for this society.

Haines: Absolutely. I think regardless of your politics, having an accurate and honest record of what happened on that day for the American people, is really something that is important and that should not get lost in partisan politics. I want to go to another big news item this week, and that is the Trump Organization and its CFO Allen Weisselberg, "I've been charged in a tax related investigation." Tiffany, what can you say about these charges and what can happen to the Trump Organization as a result?

Jeffers: So it's important to remember legally corporations function as people. And so it's important also not to conflate the Trump Organization with Donald Trump himself. So we're looking at charges against the corporation, the Trump Organization that holds his name and its CFO Weisselberg. And what this means is that for the corporation, there could be fines, there could be mandated oversight in its financial practices. It could mean incarceration time for, if the CFO is convicted, but it doesn't at this point, have any criminal implications for Donald Trump himself. But it seems that the prosecutor would likely be working to get inside information from Weisselberg potentially some type of agreement, some type of plea deal. Based on what evidence they have, I think Donald Trump is the big fish they'd like to secure a conviction against, but at this stage again, important to remember that it's just the Trump Organization and its CFO who have been criminally charged with these tax related crimes.

Haines: Yeah, that's a really good point. So Farai, what does this mean for former president Trump of his political image, his influence?

Chideya: There are people, who still believe that Former President Trump is the president that he's just in absentia, awaiting people to put him back in the White House. In a culture war, sometimes any action can be leveraged for power, especially if you are not bound by facts. If you are bound by quote, "Alternative facts." The hit that keeps on giving from Kellyanne Conway. So I do worry a little bit, not that it changes anything that the investigation into the Trump Organization will end up bolstering some of his supporters.

Jeffers: I agree Farai. And what's interesting about Donald Trump being back on the campaign trail is that rally he had in Wellington, Ohio, I watched portions of it and it was difficult to watch, I have to be honest. There's no platform, there's nothing but grievances, fear and anger, lots of rage emanating from Donald Trump and his supporters are eating it up. It's a scary sight. His supporters will follow him to the ends of the Earth. And we saw that at his first rally back on the campaign trail recently.

Haines: Yeah. Tiffany, I want to jump in here because let's listen to a little bit to Former President Trump at that rally in Wellington, right outside of Cleveland, Ohio.

Donald Trump: And we're going to elect an amazing slate of proud American first Republicans next year, America first.

Haines: So Farai, how much impact do you think Trump's revenge plan is going to have on the midterms?

Chideya: Yeah, that's a phrase from Politico, the idea of a revenge plan. You do start seeing, again looking at some of the far right media outlets. You are starting to see some people who are Trumpists saying that Trump is no longer the standard bearer for his own ideology. So it's like, it's not that these supporters are becoming more centrist, but they're saying, "You know what, someone else needs to step into his place." And I actually think that there will be, there already are a wide range of elected officials in the Federal Government, in the legislature who have very Trumpist ideologies, not all of them, the Marjorie Taylor Greenes, some that are much more ready for prime time in a traditional sense. And I do think that it's going to be a really interesting and complicated moment for the Republican Party where Republican centrists still are not really finding a lot of traction. This is a party that was willing to exile Liz Cheney from a leadership position. So we will see how Former President Trump does in maintaining a base of support. But I don't think that his ideological framework is going anywhere. Even if he doesn't become prominent, again.

Haines: I want to turn to another hot debate topic we've covered because there's a new development, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and her tenure at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina. This week, we found out that the board has decided to grant tenure to Professor Hannah-Jones. Farai, how does the treatment of Nikole Hannah-Jones relate to the questions of what good journalism is, including objectivity?

Chideya: Obviously you and I both know Nikole Hannah-Jones, and I have not only been watching this through the lens of her work. And of course that is Pulitzer Prize winning work, but also through the work of people like Lewis Raven Wallace, who wrote a book and does a podcast, The View from Somewhere, talking about how journalistic objectivity, which certainly I was taught was the prized, standard has been used to veil different people's political and economic interests. People like Wallace point out that journalists who questioned authority as Ida B. Wells did many, many decades ago as Nikole Hannah-Jones is now, are told that their work is not up to par or held to higher standards. There was so much pseudoscience of race, throughout history in journalism, you think about super predators that was pseudoscience, crack babies, pseudoscience. This is essentially disinformation that got embedded in the news under the veil of like, "We're just being objective." But it had no actual basis. And so then you have people like Nikole Hannah-Jones talking about things that actually happened, but that are viewed as threatening. So I think that it really points out how much homework that the whole field of journalism still to do, as well as the very complicated donor relations. In the end, this boils down in part to money and to, a donor that was opposed to a prominent Award-winning Journalist.

Haines: Yeah, I think the whole country still has a lot of homework to do around these issues. And the university setting is just the latest place where we see that playing out. Tiffany, what role do you think that journalism like The 1619 Project plays in our body politic?

Jeffers: It's the most important role that we have to ensure that our voices are heard. When I say our voices, I mean, my voice, Farai's voice, Errin your voice, as Black women, as women of color in roles, particularly journalism and law, where the standard again is White and male. I spent the majority of my career trying to fit myself, my round self into a square peg because I never understood that the law in all of its quote unquote, "Objectivity." Was from the frame of White male land, owning slave owners, right. Everything that Nikole Hannah-Jones has endured as it relates to The 1619 Project and earning tenure at UNC is maybe on a smaller scale of struggle, that many Black women and women of color face in their everyday lives of trying to fit into a White male dominated image when we clearly don't. And making us feel as if something's wrong with us, when we point out that, "Hey, these clothes don't fit. Hey, this frame doesn't fit." And so I think it's critical that we continue challenging notions of objectivity, both in journalism and in law, but also just in the world as we exist.

Haines: Yeah, I think you're exactly right Tiffany. So with that, wow, the tea was caffeinated this week. Both of you, thank you so much for your insights and helping us to unpack and sip this tea.

Chideya: Well, Erin, it has been epic as usual. And you know what? I know that you are working on something special. Why don't you tell us about it before we wrap up?

Haines: Well, thank you Farai, for mentioning that. I am pretty excited this weekend, as we mark this country's birthday with the 4th of July holiday, we are also launching a project that I am helming over at the Philadelphia Enquirer. It's called, A More Perfect Union, over the next year, we're going to be examining a lot of the institutions that were born in Philadelphia, alongside our young democracy and what their profound impacts on racism and inequity continue to be on this country today. So I hope everybody will give that essay a read, check it out, share it, really appreciate it. We're going to have to leave it there. And it was so nice talking with both of you, Tiffany and Farai until next time.

Jeffers: Thanks Errin.

Chideya: Thanks Errin. That was Tiffany Jeffers, Georgetown Law Professor and Legal Analyst here at Our Body Politic and Errin Haines, Editor at Large at 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. Original music by associate sound designer Kojin Tashiro. Our producer is Priscilla Alabi. Julie Zann is our talent consultant. Emily Daly is assistant producer. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt, Elizabeth Nakano, and Veda Chand.

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. “Voting Rights under Attack, Talking to Loved Ones about the Covid-19 Vaccine, and Freeing Ourselves from Political Myths.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. July 2, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/