Rayshard Brooks killing TRANSCRIPT: 6/15/20, The Rachel Maddow Show
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: But what can white people who don`t think they are
racist but in both of these instances did something that, let`s not
sugarcoat, were racist? What can they do unlearn that behavior or to not do
TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I mean, first and foremost, you`ve got
to drop the ego, drop the privilege. I`ve talked to experts who engage with
anti-racist work who always say, we`ve heard a lot recently. It`s not
enough to not be a racist. You have to be an anti-racist.
You have to attack your value system and your beliefs, especially when it
comes to hard-wired racist beliefs that are so much a part of American
life. But you have to listen and be open.
And also, this thing called Google. You know, you can – you can like just
punch a few things in the search bar and you`ll get a lot, right? Go to a
But you have to recognize a thing for what it is at first. It may not be
racism in the sense you`re trying to use racial epithets or burn crosses in
yards, but the everyday slights. The every day little pokes and pokes that
white folks can give to black folks and we have to weather it, right? It`s
not just physically dangerous but the stress and trauma of having to
navigate all these racist little potholes, racist snakes along the way, it
takes a toll on our mental, physical and spiritual health.
So white folks, just go out, read a book, talk to a neighbor, you`ll learn
a few things.
VELSHI: Yes. Mr. Cooper, I`m glad you`re here to have this conversation
with us and I thank you for the way in which you handled this, Christian
Trymaine Lee`s latest episode of his podcast “Into America” dropped today.
It`s about the killing of Rayshard Brooks.
Thank you so much for joining us tonight.
That`s “ALL IN” for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW begins right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Ali. Thanks, my friend, and much
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
This has been the great city of Atlanta, Georgia, today. Protesters in the
streets for a third straight day after the fatal shooting of Rayshard
Brooks, an unarmed African-American man who was shot by a white Atlanta
police officer late on Friday night. This is three weeks now since the
death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked nationwide
protests. Atlanta is now seeing a whole new wave of protests, with renewed
force, renewed urgency after this latest police killing.
Things are moving quickly in Atlanta. Within hours of the shooting late on
Friday, the officer involved was fired from the Atlanta police department
and then the Atlanta police chief stepped down.
We`re going to be speaking live with Atlanta`s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms,
in just a few minutes.
But I should mention things are moving quickly not just in Atlanta right
now but all over the country. Just this afternoon, the country`s largest
police force, the New York City Police Department, announced that it is
disbanding a 600-person plainclothes anti-crime unit. These were
plainclothes officers spread out across the city ostensibly to root out
violent crime. But out of a force of roughly 20,000 NYPD officers, that one
600-person unit was involved in a disproportionate number of fatal
shootings. That unit will now be disbanded.
Cross to the other side of the country. Three big police unions in
California, in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose took out a full-page
ad in local papers on Sunday and in “The Washington Post” announcing their
willingness to talk about some changes for American policing. The unions
outlined five proposals that they endorse, including a national use of
force standard, a public database of use of force incidents, a national
database of former police officers fired for misconduct so they won`t be
It should be said that the focus of these unions in California is on
individual officers weeding out racist officers or otherwise bad officers,
holding officers accountable who break the law. Whereas much of the
nationwide protests we`ve seen in recent weeks is centered explicitly on
the idea that genuine police reform isn`t about individual bad actors. It
has to be systemic. It has to be about policing at large and not only
focused on individual officers.
Still, though, it is striking to see at least some police unions loudly
signaling, publicly signaling that they are open to some reform. Police
unions have frequently been implacably opposed to any reform. In fact,
they`ve been not just opponents of reform, they have vociferously denounced
as their enemy in many cases anybody who had the temerity to suggest such a
So, to see California police unions say, well, here are some reforms that
we`d be on board with, as sort of marginal those steps maybe and how out of
step those might with the broader transformative calls that you`re hearing
from protests nationwide, it`s still a big deal for police unions to make
those kind of statements.
In San Francisco, the mayor there, London Breed, has announced a slew of
new reform proposals for the San Francisco Police Department, including
that police in that city will no longer respond to 911 calls that don`t
involve crimes. So, if people call 911 for situations that involve not
criminal behavior but mental health issues or the homeless or school
discipline or neighbor disputes, it won`t be police officers who respond to
those calls, it will be other trained, unarmed personnel.
In the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the police department has
been under federal supervision for years because of its history of
aggressive use of force, the mayor of Albuquerque has announced that the
city is going to create a whole new public safety department to respond to
noncriminal 911 calls. Like SFPD, they`re saying that police officers will
not be the default responder to crime – to calls that aren`t about things
that are obviously crimes. Albuquerque will shift money to the police
department to fund a team of social workers and housing and homeless
specialists and violence prevention experts and diversion program experts.
Today, Seattle and Nashville were the latest American cities to ban the use
of chokeholds by police officers in those cities` departments.
Even President Trump is apparently trying to get in on some of the action,
maybe, saying he will sign some kind of executive order on police reform
tomorrow. We`ll see. He says he took suggestions from multiple law
enforcement agencies in writing it, which is definitely the first box you
want to check in a police reform order.
The pressure for police departments in cities and elected leaders, even as
elected leaders as unlikely as President Trump, the pressure on them to do
something, the feeling among so many of them that they must do or at least
be seen to be doing something, that is because of the sustained protest
movement in this country that continues today, three weeks on from the
killing of George Floyd.
This was the newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., on
Sunday morning, yesterday morning. “The Washington Post” described the
plaza as transformed into a church with, quote, thousands of mostly
African-American worshippers, praying, protesting, kneeling and dancing
near the White House.
This was an event yesterday in D.C. that clearly grew out of the George
Floyd anti-police brutality protests. But three weeks on, there are more
and more of these events that are taking on a broader scope and a broader
purpose. Thousands of people gathered in Brooklyn, New York, this weekend
for a black trans lives matter rally. Look at the crowd there. Look at the
crowd there in Brooklyn, highlighting police violence specifically against
black transgender women.
Thousands of people marched in Los Angeles too. There`s been a variety of
protests today as well. Graduating high school seniors in Seattle today
held a Black Lives Matter march in their caps and gowns called walking for
those who can`t. Peaceful protesters marched through the streets of New
York City again today as they have most days for the past three weeks.
And, of course, there was Atlanta today, where protesters this morning held
a march on Georgia to the state capitol in the wake of the killing of
Rayshard Brooks and to coincide with the opening of the Georgia
Rayshard brooks, the 27-year-old black man, was fatally shot by an Atlanta
police officer on Friday night. I`m about to show you some cell phone
footage of what occurred. It is disturbing, so I`m going to give you a
second if you do not want to watch it. If you`d like to walk away from your
television, you should do so now.
The incident took place, as I said, Friday night after police were called
to a local Wendy`s fast food restaurant to investigate a complaint that
somebody had fallen asleep in their car in a way that blocked the
restaurant`s drive-through lane. Body camera footage shows the officer
arriving on the scene and finding Rayshard Brooks in his car. Their initial
exchanges were mostly calm. Mr. Brooks was seen as mostly friendly and
He was later given a field sobriety test which investigators say he failed.
At that point, Mr. Brooks asked if he could lock up his car and walk to his
sister`s house which he said was a short distance away. As officers moved
to arrest him, things escalated.
Eyewitness video shows a struggle with Rayshard Brooks grabbing one of the
officer`s Tasers and running away. While being chased, he turned around and
appeared to aim the stun gun at police. The officer then shot Rayshard
Brooks in the back and killed him, twice in the back.
The Fulton County district attorney is now investigating the case. As I
mentioned, the officer that fired the shots has been fired from the Atlanta
police department. A decision on whether the two officers involved in the
arrest might be charged could come as early as the next couple of days.
The officer who shot Mr. Brooks has fired. The other officer has been
pulled from the streets and is now on desk duty.
(AUDIO GAP) surprised a lot of (AUDIO GAP), Atlanta`s police chief, Erika
Shields, offered her resignation almost immediately following this
incident. Her incident came less than 24 hours after Rayshard Brooks was
Chief Shields had earned praise just a short time ago following the
protests involving the death of George Floyd early on. Early on, this got
wide circulation where she was seen speaking to and listening to
demonstrators as they took the streets.
But Chief Shields in Atlanta is now gone, out of that job. She`s resigned.
The mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, announced that she would be
replaced by Rodney Bryant. He`s an African-American man who served in the
department over 30 years and currently serves in a senior role. He`ll take
over as chief now.
But as remarkable as it is is how quickly these actions were taken. The
fact remains that ear African-American man, another unarmed African-
American man was killed at the hands of police, this time shot twice in the
back. And that is a heartbreaking reality not just in terms of where we are
as a country but obviously for the family of Mr. Brooks. Today, we heard
from some of his family members in what was just an absolutely gut-
wrenching news conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHASTITY EVANS, RAYSHARD BROOKS` NIECE: Not only are we hurt, we are angry.
When does this stop? We are not only pleading for justice, we`re pleading
for change. The zone three where my uncle is killed is the same zone we
represent and loved all our lives. We stood with the Atlanta Police
Department when they were just tearing up our city and said this doesn`t
happen here, leave them alone.
Here we are three weeks later, those same police took something away from
my family that we`ll never get back, Rayshard Brooks.
TOMIKA MILLER, RAYSHARD BROOKS` WIDOW: There is no justice that can ever
make me feel happy about what`s been done. I can never get my husband back,
I can never get my best friend. I can never tell my daughter, oh, he`s
coming to take you skating or swimming lessons. So, it`s just going to be a
long time before I heal. It`s going to be a long time before this family
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There is nothing anybody can say right now to heal the pain that
that family is feeling. But this is a time when political leaders need to
at least try to rise to the occasion, right? To try to find justice not
just for that family but for the entire community that they represent,
especially a community that is now in many ways in crisis.
In Atlanta, that burden has fallen on Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. In the
days after the death of George Floyd when Atlanta saw huge and growing
protests and sometimes violence, Mayor Bottoms emerged as a clarion voice
in Atlanta, but also in remarks that resonated around the country.
Her speaking both as a mayor and as a mother.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), ATLANTA, GEORGIA: Above everything else, I
am a mother. I am a mother to four black children in America, one of whom
is 18 years old. And when I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a
mother would hurt.
And on yesterday when I heard there were rumors about violent protests in
Atlanta, I did what a mother would do. I called my son and I said, where
are you? I said, I cannot protect you and black boys shouldn`t be out
So, you`re not going to out-concern me and out-care about where we are in
America. I wear this each and every day, and I pray over my children each
and every day. So what I see happening on the streets of Atlanta is not
This is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.
This is chaos. A protest has purpose.
When Dr. King was assassinated, we didn`t do this to our city. So if you
love this city, this city that has had a legacy of black mayors and black
police chiefs and people who care about this city where more than 50
percent of the business owners in Metro Atlanta are minority business
owners, if you care about this city, then go home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It has just been about two weeks since Mayor Bottoms made those
remarks in Atlanta. And now, her city is coming to grips with another
tragedy, another crisis, this time involving its own police department.
Today, she signed a series of executive orders aimed at pretty dramatically
overhauling the way the Atlanta Police Department uses force, that includes
amping up the use of de-escalation tactics and having other officers
intervene when they see un – when they see unreasonable force being used
by one of their colleagues.
She said today, quote: It is clear we do not have another day, another
minute, another hour to waste.
Joining us now live is the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Mayor Bottoms, thank you so much for making time tonight. I really
appreciate you being here at this critical time for your city.
BOTTOMS: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Can you tell us about the reforms that you are pursuing now, and
about what you see coming in days ahead in terms of this real crisis for –
for your city and this deep sadness and deep upset over this killing on
BOTTOMS: So let me begin, Rachel, just by, again, publicly expressing my
condolences to the family of George Floyd and also to Rayshard Brooks and
to so many others across this country. We have had the great misfortune in
Atlanta of having to follow this out with the rest of the nation. And
following the killing of George Floyd, I did not believe we would be where
we are today.
That being said, shortly after the killing of George Floyd, President Obama
issued a challenge to cities across this country, including Atlanta, for us
to take a look at our use of force policies. So, we convened an advisory
committee and we had begun work just last week to take a look at all of our
use of force policies, expecting recommendations within 14 days with a
final report in 45 days with community input, and then the worst – the
absolute worst happened in our city on Friday.
And so, while we are still awaiting those recommendations, there are some
things that are very clear that have to change with our police department
based on what I saw happen on Friday night. That includes a duty to
intervene when possible. We saw in the case of George Floyd, the officers
did not intervene.
Also, a duty to de-escalate. Our officers, it is – our officers are
trained in a way that is not always favorable to de-escalation, also under
very limited circumstances allowing officers to shoot at moving vehicles,
only if someone`s life is in danger. And then there are a series of other
But we are already reaching out to people across this country to help us
look at our police department, not just with our existing policies, but
what more can we do. Because what it says to me, if this can happen in
Atlanta and in the midst of all that we are experiencing and the way that
we are grieving and angry and frustrated across this country, if this can
happen in Atlanta, then this can happen anywhere.
And we`re looking for a transformation of the way that we police in our
MADDOW: Is it going to help or hinder your efforts to pursue those kinds of
changes that you just accepted the resignation of Erika Shields, your
I`ve heard you speak about Chief Shields in the past, express your
confidence in her. We`ve seen how she`s performed as Atlanta police chief.
She tendered her resignation essentially immediately in the wake of this
incident. Was that the right call? And how do you think that will affect
the ability to implement the kind of change you`re talking about?
BOTTOMS: I continue to have the utmost respect for Chief Shields. I worked
with her for many years while I was a member of city council. And she was
one of the few people who I kept in leadership positions from the previous
Chief Shields is no longer serving as our police chief but she is still a
part of our police department and stands ready to assist us in any way
needed as we look at this transformation.
And the way that I look at it, Rachel, the transformation of policing
across this country is not going to be a sprint, it`s a marathon. And when
you are running a marathon or running in a relay race, there are times
where the baton has to be passed on to someone else in order for you to
continue moving forward.
And so, Chief Shields has said that she has a deep and abiding love for our
city. She`s going to do whatever she needs to do to make sure that we
continue to move forward, but it`s time to pass the baton on to someone
else to make sure that we are where we need to be and that that`s the
reason we are conducting a national search. Chief Shields grew up in the
Atlanta police department, but we will be conducting a national search for
a new lead for our police department.
MADDOW: We saw a statement tonight from the Atlanta Police Foundation
saying that nearly 20 officers have resigned from the department over the
past ten days, citing heavy workloads, citing physical and emotional
I wanted to ask your reaction to that statement, and if – in addition to
the community concern and outrage about the behavior of PD officers,
whether you are concerned about the health of that force and whether they
are at their own, kind of, breaking point right now given what the officers
have been going through for the past few weeks. If there`s – if those two
concerns and considerations come together in any way.
BOTTOMS: Well, actually information that I have is that that number is
inaccurate, that we have had about eight resignations and on average, we
have anywhere – or usually, from two to six, I believe, is what we
normally see in any given month. So I don`t think eight is a big number
given where we are with the scrutiny and the stress that`s on officers
across this nation.
And – and let me be clear, I have worked with many of these police
officers for many years. I`ve grown up with some of them. I`ve known some
of them since kindergarten literally because I was born and raised in
So I know that there are men and women on our police force who love this
city as much as I do, and they are putting themselves on the line each and
every day when they go out to police our communities. But as President
Obama said in the 21st century plan for policing, our police officers have
to be guardians and not warriors in our communities. And I think in the
same way that we had to take a fresh look at how we dealt with domestic
violence cases, how we dealt with sexual assault cases is the same way that
we`re going to have to look at how we deal with the racial sensitivities
and policing in our country.
And it`s unfortunate that it has come on the heels of losing innocent
people in our country. But this is necessary and I think it is incumbent
upon us as leaders to take this next step from anger and frustration,
because I`m experiencing it too. I am saddened and all of the range of
emotions, but now we`ve got to move this to action and make sure that we`re
transforming our police departments and also just restoring confidence and
trust in our public safety personnel, even with the unrest that we`ve had
in Atlanta, we`ve had our firefighters come under attack. We`ve had Molotov
cocktails thrown at them.
So we are experiencing encounters in Atlanta with our police officers and
firefighters that we`ve not experienced ever. But certainly, the anger and
the frustration is understandable. And it is – it is even more frustrating
that we are here in Atlanta on the heels of what the nation has been
grieving as it relates to the murder of George Floyd.
MADDOW: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Mayor Bottoms, thank you so
much for your time tonight. I know it`s going to be a tough – tough days
ahead in your city. Come back to us any time, we`d love to stay apprised on
how things are going. Good luck to you, ma`am.
BOTTOMS: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: All right. Much more to come here tonight, including on this
momentous decision from the Supreme Court today and what may explain some
of the Trump administration`s absolute policy incoherence around the issue
underlying that ruling. That`s all ahead.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Today, in a surprise from the U.S. Supreme Court, an unexpected
coalition was formed that included the four more liberal justices, Ruth
Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, along with
two justices who are definitely not liberals, Chief Justice John Roberts
and the Trump appointed justice Neil Gorsuch.
Having formed that unusual 6-3 majority, it was Justice Gorsuch who wrote
today`s ruling that makes it illegal under federal law to fire someone for
being gay or transgender. Until today, in most states in this country, it
was perfectly legal for your employer to fire you on the basis of your
actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. If your boss
thought that you were gas or trans and didn`t like that, you could be
fired. That was legal in most states, as of today.
Well, today`s surprise Supreme Court ruling means that from here on out,
henceforth, if that happens to you in your state and you get fired for that
reason, you can now file suit in federal court and the federal law should
protect you, because as Neil Gorsuch wrote in today`s ruling, quote, an
employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies
Today`s ruling is the most important ruling on LGBT civil rights issues
since the Supreme Court`s decision affirming the legal right for same-sex
couples to get married. Today`s decision is also the first big LGBT civil
rights case since Justice Anthony Kennedy volunteered to leave the bench,
apparently to make room for his former law clerk, Brett Kavanaugh.
There had been a bunch of hollow, facile wishful thinking that Justice
Kennedy being pro-gay rights meaning he wouldn`t give up his seat for
Kavanaugh unless Kavanaugh was secretly pro-gay rights too. Yes, no,
Justice Kavanaugh voted in the minority today. He voted that it should
still be legal all over the country for your boss to fire you if he or she
thinks you`re gay or trans.
But Kavanaugh was outvoted today in the minority, he lost, and importantly
so did President Trump. The Trump administration had sided in today`s fight
with the employers who had fired the plaintiffs here. The Trump
administration had sided with the funeral home that had fired Amy Stevens
because she was trans. They had sided with a skydiving company that fired
Donald Zarda because he advised a client she shouldn`t be nervous to be
strapped to him for a tandem jump because he was 100 percent gay.
The Trump administration sided with the funeral home for firing Miss
Stevens and the skydiving company for firing Mr. Zarda. The Trump
administration also sided with the agency, the county agency in Clayton,
Georgia, that fired Gerald Bostock from his job as a social worker. When
they found out that he had joined a gay softball team. Oh, the horror. You
definitely can`t be a social worker anymore if you`re on a team like that.
President Trump told the Supreme Court that your boss should be able to
fire you anywhere in America if you join a gay fricking softball team. But
he lost in court today. That said, he`s still the president and he and his
administration are still doing everything they can to make the lives of
LGBT people as miserable and dangerous and unprotected as possible.
Today`s Monday morning ruling in this landmark set of cases comes after the
Friday night move by President Trump to make it explicitly okay for health
care providers to refuse to provide services to transgender people or to
otherwise discriminate against transgender people. Like this was a problem
that urgently needed solving, especially in the midst of the coronavirus
pandemic with 115,000 Americans dead and hospitalization numbers spiking
all over the country. Oh, no, serious problem, the real serious problem in
America that they needed to act to solve late on Friday night is that it`s
not legal everywhere for health providers to turn people away from
treatment because they don`t like trans people.
President Trump is like, oh, we`ve got to act to fix that. They can`t get
coronavirus tests into nursing homes where 45,000 Americans have just been
killed in the past four months. They can`t figure out any kind of infection
control protocol in federal prisons where there are tens of thousands of
coronavirus infections and they`re not even testing the staff.
But, you know, they`re Johnny on the spot when it comes to whipping up a
new federal rule change so trans people can affirmatively be discriminated
against by health providers, because, yeah, whoo, that was a problem the
country needed working on. Not enough discrimination against trans people
in health care.
Who goes into government for this purpose?
After rolling out that new it`s okay to discriminate rule on Friday night
to health care providers, the Trump administration is apparently now
working on a follow-up rule to make it affirmatively okay for trans people
to be discriminated against in housing as well. Because, sure, why not,
right? What else does President Trump have to work on that`s more important
than making trans people`s lives harder and making it clearly legal and
welcome for anybody in America to discriminate against trans people and
Got to get working on that. Definitely don`t have time to stop people dying
from coronavirus with any meaningful federal government action, but we`ve
got to get our discrimination factor up against the trans community. We all
working on that, is that top of mind?
When the Trump administration put out this rule on friday night, the anti-
trans discrimination is OK for health providers rule, one of the insult to
injury factors for this new rule is they issued it on what was the four-
year anniversary of the pulse nightclub massacre in the summer of 2016 when
a terrorist gunman killed 49 Americans and shot and wounded 53 others at an
LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Forty-nine Americans dead.
And on the anniversary of that massacre, the Trump administration picks
that day to take its own legal shots at the trans community. But these
instances, these consistent instances of President Trump fighting so hard
to hurt LGBT people in as many different ways as he can, the court cases
he`s now losing, the new rulings affecting federal agencies, I mean, what`s
interesting is that it`s not like he campaigned saying he was going to do
this. And if he thinks there is political benefit to him doing this, why
did he campaign saying he`d do the opposite?
I mean, these things that he`s been doing throughout his administration,
including what he`s doing right now, this court case that he lost, these
new rule changes, these follow his own declarations when he was running in
2016 that he was going to be a super pro-LGBT president, that he`d
definitely be better than the terrible Democrats on this issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE : As yourself who is really the
friend of women and the LB – and the LGBT community? Donald Trump with
actions or Hillary Clinton with her words.
As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Sure you will.
“The New York Times” memorably fell for it at the time, writing this now
LOL inducing piece in April 2016 on how Donald Trump was, quote, set apart
from other Republicans because he was so pro-gay rights. Right.
Then he got elected and he decided that he would declare by tweet that all
trans Americans should get kicked out of the U.S. military and his
administration immediately moved to strip gay and transgender people of any
protection from being fired for those things, a fight they have been
working on for the entire Trump presidency until they finally got swatted
down at the Supreme Court today.
Why is it this way, though? I mean, this isn`t a flip-flop where a
politician, you know, changed his or her mind over time. It`s not an
instance of a concealment of the politician`s true agenda where he really
had X-feelings but he campaigned on Y-feelings so he could sneak into
office and once he was in power he could spring on us these surprise
beliefs that he had been deliberately concealing. It`s not that.
I mean, maybe it`s some of those things too. But mostly if you ask yourself
in your heart of hearts what this feel like, doesn`t it kind of just feel
like the president doesn`t have any policy views, that he`s just not
interested, that he may or may not remember what policy view he has
recently committed to. He says what seems good in the moment and then maybe
a year later or a month later or a week later or an hour later, if it seems
better to say the opposite policy, he just says that. Who cares?
He doesn`t actually hold any views. He just says what he thinks he ought to
say in the moment. How do you get to be president with that being your
approach to what you want to accomplish with the U.S. government?
As Steve Benen, my long-time producer and friend who writes the blog for
the show, as he said about this today, he said, quote, it`s an open
question as to whether Trump has any meaningful understanding of his own
I think that is literally true. And I think it is an important part of
understanding this presidency and Republican politics generally right now.
When Steve elaborates this same point in his new book, I think the truth
and the importance of this point becomes all the more apparent. Let me show
you what I mean.
Quote: Despite his status as the first major party presidential nominee in
American history to have literally no experience in public service of any
kind, Donald Trump was aggressively hostile to the very idea of a campaign
shaped by the substance of governing and equally indifferent to learning
how his own government works. His candidacy effectively served as a
capstone, years in the making, a post-policy party would be led by a post-
When Trump won anyway, his electoral incentive to be more responsible
disappeared, but his governmental incentive intensified in ways he
struggled to understand. Indeed, during Trump`s presidential transition
process, a brutal obstacle course for even the most experienced and
knowledgeable of politicians, there was an expectation that Trump would
shift his attention to the arduous task of assembling an executive branch
Well, the president-elect defied those expectations, instead launching a
first of its kind post-election victory tour, featuring self-indulgent
campaign-style rallies in nine red state locales. It was an unmistakable
signal that Trump, after having ignored the importance of policy making as
a candidate for a year and a half, he would not change. No president-elect
has time for a multistate tour during a short transition process, but Trump
made it a priority. Given a choice between grueling preparations and
basking in the applause of his followers, Trump had little trouble choosing
the more entertaining and less substantive option.
By inauguration day, Trump and his team were so unprepared for the
transition of power that they were reduced to asking several dozen senior
Obama administration appointees to remain in their jobs, not because
Republican officials approved of their work but because the incoming
administration wasn`t yet properly equipped.
The services of Obama`s people were required for the continuity of
governmental operations. This included, among others, positions related
directly to national security. On January 18, 2017, “Foreign Policy”
reported that Trump was poised to enter the White House with most national
security positions still vacant after a disorganized transition that has
stunned and disheartened career government officials. One career government
official telling the magazine, quote, I`ve never seen anything like this.
That was because no one had ever seen a post-policy administration try to
fill important governmental posts before.
I feel like one of the things that has happened through the whole Trump
presidency thus far is that us citizens and those of us in the media and
those of us whose job it is to explain our government and its leaders have
spent all this time talking about the incoherence of their behavior given
their stated views, given their stated policy positions, given what they
said they wanted to do with the government.
What if the Republican Party in the years before Donald Trump became
president, what if the Republican Party is a post-policy party? What if
they`re not about governing anymore? What if their only skill and their
only aim now is getting, holding, expanding and strengthening their grip on
It`s the first thing that I`ve read in a long time that has made sense in a
way that helps me understand what might come next, too. Now, Steve Benen`s
new book is called “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Saved
Steve Benen is one of the people who I worked with longest in this
business. He joins us next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: I want to read you something from one of the sharpest political
thinkers I know, one of my dear friends.
It says, quote: The electorate has long had reason to assume that both
major parties were mature and responsible policy-making entities, their
philosophical differences notwithstanding. The actions of the Republican
Party over the last decade have made it abundantly clear, though, that it
is time to re-evaluate that assumption.
The current iteration of the GOP is indifferent to the substance of
governing. It is disdainful of expertise and analysis. It is hostile toward
evidence and arithmetic. It is tethered to few, if any, meaningful policy
preferences. It does not know and does not care about how competing
proposals should be crafted, scrutinized or implemented. The modern
Republican Party has become a post-policy party.
That comes from a new book called “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit
Governing and Seized American Politics.” It`s my pleasure to welcome to the
show, Steve Benen, who is the author of this book, who is one of my dear
friends and who is the person who has had more influence on my thinking as
an American writing about politics than any other person in this country.
Steve, congratulations on the book. Thanks for being here.
STEVE BENEN, AUTHOR, “THE IMPOSTORS”: It`s a pleasure to be here, thank you
MADDOW: I know that talking on television is your least favorite thing in
the world maybe. And so I appreciate you making the exception here. But I
do feel like the book makes me – retroactively make sense of the last
three years in a way I was not able to before I read the book. And I also
feel like you are sort of offering the cure to those of us who are so
bewildered by the fact that Trump doesn`t seem to have any interest in
governing or policy at all.
Your thesis is basically that this is not a Trump problem, this is a
Republican Party problem that started to emerge during the Obama presidency
and that Trump is just the natural outgrowth of that. Can you explain that
part of your thesis?
BENEN: Sure. You know, after the Bush/Cheney era, I think Republicans found
themselves at a crossroads. The party had been rejected by voters.
Democrats had just won two wave elections in a row.
Look, in general, I think the electorate had largely turned against
everything that Republicans stands for. So Republicans had to decide, what
would their priorities be? What would their goals be? How would they
function in the coming years?
And they had to decide in a hurry. Ultimately, I think, they made the wrong
choice. They`re going to give up on the very idea of having an agenda.
Republicans will just define themselves by their opposition to whatever
Obama was for, even when Obama agreed with them.
So we had eight years of what was effectively governing nihilism from the
Republican Party, even when they had the majority in the House, even in the
majority in the Senate. I think that paved the way for the Trump era,
because what we saw from Donald Trump as a candidate was a post-policy
candidacy, a post-policy transition period and now we have three-plus years
of a post-policy presidency.
MADDOW: But what is the dynamic, though, that continually drives the party
further in that direction? Because what you`re describing is a very
specific form of radicalization. You hollow out any interest in governing,
any ability to even work on legislation. You have this great anecdote which
I did not know before reading your book, which is that when Mike Pence was
in senior leadership in the House in 2009, he sort of led the way in firing
all of his legislative staff and replacing them all with messaging people,
with communications people.
I mean, that sort of almost literal hollowing out of what they`re supposed
to be as lawmakers is radical but there`s definitely some imperative that`s
pushing them to go further and further in that direction as fast as they
can. Is there – is there reward that they`re getting in this sort of
feedback loop that`s pushing them consistently in this direction?
BENEN: You know, governing is hard. It`s time consuming. It requires hours
of endless, unglamorous work. And I think Republicans have had to make a
choice between being pundits and trying to seek and acquire and maintain
power or rolling up their sleeves and doing actual, meaningful policy work.
And they ultimately seem to have come to the conclusion that it is vastly
easier to be pundits than policymakers. And because they`ve been rewarded
for that, because they have won multiple election cycles, been put in
positions of authority at the state and federal and local levels, they had
– they felt no need to change that dynamic. That`s one of the reasons the
coming election cycle and the one after that and after that will be so
important. Parties change when the voters tell them they have to change.
MADDOW: Usually you would expect the feedback loop when we`ve got real
crises as a country to be rewarding people who have solutions for those
problems. I mean, that`s how it should work in normal terms. Do you have
faith this next election will be defined along those lines?
BENEN: It`s hard to have faith. You know, I saw something interesting this
morning. I went to Joe Biden`s campaign home page and I went to Donald
Trump`s campaign home page. I looked at Joe Biden`s issues page to see what
was there. And there were 37 plans and blueprints and outreach to various
constituencies to let everyone know that if Joe Biden was elected, here is
what we would do with power.
I went to Donald Trump`s page, a come panel page, and it did not exist.
There is no issues page there.
BENEN: And I think we won`t – maybe we can replace that with the
Republican platform, except that doesn`t exist either. They are simply
taking the 2016 platform and slapping a sticker on it that says 2020. And
so, with that in mind, it looks to me like we`re stuck in the same feedback
loop insofar as Republicans still don`t seem to have an interest in
governing. But that said, Republicans are losing. And with that in mind, I
think it`s likely we will say voters say they expect more and that this is
an opportunity for them to remind Republicans that the current post-policy
path isn`t good enough.
MADDOW: Steve Benen, producer on this show, dear friend of mine, author of
the new book, “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized
American Politics”, which comes out officially in two hours. Steve,
congratulations, my friend. Thank you. Congratulations.
BENEN: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
MADDOW: All right. Much more news ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Tonight, it is two weeks since the decision nobody in the Trump
administration seems to want to own, the decision to use force against
peaceful protesters to drive them out of the park across the street from
the White House, so the president could spend three minutes posing for
photos in front of a church on the other side of the square.
In the far left there, you can see Defense Secretary Mark Esper who later
said he didn`t know where he was going when he appeared at that photo op.
Next to Secretary Esper here is General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint
of Chiefs of Staff in combat uniform. General Milley ended up belatedly
apologizing for being there that day, for giving the perception that the
military supports one side in partisan politics.
These couple of weeks of – had some remark instances of military leaders
active and retired speaking out about what happened there. Among them is
former Defense Secretary Robert Gets who served as defense secretary into
President Bush and Obama. He called clearing those protesters out misguided
and a bad mistake.
Here is your programming note for tomorrow night. Former Defense Secretary
Robert Gates is going to be here live on this show tomorrow night.
Watch this space. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Thanks for being with us tonight. That`s going to do it for us now.
We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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Copyright 2020 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the