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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/21/2016

Guests: Jonathan Greenblatt, David Remnick

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: November 21, 2016 Guest: Jonathan Greenblatt, David Remnick

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. I`ll see you later, my friend. Thank you.

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: See you later.

MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

It is Thanksgiving week, which in theory means this should be a slow news time. This should be a particularly slow time in terms of politics in particular. But, no, there`s a lot going on, both in the home skyscraper of the president-elect and also in Washington, D.C., where Republicans in Congress are planning their new agenda, looking to see which Obama policies they want to undo first. Republicans in Congress announced today that they are planning on working five days a week to try to accomplish as much as possible when they get sworn in in January.

That, of course, poses a real risk that some of them are going to pull a muscle. Five days in a row in one week?

On the other side, Democrats are still deciding who will be their leader in the House, and also, who will run the Democratic Party, and also what will happen in President Obama`s lame duck. We`re going to have more on that exclusively ahead tonight.

But on top of all of that in politics and in Washington, also, this weekend, the white supremacists got together for their big conference. They met in Washington, D.C., and apparently they tried to do this conference every year. I don`t know if it`s every year. But we do know that they got twice as many people this year as they had last year.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror. We build, we produce, we go upward. And we recognize a central lie of American race relations. We don`t exploit other groups. We don`t gain anything from their presence. They need us and not the other way around.


Two weeks ago, I might have said that the election of Donald Trump would actually lessen the pressure on white Americans. But today, it is clear, his election is only intensifying the storm of hatred and hysteria being directed against us.

As Europeans, we are uniquely at the center of history. We are, as Hagel recognized, the embodiment of world history itself. No one will honor us for losing gracefully. No one mourns the great crimes committed against us. For us, it`s conquer or die.

This is a --


This is a unique burden for the white man, that our fate is entirely in our hands. And it is appropriate because within us, within the very blood in our veins lies as children of the sun lies the potential for greatness. That is the great struggle we are called to. We were meant to overcome, overcome all of it because that is natural and normal for us.


Because for us as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are great again.


MADDOW: See what he did there? When we are great again, we European -- make white people great again. Also, did you notice the white people are children of the sun? Did you notice that line from him?

I mean, I would just -- I`m no expert, but I would think that children of the sun would be more tan. You know what I`m saying? This was not a tan group.

But now that we`ve got this new president-elect, this is the news cycle on the Monday of Thanksgiving week because this is part of our national politics now. With this new president-elect and with the way he got elected and with who he is bringing with him to Washington, this is the kind of thing that we`re all getting used to covering now.

And so, honestly, the view from inside today`s news cycle, you know, trying to figure out how to do an evening news show in politics and in our country had to today include a big serious not at all conscious debate inside news organizations about whether the white supremacists, who gather to celebrate the election of this new president they love, there was a huge debate today about whether when they got together they were saying "Heil Trump" or whether they were saying, "Hail Trump." It was a big debate today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because for us, as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are great again. Hail Trump. Hail our people. Hail victory!


MADDOW: Big discussion today within the news business as to whether that was Heil, like German, or was that hail, which is English. And so, that was the first part of the news day trying to figure out how to cover that. And then late this afternoon, we got tape from that event from a different angle which I think settled conclusively the question of Heil versus hail.

We got this better camera angle where you see the guy at the podium saying hail Trump and then you take the wide shot and you can then see how the room reacted. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hail Trump. Hail our people. Hail victory.



MADDOW: Gathered in that room, responding to hail Trump with the straight arm Hitler-style salute. There`s no use arguing about what`s going on there and what particular vowel that genius thought at the end of his speech. It`s not just one guy in the room doing this as a joke. This is cropping up all over the room.

And once you see those salutes with your own eyes, you know, I`m no longer hung up on whether they are saying hail in English or Heil in German. They know what they me and we do, too.

The leader of this children of the sun, white people are the center of history, conquer or die convention, NBC News called him tonight, much to his deep delight, and he told them that his mission, as he sees it, is to professionalize this movement that he`s part of so that they will have more influence in this country and so, yes, maybe there was some hail Trump, people giving Nazi salutes and all that. But he told NBC News tonight that people were giving that salute in that room in response to the cries for hail Trump simply out of, in his words, out of exuberance. So, we therefore shouldn`t reach too much into it.

You know, we know this kind of stuff exists in our country. It`s always existed in our country under one rock or another. This specific guy giving the hail speech and we`ve covered him on and off over the years on this show because every once in a while in real politics, real politics butts up against guys like him who are literally trying to turn American into a whites-only ethno-state.

We`ve been covering this guy on and off for a few years. What we`re not used to is covering the whites-only ethno state guy as a relevant part of our presidential politics, which is what it has now become. And because the followers of this white nationalists, white supremacist racist agenda came into this D.C. conference on Saturday from all over the country, that does mean that folks with this agenda are out there all over the country and we know from what has happened in presidential politics that they are feeling super empowered by what just happened in this election and they feel like they`ve got a guy at the top.

On Friday afternoon, on the eve of this twice the usual size white supremacist conference, a restaurant in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., they took a last-minute booking for a banquet that night. The people who called said they needed to book a room for the family reunion and the managers of the restaurants say the family name was generic. They had no reason to think it was anything other than what it seemed like. They told us that 80 or so people came in for that, maybe 100 people.

But then something got weird. At one point they told us that 50 people from outside on the street burst into the restaurant to try to storm this family reunion event, protesting the presence of whatever generic name family reunion was going on in that banquet hall. That was strange.

The restaurant blocked the surge from outside and there were a lot more protests outside in the street and the resulting confrontation between the two sides, somebody threw a stink bomb into the fray. Management ended up calling the police and they end up shutting down the restaurant down for the night for everybody`s safety, they said, while they were trying to clean up, sort of trying to figure out what they were in the middle of, somebody sent the restaurant a picture.

And you recognize there in the picture, ye oldie Nazi salute. The restaurant staff also recognized in that picture their own light fixtures, their own chandeliers in the background and that`s when they realized, oh, who really had been there. Yes, they made a reservation like they were a family reunion. But what that actually was on Friday night, unbeknownst to the restaurant was the white supremacist getting ready for the conference in town in the next day.

Today, that restaurant issued a statement about what happened. Quote, "This expression of support of Hitler is extremely offensive to us as our restaurant is home to Teammates and guests of every race, religion and cultural background. We want to sincerely apologize for the community of Friendship Heights for inadvertently hosting this meeting, which resulted in hateful sentiment. We want you to know that at the suggestion of one of our guests, we`re donating the profits from restaurant sales on Friday $10,000 to the D.C. office of the Anti-Defamation League, which for decades has been working to bring people together in peace and understanding."

So, that restaurant apparently had no idea what it was getting into. They are apologizing for the mess. They are trying to make it right. They want no part of what was displayed by their customers that night. They consider it a threat to their way of doing business.

That restaurant has been very clear about that in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., they got into something with people they did not know what they were going to get, from who they did not know what they were going to get. They acknowledged it as wrong, they fessed up to it, they said they did not want to support them anyway, they said what they believed was wrong with it and they have distance themselves and given away their profits from the night.

That`s one way to handle things like this. Now back to presidential politics. Because now there has been a mass gathering of hundreds of white supremacists giving the Hitler salute and saying "hail Trump" and talking about the natural genetic destiny of white people to conquer all other races.

We`ve got supporters of Donald Trump celebrating his victory with the Nazi salute. And so, in presidential politics, that creates an imperative. If you`re the guy they are so psyched about, if you don`t want that kind of support, if you don`t want to be an inspiration for those kinds of people, you do actually have to overtly denounce them.

You don`t have to disavow them. Nobody is saying you created them but you have to denounce them and say what is wrong with them specifically because in the absence of your doing that, they are gaining power because of their perceived connection and alliance with you.

And so if you care about that, if you care about the rise of white supremacists in the country, it`s now on you, right? It`s now -- they`ve picked you and so you have to respond, now that you have this important job.

Once we got the tape of the white nationalists shelling hail Trump and giving the Hitler-style salute, we got a statement from the Trump transition team in response. The statement from them tonight reads as follows, quote, "President-elect Trump has continued to denounce racism of any kind and he was elected because he will be a leader for every American. To think otherwise is a complete misrepresentation of the movement that united Americans from all backgrounds", end quote. That`s it.

The president-elect has continued to denounce racism of any kind. He has? He has continued to -- in what form has he done that? Is it in code, in his tweets? Is it phone calls from his home skyscraper that we don`t know about? Where?

Because this continuing to denounce racism that he`s doing, I do not think that they are getting that message at the white supremacist conferences of the world or under the banquet hall chandeliers.

Joining us now, Jonathan Greenblatt. He`s CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Mr. Greenblatt, thank you for joining us. Appreciate you being here.


MADDOW: First of all, I have to ask, the restaurant says they are donating the proceeds from their sort of inadvertent hosting of this group on Friday to the ADL office in D.C. Is that happening?

GREENBLATT: That is happening. That`s correct. Our D.C. office has been in touch with the restaurant.

MADDOW: What`s your general response to seeing what happened there this weekend and the connection with the president-elect?

GREENBLATT: Look, it`s deeply unnerving. There`s a reason why our 26 offices at the ADL have seen record number of calls in the last two weeks. We`ve seen incidents of vandalism and harassments, even physical assaults against Jews and other kinds of people. The climate that we`re seeing is reminiscent from many of the 1930s where you see sort of this white ethno- centrism actually normalized and move its way into the mainstream.

MADDOW: What does ethno-centrism mean?

GREENBLATT: This notion that whites or these people so-called European stock are genetically or racially superior to Jews, African-Americans, Latinos. And, by the way, Muslims, LGBT, anyone who is different from them, basically, is the bad guy.

MADDOW: When -- we listened to that sound together sitting here. When he says, this children of the sun thing we can put aside for the moment. I think that`s inadvertently hilarious. But for us, it is conquer or die, this is a unique burden for the white men that our fate is entirely in our hands. It`s appropriate because within us, within the blood in our veins lies the potential for greatness. That is great struggle we are called to.

When he said the great struggle, you sort of miserably, I saw you recoil at that.

GREENBLATT: Right, that`s "Mein Kampf`, right? That`s Hitler`s famous book, his coda, Mein Kampf, my struggle. The thing is, 50 years ago they were wearing white hoods. Today, they are wearing business suits. But the message is the same. It`s bigotry and hatred directed at anyone who is different.

And frankly, I couldn`t ask for a better testament to what they are about because they are in complete contrast to the American values of equality, pluralism, tolerance which really makes this country great.

MADDOW: Jonathan, I`ve been covering these guys for a long time. The first time I covered the guy giving the children of the son speech, somebody punched him out on a ski lift for being a Nazi, and it ended up making weird Republican foreign policy news, like I`ve always covered these guys as an interesting part of the fringe and any time normal politics gets close to them, I feel like I can see the sparks arcing between the two, so we`ve covered that.

Are they more than the fringe that they used to be? What about the dynamic between very mainstream presidential politics and what these guys are doing? They are celebrating Trump. They`ve doubled their numbers.

GREENBLATT: Richard Spencer, the guy you were talking about, he described the alt-right as a movement, a body without a head and Donald Trump being a head without a body. So it`s as if there was some merger taking place and we saw memes from white supremacist websites finding their way into the political conversation over the last 12 months. It`s been really troubling.

The fact of the matter is, I also want to point out, these are not all Republicans and like many Republicans are being targeted by these people. Many conservatives are being targeted by these people. Let alone Democrats and liberals.

These guys have no allegiance to party. It`s only about prejudice.

MADDOW: Do you want to see something from Donald Trump in response to this? I mean, the response that we got tonight from the campaign says, oh, he`s always denounced this kind of stuff, to associate this with us, to say this has anything to do with where we`re came from is to completely misrepresent the situation.

Is that a satisfying response? Do you want to see something else from him?

GREENBLATT: Look, we would like to see more. When you`re talking about bigotry, you can`t take your eye off the ball. The fact of the matter is, whether you`re president-elect or an ordinary citizen, we`ve got to speak out and call this stuff what it is, pure unadulterated hate and from the rooftop shout that this has no place in the public conversation.

MADDOW: Well, he is in the penthouse, which is close to the rooftop.


MADDOW: Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti- Defamation League -- appreciate you being here.

GREENBLATT: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Stay in touch.

Lots more ahead tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: The first major interview that President Obama did after the election, he did with David Remnick of the "New Yorker" magazine. David Remnick is here tonight for the interview.

Also tonight, still ahead, some praise for Sarah Palin. Uh-huh. I know you`re thinking, oh, this is something that`s going to wrap around me and stay on Rachel, doesn`t really mean she`s going to praise -- nope, praise for Sarah Palin. I swear. Straight ahead.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: The great Tony Bennett in the summer of 1962 put out a record called "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and it`s still to this day, 50 years later, it is utterly iconic. Tony Bennett, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco", that was his first platinum record. It`s top ten in the charts. It was Tony Bennett`s breakthrough. It was, of course, and remains absolutely iconic as American music.

And at the 1963 Grammy Awards, Tony Bennett got nominated for album of the year for "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." It was a tough year. He had really stiff competition.

Ray Charles was also nominated for album of the year that year. There was also incredible Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd jazz record that was up for album of the year that year, which itself was a kind of a ground breaking thing. So, it was a tough year in terms of competition, 1963 album of the year Grammy Awards.

And with all of that competition, the guy who ended up coming out on top was this guy, his name is Vaughn Meader. He was not an obscure composure. He`s a not dulcet tone cabaret singer who`s left to the ages.

Now, there`s a reason no songs spring to mind when I say the names von meter because the album for which he won album of the year in 1963 beating out Tony Bennett, beating out Ray Charles, what he won for, album of the year, was an album of comedy sketches about JFK. It was called "The First Family". It was pretty funny.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I would like to ask a question.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I should like to ask a question about --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you identify yourself, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m your wife. And I should like to ask the following question. (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

I noticed that you didn`t touch your salad at dinner tonight or last night. Would you tell me why please?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me say this about that. Number one, in my opinion, the fault does not lie as much with the salad as the dressing being used on the salad. Now, let me say that I have nothing against the dairy industry itself. However, I would have preferred it if in the future, we stocked coleslaw.

Next question, yes, the baby in the front row, Baby John.


MADDOW: That album was called "The First Family". The comedian who did the impersonations of John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy and on the record the whole family, his name was Vaughn Meader.

And when Vaughn Meader put out that record in 1963, it became the fastest selling record in the history of records at that time. It sold 1.2 million copies in its first week. It ultimately sold millions and millions of copies that year, and in 1963 Grammy Awards, it won Album of the Year. And it was -- you know, it`s not the most mean-spirited comedy in the world but it was making fun of the president and making fun of the president`s whole family, which is the sort of thing that makes everybody prickly sometimes, even if they are the president.

This is how John F. Kennedy responded in 1962 when he was asked about it formally at a press conference that was not held at his family`s breakfast table.


REPORTER: There have been books in the back stairs at the White House and cartoon books with clever sayings and photo albums with balloons and the rest and now a smash hit record. Can you tell us whether you read and listen to these things and whether they produce annoyment or enjoyment?

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT: Annoyment. No. Yes, I have read them and I listened to them. Actually, I listened to Mr. Meader`s record, but I thought it sounded more like Teddy than it did me, but --


MADDOW: President John F. Kennedy asked about this record, making fun of him and his family, asked if it`s annoying, he says, yes, I listened to it. He got an opinion about whether the guy got the voice right, right? That`s doing it the right way.

And even though it`s just about being made fun of, it turns out that`s important because now we know what happens if you do it the wrong way and that`s coming up. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Poor Gerald Ford. Gerald Ford was president of the United States in 1975. In 1975, whoever was president of the United States was going to have the misfortune of being the sitting president of the United States while a brand-new TV show called "Saturday Night Live" was making its debut on NBC.


CHEVY CHASE AS GERALD FORD: My fellow Americans, I have called upon the networks tonight to make two pressing issues clear to the American public.

Number one, the possible default of New York City and number one, my stand on the Ronald Reagan announcement.

Hello? Hello? Hello? I can`t hear you. What, are you in the pool? I guess the other phone`s ringing. I don`t know. All right.

Let`s take a look at the recent popularity polls, shall we? Now, as we can see, the Ford popularity is certainly on a sharp rise here. Whereas the -- live from New York, it`s Saturday night!


MADDOW: The great Chevy Chase earning his keep and more in an opening year, opening sketch on "Saturday Night Live." The very first year that "SNL" existed when poor Gerald Ford became just an incredibly rich target for that new comedy show. Whoever was president was going to be an incredibly rich target for that show. But for Gerald Ford, it stuck.

Before Chevy Chase started that Gerald Ford impression in the fall of 1975, it`s true, President Ford had fallen down in public a couple of times. Once in Austria, he fell down while he was coming down the stairs from Air Force One. Once in Michigan, he fell up the stairs while he was climbing into Air Force One.

But neither of those little spills I think would have ever been burned into the American psyche about Gerald Ford had "Saturday Night Live" not turned them into unforgettable comedic gold. And Gerald Ford may or may not have been mad about that in private. But in public, he was an absolutely good sport about it. He went to the White House correspondents` dinner in 1976, which was hosted by Chevy Chase.

He opened up his remarks by saying, "Good evening, I`m Gerald Ford" and he pointed at Chevy Chase said, "And you`re not." He then congratulated Chevy Chase on his stand-up routine and looked at him and said, "Mr. Chevy Chase, you`re a very, very funny suburb." Come on, that`s good.

"Saturday Night Live" has been sort of the premier proving ground for jokes about presidents, for sometimes lasting caricatures of presidents. Some part of the impression of George H.W. Bush will always be part church lady, right, because of Dana Carvey doing George H.W. Bush talking about what would be prudent at this juncture. And even stickier impression was created by Tina Fey about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

There was a nationwide poll done by Zogby that found that the 86.9 percent of Americans believe that Sarah Palin actually said, quote, "I can see Russia from my house." Sarah Palin never said, "I can see Russia from my house." Tina Fey said that as Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live" and it stuck so effectively that Sarah Palin will never, ever live that down even though she never, ever said that.

But if Sarah Palin was ever mad about that, we`ve never seen evidence of it. She took it in stride. She`s been more than a good sport about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At a rally in North Carolina this week, you said that you like to visit the, quote, "pro-America" parts of the countries. Are their parts of the country that you consider un-American?

TINA FEY AS SARAH PALIN: Oh, you know, that was just my lame attempt at a joke but, yes, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, California. But then also, too, you have states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and Florida, which could be real anti-American or real pro-American, it`s up to them. And now I`d like to entertain everybody with some fancy pageant walk-in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ireally wish that had been you.

SARAH PALIN: Yes, Warren, I just didn`t think it was a realistic depiction of the way my press conferences would have gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s obviously a heightened reality.

FEY: To answer your question, you know, I don`t worry about the polls. Polls are just a fancy way of systematically predicting what`s going to happen. The only poll I care about is the North Pole and that is melting. It`s not great.

What? The real one? Bye.


PALIN: Thank you. Thank you. Now, I`m not going to take any of your questions but I do want to take this opportunity to say, live from New York, it`s Saturday night!


MADDOW: When you`re running to be president of the United States, it`s bad enough but if you actually become president of the United States, you are instantly, arguably, the most recognizable human on the face of the earth. And that means that "Saturday Night Live" will make fun of you. Actually, it means that everybody will make fun of you.

Dozens, hundreds, if not thousands of people around the world will make at least part of their living being paid to impersonate you. People will tease you, people will mock you, people will write operas about you, people will write musicals about you, people will tell jokes about you that mock every member of your family tree. People will caricature you, people draw you into comics. Sometimes people will say incredibly confrontational things about you in venues you do not expect, like, for example, the Hurricane Katrina telethon.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And in many ways more profoundly devastating is the lasting damage to the survivors` will to rebuild and remain in the area. The destruction of the spirit of the people of southern Louisiana and Mississippi may not be the most tragic loss of all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Bush doesn`t care about black people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please call -- in the past few days, America and people have been stepping up to donate money.


MADDOW: Poor Chris Tucker. Nobody told him in that moment. Kanye West is going to look into the camera and say George Bush doesn`t care about black people, everybody is going to freeze for a few seconds and then you just pick up and do your thing, right? Nobody told Chris Tucker that`s what was going to happen there. Difficult moment for his fellow telethon hosts.

But for George W. Bush, whatever you think about how he dealt with Hurricane Katrina, which he mishandled desperately, I mean, that was probably a hard thing to hear, right? And in fact, years later, after he was out of office, George W. Bush conceded that that was one of the more upsetting moments in his presidency, having somebody say that particular thing about him bluntly to the American people and in a way he did not feel able to rebut or answer and he did not feel like it was true but had to let it stay there.

And you want to know what he did at the time, though? He did nothing in response to that. Because when you`re a president of the United States or you`re trying to be president of the United States, everybody in the world knows who you are. Everybody has an opinion about you. Everybody will share all of their opinions about you and all sorts of different venues and it mostly, 99 percent of the time, will not be kind.

Every president we can think of has dealt with the public condemnation and caricature and people making fun of them with restraint. Whether or not it actually hurts their feelings, whether or not it actually hurts them politically, when they get made fun of, when they get criticized, when they get teased, they learn to just keep their feelings in check and let it go. That`s what all modern presidents have done.

It is not what is happening with our current president-elect. He was featured on "Saturday Night Live" again this week like he will be every week until the end of his life and he could not let it go. He tore himself away from his devotion to planning his presidential transition to once again get online and denounce terrible "Saturday Night Live" as totally one-sided and biased and nothing funny. Going after them is terrible for the fact that they dare caricature him.

And New York City on Friday night, Vice President-elect Mike Pence got sort of a shoutout from the stage at "Hamilton." It was not a tirade from the stage. It was actually a respectful thank to Mike Pence for coming to the show. It was sort of an earnest plea with him that he and the new administration should stand up for the rights of all Americans.

Mike Pence responded to that that he was not offended, that he enjoyed the show and even the people who booed him when he walked into the theater that night, he said he told his kids who were with him at the show, he said he told his kids that was the sound of freedom. That is how Mike Pence dealt with it.

The president-elect, however, sent three different -- actually, four and then deleted one -- four different angry missives denouncing the "Hamilton" cast for their terrible behavior, insisting twice that they must apologize for their harassment of Mike Pence at this performance. And part of that is hilarious because if there is one true thing about being a person who can`t take a joke, that, above all, guarantees that people will continue to make jokes about you. It`s a law of human impulse. It`s just irresistible.

It`s also hilarious because Trump followers responding to his angry missives about "Hamilton," they apparently started to boycott "Hamilton", and that apparently resulted in a great number of Trump fans randomly contacting the Hamilton Theater in Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada, and pledging that they were not going to get more Trump bucks from Trump supporters. Boycotting Hamilton.

Whatever it is they did, right? Some of it is funny. But the president of the United States, by definition, no matter who`s in the job, that is one of the most ridiculed, satirized, insulted human beings on earth. And if we are about to get a new president who cannot take that from anybody, who feels a deep need to respond to every single slight, we are about to start something that is very quickly going to become unsustainable, right?

Either that circuit that he`s got that makes him respond to every perceived insult, either that circuit is going to overload and blow or, what? I mean, how is this going to work? How is he going to last even one day in the job if criticism hurts him this much?

Watch this space. Practice your best Trump impression. But watch this space.


MADDOW: President Obama just got home today from his final trip abroad as president, one that saw him making stops in Greece and Germany and Peru, which are three countries that have never been linked before in any context ever, but they were for his last foreign trip, Greece, Germany and Peru.

President Obama held his final press conference today on foreign soil on the last leg of this trip but at that final press conference on foreign soil, nobody much wanted to ask him about Peru. What everybody wanted to ask him about was domestic politics back at home and he did not seem to mind that at all. He jumped right in.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Nancy Pelosi is an outstanding and historic political leader. So much of what we accomplished was accomplished because of her smarts, her tenacity, her legislative skill. I don`t normally meddle with, you know, party votes and certainly on my way out the door, probably I shouldn`t meddle here. But I cannot speak highly enough to Nancy Pelosi.


MADDOW: Since the election, there is one journalist who has spoken at length with President Obama about his plans, about the Democratic party, what happens for the Democratic party next, about Donald Trump, about Obama`s meeting with Trump. That journalist, who has had that conversation, is the "New Yorker`s" David Remnick. He`s genius and he joins us here live, next.


MADDOW: Quote, "Who was now the leader of the opposition and of the Democratic Party? What if there were violent racial incidents? Would he step in as a spokesman on moral voice?

At least in general terms, there was no question that he was now seeing his post-presidency in a new if dimmer light. `I think that if Hillary Clinton had won the election, then I would just turn over the keys,` he said. `We`d make sure the briefing books were in order and out we`d go. I think now I have some responsibility to at least offer my counsel.`"

Oh, really? Tell me more.

Joining us now for the interview is the man who got that quote from President Barack Obama, David Remnick, editor of "The New Yorker". He spent multiple days traveling with and interviewing the president for this latest piece.

David, it`s nice to see you. Thank you being here.


MADDOW: It`s good keeping you up until the middle of the night to be here.

First of all, let me ask you about that part of your piece and about that part of the president`s thinking. You say right at the outset of this long piece that the president and his team had no plan for Trump winning.

REMNICK: No, they didn`t expect it any more than you did or I did.


REMNICK: They read the same numbers, read the same polls, the political director -- I must say, though, I was traveling on the plane with Obama to a rally in North Carolina the Friday before the election and he came back and I said, "Are you feeling really confident?", having heard the numbers and the political director and the rest, and he looked at me and he said, "Nope".

And then in that Obamanian way, he explained why and then landed on something more optimistic. He said, "I`m cautiously optimistic." But he was not over the moon thinking that this was a done deal. And it`s quite known that the Obama people were, let`s just say, questioning of why Hillary`s people were not in places like Michigan --

MADDOW: Uh-huh.

REMNICK: -- Wisconsin. And those turned out to be the death knell.

MADDOW: It`s interesting, because what we had heard from -- well, sort of the most interesting reporting we had had before the election about what President Obama was going to do after the election is that he was going to work on this deepening the Democratic base and work on the redistricting problem that Democrats lost to the Republicans --

REMNICK: Look, what he was going to do was sign a book contract for 15 million bucks and rest for six months. These people that do these jobs are powerfully tired and they find a way to rest and then in his leisure, he`s going to write a book and, God willing, it will be the best memoir in world history ever. They just don`t exist and he`s a real writer.

And those plans go out the window with this because you don`t have a Democratic Party leadership. What are we talking about? You have a 75- year-old powerful populist leader Bernie Sanders. You`ve got Elizabeth Warren who is closing in herself, she`s 68. So, their chances of going again in four years are slender.

And I asked him, so what`s the bench at the Democratic Party? Well, he said, Kamala Harris. OK. Then he said, oh, and there`s that guy who`s a Rhode scholar and gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Name didn`t quite come to him.

And then that was -- you know, you could this is a party, as they say in baseball, a reconstruction here.

MADDOW: This is --

REMNICK: And so, he`s got a big role to play as a critic, but he can`t do it yet. He`s doing this whole thing of we have to let the president-elect find his way and he wants to be supportive, he doesn`t want to be hypercritical. But at the same time, he just went on a trip and I talked to people in his circle. Every foreign leader they met, not just Angela Merkel, were just stunned, bummed out, terrified.

This is -- this is not a normal passage of power. And we shouldn`t treat it as such, not that you do. Something is off here. You know, Trump met with media executives today, television executives and anchors.

MADDOW: I heard that. I did not go. I heard my boss went.

REMNICK: Nor did I, but I did some reporting on it from the other side, and they were stunned. It began with a 20-minute rant about coverage.

MADDOW: Him criticizing the coverage.

REMNICK: Criticizing Katy Tur, criticizing -- making fun of Martha Raddatz for crying on the air, which never happened. Going on and on.

This is not ordinary behavior. It was thought they were coming in for a so-called reset, that was the term used by the press secretary. That went right out the window. This is an unusual man who`s now the president.

MADDOW: And so, does that change the thinking of what the existing president, the lame duck and what the transition is. I mean, Obama had an idea of what the transition was going to be like, that he was going to model it on the dignified, orderly transition of power --

REMNICK: But he thought he was going to pass it on to someone who`d been secretary of state.

MADDOW: Right.

REMNICK: And even though she won 1.7 million more votes, in our 18th century system that we have, Trump is the winner. Also we find out otherwise, he`s the winner. And we have to accept that.

And Obama knows he has to accept that. And part of his job is orderly transition of party, which has not happened in places I used to live, in like the old Soviet Union. That is what characterizes, or part of what characterizes an authoritarian state.

This is a democratic state, and he wants to do all he can, he told me this continually by inferencing directly, to influence the, if there are better angels in Donald Trump, to help bring those out. And one of the things Trump said today to the television executives was how -- what a great relationship he had with Obama. He said I love him.

MADDOW: David Remnick, editor of "The New Yorker", will you stay for three more minutes so I can ask you one more question?

REMNICK: Happy to.

MADDOW: David Remnick, the editor of "New Yorker" is our guest today. We`ll be right back with him right after this. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Joining us now again is David Remnick, editor of "The New Yorker". He spent multiple days traveling with and interviewing President Obama for his latest piece.

David, thank you for sticking with us.

You were talking before the break about what is unusual about this transition. One of the things that we are seeing is a continual sort of inability to absorb the news about Steve Bannon being the senior counselor to the president. We saw this big white supremacist conference in Washington, D.C. this week.


MADDOW: The transition, the Trump transition continues to say that this has been misconstrued. They angrily dismiss any accountability for any of this stuff. They don`t think they need to comment on it. What is your view on that?

REMNICK: That that`s a crazy point of view. That`s crazy.

I mean, if you read Breitbart, the sentiments that are expressed there, the degree of anti-Semitic sentiment, of racist sentiment, of white supremacist, he`s responsible for that. It`s his publication. It would be as if I were printing this in "The New Yorker" during my period then moved into government and said, what are you talking about? Everything is normal.

He`s responsible for this. And Donald Trump is making him his senior counselor. He`s putting him in the same office that David Axelrod was in in the Obama administration. He strolls from the Oval Office from here to the camera.

This is an extremely important position. And we have to take this extremely seriously. It`s not everybody`s going to turn over a new leaf the next day and become Thomas Jefferson or, these are the senior counselor for the president of the United States who, by the way, is in any ways and in certain ways a cipher, politically. He`s going to be more reliant on the people around him.

MADDOW: The people he brings in, that`s right.

REMNICK: So, they become more important. I think it`s extremely alarming, and we shouldn`t try to normalize it and pretend it`s just like any other president. Yes, we have had bad presidents before who wreck havoc in various to different ways, and I pray to God that that`s not going to be the case here. But we should have our eyes open.

MADDOW: David Remnick, editor of "The New Yorker" -- thank you for coming in, David. It`s good to see you. Thanks a lot.

We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: And now, here`s a thing.


SUBTITLE: And now, here`s a thing.

April 5, 2016, U.S. Senate hearing.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: And we`re going to see more marijuana use, and it`s not going to be good. We`re going to see more other drug use, illegal drug use also, which is damaging. I mean, we need grownups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized. It ought not to be minimized, that it`s in fact a very real danger.

The creating of knowledge that this drug is dangerous, you can not play with it. It`s not funny. It`s not something to laugh about, and trying to send that message with clarity that good people don`t smoke marijuana.

SUBTITLE: And that is a thing that happened.


MADDOW: Good people don`t smoke marijuana. And it`s not funny, you guys. That`s a thing that happened, and that`s probably our next attorney general.

That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD". Ari Melber sitting in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ari.