Bart Gellman wrote a piece called The Election That Could Break America that basically laid out a blueprint for how Donald Trump with sufficient allies in the Republican Party across the country could attempt or perhaps be successful in overruling the democratic will of the American people and essentially steal an election. Sherrilyn Ifill is one of the premier voting rights lawyers in America that argued before the Supreme Court and brought cases before the Supreme Court and is currently the head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Good evening from New York. Happy Holidays. I`m Chris Hayes. And welcome to what you have already intuited is a very special edition of ALL IN. It is our very first crossover episode. You can tell it`s crossover because I`m in this outfit, which is not the outfit I`m usually in on the television, but is the kind of outfit or reasonable facsimile thereof I would wear to do my podcast.
I too, have a podcast just like Steve Bannon. That podcast is called Why Is This Happening? And you can get it every week, wherever you get your podcasts. And we thought, wouldn`t it be cool to do a kind of hybrid ALL IN-Why is this Happening synthesis here on your television, which is what you`re not watching.
So, today, if you`ve never listened to podcast and you watch the show, this is sort of a taste of what we do on the podcast. It gives us an opportunity to go a little longer, a little deeper with guests, and we`re going to share two conversations that I had with two people who had been on the forefront of what I think is, in some ways, the most important story of 2021, which is American democracy on the knife`s edge.
Of course, the year 2021 begins with the first-ever insurrection, the second time in American history that we had like, sustained violence around the transfer of power, the first being Fort Sumter, the second being January 6. The aftermath of that insurrection, the attempts by the Republican Party to put into place means of stopping future peaceful transfers of power and democratic accountability and the onrush towards a future and a president which the Republican Party, one of the two major parties has become essentially anti-democratic in a profound way. That`s the big story of 2021.
And so, in this episode tonight, two people who have been really at the forefront of identifying warning and then fighting against these tendencies. One of those people is Sherrilyn Ifill who might be familiar to you, if your watch ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES. She`s actually stepping down next year, after nearly a decade leading the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. She`s one of the most remarkable lawyers, legal thinkers, social critics that we have. One of the very best voting rights lawyers in the entire country.
And so I got to talk with her about the state of civil and voting rights in the country at this moment and the nature of American democracy, what it has been, what it is now, and what it could be. We`re going to bring you that interview in just a moment.
First, I spoke with Barton Gellman. He`s a longtime reporter. He was at the Washington Post for a while, wrote a great book about Dick Cheney. He`s one of America`s most respected journalists. And he`s kind of pivoted off of beats he used to do -- he was a sort of a national security reporter for a while -- to kind of be full time on the democracy beat at the Atlantic.
And Bart wrote one of the most seminal influential and important pieces on this topic before the election. In fact, before I think it was apparent to a lot of people what was happening, it was a piece that got a lot of attention and I think some criticism for being unduly alarmist. It was written in September 2020.
It was published in September 2020. So, that`s, you know, two months before the election. It was in the Atlantic where Bart now write. He`s a correspondent for the Atlantic. And the piece was called The Election That Could Break America. And basically, you know, it`s always risky to write about the future if you`re a journalist, because the future is unwritten. You don`t know what`s going to happen, and you could end up looking very, very silly. I myself have been predictions about the future that ended up being very, very silly.
Bart wrote a piece called The Election That Could Break America. That was the opposite of that. In fact, it was remarkably prescient and remarkably prophetic, because it basically laid out a blueprint for how Trump with sufficient allies in the Republican Party across the country could attempt or perhaps be successful in overruling the democratic will of the American people and essentially steal an election or steal an electoral college majority of the keep themselves in power, even if a majority of Americans both in the popular vote, and in terms of electoral votes, voted against him.
And he lays this out. It seems like harebrained and nuts, and yet it is, in many ways, ends up being precisely accurate blueprint of the steps that Donald Trump and Mark Meadows and all of his collaborators took in the run up to January 6.
And in December, he wrote another piece, a follow-up, basically saying, look, it didn`t stop after January 6. And you know, as you know, if you watch the show or you listen to podcasts, we cover this all the time, that it kept going. That piece which was published just a few weeks called Trump`s next coup has already begun. Part of a special issue the Atlanta did about American democracy is about how adherence to the big lie, adherence to the notion that Donald Trump -- that Joe Biden is illegitimate, that in a broader sense, the Democratic Party`s illegitimate, has become Orthodoxy in the Republican Party.
And so as we were thinking about this podcast, thinking about this year and show, I thought to myself, there`s almost no one I want to speak to more than the Atlantic`s Barton Gellman.
So, you`ve got the -- in your piece -- so, your piece published September 23 -- so before this -- before anything, you`ve already got two things in the piece. They`re talking about, can we get the state legislatures to just bypass the people, and then you`ve already got the Trump team taking the position that the Vice President can just decide, like, I don`t like those electoral votes. They`re already talking about that in September.
BARTON GELLMAN, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Because the idea of stealing an election that you didn`t win is with them from the beginning.
HAYES: Exactly. Right. And then -- so, this is I think what`s key, though. They already are thinking about stealing, and then comes all the ridiculous empirical claims about fraud. And my question to you is like, what role is that playing?
GELLMAN: That`s a really interesting question. It`s justifying the idea that the state legislature has no choice. You know, what can we do? Our hands are tied. No one knows what the vote really is because it`s so tainted by vote-rigging and fraud that we have any idea who the people voted for. So, we`re just going to have to make that choice. ourselves.
And remember, this -- the whole thing strategically is based on the fact that there are what, six or seven battleground states where Biden narrowly won, but where the state legislature is controlled by the Republicans. So, if you can say, the people don`t get to decide the legislature does your turning seven states red that we`re voting blue.
HAYES: Right. So -- but my point here is that like, as articulated in your piece, right, is that they`re already thinking about how to steal it in this sort of facially anti-democratic way before any votes are cast, right? Then the votes are passed, and then there`s this like frenzy whipped up around individual allegations of this fraud and increasingly insane theories like an Italian satellite or the ghost of Hugo Chavez or whatever is inhabiting the machines, right.
And I guess my question is like, that -- what I think that does is to your point is it gives a predicate because the anti-democratic nature of what they`re after is so indefensible, they need to rest it on this foundation, right?
GELLMAN: Yes, predicate. Predicate is the right word. They are -- they`re setting up a storyline in which they`re not overruling the people. They`re just -- we can`t figure out what the people wanted because there are so many spaceships that are beaming votes down and dumping ballots in the middle of the night. I guess there are very few politicians in America who are willing to stand up and say, I don`t think you should have the vote.
HAYES: Right, even Donald Trump.
GELLMAN: Even Donald Trump won`t say it. That`s true.
HAYES: Then the question becomes to me, and this I think carries through to where we are now, right? I don`t know if this matters, but I suspect it does because there`s something interesting happening with the nation`s deep core democratic ethos, the offensiveness of the idea they`re floating, and the role of voter fraud plays in of bridging the gap, right? It`s like, it`s not acceptable to us as Americans across ideological class lines or whatever to like, just take away our vote, and say, like, no, we get to decide.
That`s actually what you want to do because you want to invalidate the legitimacy of a majority of votes in the wrong way. That`s not for you. And so, the bridge you build between those two things is fraud. And I guess my question is, like, of the people now, the tens of millions of people have been radicalized against democracy, and maybe it doesn`t matter, but like, do they believe the fraud story?
GELLMAN: Oh, yes.
HAYES: They believe it?
GELLMAN: I think there are 10s of millions of people who believe it in their bones, who if you ask them to -- if you took a lie detector test.
GELLMAN: Yes, bet their child`s life, they`d be that sure. You know, if -- I`ve talked to someone who said, you know, if you`re asking me whether -- if I`m wrong about this, you could just shoot me. I`ll say, yes, there was fraud. They`re completely convinced they`re overwhelmed by the volume of propaganda and all the technical language of it and, you know, talking about terabytes of data and six order polynomials, these are supposed to be explaining voter fraud.
It`s exactly what snake oil salesmen have done since the dawn of time, use fancy language and snowball all these details. And I guess people in Trump`s base figure if this one`s not right, and then the other one is. There are too many, they can`t all be wrong. This much smoke, there`s got to be fire.
HAYES: Yes. I think that`s well said. I mean, the barrage of propaganda on this, really, I think if you haven`t witnessed it, you can -- and I mean, again, I have to have a little -- I tried to sort of put myself -- I have - - I have had the experience often in my life, and this is always what being a journalist is, and I`m sure you`ve had this to where like, there`s some expert debate about a thing.
HAYES: And you don`t know anything about it. And you`re like, well, I don`t know who`s right on this. These people -- these people are fighting about a thing. And then you start to weight in part of the funnel reporting. It`s like what`s going on here? Right? You call people, you took -- ultimately, what ends up happening is a lot of that is how you figure out these trust relationships.
HAYES: Yes, who`s trustworthy and who`s not. And there`s no escaping those trust relationships in how we form any of our beliefs around the world. And there are tens of millions of people who just trust untrustworthy people.
GELLMAN: Yes, and this is something that troubles me greatly as a journalist because I don`t know how to reach those people. I`ve always thought of myself as someone who is reporting and writing for someone with an open mind who`s willing to use common sense, the same as they would use in their everyday life. I mean, they wouldn`t trust this snake oil salesman if he was selling them a used car.
Their spider-sense would tingle and they would say, how come you haven`t mentioned anything about the carburetor and they wouldn`t fall for it if someone just snow them with talk but that`s in their everyday life. And somehow, when they`re thinking about politics, their brain just works in a different way.
HAYES: Well, you said something recently about your role as a journalist that I found really fascinating just in terms of your training and the tradition that you`ve come up in in the situation you find yourself now -- yourself now in. And I want to talk about that, right, if we take this quick break.
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HAYES: All right, back with Barton Gellman, staff writer for The Atlantic. You said something -- I think it was on Fresh Air Terry Gross maybe. You had a quote about your -- how you`ve come to view your role as a journalist and this question of objectivity. And I`m curious to hear you say it again, and then sort of follow up on them.
GELLMAN: Yes. Terry surprised me the question. And I sort of blurted out an answer, but I don`t regret it. It`s uncomfortable for me to talk about the way my role has changed as a journalist in these recent years, because I grew up with sort of mainstream training to keep myself out of the story, to keep my opinions out of the story, to take no side when one side is fighting with another.
And I realized that there are at least two things that journalists are allowed to be for and to defend. And one of them is the truth, and one of them is the fundamental tenets of democracy, that the people get to make their own choice about who leads them. We`re in favor of that. We`re pro- democracy. We`re allowed --
HAYES: You`re allowed to have that take.
GELLMAN: You`re allowed to have that opinion. It has nothing surgicall --
HAYES: That`s a hot take from Bart Gellman.
GELLMAN: And the problem is we have only one party right now that is pro- democracy. We have only one party that is small D democratic, that is willing to lose an election, that is willing to uphold the rules and stay within the safeguards. And so, if I point out that mainstream positions in the Republican Party are simply lies or are authoritarian or anti- democratic, I`m not doing that because I`m trying to put myself on the side of the Democratic Party. I`m just telling the truth.
HAYES: And there`s also the fact that the nature of American electoral politics, the two-party system is fairly zero-sum at a certain level. And I mean that in a few different ways. It`s zero-sum in terms of electoral outcomes. Like -- it`s also zero-sum in terms of like this democratic ethos insofar as like, if you say, my core commitment as a journalist and as an American citizen, which I would say for myself, even Trump is my (INAUDIBLE) is democracy. And like, one of the parties is a banding that is an ethos. Like, one plus one equals two there. Like there`s a --
GELLMAN: Right. And it`s an emergency.
GELLMAN: It is an emergency. It is the biggest story there is. And it needs to be treated that way, both by journalists and by society at large.
HAYES: How much do you think it`s getting that treatment?
GELLMAN: Not enough, I would say. There`s been a lot of good journalism done, but I don`t sense that there is a tone to it or -- and overall context in the journalism that says, red alert, our democracy is at risk here. It`s sort of high jinks and bad behavior in state parties and one side using bad-smelling efforts to seek advantage. But it doesn`t look to be like the scale of the threat is reflected in what`s being said.
What you`re not seeing in the coverage is an underlying message. This is abnormal. This is beyond the pale. This is off the tracks. Something`s going on here that we haven`t seen before that leads to a very bad place. That`s the context that`s missing.
HAYES: And that`s -- the place where I see this most squarely and there`s a bunch of different examples to me is the Georgia primary with David Perdue, where you`ve had a crashing together of the normal and abnormal. Because David Perdue is like 10 years ago an ostensibly normal Republican politician.
HAYES: I wouldn`t think of him as like an ant -- like a dangerous anti- democratic force in American politics. And now, he`s primary Brian Kemp for Governor of Georgia on essentially an explicitly pro-coup agenda.
HAYES: And that`s like -- again, that`s five-alarm fire stuff.
GELLMAN: Everything that`s happened to Georgia politics is abnormal in this way. And what you see is you see Perdue in a very opportunistic way, seizing on a very powerful undercurrent in Republican politics now.
I mean, Trump`s greatest source of strength is that he has convinced many tens of millions of people that the election was stolen. And that`s a -- that`s a cataclysm, right? I mean, you know, if you believe that --
GELLMAN: -- what is it allowed to you. You know, there`s an imposter in the White House who is a tyrant, who stole the office. That`s an extraordinary thing to believe. And Trump has managed along with this whole ecosystem around him to convince tens of millions of people of that. Now, if you were to administer truth serum to Republican elected officials, if you --
HAYES: David Perdue --
GELLMAN: -- David Perdue, they would say yes, OK, well, Biden won fair and square. But that`s not what the base thinks.
GELLMAN: And they`re afraid of the base. And some of them are happy to take advantage of the base to advance their careers which is where I think I`d put Purdue in this one.
HAYES: And again, I mean, one of the ironies here, you got all these states that take these extraordinary measures to make voting easier because we`re in the midst of a pandemic. And in this context, the Republican Party does fine, well in certain ways. They won a bunch of congressional races they didn`t think they would win.
I mean, it`s not like this idea that they have is just not even empirically correct, which is that like, if everyone votes, we`re toast. They`re a very competitive party. There`s lots of conservatives in America. But in this case, it`s like, well, what will they do with that power where they foreclose the ability to run free and fair elections in the future?
And so, you`ve got this crazy thing where the stakes of the normal politics become the actual full total democratic health of the polity?
GELLMAN: Well, right. If you have to worry about what one party is going to do, the first time it gets into power with the ability across the board, the next time it gets into power, then the stakes change completely, and normal politics don`t suffice.
HAYES: What does suffice? What do you do?
GELLMAN: Well, you know, I will --
HAYES: You`ll ask me that and I have the same reactions. Like, I am -- like, I`m just out here ringing the alarm. You know, what I have a megaphone, so I shouted into it every day, you know.
GELLMAN: Yes, I feel the same way. I mean, it`s hard enough to figure out what`s going on and state it clearly and analyze it intelligently. And to say, hey, there`s a big problem here, everybody, let`s pay attention to it. It`s asking a lot to also know what all the solutions are.
But the first one is that people have to look at this with a sense of urgency, have to notice what`s going on, and have to say, wait, this is not something that is OK. We have to do something about this. I mean, I know what I would do if I were, you know, working for the other party and trying to organize my precinct or my county or my state. I`d be paying attention to these local races to supervise the election, because the Republicans are putting a lot of attention into it.
And they are essentially infiltrating what we`re bipartisan are completely nonpartisan institutions, you know, like the, you know, election supervisor for the township of whatever and saying, we can`t let the election be stolen the way it was last time. There have fouled believers in a completely nonsensical claim that the election was stolen, and they`re going to go in there and fix that. I mean, God knows what they`ll do if they actually have the power to decide whether to certify or not certified votes.
So, I mean, you would -- you would want to see small D democrats organizing as much as the anti-democratic forces are organizing and they`re not.
HAYES: Barton Gellman is a staff writer at The Atlantic. You can read both those pieces -- you should go back and read The Election That Could Break America which was published in September of 2020 and his latest -- Trump`s next coup has already begun. That was great. Thanks, Bart.
GELLMAN: Thank you very much for having me.
HAYES: Journalism is one American institution that`s had to fight and improve itself and figure out a way to hold ground for the Preservation of American democracy and the expansion American democracy against the forces that seek to undo and undermine it, the courts have been another and that`s been a whole other battle.
One of the -- I think one of the most -- one of the wisest and most brilliant people in all of American public life and also one of the most prominent voting rights lawyers in the country and one of the most -- one of the most righteously ferocious defenders of American democracy is one by the name of Sherrilyn Ifill who runs the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the august body that has a long lineage fighting for true American democracy going back to last century. And Sherrilyn Ifill joins me for a conversation about this moment in American democracy next.
HAYES: Sherrilyn Ifill is one of the premier voting rights lawyers in America. She`s argued before the Supreme Court. She`s brought cases before the Supreme Court. She`s had a variety of roles. She`s currently the head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund though she`s stepping down next year. She started in 1988 working on issues of voter rights.
And as you`re about to hear, we live now in a moment where the right to vote is under assault, where democracy itself is under assault in a nearly unprecedented fashion in certain ways, but is in line with a long history of pro-democracy and anti-democracy forces in American life, often, that have revolved around the color line, specifically around white supremacy and anti-Black racism. And she has been part of that fight and the lineage of that fight in the NAACP Legal Defense Fund stretching back to Brown v Board and cases like that, that were pushed by the folks of NAACP.
She has a really unique perspective about what this moment is. And I will say, we got -- we sat down together for this conversation, I was feeling a little down about where things are, which is the thing that could happen I think when you spend all your time thinking about it, and here`s someone who has a far more august career than I have had and who spent more time in the trenches fighting on behalf of American democracy, and she gave me a charge of hope. So, it was a great pleasure to get to sit down and talk to Sherrylin Ifill.
HAYES: So, your -- you -- NAACP Legal Defense Fund, you have been running it since 2013. SHERRILYN IFILL, PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR-COUNSEL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: Since January 22, I think.
HAYES: And you`re going to step down next year.
IFILL: I am going to step down next year, it`s a big deal.
HAYES: Yes. You -- it`s been a ---it`s been a top 10 years. Here`s -- I`m going to tell you the joke that I was going to make which I made earlier but I didn`t -- I didn`t want to make it in front of you because I thought you would take offense, but I think it`s funny.
IFILL: All right.
HAYES: So, the joke that I was going to make is in basketball, there`s a stat called plus, minus. Plus-minus is independent of how the player is playing. Like, what the score does while they`re on the floor. And I was like Sherrilyn Ifill is plus-minus. It`s a little rough.
IFILL: Well, I think you`re making a different calculation than I`m making, right? It`s -- you`re making a different calculation than I`m making. I actually think it`s the part that I feel good about. I feel incredibly pleased and gratified and actually even surprised and hopeful about the progress that`s been made in helping millions more people understand the issues that I`ve devoted my life to, than ever before in my lifetime.
HAYES: That`s, I mean -- that is pure plus. The issues, you work on, voting rights, and the protection of multiracial democracy have never been more --
IFILL: That`s right.
HAYES: -- a centrally activating issue that people talk about and my lifetime.
IFILL: And many more millions of people who understand the reality or at least have a sense that there is something that is real and systemic about racism in this country, and that it is dangerous to this country. That has not been the understanding of certainly most white people. And even some Black people who believe you know, we get the Black president and everybody`s doing so much better, really didn`t understand the depth of it.
And for the 30 years that I`ve been doing this work, I`ve never felt more affirmed and equipped to have conversations with people about creating a world that we want, which I think before people were inclined to think, you know, it`s kind of OK, it`s doing OK, what? Of course, some things happen. Of course, there`s some bad people.
And so, I can`t complain because honestly, I started out at LDF in 1988 as a voting rights attorney. Nobody knew what voter suppression was and very few people outside of our realm and in the communities that we serve cared.
In fact, while voter suppression was being unleashed against Black and Brown communities, and particularly in the south, not in swing states, as they have now understood, very few white people paid any attention to it. And that is not about just Republicans or Democrats, it`s just in general.
IFILL: But as I`ve always said, what they workshop on us is the stuff that`s coming for the whole Republic.
HAYES: That`s such -- it`s profound and true point.
IFILL: So, at the end of the day, what has happened now and the reason that you and I and maybe many others feel so overwhelmed or feel like this is a catastrophe that we can`t get out of, is because the U.S. is now Alabama, which if it didn`t check Alabama, it was always going to be.
So, you want me to be sad about the fact that not just the people that I represent are living in a place that is anti-democratic, I am not. I am actually hopeful that the metastasisation of this terrible thing means that we will actually make a change. And that change will be for all people including the people in the communities I represent, the 52 percent of Black people who live in the south, so that when people say they want to write off red states, and why don`t we just separate from them, they`re actually talking about a majority of the Black population in this country.
If people now understand that our fate is tied to -- that their fate is tied to our fate, and that whatever is happening and being tried out on marginalized communities is the stuff that they`re coming for the whole Republic with. So, that part feels -- I don`t know that there was any other way to get there, right? I don`t -- I don`t know what would drive tens of millions of people of all races into the streets in 50 states except the video of the torture and killing of George Floyd. It`s an awful thing to say about this country, but it happens to be true.
HAYES: Well, and I would say that it`s -- just to reaffirm your point that it was more than the video because it was the work that you and others have done to create the context. And I was thinking about this yesterday, because yesterday when I`m speaking to you today, yesterday, we lost the great (INAUDIBLE).
And it was really profound to me and moving that here`s this writer that I encountered first in college as a young, straight, white liberal, radical, you know, I blew my mind.
HAYES: And but also felt like from Mars, right? Like, I did not feel like when I was encountering Bill Hooks (PH) writing, it wasn`t like, oh, well, right. And then to watch 20 years later, she --
IFILL: The outpouring on social media.
HAYES: The outpouring, but also people -- just the language.
HAYES: The consciousness of her language a way of formulating things, her conceptualization of the problem as a thing that is in the main -- I mean, if not quite the mainstream --
IFILL: So -- yes. And so --
HAYES: Far more central than it was 20 years ago.
IFILL: I`m going to demand that you rethink your plus minus calculation because --
HAYES: It was a dumb joke.
IFILL: No, because if you`re -- if you`re fighting for real transformation, right, and you`re not fighting -- I mean, and this is something, you know, we have to discipline ourselves to do because I -- and I say -- just said this to a couple of the lawyers on our team in the office, are we fighting to get back to 20 years ago? I mean, I started this in 1988, Okay.
So, what part of the last 50 years have existed when LDF hasn`t had a full docket of voting rights cases of criminal justice versus of education case? So, this actually is the opportunity to decide can -- will we, as things unravel, have a chance to build, not rebuild, but build what we actually want?
And there`s only one way to do that. You don`t do that from the margins. You do that from the whole doggone thing caves in on itself, which is what is happening, I don`t want it to happen. And --
HAYES: But we just went through an insurrection for the first time in American history.
IFILL: But it`s happening. It`s in the middle of a global pandemic. It won`t end because of a concerted misinformation campaign and because the stickiness of white supremacy can be tied to anything. You can attach it to anything and it has legs. So, now, it`s attached to masks and it`s attached to schools, and it`s attached to vaccination and, and all of that. And so, that`s kind of what I`m, as I believe and trying to write this book is kind of what I`m writing about, is that the stickiness of this thing, if we don`t get that thing under control.
HAYES: Well, I want to talk more about that. I want to talk about the vision of solidarity that you`re enunciating here because I find it very hopeful in a moment where like, I`m maybe feeling a little --
IFILL: It`s what you`re here for.
HAYES: That`s -- you`re --
IFILL: That`s my business.
HAYES: You`re delivering. We`re going to come right back with Sherrilyn Ifill.
HAYES: Back with Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director Council of NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The thing that I found as I`ve gotten older is that I used to value intelligence above all, that like, smartness was everything. And then I sort of realized that like, there`s a lot of smart people, and that judgment actually is everything. And you are obviously a brilliant person, but I just think your judgments incredible. And I always like sort of work -- I always look to you --
IFILL: Oh, that`s nice.
HAYES: No, I really. Your conception of politics, the way that you`re able to blend a kind of radical analysis with a very pragmatic vision of how to move forward is -- has been a real Northstar for me. And hearing you enunciate the case for optimism is actually very affective for me, honestly. And I think, you know, one thing that I keep coming back to is American liberal democracy in the way that we think of what actual liberal democracy is, is basically you know, a 46-year experiment.
HAYES: It`s not the majority of the time. It`s not -- it`s a small little thing. And your idea -- I want you to say more about the idea that we`re not trying to rebuild things, right. Like, the idea is we actually want to make something new, which is like an actually equitable just, flourishing through multiracial democracy in the 21st century in a way that we`ve never actually had multiracial democracy.
IFILL: And, you know, people can be snarky about this. But it is -- it is a big global experiment. It`s -- there`s no country we`re modeling ourselves after. It`s one of the reasons why I`m so, you know -- I always hew to the history and I revere, you know, the Thurgood Marshalls and the (INAUDIBLE) because there was no blueprint. They weren`t trying to create something --
HAYES: Completely out in states.
IFILL: And there was no -- what -- in 1940 said, yes, maybe you could. What I`m going to do is I`m going to create this organization of black lawyers and then we`re going to like march through the system. We`re going to use the tools and I mean, really, you know, what was the thing that made them think it was possible?
So, I do feel like, that`s the space where we need to be where we`re imagining something that doesn`t exist and we feel OK about that. We`re willing to take that chance. We`re willing to be strategic. We`re willing to fight for short term gains, but we`re -- but we have a long game in mind. And we also recognize that it`s not fun, you know. I mean, this is -- listen, I think --
HAYES: It`s so much fun.
IFILL: You know why I say this all the time because I think for those of us who grew up like watching the civil rights movement. I mean for me it`s the reason why I became --you know, a civil rights lawyer. I wanted to. It looked amazing. I don`t mean like fun. I mean, it looked so noble, it looks so beautiful. It was like they knew what they were doing. They had a plan. They had a strategy. And people always ask me, what`s the strategy? They used to have a strategy.
You know, when I took this job, I got, you know, a little bit nervous because I knew people would be asking me that all the time. And I went to a talk one night, the Taylor Branch was giving the great chronicle.
HAYES: I was just about to invoke him.
IFILL: Yes. And Taylor Branch said, on the stage in Baltimore, he said, you know, during the Civil Rights Movement, leaders and activists, how did he describe it? I think he said, we`re eternally -- no, perpetually anxious about what to do next. And that was it for me. It was like, yes, they too, were trying to figure it out as they went.
HAYES: It`s so funny, because the moment that you talked about that conceptualization of the sort of moments of peak nobility, not fun --
IFILL: Yes, no. Yes.
HAYES: The Edmond Pettus Bridge is not a fun but it is elevated. It is almost -- it is a sublime moment of democratic sacrifice, physical sacrifice for this beautiful ideal. And the Taylor Branch books where he will chronicle over 25 pages a meeting in a church for nine hours with no AC where people are at each other`s throats. Like, people are --
HAYES: I mean, they ran John Lewis. Like, John Lewis. They had John Lewis like out of here.
IFILL: Yes. And I think we, because we have come to -- not we but the civil rights movement has come to be used in the -- in the service of a narrative about this country, right, of nobility, of a place of opportunity, and so forth that actually we gave them that they have used to their own advantage, and we`ve covered everything in sepia.
IFILL: And it looks so beautiful, and it`s so wonderful. And we forget how painful it was. We forget how absolutely painful it was.
HAYES: And how much -- I mean, the thing that I find reassuring, because sometimes I feel like there`s so much intra conflict, people are beefing about everything all the time where it`s like -- and then I think, well, that`s social media and it partly is, but it`s also just like, it`s the nature of democratic politics. People have conflicts, even people who are allied.
IFILL: Here`s the thing.
HAYES: Or agree on things.
IFILL: Not only does it inevitably happen, it`s actually part of the things we believe in, right? So, when people say, well, the right, there`s so disciplined, they just -- you know, they`re all on message, they clearly all got the memo. Right. Well, if you want to be in a cult depths, you`re right. Discipline is absolutely one of the major qualities of people who are lockstep in a cult. People who are interested in progressive vision and a democracy not only want outcomes, but they also value process.
That means we necessarily value dissent. I mean, things that are just not put, right. Descend, engagement, input from lots of people, deliberation, notice transparency, all -- see you`re getting exhausted.
HAYES: I just --
IFILL: All the things -- right? All the things that make it hard to get to an answer quickly, that make it hard to have everybody on boards, that make it hard to make it hard to have the kind of discipline that the right -- and we have to -- we have to accept that. And I will say this to you, it`s part of the journalist class, isn`t like the constant -- you know, the Democrats never had their crap together. The Republicans always -- I just - - I find it -- listen, I`m not saying the Democrats always do have their crap together, they often -- they don`t.
IFILL: But like, what they`re trying to do around the set of principles is a completely different enterprise than what the Republican Party is trying to do.
HAYES: And the other thing is that can -- it`s overstated too. Like, they fight all the time. Like, I mean, yes, the idea of making -- A, making space for conflict, but that point is -- which is really a profound one that the process is part of the value.
IFILL: It`s actually part of -- the belief -- the belief systems is not like low taxes. No, it`s like, how would you get to a decision about low tax. We also care about that, right? And we also care about the caucus that wants to say why we shouldn`t -- like that`s part of what we believe in. And so, it`s always going to be harder for us.
HAYES: it`s also going to be harder to assemble this -- the coalition is harder to keep together. It`s a harder coalition to keep together.
HAYES: There are -- you know, there --
IFILL: It`s a true big tent.
HAYES: It really is a big tent. And there are people from very -- and people love to like ride in on this thing of like, oh, well, you know, you don`t know that actually, older black voters in Queens don`t want to defund the police. It`s like, no, I know that.
IFILL: It`s like --
HAYES: Yes, I get that.
IFILL: I`m from Queens.
HAYES: Yes, I do.
IFILL: I do understand.
HAYES: This is like, oh, these liberals, they don`t -- it`s like, no, no, there`s lots of people. It`s -- we`re talking about tens of million people from lots of backgrounds. They have different conceptions of the good. Like that`s --
IFILL: That`s exactly right. And in fact -- and in fact, you know, Black people have always had lots of conflict.
HAYES: There are many of them.
IFILL: So, all of that is to say that, I think that for me, it has been very helpful to be a student of the real civil rights movement rather than just the, you know, McDonald`s commercial one because it shows you the kind of conflict that goes into making something that is worth it, something that is noble, something that is true, something that is democratic. And it isn`t fun all the time.
Now, I will say this though. We have a ball at LDF, I don`t -- I mean, just like you and I are laughing right now, not because we think any of this is funny.
IFILL: We do.
HAYES: No, you have -- you have -- your profoundly joyful person and I`m interacting with you.
IFILL: Yes, we have fun. We have fun.
HAYES: You know, I`m going to -- I`m going to say something. I`ve been obsessed -- I don`t know if you`ve watched the Beatles documentary yet but --
IFILL: I haven`t, but I`ve seen the clips of it.
HAYES: It`s pretty -- it`s pretty amazing for a lot of reasons. But -- now, this is in the realm of art, as well as politics, but again, you`re seeing this place, like they`re fighting with each other. They`re almost breaking up.
IFILL: And these are making song.
HAYES: They`re making songs. They`re doing something -- they love each other.
IFILL: They do love each other.
HAYES: And they`re in conflict with each other, and they`re doing something sort of beautiful together. And all of that is together. And like --
IFILL: That`s a great metaphor.
HAYES: That`s kind of like as good democratic political work is like that, too. Like, there`s -- it`s tough periods.
IFILL: Yes. And this is one of them. And I say to people, you know, all the last five years, and we can`t recover. And I said, well, what -- you know, the civil rights movement, and we counted from Brown in 1954, and that is now to ignore everything that happens before Brown, and obviously it`s a lot, right?
So -- but let`s just take it from 1954 to 1968 when that two kings assassinated Fair Housing Act, last big civil rights bill of the period is passed. That`s 14 years. So, what -- so we`re talking about the last five years, like, Oh, my goodness, you know, well, how do you think it felt in 1963?
IFILL: You know, how do you think it felt when the four girls were blown up in the church? How do you think it felt when Medgar Evers was shot on his driveway? How do you -- like, there are all these moments? And I`ve said before, that every major piece of civil rights legislation was preceded by some horrible act of violence, right?
It was -- the Voting Rights Act was the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the Civil Rights Act 1964. We get the Ford girls. We had night, you know, a 1950s -- even 1957 Civil Rights Act was like the Montgomery Bus Boycott had started. So, it`s always something that like pushes us into this. And so that`s what we have to be able to tolerate. We have to be able to tolerate the painfulness of it.
HAYES: Let me ask you this final question on the court because you just mentioned, you know, the Thurgood Marshall and (INAUDIBLE) are the sort of the two of many sort of brilliant visionaries who understood and crafted a legal strategy that was not the only part of the civil rights movement by any means, but was one key part that, you know, struck down --
HAYES: Apartheid in the U.S. Now, the court had been for most of his life, all of its life, essentially, an apartheid court, a reactionary institution that upheld white supremacy at almost every turn. Then it has this period where it does the opposite. What --
HAYES: A brief period. What are we in now?
IFILL: Well, I think now we`re in something quite reactionary. You know, this is the most conservative court that we could -- I think, have imagined in in in the last, you know, 50 or 60 years. There`s no question about it. And there are lots of elements of the way in which this Court operates that should concern us. And that concerns me as a lawyer.
And so, it`s not just the outcome of the cases but it`s also the process. And if you actually believe in the legal process, which I do, I`m kind of nerdy about this stuff, then you are alarmed about, you know, the conduct of the court with the shadow docket. You are alarmed about, not just that section two of the Voting Rights Act was weakened by the Bernie Mitch decision, but that a majority of the court was willing to give the pen to Justice Alito to arrogate to himself the ability to rewrite the test that the Senate wrote and included in the Senate report that accompanied the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act, that he could rewrite the test himself for how judges should apply section two to vote denial cases.
So, this is -- these are -- these things should bother us as well. It doesn`t mean that there`s nothing that can be done with the court. I`ve obviously just been on a commission. There`s been conversations about court expansion and all kinds of stuff. Democracy is made up of all the component pieces. And one piece is the political piece. There is a piece about the professionals that I`m a part of, and so, I`m not going to let it go.
You`re a professional, and the journalists haven`t done their truth and reconciliation. And so, we`re going to be in the same position again. If journalists don`t pause -- and I don`t mean individual journalists, I mean, the media itself.
HAYES: No, collectively.
IFILL: Collectively, and take a look an examination at its own practices and how they contributed to the unraveling of democracy. These are the elements that have to take responsibility. And so, I think we have a lot of work to do. And that`s kind of where my head is at right now. So, what are the -- what`s the work we can push ourselves to do to clean up these elements that allowed this to happen, jumped in just ride in and just roll over the country.
He was given the opportunity to unravel the country. I described him as an accelerant but you know the sticks and the twins were already stacked and there were many people who thought that you know he was a fire starter and thought it was kind of a fun show.
HAYES: Sherrilyn Ifill is the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, now writing a book, and it`s just always a great, great pleasure to get some quality time with you. So, thank you for making that.
IFILL: Thank you so much, Chris.
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