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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 2/1/21

Guest: Michael Eric Dyson, Chai Komanduri, Bret Easton Ellis, Mara Gay, Melissa Murray


Bret Easton Ellis, author of "American Psycho," speaks out. President Biden meets with 10 Republican senators at the White House regarding the COVID relief plans. What will President Trump`s defense in his impeachment trial be? Police use pepper spray on a nine-year-old girl. Republicans attempt to clamp down on voting.



Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thank you so much.

Welcome to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And as we come on the air, President Biden is meeting with 10 Republican senators at the White House on these evolving COVID relief plans. We have more on that ahead, while the top story is damning new evidence against former President Trump, which matters not only for his looming trial, which starts next week in the Senate, but also for how America deals with accountability for alleged crimes and an insurrection and where we go from here as a nation.

In fact, these two stories that I just mentioned to you tonight, they`re linked. How does President Biden work with a party that has some of its prominent leaders lying about his lawful victory and some -- and, to be precise and fair not all, but some elected Republicans minimizing the violence that left five dead at the Capitol?

How do you do negotiations over the basics when you don`t have any understanding on the fundamentals? There are a lot of smart thinkers who`ve studied these types of issues in different societies and a lot of progressives right now around the Biden administration who say there can be no unity, no true democracy under the rule of law, unless there are facts and accountability first.

So, keep that in mind as you see this news tonight. Former President Trump wants to exploit the upcoming trial as a chance to double down on the election lie that partly fed the insurrection. He wants to take on the truth that President Biden won the race and instead push lies about it.

Now, as a matter of law and logic, I always try to keep it straightforward with you. So, I will just tell you what`s going on. It makes no sense, as a matter of logic, to repeat at your trial for inciting insurrection that you`re still pushing the lie that led, at least partly, to the insurrection.

But as a matter of brute force amoral politics, the strategy here looks like embracing the growing autocratic wing of the Republican Party and Trump, as a defendant, daring top elected Republican senators to oppose him on that.

So, for those who ask, what`s the point of even holding this trial next week, well, tonight you see one part of the answer. At a time when some in the GOP would like to pretend they quietly oppose the insurrection, without actually opposing the insurrection, without actually standing up to the lie at the center of it, well, they will have a harder time.

This trial may bring out more hard truths about how wide that support may be for Americans to know to make informed decisions. There are elections in the future as well. And this may be a hard process that is worth having for them and for us. And I mean us in the broad sense of us, as a nation going through this together.

Meanwhile, as Donald Trump previews his strategy and adds some lawyers, including one who worked for a convicted Trump aide who Trump pardoned -- it`s that kind of legal party over there -- there`s also new evidence emerging, including how Donald Trump was secretly plotting to illegally steal the election after this reality began to sink in.


SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, MSNBC HOST: We can now project that former Vice President Joe Biden has been elected president of the United States.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: In the middle of a pandemic, almost 150 million Americans voted, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will receive the most votes of any presidential ticket ever.


MELBER: That was in public. We all remember it.

But these new reports tonight I`m telling you about show you that, within days of the election being called, Donald Trump`s main or initial legal team was privately telling him they didn`t have a single legal case that would change the national outcome.

And new leaks from inside that process reveal Trump`s response was basically, fine, if there`s no legal way to win, no legal way to win, find an illegal way.

Now, some of that may sound familiar, I admit. We did all see Donald Trump try to steal the race in public and fail to steal the race in public. But here`s the new reporting from inside those secret plotting sessions.

"The New York Times" reporting, as Trump`s flimsy longshot legal effort to reverse his loss turned into something else entirely, an extralegal campaign to subvert the election.

That report adds to evidence that the insurrection was actually a final and partially planned step in what "The Times" calls in this new bombshell an extralegal plot.

Now, again, let me help everyone, if you don`t know the difference, because "The Times" is being very nice. There`s legal and illegal. We don`t have a third category under law in this country. And they are referring to the illegal plot which came from the White House, including new evidence that the infamous plan to march toward the Capitol on January 6 came actually from the White House, because many of the people and MAGA supporters who went to the Mall were initially planning to stay at the Mall Ellipse until the counting of the state electoral slates was completed.

But the Trump White House had the idea to have them march on to the Capitol, Donald Trump memorably saying so at his appearance and lying to his own supporters, by the way, because, to pump them up, he claimed he would march with them. And he didn`t.

But the new account here is that what we saw transpire was partly the product of the White House changing the plan, what was ultimately a battle plan. That`s bad.

Now, constitutionally, it does not technically prove that Donald Trump incited the insurrection. That is actually what the Senate trial`s supposed to determine. And if we are going to follow the rule of law in this country, what you or I or anyone thinks about it is separate from what the Constitution requires, that if there is evidence of a high crime by a sitting president, the Senate adjudicates this.

But all of this adds to the evidence that the man who tried to steal an election and end democracy, who continues to run the GOP, was involved in some of these premeditated steps that led to an insurrection that left five dead.

This is not a time for predictions. We all lived through predictions in 2016 and other eras that didn`t prove out so well. This is a time for substance and the rule of law. And it is worth the federal government`s time to get all the evidence on this and figure out what, if anything, to do about it.

I`m joined now by Mara Gay from "The New York Times" and Melissa Murray, law professor with New York University.

Welcome to you both.

Professor, walk us through your views on what is partly a trial-like process and partly constitutionally different, but if we`re going to take it seriously, what it can do for the Senate and the nation to go through this evidence, which, as I report, some of it is still coming out.

MELISSA MURRAY, NYU SCHOOL OF LAW: Well, as you say, impeachment is not like an ordinary legal process. It`s not like an ordinary criminal trial. There are different standards of proof. There are different evidentiary standards.

There is an element of political theater to this. And, certainly, everything that`s emerged with "The New York Times"` reporting also has an element of political theater to it as well.

The other issue about the impeachment I think is very different and relevant here is that many of the individuals who are going to be jurors passing judgment on whether or not the president deserves to be convicted of the articles of impeachment were witnesses.

And so having all of this come out, noting the reporting that links the president specifically with the decision to march to the Capitol, to wreak havoc on the Capitol, all of that, I think, is incredibly important not just for the public to hear, but to see how those jurors respond to it as they make their decisions about whether impeachment is warranted in this case -- or conviction is warranted.



The reality is that Donald Trump is very good at using any stage he is given to his advantage. So, that`s an inherent risk. But there needs to be accountability. And I think the important thing is that, unlike in the past four years, there are going to be adults in the room who can give some -- a reality check, really, to what Donald Trump is saying.

So this is a risk that we really need to take. And I also think it`s important because it needs to be part of (AUDIO GAP) of really holding accountable everybody involved and also really forging forth on a 9/11- style commission to really understand what happened and to start looking at domestic terror groups.

So, this is just one piece of what needs to happen before we can move forward.

MELBER: Right.

As you remind us, there are multiple levers in the government. This Trump trial, which starts in a week, is one.

Our panel stays, as we bring in Neal Katyal, the update on next week, as these managers want to build an elaborate and emotionally clear case. They say they will use the video evidence, potentially witnesses. They want to make Republican senators uncomfortable if they are going to try to minimize the facts.

And joining our panel is Neal Katyal, of course, former acting solicitor general of the United States in the Obama administration.

Neal, your view of what we`re learning about the presentation of those facts. And I want to say, and I think all three of our panelists are on the same page here on this, the evidence we get, we have to respond to. If there was new evidence from "The Times" or the process that showed that, on the day before the trial, the White House intervened concerned to try to prevent violence, or Donald Trump personally said, wait a minute, I don`t want the march to get out of control, we would factor that in too.

It would be good for the country to get that. It happens, I think people know, that the president`s doubling down and the evidence is going the other way.

But, Neal, walk us through all of the above.

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So, that`s exactly right.

And that`s why a fast trial has always been good for Donald Trump, because I don`t think anyone realistically thinks there`s some evidence that`s going to exonerate him that`s going to come to light. All that`s going to happen with additional time is more evidence is going to come out about his misdeeds.

And so I expect the prosecution to make, Ari, exactly that emotionally compelling case, based on video evidence and other things. The real question is what the defense strategy is going to be.

And here we learned that Trump lost all five of his impeachment lawyers over the weekend. And the story isn`t totally clear, but at least "The New York Times" is reporting the reason why they quit is because Trump wants to argue in his defense in this trial next week that the election was in fact stolen.

And, look, lawyers are going to defend a lot of things. But this argument was so beyond the pale, evidently, that he lost all five of his lawyers. And that isn`t, of course, really a defense of Donald Trump`s conduct. That`s really an admission of his guilt.

I mean, this theory that there`s a big lie and the election fraud happened is really just saying the violence was justified. And, really, the only thing it`s good for is an admission that Donald Trump is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. And maybe it will set up an insanity defense in some sort of criminal proceedings.

But I don`t think anyone in the real world thinks this is a legitimate defense. And that`s why, evidently, he lost these lawyers. So, the question is now what are his two new lawyers going to run next week?

MELBER: Well, and that`s such a great point, Neal, that I think bears unpacking a little bit, and I will go back to you and then Melissa on, which is this is not a denial of, hey, it didn`t happen.

Denying the insurrection would be difficult on video. Denying whether he incited or not is part of that trickier evidence that the Senate has to weigh. But if you take this in three parts, what they felt about the election, what they did about it, and whether Trump caused it, right, you have him closing the circle, as you said, on one of the guilty parts, what they felt he`s going to double down on, which sounds like a mitigation for the act.

But it doesn`t work if it`s a blatant lie, Neal.

KATYAL: Exactly. And I`d be really curious about Melissa`s views on this.

But, for me, as a lawyer, if I`m sitting there trying to put myself in Trump`s lawyers` shoes, the idea that I would go and stand up and say as my defense, well, this actually happened and the election was stolen, after 63 different courts ruled against it and the Supreme Court said this -- they had no -- didn`t even touch this with a 10-foot pole, I think, is a disastrous strategy.

And so it`s not surprising to me that these lawyers quit, even on the eve of trial, which is, Ari, like one of the most ethically fraught things you can do as a lawyer is leave your client right on the eve of a trial.


KATYAL: But they did, and I think for good reason.

MELBER: Melissa, go ahead.

MURRAY: I have no -- I don`t quibble with any of that, what Neal has said.

As lawyers, as law professors, we teach our students that there are difficult circumstances where you have to tell a client news that he or she does not want to hear. And this is certainly one of those occasions.

To the point of the election fraud as a defense, though, this again is right on brand. Again, a year ago, we were in another impeachment trial where this president chose to obfuscate and say this was not about his call to the Ukraine, but rather about Hunter Biden and his dealings in the Ukraine.

So, again, rather than confronting squarely the question did the president enable this particular insurrection on the Capitol, we are instead talking about a lie that has since been discredited, and roundly so.

MELBER: Yes. And so that`s the law.

I turn to Mara on the larger logic. And being a talented writer, we look to you to make sense of even strange world events. This is where, again, the trial could be clarifying. There are people who still want to minimize what Donald Trump is doing.

At the risk of -- I don`t want to trivialize anything, because a lot of this is important, but everyone remembers that great Aaron Sorkin scene in his view of Facebook`s story in "Social Network" when the Zuckerberg character says, well, if you invented Facebook, you would have invented Facebook.

And that`s got to be a moment for this -- to paraphrase Neal, this Cocoa Puffs strategy of the ex-president having his lawyers go into the Senate and look at everybody and say, Donald Trump won and is president.

If you were president, you would be president. If you won the election in a rule of law society, you would be president. You`re not because you`re a Cocoa Puffs liar, Mara.


GAY: Yes, Ari.

All jokes aside, though, the problem is that there are some Americans, a small, but very dedicated group of Americans, who actually believe that lie.

And as long as the disinformation gets a hearing in open court, so to speak, in this case in the halls of Congress, it`s going to be taken more seriously than it should.

But this is what`s required in order to have accountability. And that`s very frustrating.

I also think that Donald Trump is a master of whataboutism, which is to say, he`s not necessarily going to spend a lot of time denying, as the three of you said, that there was an insurrection at the Capitol, but he`s going to say, well, what about Antifa? What about all these violent leftists? He`s a master manipulator in that sense.

And I think the GOP in general has become very good at that. So that`s something to look out for and that people need to be prepared for. In a really bipartisan and serious way, if we can see folks like Mitch McConnell act in the coming days as much -- with as much seriousness and gravity as they did in the hours after the insurrection, I think that the country will be in good shape.

MELBER: All important points, as we kick it off here.

Mara Gay, Melissa Murray, and Neal Katyal, thanks to each of you.

We have a 30-second break, but new reporting that we`re learning about what happened in this Biden COVID meeting today.

Also, the investigation into a disturbing video, police using pepper spray on a 9-year-old girl. We have an accountability report on that later, and how Republicans are trying to clamp down on voting.

Plus, later tonight, novelist Bret Easton Ellis makes his BEAT debut.

We have got a lot coming up. I will be back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: Breaking news on the ongoing battle to get COVID and economic relief.

At this moment, we can tell you 10 Senate Republicans are still inside this high-stakes meeting with President Biden at the White House. They`re pushing an alternative COVID bill. So, we could hear from them soon. You can see everyone set up in that snowy spot outside of the White House to see what comes out of the meeting.

Let me tell you exactly what`s going on, though. Democrats have basically about a $2 trillion bill. It includes the $1,400 stimulus checks, which they say are crucial, state and local aid, which was lagging under Trump, and $170 billion for schools.

The Republican plan doesn`t come anywhere near that. It`s about a third of the size, smaller checks. There`s really no state aid to speak of. And the school aid is $150 billion less.

Now, Republicans say the reason for this is not just whether they want to support those things, but they are talking up debt. Of course, they were mostly silent when they were part of a Trump spike in the debt of over $7 trillion in the last four years.

Now, many Democrats have been looking to a moment like this. They have won those two seats in Georgia. They took control of the Senate and demoted Mitch McConnell. And they want to go big. Many progressives say it`s time for Democrats to learn from the Obama experience. You can go all the way back to 2009, that, yes, they want to welcome Republicans to their plans, but they don`t want to change everything for nothing.

Now, this is a conversation you might see online. You might talk about it at a dinner or barbecue, but it`s really gone mainline, to the point -- and you that don`t see this every day -- a politician just admitting, hey, maybe their critics were right, because the top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, says basically they have learned that too much Republican outreach in the Obama era was a mistake.

So here we go. Listen to Schumer then and now.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): The bottom line is, we prefer a bipartisan approach.

If we can`t move forward with them, we will have to do it on our own. Getting the job done in a big, bold way is the number one priority.

In the Senate, we can`t pass anything without a bipartisan agreement.

We cannot do what we -- the mistake of 2009. On the ACA, they spent a year, year-and-a-half negotiating, and then didn`t come to any agreement.


MELBER: We`re joined now by an expert on exactly these political tradeoffs.

Chai Komanduri is a veteran of three presidential campaigns, including Obama and Clinton.

Good evening, sir.


MELBER: I`m great.

Chuck Schumer doesn`t often talk about his own political mistakes. Indeed, he sees himself and is widely seen as quite shrewd. That`s why he got that top post.

What does it tell you that, if you will, he`s gone from basically trying to sound like the McCain/Graham golden age era to, in 2021, he sounds like a Daily Kos blogger?

KOMANDURI: Very true.

And I think he`s learned from the past mistakes that Democrats have made. Look, this, for the White House, is really a delicate balance. It`s a balance between Joe Biden`s personal belief in bipartisanship and unity. I think Joe Biden, if you asked him what the Biden brand consists of, he would say bipartisanship.

Now, contrast this with the very real fact that Americans really don`t care about bipartisanship. No American who receives a stimulus check will not cash it because the deal wasn`t bipartisan. Americans simply want results.

And if the economy does not recover, Biden will be blamed for it. The GOP will not be blamed for it. They will pick up from it. But Biden will be blamed for it, very much the same way, in 2010, if you remember, Obama was blamed for the weak recovery. Nobody gave him any credit for all those concessions he made to Maine Republican Olympia Snowe at the time.

MELBER: Yes, you just laid it out. We`re talking about money. This is real money talk.

To extend your very clear point, Chai, if you sent out two rounds of checks and said, here`s the $1,400 from the Democrats that passed on budget reconciliation with no Republican support, or here`s a $600 check that`s bipartisan, you can only pick one, which would people pick?

KOMANDURI: Yes, they`re going to take the larger check, absolutely. There`s no question about it.

And I think on some level we kind of have to turn down the D.C. noise. Bipartisanship is something that D.C. insiders, quite frankly, really covet. It`s the subject of any number of Peggy Noonan columns or David Brooks columns. I`m sure they`re working on that right now as we speak about how Joe Biden needs to be more bipartisan in his approach to unite the country.

But the reality is, Americans simply do not care. They care about two things, getting COVID in the rearview mirror and getting this economy back moving. That is what they care about.


KOMANDURI: And Joe Biden simply has to deliver for the American people. If he doesn`t, he and Democrats will reap the consequences.


Remember how Stephen Colbert used to joke about the Colbert bump?

KOMANDURI: Right, exactly.




MELBER: But that was a real thing.


MELBER: Because Colbert would give you a shout-out on that much-beloved show. This as back when he was doing "The Colbert Report" version. And you would get a bump in buzz or book sales or whatever.

KOMANDURI: Right. Right.

MELBER: I`m not clear on whether there really is a bipartisan David Brooks bump. Even if you do get name-checked in his column for watering down your proposal just to add someone, I don`t think there`s a real bump.

I say that as an intro to a little bit of sound of the Republicans who are making new noise about all of this. They want Biden to join them. Take a look.


SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): You don`t want bipartisanship. You want the patina of bipartisanship, but you want to stick it and ram it through. So that`s not unity.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Unity and healing that Joe Biden and the Democrats say we need, that`s not what they`re giving us. They are attempting to have total control. They`re trying to silence opposition.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R-OH): It will set President Biden down a path of partisanship that I think will poison the well for other bipartisanship we will need on so many other issues.


MELBER: Just briefly, is that credible from those Republicans?


No, and let`s be very honest about this. Right now, the GOP needs Joe Biden more than Joe Biden needs the GOP. They desperately need to change the story from Donald Trump, the impeachment, Marjorie Taylor Greene, QAnon, and all these crazy sort of stories that we`re seeing one after another coming up for the last couple weeks.

They desperately need Joe Biden to help them rebrand the party as a party of fiscal conservatism and a party that reaches out and works in a bipartisan manner, that is not the party of a crazy AR-15-toting congresswoman.

MELBER: All great points, great insight.

I wonder, Chai, if some would quibble with you whether it would be a real fun, kind of nice jaunt down memory lane to partner up with Donald Trump while he claims he won the election? I mean, that would be the only exception to your point.


Well, is there any proof...

MELBER: That could be fun?

KOMANDURI: ... that any American during the Trump era or during the Bush era really cared about their lack of bipartisanship?

Bipartisanship, like the deficit, seems to be discovered every time a Democrat takes the White House.

MELBER: I think that`s an important point, the last one you especially make, that these are selective spasms that we hear about, and the Democrats have to figure out what to do with a lot on the to-do list about whether they listen to that or not.

Chai Komanduri, always great to have you, sir.

KOMANDURI: Thank you.

MELBER: Thanks.

Coming up: a new crackdown on voting. We have got our eye on it with a special guest, Michael Eric Dyson.

And, later, understandable outcry after police were caught pepper-spraying a 9-year-old girl.

And later tonight, if you remember "American Psycho" and its long list of cultural influence, well, the great Bret Easton Ellis makes his BEAT debut on that and a whole lot more.



JOHN KRASINSKI, ACTOR: Georgia`s all blue now. Maybe you heard about our election on the news.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I hope you know what we do to Jewish folks out here in Georgia. We elect them.


KRASINSKI: I don`t know what they`re teaching you over there in Florida, but this here`s Georgia. This is Stacey Abrams country.



MELBER: "SNL" joking about how thoroughly Georgia may have turned blue. This was after Biden won the state and won nationwide with over seven million more votes than Donald Trump.

But there are new reports that one initial Republican response has been to try to crack down on voting and voting access itself, especially in places where Joe Biden won. New data showing that, around this time last year, 15 states had introduced about 35 bills restricting voting access. Consider that the recent precedent.

But the Brennan Center for Justice is reporting that figure tripled to 106 bills in this similar period. Well, these measures range from limiting mail voting access, something that, of course, was used more during the pandemic, to more directly controversial crackdowns, like very strict voter I.D. laws, which have been shown to restrict minority voters more.


LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: NBC News now projects that Joe Biden has won the Keystone State, Pennsylvania.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Designating Joe Biden the apparent winner in Georgia.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, CO-HOST, "MORNING JOE": Breaking news overnight, NBC News projecting Joe Biden wins Arizona. Biden flips a state that hadn`t voted for a Democrat since 1996.


MELBER: And as those shifts continue, the trend here is, in those same states where Biden excelled, like Arizona, you see this crackdown, including this proposal to let the legislature potentially overturn who the voters choose and -- quote -- "revoke the secretary of state`s certification by majority at any time before the presidential inauguration."

Critics say it`s quite clear it`s going on. Having lost in a high-turnout election, many of these Republicans want either a low-turnout election, one where they control who votes, or the option to cancel the whole thing.

Why? Well, take a look. Democrats have basically been winning the popular vote in seven of the last eight elections, the most recent one continuing the trend.

On this and much more, we turn to Michael Eric Dyson. He`s a professor at Georgetown University. He is the author of "Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America." It is the kind of book that is oh so timely and yet one that builds on the work he`s been doing for decades.

We`re honored to have you back, sir.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: It`s always great to be here, my friend. Always great to tune in to your rhetorically sophisticated engagement with hip-hop culture in a postmodern space. It`s always beautiful.


The only thing more hip than modern is postmodern, even though I`m not always sure what that word means. But I`m sure you will teach us someday.


MELBER: Let`s kick right into what we showed there, political winds blowing against Republicans. There are legitimate debates. We cover them. People get on me sometimes. Like, I had Trump aide Boris Epshteyn on recently to hear his point of view on the legitimate part.

What`s not legitimate is trying to prevent this from being a democracy in the first place or make rules that make it harder for certain groups or black voters to be heard.

Your thoughts about what we`re seeing in this spike now?

DYSON: It`s pretty atrocious.

When you have got 106 states -- 106 bills in 28 states trying to suppress the vote through making it more difficult for mail-in votes. You would think the Republicans would want to increase that since they lost so horribly.

When you talk about the voter I.D. laws being strengthened and the registration processes made even more difficult, and then finally removing people from the polls, these mass purges, which, of course, target with vicious particularity African-American voters, which is why Stacey Abrams, a heroic figure to be certain, not only reversed the purging of 500,000 votes in Georgia, but added another 300,000.

Perhaps that`s why today it has been leaked that she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of her nonviolent efforts to really retard this vicious trend.

Look, the Republicans want to make an anagram of vote. They want to veto. They want to veto the right of black people`s access to the franchise. They want to veto Democrats` access to the franchise. And so, instead of doing it the old-fashioned way, hey, we lost, let`s work harder, hey, we lost, let`s deliver a better message, hey, we lost, let`s not be xenophobic, hey, we lost, let`s not be racist, hey, we lost, let`s not be anti-Semitic, and on and on and on.

The point is work harder, work smarter, be sharper, be more insightful. Instead of an anagram, hand your man a gram, a telegram, to tell him, get on his job.

OK, Jay, sorry.

But the point is that we have got to be acknowledging here that the effort of the GOP to undermine the franchise is yet again another symptom of their paltry ability to imagine a future where they have to win fair and square.

MELBER: Right.

DYSON: The Capitol, Donald Trump, and now this is all of a piece. And we must not miss the way in which there`s a fine integration between white supremacist logic, the ventriloquist effect of white supremacy through the mouths of some GOP stalwarts, and the inability of the masses of that party to understand, this ain`t your land no more, this ain`t your party no more.

You have got to work for it. It can`t be given to you. It can`t be handed to you. You have to earn it.

MELBER: Wow. It`s like a sermon, honestly.

I appreciate the use of the anagram. These days, we spend too much days on the other Gram.


MELBER: But the veto is literally what one of those states is trying to do.

They`re putting it out. It`s public. We want to be able to reverse what the voters said, which is looking at Donald Trump`s insurrection as a training exercise and get better at it.

I have to fit in a break, because we have a couple other stories.

Always good to see you, Professor Dyson. I hope you will come back, sir.

DYSON: Look forward to it, my man.

And I`m at Vanderbilt University now. So, you have got to come down to Nashville and hang out with me.

MELBER: Let`s do it, especially once we get through a little more of this vaccine rollout. I would love to come to Vanderbilt.

Keen, hardcore Michael Eric Dyson fans may recall he does actually teach a literal class on Jay-Z. And I got to go speak with him there at Georgetown once upon a time.

I will do it again, sir.

DYSON: Look forward to it, my friend. Thank you so very kindly.

MELBER: Shout-out to Vanderbilt.

Coming up, we have a serious story that we want to make sure you know about. It was caught on tape, the Rochester police pepper-spraying a 9- year-old girl.

Accountability watch, that`s next.


MELBER: There`s new police body camera footage that shows officers in Rochester, New York, pepper-spraying a 9-year-old girl.

Now, police say they were called on a Friday because this young girl was threatening to harm herself and her mother. In the video, this young girl, who is African-American, repeatedly calls for her father as the officers handcuff her while she lies on the ground, you can see, in the snow.

A warning: The video is disturbing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want my dad. Stop! Stop!



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re acting like a child. Stop.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to -- I am a child.


MELBER: The video has been partially redacted by the officers. We don`t have full information yet on what led up to the incident.

Now, those officers you saw were attempting to put the 9-year-old in the back of a police cruiser, and then one decides to use pepper spray.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, you said that you were going to pepper-spray me.

No. Please no! Stop! Get back. Stop. I got a bad arm!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just spray her. Just spray her at this point.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got her. I got her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please wipe my eyes! Wipe my eyes!


MELBER: According to the police videos that we have obtained, at least seven officers and six police cruisers are actually seen as part of the response.

That`s what`s on tape in the video. Now, city officials say they are investigating. The mayor is speaking out, saying -- quote -- "The officers involved have already been suspended," although not specifying which ones or offering transparency on that yet.

Community leaders are demanding the release of all of the possible available footage, including from other officers.

This confrontation comes less than a year after a 41-year-old black man died when Rochester police handcuffed him and covered his head with a so- called spit hood under the cover of night, a story we reported on at the time.

Community leaders are renewing their calls for more systemic change in how that police force responds, especially to potential mental health incidents.

We can also tell you tonight that New York Attorney General Letitia James says her office is looking into this and -- quote -- "It is deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable," based on what we already know, deploying that kind of spray against a child.

Her statement, as you see there, says that should never happen.

And one more note: All of this is only known because of this particular police video becoming available. As we have reported, many different departments have resisted making videos and releasing them.

How often this kind of potential misuse of force happens outside of the video surveillance is an open question for police reform.

We`re going to fit in a break. We have a lot more in the program, including Joe Biden pushing forward on COVID relief potentially with or without Republicans.

And, tonight, a special conversation with the acclaimed author of "American Psycho" and many other great works, Bret Easton Ellis. It`s his debut on THE BEAT.


MELBER: President Biden is pressing his COVID bill on Republicans tonight, as many are still figuring out this new era, as their ex-president still holds sway.

There are larger questions about the endurance of Trumpism, how his style and priorities have taken root across the nation, in the Republican Party, and also in our culture, which shows the endurance of a man who was once seen as a more narrow fringe figure of `80s excess, someone who for many at the time was a figure to emulate, a symbol of a certain kind of attitude and success, even as others were horrified by what he embodies.

So, after this long year and era, we want to turn to that wider discussion with a cultural exclusive that I`m very excited about.

The iconic and bestselling novelist Bret Easton Ellis makes his debut on THE BEAT tonight, a bracing and controversial writer, known for novels like "Less Than Zero," which probes the culture of rich kids in L.A., and "Rules of Attraction" about college lust and rebellion.

Ellis is debated in literary circles. But even if you haven`t picked up his books, I bet you know about their film adaptations. He wrote the controversial classic "American Psycho," with that memorably haunting performance by Christian Bale, a banker with serial killer tendencies who channeled something ultimately enduring about New York and America and capitalist alienation, which is especially striking now, considering that the celebrity named most in that book, Bateman`s hero, is Donald Trump, who lurks as the backdrop to these debates over the best suits and the best business cards.

In fact, the antihero is thrilled that even getting near Trump. He`s excited when he thinks he sees Trump`s then wife, Ivana.


JARED LETO, ACTOR: We should have gone to Dorsia. I could have gotten us a table.

CHRISTIAN BALE, ACTOR: Nobody goes there anymore.

Is that Ivana Trump?

Oh, geez, Patrick. I mean, Marcus. What are you thinking? Why would Ivana be at Texarkana?


MELBER: It`s been three decades since that book was first published.

But Ellis` vision, his discussion of this subset of America has actually proven quite prescient. It`s about Trump and more than that, foreshadowing a culture so obsessed with flash and sizzle, we may lose sight of what living is all about.

I welcome to THE BEAT Bret Easton Ellis. His podcast, "The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast," is out on Patreon.

Thanks for being here, sir.


MELBER: When you wrote this, Trump was a large figure in the story, if not in American politics.

What was that about, and what do you think it means that he has gotten only bigger?

ELLIS: Well, I didn`t expect to put him into the book "American Psycho" until I was doing research on the book, and I was hanging out with a lot of young guys who were working on Wall Street in 1986, `87, `88.

And one of the most surprising things was that they all were in love with Donald Trump. It was someone they aspired to be. And so I realized that, in order to get this period correctly, that my narrator, Patrick Bateman, was probably going to be referencing Donald Trump a lot.

In terms of being an authentic documentation of that period, Donald Trump just had to be a part of that world. And I really don`t see myself as particularly prescient.

I just saw it as the needed wallpaper, his name all over the place that would give this book and the story a jolt of authenticity.

MELBER: The reason the "American Psycho" connects with a lot of people is a bit like "Catcher in the Rye." It exists in a place in time, but there`s a larger feeling of alienation that people relate to.

The issues of money, capitalism, and self-absorption seem to only be on steroids today, in a 1 percent economy, with kids growing up on Instagram.

What do you think about the way we`re all living in that now?

ELLIS: Well, look, at the time, I mean, when I was writing "American Psycho," this was at the height of what was then called yuppie culture.

And part of the thing that bothered me so much about being a young man myself in that environment was that I resented it. I resented the idea that I had to live in this society.

And yet there was nowhere else to go. And so it kind of doubled my alienation at that moment. And I do think one of the reasons why Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho" have, surprisingly, lasted as long as they have and that the book is still in print and it`s read and people still watch the movie is that they have to identify somewhat with Patrick Bateman.

Yes, he might present himself as an appalling serial killer, and he`s racist, and he`s homophobic, and he`s certainly misogynist, but there`s something about him, a kind of frustration he has with society, that I have ultimately come to think is the reason why he has such staying power.

There`s something about that, that you`re trapped in a society that you don`t believe in, and that you don`t believe its values, but you also have nowhere else to go, so you want to fit in. And, therefore, as it happens with Patrick Bateman, you go insane.

MELBER: I have kept up with your recent writing. You are concerned that America is becoming more closed-minded, even or especially on the left. Explain.

ELLIS: I think what`s missing is that we have lost track of metaphor.

We only see things as what they resemble on the surface. We only see the surface of things. We don`t see things as metaphor anymore. I don`t know if it`s necessarily just on the left or on the right. I try to be nonpartisan about this. I`m a writer and an artist and a novelist. And I don`t really want to take political sides on that level.

But there is something that`s going on now that is very ideological, and seems to me against aesthetics. So, I think the idea that art now has to be created to soothe people`s sensitivities, or make them feel better about themselves, or be something that they can relate to or identify with is a real problem in the creation of art and in terms of just being an artist, and how you want to -- and how do you want to represent yourself. That does concern me.

MELBER: Is it the wrong question, then, when people ask today, well, does this artist have the right point of view?

In other words, I will pick a Jewish example. I happen to be Jewish. If this art about the Holocaust is fundamentally holding the -- quote, unquote -- "right view," then it can be more accepted or the artist is given more room than if they have the wrong view.

Is that, in your view, an incorrect threshold test for the art we received?

ELLIS: Well, what is the wrong view? What is the right view?

There are plenty of Jewish people I know who had massive problems with "Schindler List," the Steven Spielberg movie. And you would think they might not, but some thought any representation of that period would be a terrible, terrible thing to reenact and to film.

I just don`t think art should work on that level, necessarily, that I think it should all be about aesthetics. And that is really what you respond to. And it really is what you should respond to, is the style of something, of how its shot or how it`s written, and not necessarily automatically respond to it on an ideological or political level.

But that is happening now. And I just don`t believe that there are certain things you can say and you can`t say. And that`s certainly something that`s coming from the left, unfortunately, in the last three or four years. Maybe that will change. Maybe there will be a switch from that.

But all of these do`s and don`ts, cultural appropriation and so on and so forth, that are real limitations to an artist, and I am sometimes baffled that artists tend to just like -- say, OK, I will go along with it.

MELBER: Really interesting.

And it goes to the question of -- and many societies grapple with this -- do you want politics to be in control of art? Because politics makes a lot of mistakes.

I only have about a minute left, but you know the last thing I got to ask you about Bret? You know what it is?

ELLIS: No, I don`t. What is it?

MELBER: It`s Kanye, your kindred spirit.


ELLIS: Kanye.


MELBER: Tell us about the relationship.

And will you guys ever make any new project, film or art together? And he`s spoken out about what a fan he is of some of your work.

ELLIS: Well, look, I have worked with Kanye on a number of projects that really didn`t happen.

In my book "White," the last chapter is really about my relationship with Kanye. They were very out-there projects, but they were very intriguing, very ambitious. And I don`t regret a single moment that I spent with Kanye.

He`s -- he really is a kind of genius. But I thought, you know what This guy is such a great artist, I`m going to go with it anyway and see where this ride takes me. And it took me on some very interesting -- some very interesting places.

MELBER: I love that. And I think you have loved old Kanye, new Kanye. As he would put it, you`re not one of the people demanding only a calm Ye.

Bret Easton Ellis, I appreciate you making your BEAT debut. I hope you will come back sir.

ELLIS: I`d love to, Ari.

MELBER: All right, thank you very much, Bret Easton Ellis.

And we will be right back.


MELBER: As always, thanks for joining us here on THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER.