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Transcript: The ReidOut, 10/12/21

Guests: Max Boot, Matthew Dowd, Kathy Kleinfeld, Jemele Hill, Cyd Zeigler


U.S. democracy in danger as GOP surrenders to Trump. Schiff says, big lie is how democracies come to an end. Democracy at stake in the 2022 midterms. Trump's big lie endangers our democracy. Republicans urge voting for Democrats to beat Trumpism. Eastman memo could be a roadmap for Trump to steal future elections. John Eastman questioned Kamala Harris' eligibility.


JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, everyone. We begin THE REIDOUT with a warning. This could be it. We may be in the waning years of America as a democracy. I know, I know, I know that sounds like hyperbole, but just hear me out. One of our two major political parties, the Republican Party, has surrendered completely to deeply narcissistic, wannabe autocrat Donald Trump and the cancer of the big lie spread throughout the party's ranks. We now have Republican members of Congress openly musing about civil war with Marjorie three names of Georgia polling her supporters as to whether they would support a, quote, national divorce. Spoiler alert, they do.

And what the Republicans hope to turn this country into is so unthinkable. Think Texas except everywhere, with the garish and despicable Donald Trump as maybe the permanent president completely unleashed with full control once again of the Justice Department, the military, the CIA, the FBI, et cetera, et cetera, plus the nuclear codes.

Even as we speak, Republicans, when they're not banning books about race or putting abortion bounties on women or nuking the right to vote for anyone who isn't on their team, are hurriedly installing handpicked Trump loyalists into every realm of government, packing local election boards with partisan foot soldiers and purging opposition forces. When fascism arrives in America, as Congressman Adam Schiff warned this morning, the fix is in.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The greater danger, frankly, to the country is what is going on around the nation. People pushing the former president's big lie about the election ushering in a new slate of laws to strip independent elections officials of their duties and give them over to partisan boards and partisan legislatures.

And that's how democracies come to an end. And so we are at a real point of fragility right now.


REID: Anybody who doubts the risk that we face need only to look at the Eastman memo. Trump Lawyer John Eastman literally put in writing a blueprint for stealing a presidential election. And once Trump gains control of state election boards, don't kid yourself into thinking that he won't try it again.

Now, the conservative think tank that employs Eastman, the Claremont Institute, is, no surprise, trying to whitewash his role in the attempted coup, and we'll get to that tonight too.

For better or worse, this country long had a two-party system, which although sometimes messy has managed to honor the will of the voters. The problem now is one party has decided they don't have to do that column.

In his latest column, Michael Gerson, former speech writer to George W. Bush, plainly says what should be evident to every American who cares about their future. Trump has the strengthened his identification with the seditious forces he unleashed on January 6th. He has embraced ever more absurd and malicious conspiracy theories. He has shown even less stability, humanity, responsibility and restraint. And his support among Republicans has grown.

Gerson warns that it is increasingly evident that the nightmare prospect of American politics unified Republican control of the federal government in the hands of a reelected, empowered Donald Trump in 2025 is also the likely outcome.

As the only party left that actually support democracy, it's incumbent Democrats prevent that outcome because Republican victories in 2022 and 2024 could literally mean the end of free elections. And yet, for Democrats, the challenges of winning and retaining office is twofold. They will have to overcome the built in disadvantage at the ballot box that are baked into the system to advantage rural voters, the apportion of electoral votes, gerrymandered and voter suppression, to name just a few.

That's why a number of rational pro-democracy Republicans have recently spoken out in support of electing Democrats. As Conservative Author Max Boot writes, I'm a single issue voter. My issue is the fate of democracy in the United States. He says, simply put, I have no faith that we will remain a democracy if Republicans to win power, thus, although I'm not a Democrat, I will continue to vote exclusively for Democrats until the GOP seizes to pose an existential threat to our freedom.

Max boot, Washington Post Columnist and Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council and Foreign Relations, joins me now, along with Maya Wiley, MSNBC Legal Analyst and former New York City Mayoral Candidate.

And, Max, you know, it is this weird thing where you and I started out on very opposite sides of the world in terms of our believes about things like the Iraq War and we are now on the same side.


I have lots of critiques of Democrats myself. But, you know, walk us through how you got to the point where you're saying just vote exclusively for Democrats because I know in Virginia right now, there is a Republican trying to put himself forward, when I look at him, I just see another guy who's going to get pressured to go along and also do whatever it is that Trump wants in 2024 and throw out votes. So are you where I am?

MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Absolutely, Joy. I mean, this is a time when everybody who is a small D democrat has to unite in support of the big D Democratic Party and I mean, kind of the premise of my column was, you know, we're hearing so much about the debates in Washington about the build back better bill. Should it be $3.5 trillion? Should it be $2 trillion? Whatever. Honestly, I'm agnostic. I'm not sure what the size ought to be, but what I do know for sure is that we should not get so wrapped up in that that we lose sight of the larger stakes here.

And I'm hearing people say, oh, you know, if Joe Biden can't get this big bill through Congress, then the Democrats are going to be in big trouble next year, and that may be true but it shouldn't be true because anybody out there who cares about the fate of our democracy has to realize that there is no way you can support Republicans under the present circumstances because this is a party a lot of which already went along with the coup attempt in January of this year.

And since then, all the Republicans who didn't go along with the coup, they're all being purged. You know, being part of the big lie is now becoming a litmus test for the Republican Party. Even though we see new revelations almost every day about Donald Trump's attempt to over throw our democracy, more than 60 percent are Republicans still supporting him. And the only Republican office holders that don't support him are in danger of losing reelection. Liz Cheney has already lost her leadership position in the House.

So, there is no way I can look at the Republican Party as currently constituted and have any confidence that if they win power in 2022, in 2024, that American democracy will survive. And that's why I'm saying we have to vote for big D Democrats until the threat to our democracy passes.

REID: And, Maya, it kind of is like a political Jonestown, right, where you may have had some people who thought, in my late mother's former country, Guyana, where these Americans came down there, they had this charismatic cult leader. And there were some people who started to questioned, maybe this isn't right. Maybe I shouldn't drink that Kool-Aid, but they were bullied or injured or killed. And in the end, most people just went along, even though they saw what was happening.

There is this sort of aspect to the Republican Party now where it is a full-on cult now. And if you're not -- I look at Brad Raffensperger in Georgia who started of doing the right thing and is now peddling back so fast, he and Brian Kemp cannot pedal back fast enough from where they were last fall, which means that if those two men are in power in any way, next time, they're going to go along with it probably because they all have been completely bullied and beaten down.

Are you -- do you think the Democrats are afraid enough? Because I see them out there arguing over whether it's going to be a billion there, another billion there on their bill, like that's going to matter if we don't have a democracy.

MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I want to just say I don't think Democrats are concerned enough and I think we do have some hope about democracy because of Max Boot. And he's not the only one who's standing up and saying, what saves a democracy is the protection of its institutions. And I think that is what Democrats are focusing on with the January 6th committee. Let's be clear. It's not that Democrats aren't doing work and hard work right now to do that but there has been nothing clear for the past five years that our institutions have been under attack.

When were you speaking, I was just reflecting, Joy, on how it was Officer Harry Dunn on the first day of January 6th committee that said, why is it so hard to tell the truth? This is a black man that was also called the N word several times as someone who was trying to protect the Republicans that were sitting in that building and traumatized for it.

And I think all those things come together, right? Whether it's a president who was trying to get the Department of Justice, politicize it on multiple occasions not the least of which was leaving office trying to get it to investigate things that it in terms of voter fraud that it said didn't have any evidence for.

But I also want to call another thing out, and you already reflected on this, Joy, is that there is nothing new here. Because this started as early as 1980 when you had a conservative activist in the form of Mr. Weyrich say, I don't want everyone to vote. And by 2010, it had become a national legislative strategy to make it harder for citizens to vote despite their legal rights.


And so I think many people have been calling this out frankly for over a decade and that what we're seeing now is really that hard anti-democratic work bearing real fruit and Democrats are fighting on that front and we need more Republicans to do the same.

REID: I mean, the John Birch Society is back, Max. I mean, I think that what Maya said is absolutely true. Some of the forces that we thought had been beaten back inside of conservatism that have been trying to take it over for a very long time are all back and it's from the thugocracy side, the people who are crapping in the Capitol literally to try to bully members of Congress into stealing an election, all the way up to the sort of faux intellectual side, the Claremont Institute, a sort of nondescript think tank, which has this guy, John Eastman. They're not trying to defend him it and try to defend what he did.

He wrote a whole memo on how to steal an election, wrote it down, was not afraid to put in writing. This is the same guy who tried birtherism, published a piece doing birtherism against Kamala Harris, essentially making the argument that this woman, because she's of immigrant heritage, black immigrant heritage, isn't qualified to be president. So there have been creeping pieces of it before. But it is Trump crystallized it.

What do you think it is about him that made him kind of the perfect vehicle to take what were decades' long forces and crystallize them into this cult?

BOTO: You're right, Joy and Maya. I think you're both right these forces have been there in the Republican Party for a long time but there are also countervailing forces in the establishment wing in the Republican Party. And, I mean, Joy, you mentioned the John Birch Society. And, yes, these folks were completely Looney Tunes. I mean, they thought that (INAUDIBLE) was a communist conspiracy. But remember, they arose in the '50s and '60s when you had Republican leaders, like President Eisenhower or President Nixon, but were skinning (ph) up to them in pursuing a much more moderate path.

I think what's happened with Trump is he has basically destroyed any kind of elite resistance to the most extremist, conspiratorial, white supremacist, just plane nutty elements of the Republican Party. There is nobody like a Mitt Romney or John McCain who can lead the Republican Party in a saner direction right now. Anybody who has tried, like Liz Cheney, has been kneecapped.

And so all -- this is -- in my view, Joy, this is really monumental failure of Republican elites, truly shameful what's happened, because there have always been these conspiracy mongers, these racists, these nuts at the grassroots of the party, but you've never had party leadership that has welcomed them with open arms and driven out the moderates while embracing the extremists. And that's what Donald Trump has done.

And he has maintained his hold on the Republican Party even after presiding over the worst pandemic and the worst recession in multiple decades, even after trying to overthrow our government, none of that seems to matter.

REID: Yes.

BOOT: And we see revelations, like the Eastman memo. Republicans don't care about that. They don't care about the guy that they are following tried to overthrow our government. And right now, I think there is pretty much general consensus in political circles that if Donald Trump runs again, he will win the Republican nomination again. And, frankly, it's not impossible he could win the presidency again because even though President Biden won by a huge popular vote margin, this margin in the Electoral College was very, very small and it could be reversed. So, this is just as alarming as it can be. And it comes down, really, bottom line, to the complete moral abdication of the Republican Party leadership.

REID: And I would add the weakness of the courts, Maya. I mean, we just had somebody sentenced, one of these Capitol insurrectionists, she go 14 days in jail. These sentences have seemed very light. The resistance from the DOJ has seemed very weak. Is part of the problem here is that there haven't -- and Donald Trump is still walking around. He's got cases, you know, maybe pending in Georgia. Is part of the problem is that our legal system and the Democratic Party are reacting to it too gently, too delicately?

WILEY: I think we have to remember two things, Joy. One is that our judiciary is made up by people who were appointed by people who win public office. So when we start to talk about partisan gerrymandering, about voter suppression, about all the things that resulted in the Trump administration that could frankly design the courts, when we watched Mitch McConnell deny Barack Obama his constitutional right adhering on his judges, to slow-walk judges, to use that power of office to actually really rebuild the courts. And we saw it in 1980 also with Ronald Reagan. I mean, what we get is a much more ideological (INAUDIBLE) in ways that we should just acknowledge.


But I think it's something else too. I mean, the truth is, and this is why the January 6th committee is so important, part of the job of Congress is supposed to identify where it has to strengthen legislation and find new laws that are important to protect democracy, to protect the rule of law. But if Congress itself is gridlocked, politicized and not functioning with democracy in mind, in the way that Max is talking about, it does also have an impact on the powers of the court. And so unless we're willing to do the truth-telling that Officer Dunn were called us too, we also aren't going the (INAUDIBLE).

REID: Indeed. We'll we've got have too many with Republicans like McConnell and Kevin McCarthy who are willing to play along, but a few Democrats there on the side too, because I'm thinking about a couple of them who are willing to let this democracy die just so that they can cut the size of an infrastructure bill. I don't know for who or whose benefit.

Maya Wiley, Max Boot, scary is caring, that's what we say on this show. Thank you both very much.

Up next on THE REIDOUT, the GOP is suddenly the big government party. Greg Abbott and others are now telling small business owners they do not have the right or the freedom to protect their employees and customers from COVID because they got to let COVID in.

Plus --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you have residents in town (INAUDIBLE) maybe you can die from the lead in the water.


REID: For three years, the water in this majority black city in Michigan has been too poisoned to drink, and we're not talking about Flint.

Plus, what the Jon Gruden episode tells us about the supposedly newly woke but maybe not so woke NFL.

And what is faster than a speeding bullet? The right-wing freakout over comic books. And who is worse than Lex Luthor? Tonight's absolute worst.

THE REIDOUT continues after this.



REID: So, I have been talking about Texas a lot lately, because I want you to understand what's in store for the rest of America.

Here's what the elected officials of the state have done or failed to do for their citizens. They have passed the most restrictive voting laws. They have allowed any adult in the state to carry a handgun without a license or a permit. They have attacked women by banning abortions after six weeks, even if they are victims of rape or incest.

And Governor Greg Abbott has made these women the targets of money-hungry bounty hunters. They have killed attempts to expand Medicaid to cover 1.4 million uninsured Texans. And you remember that horrific winter storm that killed nearly 200 people and left tens of thousands without power?

Well, Abbott signed a bill into law that allowed gas companies to opt out of weatherization requirements that would keep that from happening again.

If you think that's bad, just wait until you hear what's next. Yesterday, Abbott, under pressure from conservatives, decided that now is a good time to ban all COVID vaccine mandates, even for small businesses. This comes just two months after he had free flack -- he had a press flack -- sorry -- issue a statement defending private companies' rights to issue said mandates.

Specifically, a spokesperson said: "Private businesses don't need government running their businesses."

Human wind sock Greg Abbott is looking to lock up his third term as governor next year, but before he could do that, he needs to prove his ultra conservative bona fides. And this is how he's governing, not for the people, but for the base.

Take, for example, abortion. Abbott, despite having essentially overturned Roe vs. Wade in the state, plans on going even further. Take a look at what Lauren Windsor, advocacy journalist and creator of Undercurrent TV, got Abbott to acknowledge.


LAUREN WINDSOR, REPORTER: Can you do something about, like, morning-after pills birth control, because I think that, like, it's destroying the fabric of our society, giving women the incentive to be promiscuous.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Yes. I signed two more laws already on that, one that prohibits mail-order abortion pills from being sent.

The other is maybe the most important. It's called the trigger bill. What it means is, if any other state files a lawsuit, and the Supreme Court strikes down Roe vs. Wade, abortion is immediately abolished in Texas without us going into session.

So, basically, we have outlawed abortion in the Texas.


REID: Birth control are not abortion pills.

Anyway, last night, the U.S. Justice Department asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to place a pause on the abortion ban in Texas. The request comes three days after that court reinstated the law.

With me now with Matthew Dowd, who is a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Texas and the founder of Country Over Party, and Kathy Kleinfeld, administrator at Houston Women's Reproductive Services.

Thank you both for being here.

Let's start, Matthew, with the governor, because I feel like a lot of what he is doing is purely performative, starting with this vaccine mandate ban. He knows that Joe Biden, that the federal government has already put in place a vaccine mandate. And he used to be attorney general. He knows that federal law supersedes state law.

So American and Southwest Airlines, both of them are based in the state of Texas and have 170,000 workers combined, they say what I just said. Federal rules supersede state rules. They're going to comply with the feds.

So it feels to me like what Abbott is doing is purely performative. He gets the benefit for the far right fever swamp of saying the things they want to hear. But he knows that these businesses aren't going to do it. So there won't be the additional outbreak of COVID.

Do you see it that way? Or do you think there's something else going on?

MATTHEW DOWD (D-TX), TEXAS LIEUTENANT GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think -- I mean, I think part of it's performative.

But as your -- our fellow guest will testify to, the real-world application of all these things is way past performative, all of the things he's done. And I listened to the previous segment, which I think -- thought was awesome.

But I have to -- we have to go from we need to protect the democracy to what is actually the real-world application all of these anti-democratic things they have done and why we have arrived here. So Greg Abbott has launched all these things, endangering Texans' lives, taking away the rights of both people of color and of women in this state, all of those things.


But they have practical applications where people die from them, right? And so, as you led into the failure of the grid, not 200 people died; 700 people died, and they didn't do anything to fix it. We have had 68,000 people in Texas die from COVID. They have made it worse and probably thousands died that didn't need to die, because of what they did -- what they did in the course of this.

So the practical day-to-day application of this, yes, it might be performative to a degree, but it actually harms Texans.

The other thing I want to say is, we're watching a -- and I'm glad you're focused on Texas, because I think what happens here ripples for the bad. And if we're able to push back and hold them accountable, it'll ripple for the good. So I think Texas is a central part of this fight that we're having.

The Republican Party is no longer, which they used to claim, the pro-life party, pro-freedom party, and pro-local control party, because, in the course of one year, they have taken away freedoms of women to decide, they have taken away the freedom to vote, and they have taken away freedom for - - freedom of people to be -- not suffer gun violence.

And they have taken away local control from every city and every county in this state to do what's best interest of their citizens. And they're definitely not the pro-life party, because thousands and thousands of people are dying needlessly under their watch and will die needlessly under their watch.

REID: Yes, I mean, they -- that is a very good point, Ms. Kleinfeld, because Texas in a lot of ways is Gilead, right? It is the model for what conservatives -- what are calling themselves conservatives now want to do the whole country.

Every time Texas burps and does something destructive, South Dakota runs behind them, Florida runs behind them, every other Republican governor follows them and tries to replicate it. And this is what they want for the country. They want the country to be like Texas.

So let's talk about these rulings, because I do worry that these federal courts have been so Trumpified that they can't necessarily be counted on to save us from this. Are you concerned that they will not and that, once the Supreme Court gets a hold of it eventually, if they do, that this will be implemented, what Texas is doing, this bounty hunter system, can go then anywhere in the country, any state that wants it?


We're very concerned about the composition of the court now. We know we can't really count on them. And it's a great concern for everyone at this point in time. We have seen this happen where they -- certain states will attempt and be the test pilot of these extreme measures, and then other states will follow.

There are many states watching the state of Texas right now to see what happens with this ban, and see if they can also institute something very similar. So this is a very dangerous time for abortion rights.

We have never been at such a critical point as we are today.

REID: Let me let you listen, Matthew, to Jen Psaki, the White House spokesperson, refuting the claims about mandates. Take a listen.


QUESTION: What's the White House response to people who say vaccine mandates have reduced the work force and contributed to this problem?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I know a world-renowned business travel and health experts Senator Ted Cruz has made that point, but I wouldn't say that is widely acknowledged or echoed by business leaders who have implemented these mandates, by health experts who have conveyed the way to get out of the pandemic is to ensure that we're doing exactly the steps the president has announced and we're working to implement.


REID: Matthew, the thing I worry about with Democrats, that was clever, and I think mockery -- Ted Cruz, he sort of compels mockery in every way, everything about him.

But I worry that the calm demeanor -- I'm not saying that you should get up there and freak out. But I do worry a little bit that the response to what Texas is doing has been muted, because there's a sense among Democrats that normal will counteract it and stop it.

And I'm not sure that normality, just the normality of the way that the Democrats are will do that.

DOWD: I completely agree with you. And you and I have had this conversation before.

The Democrats have to get some passion and get some greater fight. We can be ethical, and we can do all what's legal, but we have to actually do everything we possibly can to stop what's happening here, because people are dying and suffering as we debate this.

I think, too often, the Democrats go into sort of the theoretical or the process argument about what's happening and don't basically make this a fundamental values question. This is a fundamental values question. Who are we? Who are we? Who are we as Texans and who are we as Americans?

And if we allow this to happen, it tells us who we are. It tells us who we are, which is, we don't care, we're indecent. It's not a sense of common decency. We don't care about the common good, and we fundamentally don't care what every single person that was beaten up and died before us to preserve or to expand the rights that were in the Constitution -- if we don't fight like they fought, that walked across a bridge in Alabama and were beaten -- we're not asking people to be beaten.


But rise up. Have some passion about this and make this not a fight about whether it's $2.3 trillion or $4.3 trillion. It's a fundamental fight about the average person. Can they live a life they want and grow into that life? And can their children and grandchildren survive in this country?

REID: Yes.

DOWD: That's what this is about.

REID: You and I are on the same page.

Last question to you, Ms. Kleinfeld. How do you -- how should we be talking to, let's say, young women who see this fight in Texas as something distant from them because they don't plan on getting pregnant, they're not pregnant, they don't live in Texas?

How do we communicate what Matthew just talked about in a way that's passionate, not with hysterics, but how do we communicate why this matters to your average woman?

KLEINFELD: Well, I think we're seeing a real rise up of young women who it may not affect them right now, but there is a level of activism.

They're -- we can say that the sleeping giant is starting to wake up. I have seen a lot of -- we have had a lot of requests for, how can we volunteer? How can we get involved? And these are coming from young women. And they are very angry we saw in the marches, we saw all across the country. And these are people from other parts of the country that are not dealing with what we have here in Texas, but they know that this is a very vulnerable right.

REID: Yes.

KLEINFELD: And this is not who we want to be. And this is not how we want to be defined. We do not need government governing all these aspects of our life and...

REID: And bullying Americans.

KLEINFELD: And trolling Americans.

REID: Yes, absolutely.

KLEINFELD: This is not who we are.

REID: There's a word for it.

KLEINFELD: They're not going to define us.

REID: There is a word for it.

KLEINFELD: Yes, there is. Yes, there is.

REID: It's called fascism. I'm sorry to say it, but it's...

KLEINFELD: Yes, there is.

REID: There's a word for it.

KLEINFELD: No, it's there. That's right.

REID: Matthew Dowd, Kathy Kleinfeld, thank you both very much. Keep up the fight.

Up next: Michigan is dealing with another Flint. Residents of Benton Harbor are being told to use bottled water three years after testing found unacceptable levels of lead. Residents are telling NBC that the city didn't do enough to warn them.

And we will be right back.



REID: Last week, the state of Michigan told the residents of Benton Harbor, a majority black city, not to drink their tap water, almost three years after lead was detected in the city's pipes, with numbers far higher than the federal action level and higher even than Flint at the height of its water crisis.

NBC's Meagan Fitzgerald has the latest from Benton Harbor.


MEAGAN FITZGERALD, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just three hours from Flint, another Michigan city facing an urgent water crisis, the contamination coming from old lead pipes.

(on camera): had you been drinking and cooking with the water before then?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had. I had no idea.

FITZGERALD (voice-over): The state says it's known about the elevated lead levels for three years and that residents had access to the information. But many residents say neither the city nor the state did enough to warn them of the dangers.

(on camera): When did you learn that there was lead in the water?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last week. I have been drinking the water, cooking with the water, brushing my teeth.

FITZGERALD (voice-over): Two weeks ago, the state started distributing bottled water to residents after a petition was filed to the EPA for federal help.

CYNDI ROPER, NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: The state of Michigan would not have responded to this crisis if it hadn't been for the petition from EPA.

FITZGERALD (on camera): How do you know that?

ROPER: Because years had gone by where nothing had happened.

FITZGERALD: Hundreds of people have been waiting hours, lines stretched across several blocks. For some, this is their only hope at fresh drinking water.

EDWARD PINKNEY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, BENTON HARBOR COMMUNITY WATER COUNCIL: This community cannot afford to buy water. I'm horrified. I cannot believe for one second that a city, a state or the federal government will allow children to continue to drink this water.

FITZGERALD (voice-over): But the state agency responsible for oversight of the water supply says they have been addressing the lead levels all along.

LIESL CLARK, MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT: Steps were taken as soon as the elevated levels were recorded to work on that corrosion control and get that in place. Corrosion control takes time. We are seeing elevated numbers, but we're also seeing, in general, an improvement overall.

FITZGERALD: A community fearful and worried about their health.


REID: NBC's Meagan Fitzgerald joins me now.

And, Meagan, that black gentleman said that he cannot believe that a city would allow this to happen. Benton Harbor is 85 percent black; 45 percent live in poverty. I sure can believe it. I wonder how it is possible and how city officials explain or how Michigan officials explain how they could have a second Flint, worse than Flint, happening for three years.

FITZGERALD: Joy, it's a great question. And it's one that we posed to the state agency that oversees the water here.

We asked them, how is it possible that, for three years, people in this community didn't realize that they should not be drinking the water with elevated levels of lead? And they said that they have been listening to the community. And it's only within the last week that they decided to step in because they have been listening to the community and they realized that they don't -- they didn't know that they should not be drinking this water.

But to give you some context here, the federal government requires action to be taken to clean up lead in water if it tests at 15 parts per billion. We have seen test results close to 900 tests per billion. So, again, for the last three years here, you have got mothers with children, babies, elderly people consuming this water with elevated lead levels, not realizing that it was not safe for them to do so -- Joy.

REID: And we know what that does to the developmental health of children, to the educational health. We know Benton Harbor has been attacked in terms of their schools from the former governor.

We know why that's happening. It ain't happening in Ann Arbor. I'm just going to put it that way.

Meagan Fitzgerald, we're going to follow up on this story. Thank you very much.

Coming up on THE REIDOUT: Jon Gruden's offensive lines. The Raiders' head coach is out after an apparent history of making ugly comments, including about members of the league and his own team. So, is this just a one guy problem or an NFL problem?

We will discuss. Stay with us.



REID: One of the highest-profile football coaches is out of a job. And in losing it, he has pulled back the curtain on the NFL's good old boys club.

Jon Gruden resigned last night as head of the -- head coach of the Los Angeles (sic) Raiders, shortly after "The New York Times" unearthed e-mails that he'd sent between 2011 and 2018 while working as an analyst for ESPN, e-mails filled with homophobic and misogynistic and racist comments.

In e-mails to the then-president of the Washington Football Team, Bruce Allen, Gruden said the Rams should not have been pressured to draft openly gay player Michael Sam in 2014, and threw in a homophobic slur. He also said that Eric Reid, who protested racial injustice alongside his teammate Colin Kaepernick, should be fired, and used homophobic slurs to refer to commissioner Roger Goodell.

Incidentally, until his resignation, Gruden coached Carl Nassib, the league's first out active player. The e-mails are just a sliver of more than 650,000 e-mails reviewed as part of a sexual harassment investigation into the Washington Football Team that used to be known by a name offensive to Native Americans.

"The Wall Street Journal" reported last week that Gruden used a racist trope to describe NFL players union chief DeMaurice Smith, writing: "Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of Michelin tires."


Gruden said that he didn't have -- quote -- "a racial bone in his body," apologizing for that racist comment about Smith, which he'd made to the president of the team with a racist name at the time.

But the situation comes as a league overwhelmingly dominated by black players, but with few black team owners or coaches, tries to shake off its track record. It paid Kaepernick and Reid less than $10 million to settle a collusion lawsuit after Kaepernick was blackballed by league ownership for his racial justice protests.

The NFL announced this year that it would end the use of so-called race norming in evaluating dementia claims made by former players in the league's concussion settlement. And in its latest performative gesture, as Jay-Z produced -- a Jay-Z-produced Super Bowl halftime show this season will feature all star hip-hop lineup.

Joining now is Jemele Hill, contributing writer for "The Atlantic" and host of "Jemele Hill Is Unbothered" podcast on Spotify, and Cyd Zeigler, co- founder of

Thank you both for being here.

And, Jemele Hill, let me play for you what DeMaurice Smith, who is the NFL Players Association director, who was the subject of some of the -- I will just read you what he said in response.

And he said: "The e-mail from Jason (sic) Gruden," including about him, "and some of the reaction to it confirms that the fight against racism, racist tropes, and intolerance is not over. This is not about an e-mail, as much as it is about a pervasive belief by some that people who look like me can be treated as less."

I know, Jemele, that the NFL, the National Football League started in 1920. It was segregated. And it's always been an old white guys network. And what do you make of this? Is this just sort of exposing kind of that that good old boys network just still exists?

JEMELE HILL, "THE ATLANTIC": I mean, this is just exposing what we knew to be a mentality that certainly permeates the NFL.

Now, I'm not saying that every person that is in an executive position or associated with the NFL should be fitted for a white hood. But what I am saying is that, in deed and in action, the NFL has shown over and over again that it is a racist league.

You mentioned the segregation that were part of its roots, but also just in current day to have only three black head coaches, to have never had a majority black team owner. I mean, it's been 102 -- or 101 NFL seasons, and they just got their first black team president a couple years ago, who, ironically, is with the Washington Football Team.

So, in message, they sent it strongly. Black people are laborers. They are not leaders. And this is the scary scenario for any person of color, especially for black people, and certainly for those in the LGBT community, is that -- constantly running into people with this mentality who have authority over our lives.

Jon Gruden is able to decide the future of men. He is "leading them" -- quote unquote. And he's in a position where he's interacting with them in a very intimate level. And to now know that this is what he really thought about them, here's what they think about you, it's really a slap in the face on a lot of levels.

And think about it this way. You were talking about Colin Kaepernick. The NFL has basically made it known that there's always going to be a place for Jon Gruden, but not for Colin Kaepernick. That's the message.

REID: Yes. Yes. No, absolutely.

Let me play one more. This is Keyshawn Johnson, who actually played under Gruden on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


KEYSHAWN JOHNSON, FORMER NFL PLAYER: He has just always been a fraud to me, never -- never -- from day one, he's been a used car salesman. And people bought it.


REID: One more.

Let's play Randy Moss, and he's making his comments, and this was on ESPN. Take a look.


RANDY MOSS, FORMER NFL PLAYER: We talk about leadership.

We give guys these big contracts because they want to be able to lead 70 men, coaches, equipment staff and managers. For us to be moving back and not forward in 21st century, like I said, man, National Football League, this hurts me.


REID: You know, Cyd, there is this wokeness debate on the right that says that sort of an old-fashioned style of sort of normative white maleness is being attacked, right, that they don't like the idea that wokeness is sort of taking over the military, taking over sports, and taking over everything.

And now you have the irony that the first out player -- because this is part of it, right, is that we're celebrating that the NFL is like opening its doors and allowing people to be out, because we know there have been other players who have been gay. It's just that this is the first out player. And he plays for this guy, you know?

And that was the reaction behind the scenes, so that the front-facing part of the NFL was saying, yes, you're welcome. This is great, but behind the scenes -- your thoughts?


You talk about this reaction to wokeness in the NFL, and one of the things that I remarked about recently, this afternoon, is, I haven't seen a lot of people come after this decision. I have not seen a lot of people defending Jon Gruden, saying, why did he have to be fired?


I'm not a big fan of firing people for mistakes and for maybe slipping up on language. The issue here was, this was a lengthy pattern that enveloped racism, homophobia, misogyny. And do I think that Jon Gruden disliked the fact that he had a gay man trying to help him win the Super Bowl? No.

But what I have remarked about today is that no one that I have seen, no Twitter users with three followers, I haven't seen anybody come to the defense of this man. And that tells me that people, even people who are against the woke culture, they don't like what they saw, because what they saw was really ugly.

REID: You know, and I think that's a really good point, first of all, that he does show some moving forward, like, societally.

But I wonder inside the NFL, Jemele. I mean, if you just look at the demographics of it, you pointed out that this is a very black league when it comes to the people doing the work and like taking the concussions and getting their heads busted and risking injury as they get older.

But is it the same answer that we see in media and other places, that the answer is actually more diversity, that, as we have more diverse people who are in management, who are in positions of power, that that's actually the change that you need, because you're just always going to have one or two of these Gruden guys?

HILL: That is part of the change that you need. But, structurally in the NFL, it's difficult, because NFL ownership is a club in itself. It's not like it's open to the public and everybody gets to bid on an NFL team.

REID: Yes.

HILL: They hand and preselect the people that they want to be involved. And as long as that's the case, they're going to always pick guys that look like them.

And then you also have legacy families, the Mara family, the Rooneys that own the Steelers. They're going to keep these families -- keep these teams in their families for generations, and they're not giving them up.

So the change in the NFL is slow, and it's not as progressive at some levels. And I guess what's hard for me, what can be somewhat insulting is the politeness and the performativeness in which the NFL wants to treat racism.

I don't care how many times you stencil "End Racism" or "It Takes All of Us" into your end zone, if this is really what's behind the door. I don't care about Jay-Z's Super Bowl halftime show, I mean, because, at the end of the day, no matter how many times that you get Snoop Dogg to perform "Gin and Juice," or how many times you got Mary J. Blige singing, you have a significant problem.

And that's not to denigrate what that means to culture. But it is to say, that's how the NFL has chosen to address these -- very substantive issue, and that is insulting to me.

REID: Yes. It's...

ZEIGLER: Joy, can I add something?

REID: Sure.

ZEIGLER: I think that's a great point.

And you -- Jemele brought up the Maras. And I have said for years that homophobia is going to end in the United States before racism. And the Maras are a great example. John Mara owns the Giants. He has a gay son. He went through his gay son's wedding a week ago.

I think that homophobia is ending in sports before racism. And I know that sounds crazy, but I really think that's where we're headed.

REID: It doesn't. Not in America it doesn't, because, unfortunately, this is our legacy in terms of race. It's still here. It is still here.

Thank you both, Jemele Hill, Cyd Zeigler. You guys are great.

The "Absolute Worst" is next.



REID: While the right has long given up on the idea of being conservative when it comes to fiscal matters or conserving democracy, the one thing they're absolutely obsessed with conserving is anything that historically has been culturally male, Christian, hetero, and white.

I have said it before and I will say it again. It's the culture that they're most angry about losing. That's why whenever anything threatens those old norms, they tend to freak out, even the thing they're freaking out about isn't even real.

Remember when adorable Halle Bailey was cast as the Little Mermaid and it prompted a racist backlash over the Disney princess? Now, keep in mind Ariel is not only a cartoon. Mermaids are mythical creatures with literal fins and fishtails.

And don't forget the meltdowns over black Santa, who, by the way, really is black. And then, of course, Tinky-Winky, the sweet genderless Teletubby, was taken to task for daring to tote a subversive purse as an accessory, a red bag, pretend commie. I bet that TV in your tummy doesn't even get FOX News.

The latest affront to the right is not a bird, not a plane, but, rather, is Superman, a bisexual Superman, not Clark Kent, but, rather, Jon Kent, the son of the perfectly wholesome alien-human hybrid couple Clark Kent and Lois Lane. He tackles climate change and school shootings and will soon begin a romantic relationship with a male friend.

Cue the freak-out, with people on the right claiming a bisexual Superman will destroy America, with one FOX News contributor making this perfectly rational non-histrionic claim.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are they sexualizing superheroes? I was a Batman and a Superman and Spider-Man kid. I loved those heroes.

We just wanted them to get the bad guys, not a venereal disease.


REID: Oh, FOX contributor man, that's not how STDs work.

Meanwhile, the Man of Steel has been reinventing himself for nearly 100 years, his story often tailored to the political and cultural landscape of the times. Superman emerged as America's toughest new superhero in 1938 on the brink of World War II.

He stood to represent America's strength as a superpower, using justice and truth to defeat his enemies, including Nazis, to the point where the Nazis comms guy, Joseph Goebbels, attacked him as probably Jewish.

And here's the kicker. Superman had one weakness, Kryptonite, because he's an alien from outer space. So, while heroism that he has may represent the ideal American way, it's his alter ego, Clark Kent, with all his weaknesses and insecurities, who actually represents the human race, stuck behind rose-colored glasses.

Like Clark Kent, many Americans want to believe that we are still the beacon of democracy, like we have represented ourselves after -- since after World War II, when, in reality, we're barely holding on to our democracy.

And instead of focusing on that problem, the right will continue to obsess over Superman's love life. And so, with so much going on wrong in America today, it comes right back to their Replacement Theory obsession, their belief that anti-woke whiteness, its physical number -- anti-wokeness is coming after whiteness, its numbers, its political power, and it's being -- they are being systematically replaced, this time by a sexual Superman -- by a bisexual Superman.

And because their fears and paranoia jump off the cartoon page and into very real threats to our democracy, making them America's Kryptonite, the fictional character-obsessed, cultural warrior right is tonight's "Absolute Worst."

And that is tonight's REIDOUT.