Welcome back to “The Stakes,” where we’re all wondering if we can escape Earth and live on the new planets that NASA just discovered. Coming up on the show today:
Part 1: Senior national correspondent Jamil Smith talks with Congresswoman Maxine Waters about going viral after 37 years of public service, and why she's no fan of the current administration. (You can check out the full transcript below!)
Part 2: Podcast producer Mukta Mohan reminisces with Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong of GoNightClubbing about the time they spent documenting New York City’s punk and no wave scenes from 1975 to 1980.
All right, so last week when those two stories emerged about contact between Russian intelligence and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, I saw the hashtag #TrumpImpeachmentParty trending on Twitter. And I felt that was a little bit premature for a number of reasons, which we’ll get into. But first of all, that party would probably be at your house. And you would’ve sent the invitations. Congresswoman, how much trouble is America in right now?
Maxine Waters: Well, I think that America is in trouble. This administration is absolutely chaotic. They cannot get it together. Not only did they have the plan to ban travel, and targeting Muslims in certain countries — they’re at each other’s throats in the White House. Americans should be concerned.
You’ve said that you believe that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to interfere in our elections, and that there is more to come. What can Congress do, and what can the American public do?
Waters: I think the intelligence committee of the Senate is going to dig deeper. They’re the ones who are saying, “Protect all of the records, don’t get rid of anything dealing with Russia, etc., etc.” But here’s what makes me optimistic about the possibility. I think that Trump has stepped over the line, colluding with Putin and the Kremlin, and I think that for the very patriotic members of Congress — even the ones that I don’t get along with — they don’t like the fact that he may have been involved in undermining our democracy. That is serious. So if the investigations are done properly, and if they dig deeply, I think that they’re going to understand why Putin loves Trump so much, and why Trump loves Putin so much, and why this president has so many of his associates around him who are involved in oil and gas. McCain went so far as to say that the way that Trump has been treating the media, and saying that the media is the enemy of the people, that’s how you get to dictatorships.
I want to go back to the Women’s March in Washington the day after the inauguration, where you spoke about his Cabinet nominees. One of the most fascinating results of that day may be the thousands of women who have expressed an interest in running for office. What do you think a young woman needs to know about getting started down that path, and about working within the system to change the system?
Waters: Well, first of all, I’m excited about the new involvement and the interest of our millennials. And you’re absolutely right, they’ve started to talk about running for office, and it’s so very possible. I think in order to run for office, just kind of understand what campaigns are all about, and how to choose people who can organize the kind of campaign that will make you successful. Understand what it means to raise money, and know who you want to get money from, and who you don’t want to get money from. Be prepared to spend a lot of energy out walking, knocking on doors, talking to people. And let’s not — and I don’t think they will — get involved in the way campaigns have evolved today, and that is just looking for a consultant to make an image for you, and go up on television. I don’t think they want that. They showed us with Bernie Sanders that they like grassroots politics. And when they came up from the march, all over the country, and all over the world, they’re showing their continued interest. And I am excited about it. I’m excited about the fact that somehow they’ve connected with me, and they’re following me, and they’re tweeting, and retweeting. And they are calling me “Auntie Maxine.” They’re calling me “Queen of Shade,” now, and I’m saying to my grandchildren, “What’s shade?”
I’m glad you’ve got, like, an Urban Dictionary available in the house.
Waters: Yeah, yeah.
Actually, I wanna go a little bit further back. In 1990, you were one of the founding members of African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom. Now what concerns related specifically to reproductive rights do you have with this new administration?
Waters: Well, let me just say I go back really far. I was a part of the women’s movement, and I’m a feminist. So I’ve been involved with reproductive rights and freedom of choice for a long time, working with Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug, Patsy Mink, all of the women who were in the forefront of the women’s movement. And we have to fight very hard because this issue is one that has been on the right-wing Republican agenda for many years, and they’ve tried everything that they possibly can to get rid of systems that support women. They want to get rid of Planned Parenthood, and Planned Parenthood does not even [just] do abortions. As a matter of fact, they are involved with dealing with women’s health issues of all kinds.
“We have to fight very hard because this issue is one that has been on the right-wing Republican agenda for many years, and they’ve tried everything that they possibly can to get rid of systems that support women.”
Now, I can’t help but ask you about the president’s press conference last week, and the interaction that he had with White House correspondent April Ryan, who, like us, is black. [He asked] if they’re “friends of yours,” of the Congressional Black Caucus, what have you. I found that moment revealing in a number of ways. What did you see there?
Waters: Well, you know, it was absolutely inappropriate. You know what it reminded me of? “All you people know each other! Just go over there and get them together for me.” [He] did not respect the fact that she was a professional journalist, did not respect the fact that we don’t all know each other. That was inappropriate for him to even ask her to do that. As a matter of fact, if he wanted someone to talk with the Black Caucus, to get them together, his office should be organized. That’s somebody’s responsibility to do that, but he doesn’t know enough.
Congresswoman, I know you’ve said that you’re not interested in meeting with President Trump, or Steve Bannon, or the rest of the gang, because why bother meeting with people who disrespect you? With that in mind, if that meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus does happen, would you attend?
Waters: No. I’m not going to meet with Donald Trump, I’m not going to the State of the Union address. I did not go to the inauguration, and for our leader Cedric Richmond, who will meet with him and some of the others, that’s OK. That’s fine. I have chosen to manage my life in a certain way, and I do everything that I can to respect people, to honor other folks. [Trump] has shown us that he respects nobody. So why would I meet with someone I don’t trust? I don’t respect him. I don’t believe anything that he says. He’s one of the biggest liars that I’ve ever seen in my life, and I see no reason to sit down with him. Every time he talks about wanting to do something for the black community, he throws Chicago in your face, and talks about how Rahm Emanuel is not doing anything in Chicago. How he’s gonna go in there, and he’s gonna clean it all up. Yeah, just like he’s gonna build a wall. Right.
We’re approaching the 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots, and it gets me thinking about what this law-and-order America that Trump is promising would actually look like.
Waters: Well, I think everybody can agree that we have had serious problems. Whether you’re talking about what happened with many of the young black males who, unarmed, were killed, we have problems that we have to deal with. What bothers me about Jeff Sessions is that he does not believe that the federal government should interfere with or bother with local police jurisdictions. That’s bothersome. As you know, because the Obama administration went into Ferguson, they were able to determine that people had been treated unfairly with the way that they gave out warrants and tickets, and all of those little towns leading out of St. Louis, Missouri. I know those towns — I’m from Kenlock, one of those towns. And I know that they would call ahead, and they’d ticket them in one town, and the police would be waiting for them in the next town to ticket them. The warrants would pile up, then they’d go to jail. This has been going on for a long time. Then you have police departments where you actually have racism, and you have discrimination. Jeff Sessions does not want to get involved with that, thinks that the federal government has no role with that, and that really does bother me. But we’ve all got to work to deal with this issue. I am absolutely opposed to these young men and women who are being killed, who are unarmed, being stopped by police for no real reason at all. To have a broken taillight is not a reason to get shot and killed. I think we have a lot of work to do. And of course, I don’t want to see police officers get killed either. But I think unless we resolve the relationships and problems that have probably been around for far too long, we’re going to continue to see the loss of life on both sides.
We’re talking on Tuesday, February 21, hours after President Trump took a tour of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, and then talked about uniting the country. I’ll just say clearly that it’s impossible for me to take him seriously. But aside from, say, resigning, what are some real steps that this president needs to take to address the concerns of black citizens?
Waters: Well, first of all, I think that he cannot be taken seriously. He had some kind of a meeting that was supposed to be about black history a few weeks ago, and it seems that he thought Frederick Douglass was still alive, and said he was doing a good job. He didn’t even take the time to read his notes. I don’t take him seriously when he talks about wanting to do things for the black community. As I see it, actions speak louder than words. Stop saying what you’re gonna do, and do it. He came out with executive orders when he first went into the White House. Where are his executive orders doing something for the minority communities that should be done? I don’t believe him, and I think he just throws out things, and tweets things without having any real thought behind it.
“I don’t take him seriously when he talks about wanting to do things for the black community. As I see it, actions speak louder than words. Stop saying what you’re gonna do, and do it.”
Press Secretary Sean Spicer referred to your harsh criticism of the president and your talk of impeachment as “a little political stunt.” Conservative media describes your outspokenness as “a meltdown.” First, how do you respond to what the press secretary said?
Waters: Well, I don’t really respond to him. First of all, I think Melissa [McCarthy] on Saturday Night Live told us who he was. She captured him perfectly. Nobody pays attention to him, he’s not taken seriously. And I even know that the president was not too happy with him, so I don’t know how long he’ll be around. I don’t respond to them. I continue to do what I do. They don’t like it because I step outside of the ordinary politics and I say what I believe, and what I think, and I do believe that if we do our investigations, it’s going to lead to this man’s impeachment. I don’t say that you can just willy-nilly impeach him without having the facts. I know that you have to have the documentation, you have to have the facts, but it’s there. To me, all you have to do is connect these dots and follow the money, and we’ll get him.
Now, with regards to the meltdown stuff, it plays into this stereotype of the angry black woman. I just wanted to know, when are we just going to be able to be mad in public, as black folks?
Waters: I don’t know, because I ignore that. [T]hink about how well-behaved Obama and Michelle Obama were, and they attacked her. They called her an angry black woman simply because she said for the first time [that] she really felt good about her country. Here you have Donald Trump, who trashes this country and talks about how it’s falling apart, it’s no good, everything is broken to him. So I don’t pay attention to them. I know who I am, I’m free to be me, and I don’t let anybody take that away from me. I’m not intimidated by him, and I’m not going to stop being me because [of] criticism by some right-wing conservatives who don’t care about anybody, and they’re willing to bring this country down so that they can do what they think they can do. And that is be in charge and run it, and keep their feet on everybody else’s necks. So I don’t worry about it.
Now, speaking truth to power has been a hallmark of your career for a long time, congresswoman. And now I feel a bit that your voice is sounding loudest because it is so alone. Why aren’t more Democrats talking about impeachment in the way that you are?
Waters: Well, I think people are very cautious, and I do know I tend to step outside of the box. You’re right, I’ve been doing this for years in different ways. I simply do what I think is right, and I’m anchored in a basic philosophy that cares about people, and believes that we have a responsibility to the least of these. I act on that, and that’s who I am and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.
What advice do you have for young people who want to resist Trump? Especially for listeners who don’t live in big cities, or cities that aren’t Los Angeles or New York City.
Waters: Here’s what I think. The Democrats have a responsibility, in all of this protesting, to educate and point out the contradictions, to help people understand who he is and what he’s all about, and show them how he’s misled them. Already we have signs of that. The farmers in California said, “We never thought that he was going to do those deportations. What are we gonna do about these crops that we have to turn out?” And then up in the coal mining country, people are just now realizing that it’s because of Obamacare that black lung disease is being taken care of. These preexisting conditions. So I think little by little, some people are going to come to the realization that this is not the person that they want for the president of the United States. Others are going to increasingly get embarrassed by him. The president of the United States usually, Democrat or Republican, is held in high regard all over the world, and for this president to be disinvited even before his 100 days are up should tell you an awful lot. I have confidence that [the young people] are going to, for the most part, see and understand. I think they’re going to pay attention to politics in a greater way, greater than they’ve ever done before. And I am convinced that in the final analysis, his hardcore supporters are going to be small in numbers. It’s going to be like the election. You know, if the popular vote had decided who the winner would be, it would be Hillary Clinton. Don’t forget that she had the popular vote. So I’m very optimistic about young people, about organizing, and about helping this president to be impeached.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, thank you very much for joining us.
Waters: Thank you, thank you.