EPISODE 1: ELLEN
Transcribed by Marisa Kennedy and Samia Mounts
SAMIA VO: This is Make America Relate Again. I’m Samia Mounts.
We’re all painfully aware of the intense political polarization in the US, yeah? I voted for Hillary Clinton. I live in a coastal city - New York, to be exact. I’ve held liberal politics close to my bleeding heart since I was old enough to know what socialism was. I’m like, hell yeah, health care is a basic human right. Tax the rich, maximum income limitS, money isn’t even real so let’s not let poor people suffer when we have all the resources to take care of everyone. So that’s me.
On this podcast, I sit down with women who voted for Donald Trump, and have compassionate, respectful political conversations with the goal of greater mutual understanding - not of changing each other’s minds.
A little more about me. I’m your average New York City Freelance Hustle-Bitch. I sing, I act, I write, I conduct scotch and wine tastings - basically whatever I can get people to pay me to do that doesn’t feel like work.
I grew up on a military base in Seoul, Korea, the daughter of an Air Force JAG lawyer and a teacher turned educational administrator. I was always encouraged to be independent, to think for myself, to question conventions - and I questioned everything, especially the conservative politics I saw all around me on the base. As a teenager, I got petitioned by the church parents (they were all church parents on this base) for trying to put on a production of Rent. They were morally opposed to showing a drag queen falling in love on stage, but they were totally okay with football players dressing as cheerleaders and performing highly sexualized routines for pep rallies.
Now, as an adult who is almost a decade into living in one of the most liberal cities in America, my opinions are fully formed and love to make themselves known.
So, needless to say, the 2016 election threw me for a loop. I mean, nobody was expecting it to turn out the way it did, and I was definitely one of those liberal snowflakes crying Chuck Schumer’s tears over the whole mess. I was devastated. Just so angry and filled with resentment, which was largely directed at the people who voted for Trump. I mean, they got us into this mess. Like most liberals, I couldn’t even begin to wrap my brain around why anyone would vote for someone who seemed so obviously unfit for the job. I really didn’t get why so many women voted for him. I was depressed for months over it. So sad. Bitter. Dragging through NYC in the wintertime wondering if maybe I’d be better off living on an island somewhere, far away from this country’s fucked up politics.
The emotional devastation was really damaging to my psyche, and around mid-December, I started looking for ways to stop feeling so terrible all the time. And that’s when I first came up with the idea for this podcast - since I couldn’t understand why anyone, especially women, would vote for Trump, maybe I should ask the people who did. Why not seek out lady Trump voters and ask them to talk to me about politics? What could possibly go wrong?
Why speak only to women? Well, the original reason was that I find it easier to communicate with women than men. When talking to men who disagree with me, I get frustrated easily. Men can make me lose my cool in a way that women just don’t. Men who are speaking to women too often fall back on a patronizing kind of skepticism of everything we say, and that awakens my ire more effectively than Donald Trump’s comments about what women will let him do to their pussies.
So here we are. Episode 1. This episode features my very first interview - which PS had me sweating and nervous like you would not believe - with a woman we’ll call Ellen. Ellen requested that she remain anonymous because one of her adult children has refused to speak to her since the election because of the way she voted, and she doesn’t want to further deepen the rift. She’s a 70-something retiree who splits her time between Florida and her home state of Michigan. She and her husband have been married for over 50 years. I visited her in her winter home in Florida on January 29, 2017.
A few disclaimers before we get going. If you’re a liberal, there will be times in this conversation when you’ll want to scream at me for not fighting harder, arguing more intensely, and reacting with more outrage. I want you to know I understand how you feel - but the point of this podcast is not to argue (although we do quite a bit). The point is to build relationships, to understand, to create meaningful dialogue. There are times when I wanted to say more, but realized the futility of it and moved on to the next subject instead.
If you are a conservative, you will probably hate everything that I say in this conversation, and you have every right to feel that way. But I want you to know that I respect you and your feelings on things, and that if given the chance to have a conversation one on one with you, whoever you are, I would hear you out, as I hope you will do for me when you’re listening to the show.
There are also times when both me and Ellen both say things that are misleading, not entirely true, or just plain wrong. Hey, we’re not experts, that’s not what this show is. However, since I do love me some facts - and not the alternative kind - I’ve written up some pretty killer show notes that you can find on the show website, www.makeamericarelatepodcast.com. The show notes address every claim that is made during the conversation, and either clarify, verify, or debunk those claims - with linked sources, of course. They represent my best attempt at gathering the full, balanced truth on every issue discussed in this episode.
A bit of a trigger warning here - the bulk of our conversation has to do with Islamophobia, a topic that has become a major part of the national conversation these days. Since Trump’s election, hate crimes, especially those directed toward Muslims, have been on the rise. On Friday May 26, a man fatally stabbed two passengers on a Portland, Oregon, commuter train, because they tried to stop him from hurling anti-Muslim insults at two young women. A third man was also stabbed and received treatment for serious injuries. The attacker himself was a white man by the name of Jeremy Joseph Christian. The stabbings happening in the middle of a crowded commuter train at 4:30 in the afternoon. Just brazen displays of hate happening in our country, and this isn’t the only example, it’s just the most recent one. In light of these horrific events, the subject matter of this episode takes on a heartbreaking new meaning. Dispelling negative stereotypes about Islam and people who identify as Muslim as become paramount in today’s age.
Lastly, I’ve edited the full conversation to avoid redundancies, but I was very careful not to alter the context or meaning.
Okay, let’s get to the interview.
CHAPTER 1: INTROS
S: Okay, Ellen, first of all, thank you so much for speaking with me today.
E: You’re welcome, I’m glad I’m able to accommodate you.
S: Awesome, so tell me and the listeners a little bit about your background, your political history, just a little bit about what’s formed your opinions in the present.
E: Well, I grew up in a large, industrial Midwestern city, in the city, and came from a very working class family, very strongly Democratic, both because of the working class and also part of a large group of religious people who always voted Democratic as a block. And there was just no question in my mind that I was a Democrat. And then as I got older, I – coming into my first Presidential election, actually – I had some second thoughts about what was going on, and probably, maybe just as a young person to be a little bit ornery, I voted my very first Presidential election, which was Barry Goldwater and – who’d he run against, I forgot who he ran against, who won – I voted for Barry Goldwater. And if you ask me now why I voted for Barry Goldwater, I think I thought that he wasn’t being treated fairly by the media and I wanted to support that. Then I went back to being probably a – I voted who – for candidates, I didn’t vote party line. For many, many elections, I voted for who I thought was the better candidate, what the better platform was. But the older I’ve gotten, the more conservative I’ve gotten. And the more I’m, I guess I really want to have America be great again. The America that I knew many years ago where we were a respected country in the world and I felt good about it, and people didn’t desecrate the flag, and it was just – people were proud to serve in the armed forces and there was a feeling of pride of being an American. And I see this just disappearing, and the more it disappears, the more I want to vote against it.
S: Okay, thank you for sharing all of that. So the first question I have for you, something I’d really like to understand the conservative perspective on, or somebody who voted for Trump, their perspective on, is what were the things that you feared during the election if your candidate didn’t win?
E: I really did not trust Hillary for multiple reasons. I can’t comment exactly on the email scandal, but it certainly was out there. I really never forgave her for the Benghazi episode, I thought that was dreadful. I thought the Clinton Foundation was just a big scam, and I thought that she was just gonna continue Obama’s policies, which I, for the most part, did not like.
S: Okay, so you mentioned the emails, you mentioned Benghazi, and the Clinton Foundation.
S: As you know, none of the investigations into any of those incidents turned up any clear evidence of wrongdoing on Hillary Clinton’s part. Can you tell me why you still didn’t trust her even though there was never any evidence of wrongdoing in those three situations in particular?
E: Partly, I think that, you know, undoubtedly, there’s a connection that people make to her opposing a candidate – I just felt that her smugness, I thought a lot – I really, really resented the media’s approach to the “fact” that she was elected. Was sort of like the media elects the President and they were all so pro–Hillary, other than Fox News, and so anti-Trump, that that angered me. So that would have been a reason I would not have wanted to vote for her. I just felt that it was, the playing field was too uneven. And – and yeah, I, I mean, I really, I was not for the Obamacare. I think there’s a need for a better medical system. I do not think Obamacare was it, and I didn’t really want to see more of the same. I guess I really didn’t want to see more of the same on most levels. And I found it very interesting – maybe this should be a question for you – shall we wait on that one and I’ll get back to you on it?
S: Let’s let this be organic. Go ahead, if a question comes up, let’s switch–
CHAPTER 2: BERNIE SANDERS
E: Okay, I found it very interesting that so many of the younger citizens were very pro-Bernie. I did not really support Bernie, but I like Bernie much better than I liked Hillary. I mean I could’ve – I could’ve come over to Bernie maybe, but, you know, possibly. But then when the Democrats basically knocked him out of the race, which I, you know, they, it was like Hillary was going to be their candidate, and just the way they knocked her out for Obama, they knocked him out for Hillary. I was very surprised that so many of the ardent Bernie supporters just switched over to Hillary. You know, if you really love Bernie, and here the Demo– you know, the party just knocks him right out, I would’ve, I didn’t see them voting for Trump, but I would’ve thought that they might’ve been more supportive of a third party candidate or almost anything else. I was very surprised that they – you know, as soon as he was knocked out, she was their candidate.
S: Was there a question in there for me?
E: Oh, oh yeah, the question was what’s your take on that?
S: Well, Bernie Sanders represented a true revolution for a lot of people. He was the guy who was willing to say what nobody else in liberal politics was willing to say. Whereas Hillary Clinton, who was very establishment and has been fighting sexism her entire career, which Bernie Sanders hasn’t – she was much more inclined to take a middle-of-the-road, moderate approach to being a liberal, which frankly seemed to piss off a lot of the people on the left who really, really want things to change. It’s crazy to me that so many people who supported Bernie Sanders so fervently then switched their votes to Donald Trump when he didn’t become the Democratic candidate, because what Donald Trump stands for is directly opposed to everything Bernie Sanders stood for. Which is why there’s been a lot of speculation on my side of things, and for me personally, that the fact that Hillary is a woman came into play here. Because it doesn’t make sense, politically speaking, if you agree with Bernie Sanders’s policies – Hillary Clinton is much more in line with him. And he kind of forced her to be more left than she was, I think, originally planning to be, throughout the Democratic primary. Hillary Clinton was the obvious choice for people who support Bernie Sanders, but a lot of them – and we talk about Bernie Bros – a lot of the white men who supported Bernie switched over to Donald Trump or one of the third party candidates instead of voting for Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t really make sense to me why.
E: My take on that might be – you know, we’ll never know because you don’t know what was in the people’s heads – but – that they were just really very annoyed with the Democratic Party for doing that and just weren’t gonna vote Democratic to support the party for really, you know, knocking Bernie out. That might be a possible.
S: It’s possible, but as you said a moment ago, the DNC did the same exact thing in 2008 where they favored Barack Obama and they changed the rules to allow him to win the primary over Hillary Clinton, and there wasn’t this kind of backlash from people who supported Hillary Clinton. And I honestly think Hillary has had to fight the glass ceiling her entire career, and I think that a lot of people distrust her purely because she’s a woman. There’s nothing she’s done that every male politician hasn’t done, and there’s certainly nothing about her that is less trustworthy than Donald Trump. I mean, if you take a look at his business record, his dealings, the way he’s treated independent contractors who’ve done work for him and then he doesn’t pay them – he’s done a lot of things. The Trump Foundation has actually admitted to self-dealing and been found guilty of it, and there’s been evidence of that where’s there’s been no evidence of such activity on the part of the Clinton Foundation, but these are things that get ignored. The fingers get pointed at Hillary Clinton, and for the same exact thing, with more evidence for actual wrongdoing, no fingers are pointed at Donald Trump from the people who’ve supported him, so–
E: I think that’s reasonable because if you support somebody, you’re not looking for what’s wrong with them, you’re looking for what’s right with them, you’re looking for what’s wrong with their opponent. So we’re seeing this again and again and again.
CHAPTER 3: REFUGEES + SHARIA LAW
S: So I’ve got a question for you.
S: If you took out – if you decided to table the emails and Benghazi and the Clinton Foundation, these issues where there have been great investigations at great taxpayer cost, especially in the case of the Benghazi investigation, and then absolutely no evidence of any wrongdoing or culpability on the part of Hillary Clinton has surfaced – if you take those and put them on the table, and you just look at policies, would you say that you could really just say it was the policies that you were against?
E: I would say the policies were probably 75% of my decision.
S: Okay, great, so I’d like to talk about that. What were the main policies that Hillary Clinton campaigned on that you were against? I know you already said the Affordable Care Act was something that you’re very against, so I’d love to hear more about why you’re against that and any other issues that you were really opposed to.
E: That one just comes right out at me. The other ones were probably so secondary. The other ones were probably the other things I mentioned, the distrust, the fact that I really, you know, I mean, you know, Trump kept calling her a liar and I just kept feeling that he was using the right word. I just – I felt that she just didn’t – was not trustworthy at all, and I did not believe that she do would what she said. I wasn’t sure what she would do, I just, you know, I – a lot of it was just gut. I just did not trust her, like her, and I didn’t really – oh and the other thing I really probably object to, which I’m sure will come up, was the Refugee Resettlement Program – I think that’s what it’s called, I’m not sure of the exact buzzword for it – where they were pledged to bring in, I forgot, this huge number of Syrian refugees and settle them in settlements, basically, at taxpayers’ expense. And I read that act and I was – apparently it was an act that had been available for many years, nobody had used it – it was outrageous how long they were going to support them. I said, well that’s really not where I want my money going. I mean, I’m really America for Americans, is really where I’m at, and that was really a big negative to me.
S: Okay, I wanna get back to healthcare, but let’s talk about the refugee crisis right now, because that’s timely and as of this recording, Trump has just signed an executive order banning all refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-dominant countries, including Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Syria, and Somalia, prompting great outrage from people on the left – legislators and citizens – many, many protests, I’m sure you’ve been reading about them.
S: And I know you come from Detroit.
S: Which has one of the largest Muslim populations in the country.
E: I think it’s the largest.
S: I think it might be, I think you’re right. And you are Jewish.
S: Alright, so my first question on this – something that I’ve been reading a lot about the last few days – are you aware that our country’s immigration and refugee acceptance policies are based on what happened in World War II with Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany?
E: I don’t know if they’re based on that, I mean, we’ve had refugee issues for centuries.
S: If you look at the historical record, our current immigration and refugee acceptance policy was passed into law immediately after World War II, and it was because of widespread national shame at the fact that we rejected hundreds, thousands of Jewish refugees. I mean, we literally turned ships around filled with hundreds of Jewish refugees and sent them back to almost certain death. The moral failing on the part of our country prompted widespread shame, and Congress passed what is our current immigration and refugee policy, which is to welcome refugees, especially when they’re fleeing war-torn countries where sending them back is almost a death sentence. That’s what it’s based on, so as a Jewish woman, is there any part of you that feels like it might be morally wrong to turn people away who are running away from death and violence, who are trying to save their families?
E: My feeling on this is very clear – not all Muslims are terrorists, but almost all terrorists are Muslims. And I really I feel that, you know, if we don’t know who we’re letting into this country, I don’t want them to. I mean, you know, there was times in early, the early part of the 1900s when people would come to this country, and they had eye problems – trichinosis I believe it was – where it was a disease that could spread, and these poor immigrants would come for days in steerage in ships, and be sent back because they were a threat to our country. And that was just a disease threat. I’m very concerned about the ISIS issues. I’m very concerned about the premise of spreading Sharia law, and I really feel that unless we know that these people are really okay, and I’m sure there’s millions of people who are. In addition to which, how much tax liability to feed and clothe and nourish and take care of, give jobs and so forth, to these refugees are the American people supposed to undertake? Look at Germany. I mean, they have – very generous until, all of a sudden, things aren’t working out so well. So yeah, I think very honestly maybe coming from Detroit really alters my thinking to some extent. But I, you know—
S: Well how did the Muslim population of Detroit negatively affect you in your life, personally?
E: Personally? When I go to certain areas of that — my city, that are heavily populated by Muslims, I feel like I’m not in America anymore. I mean, just going through Walmart, an American institution, in the city of Dearborn, Michigan, you — you know, dress code, that may be their religious thing, the fact that they don’t speak English, many of them don’t try to speak English, They really have a whole sub-civilization. They’re not really interested in integrating into — to be Americans. They are — they have the Muslims in their own community. By contrast, there’s a large community of Caldeans, which many people don’t even know about. Caldeans are Christian Arabs from Iraq, I believe, who have been persecuted for many years. I mean, were, you know, cheering when Saddam Hussein went down. And this population is very integrated. They’re neighbors of mine. They come, they work hard, they wanna be Americans, and they want very much to make sure that you don’t identify them with the Muslim community because they are Arabs, and they really don’t want to be connected. And I, so I see two distinctly different Arab groups, that I — one that I fear and the other one that I respect.
S: Why do you fear Muslim Arabs?
E: Because I really fear the spread of Sharia law. I think it’s very scary.
SAMIA VO: I have to interject here. A lot of people seem to be really scared of Sharia law, and I think it’s important to clarify exactly what it is. Sharia law is, at its core, a set of guiding principles that Muslims use to govern their personal conduct. It’s not directly derived from the Quran, but rather it’s an interpretation of parts of the Quran and other ancient Islamic texts. And like any interpretation, it’s subject to many different re-interpretations. It’s meant to allow Muslims to lead morally centered lives, similar to the Ten Commandments and all the rules and laws laid out in the Bible for Christians. There are parts of Sharia law that can be interpreted as violent and backwards, just as there are archaic, barbaric rules written out in the Bible. While some extremist regimes and groups use an extreme interpretation of Sharia law in their legal systems, the majority of modern Muslims in developed countries reject, or have reinterpreted, the parts of it that would violate modern values concerning human rights. Ellen thinks Sharia law involves ONLY things like honor killings of women who look at the wrong guy. I can understand why she would be scared with that as her definition. But this is too important a point to let go by – Sharia law is nothing to be feared, and there’s no danger of it replacing our own laws in the US. Islam is a religion that preaches compassion, helping others, and being good to people above all. The most widely accepted modern interpretation of the Quran and Sharia law focuses on helping others and avoiding violence at all costs. Here are the words of the prophet Muhammed, according to the Quran: “What actions are most excellent? To gladden the heart of human beings, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, and to remove the sufferings of the injured.” If you want more info on this complex subject, there’s a great article from Slate that I’ve linked to in the show notes at makeamericarelatepodcast.com. It explains why associating violence with Islam is just plain wrong, and I really recommend you go check it out. I mean, did you know that Muslim-majority countries actually have a MUCH lower homicide rate than Western countries? And that something like a quarter of the people in the world identify as Muslim? It’s the second largest religion globally. When you compare the numbers of Muslims worldwide with the numbers of extremist terrorists, it becomes painfully obvious that judging the whole religion on the actions of these small, violent groups makes no sense whatsoever. Alright, now that we’ve clarified, back to the interview.
S: What kind of personal interactions have you had with a Muslim person or group that has convinced you that they are to be feared? Personally.
E: Okay, well, since I don’t really interact too often with the Muslim community to begin with — to say that they don’t practice Sharia law is naive. Possibly people who aren’t part of a large Muslim community don’t, but in the city of Dearborn, it is quietly practiced, and—
S: And can you describe to me what Sharia Law is?
E: Well, do you know what — what do you know about Sharia law?
S: I know that a lot of people talk about being scared of it, but I’d like for the listeners to go ahead and, for you to go ahead and describe what it is.
E: Well, I am no expert on it, for sure, but it’s a very — first of all, women are basically — have no rights, they’re really chattel. There’s these issues of honor killings, where if a sister does something which is not part, you know, not appropriate, supposedly — looks at a man, somebody else outside the community, or— I can’t speak exactly on what Sharia law would do, but there, they, a brother might kill her, and this is done quietly, I mean, you know, there, we — people who live near there are aware it happens but the police don’t deal with it, because it’s too — it’s their own little world, and the part — I mean, that’s fine, if that’s their world, that’s their culture, I’m fine with it. But they do — the goal of ISIS and so forth is to take over, is to, that the infidels should all be under the same law, and that’s what a true observant Muslim would want is for this whole country to be under Sharia law. That’s the way I see it, and I find this to be very frightening and certainly nothing that I — I mean, there are many religious groups in this country who practice various different types of, I would call it orthodox religions or highly observant religions, but they’re not — they don’t proselytize, they’re not necessarily trying to convert everybody else to their religion, so—
S: [laughing] Christians aren’t trying to convert everybody to their religion?
E: Well, some aren’t, some aren’t, okay, Jews don’t.
S: Jews don’t. Jews are great about that.
E: Jews don’t. Right, they don’t, so—
S: Alright, I have so much more I wanna ask you, but it’s — I have to turn it over. I’m so sorry, I asked a lot more questions than I was supposed to, so go ahead.
CHAPTER 4: BLACK LIVES MATTER + RIOTS
E: Okay, alright, okay, so one of my questions: do you think the Black Lives Matter movement has benefitted or been detrimental to its cause?
S: That’s a great question. I think that it, so far, has been beneficial to its cause. And the reason I think that is because at no point in my lifetime have so many people been speaking bluntly and honestly about the real issues facing black Americans in modern society. We went through the civil rights battle before I was alive — you were alive, and I so would love to pick your brain about that — and even after, I mean, when you look at black Americans throughout the history of this country, it’s been a nonstop struggle. I mean, after slaves were freed, the slave–owning states found lots of ways to keep black Americans in slavery. After civil rights battles resulted in a little bit more equality, states with, you know, strong racist ideologies found ways of keeping things — keeping life harder for black people. There is still a lot of discrimination, a lot of racism, and I know that this is true in the lives of everyday Americans because I have a lot of black people in my social circles. I live in New York City. We’re incredibly diverse. And I have friends of every ethnicity and religion and background that you can imagine, and one thing that all the black people I’ve ever talked to about this agree on is that you can’t understand what it’s like to walk around with black or brown skin if you haven’t done it. It affects every moment of every day, every interaction. Going into the store to get coffee, going to run errands, walking down the street. A lot of black bloggers and activists were chastising the people at the Women’s March on Washington — which I was one of them — for bragging about how there was no violence, no arrests. It was completely peaceful, even though there were record numbers and more than the March had planned on accommodating — there was still no violence. I personally was bragging about that after the Women’s March, as a badge of honor — look what we did. And then these black bloggers and activists started saying, “You guys, if it was a protest of only black women, I guarantee you there would’ve been riot police, and there would’ve been tear gas, and there would’ve been violence, and there would’ve been arrests. The only reason that there wasn’t is because most of that crowd was white, and they wouldn’t do that to white women.” And I have to say, looking at protests that have happened in the last year, every single protest that was predominantly black people protesting — they weren’t peaceful. And you see photos of protestors standing there, unarmed, peacefully, while armed riot police charge towards them. I mean, there’s a very famous photo of a female black activist at a protest that was just a few months ago, getting charged at by riot police, and she’s just standing there with her hands out, her palms facing them, just standing still, quiet.
E: But what about—
S: It’s a very different America.
E: But what about the destruction like Ferguson — I mean, for no reason they destroy — even in Oakland, after the election, in Oakland, California, after the election, they were — destructive rioting, tore apart stores, and you know, just destruction for no sensible reason, to destroy—
S: I’ve seen riots executed by predominantly black people that were for a reason, they were in response to massive injustices—
E: But does—
S: —and there’ve been riots executed by predominantly white crowds over football games.
E: But does it justify — if there’s injustice, does it justify tearing apart somebody’s store, that’s their livelihood? I, you know—
S: Certainly not, but the activists behind Black Lives Matter did not condone violent protests against the injustices of the Michael Brown shooting, for example, in Ferguson. The Black Lives Matter activists are very much about peaceful protests, about using the legal system to fight injustice. They never once condoned violence. They’ve always preached the same thing that civil rights activists throughout history have preached, which is that we have power in the fact that we’re on the side of good, we’re on the side of equality, and we are not gonna sink to that level and we are not gonna be violent. And when those violent protests break out, they don’t endorse it. So I don’t think that you can connect the two, but I do think that there’s good reason to look at what prompts such explosions of anger. I don’t personally think it’s ever good to riot and loot and to set cars on fire, but these things do happen. The fact of the matter is they’ve happened over things as meaningless and petty as sports games. So I think it’s unfair, really, to judge the entire black community and to judge the Black Lives Matter movement, over a riot that occurred over something that was actually an injustice, when you’ve got riots occurring — executed by people of other ethnicities including lots of white people, over things that mean nothing, that have no importance whatsoever in the grand scheme of things.
E: But if you wanna understand where a Trump voter might be looking at, they’re looking at this and saying, “We didn’t use to have these kind of riots in our country.” We didn’t. I mean, I — this is a new thing, it’s like everything’s a riot, everything’s a demonstration, everything’s a riot. And we want — we’d like our old country back, and that’s one of the big things that a lot of people that oppose the whole racial equality — they don’t necessarily oppose racial equality, but they oppose these acts of violence and, you know, random lawlessness. Lawlessness, is what—
S: But why is there a double standard? Why is it lawlessness and a sign of our society deteriorating because black people occasionally have rioted against massive injustice—
E: Oh, well they—
S: —but it’s totally fine for white people to do the same thing over a sports event?
E: No, they don’t think it’s fine for that, either. I mean, they—
S: But there’s no discussion of that, do you see what I mean? It’s always a focus on this one ethnic group, and they’re actually angry for good reasons.
E: Well, whatever it is, okay, that you can decide if they’re angry for a reason or whatever, but the end result is they see television footage of people, you know, acting just violent and angry and destroying things that belong to other people who are, who maybe are, you know, they could be owning the store that sells — that serves the black community. So people look at that and say, “This has to stop.” I mean, this is not — this is not the America that I want.
S: And black America is saying it has to stop that you can’t walk down the street without getting questioned by a police officer. You know, black America is saying why is it that so many young black men are getting shot when they’re not armed and when they’re not actually even doing anything?
E: Well, part of it is I think that this whole behavior of the rioting makes everybody edgy, and—
S: But the rioting was in response to that.
E: Well, it’s a vicious cycle. The rioting is a response to that, and the response to the rioting is more of the same.
E: Okay, let me ask you another question.
S: Alright, alright.
CHAPTER 5: LIBERAL BY ASSOCIATION? + THE WOMEN’S MARCH
E: Alright, okay. One of my questions, I think you answered — I said, do you think that your liberalism was greatly in response to the people you associate with? And I — you know, you said you live in New York and you have a lot of multicultural friends and that’s — which, I think, you know, is obviously clear. I mean, as we looked at who voted where, when we looked at the coasts, they were all Hillary, and we looked at the middle of the country, it was all Trump. Because people do tend to be influenced by the people they associate with, for the most part, there’s always the odd person. Do you feel that your associations encouraged your liberalism?
S: I have been liberal politically since I was in high school. I have always thought that it was unfair that certain groups of people were denied the same rights and privileges as other groups of people based solely on ethnic background, economic background, gender, and sexual orientation. I’ve always felt that it was important for all humans to recognize that we’re all the same. We all deserve basic human rights, and my idea of what basic human rights are, you know, is very much reflective of what’s in our Constitution. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I believe everybody has the right to live a happy, safe, secure life. Health care, ability to get a job, ability to get an education. I think that there should be equal footing for all people. And I’ve seen my entire life that people who come from a wealthier economic background have a great advantage, and people who have white skin have a great advantage, and people who are heteronormative have a great advantage.
E: Okay, well, one of the things that I found very interesting in the Women’s March is the fact that it was all about women in America. I mean, there’s so much human abuse, you know, humanitarian abuse of women around the world, of — it makes the American women in their — in their abuse situation look, you know, they would trade places in a minute as they walk through, you know, I mean…the honor killings, the fact that they’re basically slaves, I mean, there’s so much, so much human abuse going on around the world. I found it very interesting that that wasn’t part of this Women’s March at all. I mean, it seemed like if you were gonna march for causes, that would’ve been a much more exciting, more appropriate cause than somebody who thinks they’re not gonna get the best job or is worried about whatever…you know, taking a warm shower, having a good breakfast and going out to march and meet your friends — it didn’t do it for me. I mean, if I had seen somebody marching for really underprivileged, abused women around the world, I would’ve really connected with that. What people were marching for just didn’t connect to me.
S: Are you asking me why women felt the need to march on Washington?
E: No, I’m asking you why you think that human rights weren’t even a part of this march?
S: Well, the March on Washington was in direct protest to the election and inauguration of Donald Trump.
E: Right, okay.
S: This march wasn’t designed to be a protest against international human rights violations against women. This March was a protest against this president, who has spoken really, really offensively and derogatorily towards women his entire career, and still somehow managed to secure 52% of the white female vote in this country — 52 or 53%. American women, I feel, have really set an example to the rest of the world, along with, you know, many of the more advanced Western countries, as far as feminism and the feminist movement. Like, we — you’re right — we have secured rights and a kind of — something closer to equality — more so than most countries. And certainly more so than a lot of countries in the Middle East or in Asia, where I grew up.
S: We’ve done really well. So yeah, I agree with you that there are women out there who have it much worse than we do, but this march was in protest against Donald Trump and the way he’s spoken about women, because it reinforces a kind of constant, underlying sexism that has dominated this country’s gender relations for the entirety of its existence and that the feminist movement has been fighting against. The way he spoke about Hillary Clinton was very gendered. The way he’s invested and sort of luxuriated in his beauty pageants. The way he paraded around that poor Miss Universe winner when she gained 15 pounds or whatever, and like had to tell the media that she was working out to lose that weight because this was such a disgrace, that this poor woman like, gained a few pounds and still looked beautiful, by the way. The way he has humiliated female contestants on his show The Apprentice by asking the male contestants whether or not they would fuck her. The way he bragged to the Access Hollywood host about how you can grab women by the pussy and they’ll let you because you’re a star. That kind of talk — we can call it locker room talk, we can say, oh, that’s just how men talk, but that’s letting something off the hook that we can’t let off the hook anymore. I don’t wanna be talked about like that. In a work environment, should I have to listen to a man ask another man whether or not he would fuck me when we’re supposed to all be colleagues?
E: So then how do you justify the fact that, what did you say, 52 or 53% of women voted for him?
S: Well, that’s why I’m talking to you, I’m trying to understand that. [laughs]
E: Okay, well I’m telling you, because they want—
S: 52% of white women.
E: White women, okay. Because I believe that they were more interested in what he said he would do for this country than his personal life. I agree that he is most inappropriate at many times, okay, I mean, he’s — definitely, his behavior is debatable. However, I guess I don’t really care about his behavior if he can accomplish things that I think are important for my country. So that’s — and I think that nobody who watched him or saw him could actually say that his behavior wasn’t debatable, okay? And maybe that’s what attracted some people, maybe they actually — I mean, because think about it, he had seventeen opponents in the primaries, and he was opposed by his own party, but yet he won. I mean, that’s really kind of an incredible political statement. I mean, it’s saying that somewhere he’s talking to people who are voting. I mean, they — they’re willing to overlook all of, you know, his shortcomings, if you wanna say, because he’s telling them that he wants to make America great again, and that’s what they wanna hear.
CHAPTER 6: WHY DO YOU FEEL AMERICA IS NO LONGER GREAT?
S: So this is a great segue. Why exactly do you feel that America is no longer great? Like, what is — I really do wanna understand this, because you said on the phone when we spoke before this interview that “Make America Great Again” was a slogan that you really connected with, and obviously a lot of people did. And there’s been a lot of talk in the media about how “Stronger Together” was like this sort of kumbaya, you know, weak slogan, but “Make America Great Again” really was able to hook people. On the liberal side of things, we saw Obama, in eight years, take us from the greatest financial crisis in the last, you know, since the Great Depression. Now they’re calling the 2008 financial crisis the Great Recession. We saw him take us out of that into a place where the economy is doing really well. He cut the unemployment rate in half. He introduced health insurance to 20 or 30 million Americans that never had it before. You know, did a lot of good in our country that benefitted a lot of people. In my opinion, America has gotten greater since Barack Obama took office, so I don’t understand why there’s this focus on, well, America’s not great anymore, we have to make it great again. Could you explain that to me?
E: Okay. So many of these anti-American behaviors — the desecration of flags, the people who won’t stand up and pledge allegiance to the flag — the anti-patriotism, I think, really resonates with a lot of people, particularly older people, who grew up knowing that this was our country, we were proud of it, people — if you went overseas, people respected you as an American. I mean, you know, they didn’t always respect how you acted, but America was an important player in the world. And in recent years, that has become — it’s lost it’s panache, so to speak, it’s—
S: How so? Because as, you know, as far as I know, we’re still a major world leader. We still call our president the leader of the free world…
E: …the free world, we still do. But my experience in international travel, and I’ve been lucky enough to do quite a bit of international travel is that people, you know, would ask me questions, and they used to say, well, didn’t America used to be more cohesive? You know, I’d say, oh well maybe. I mean, they got the feeling that the strong, cohesive country that we once were wasn’t — that there was too much infighting. They would see the same riots on their televisions as we see on ours and they would question why this is being allowed. And you know, they just, the respect level for our country internationally, I think, deprecia— I don’t mean it was gone, okay, we’re still an important player, but it was not as high. And things — I just really felt a lack of patriotism and people just demonstrating against anything and everything, I mean, we have laws in our country. When Obama was elected, I was very disappointed. I mean, I — you know, ‘cause especially the second election, when it was really a close call, okay? But the fact that I supported Mitt Romney didn’t make me went out to demonstrate against Obama. I mean, why is it — you know, I feel that, you know, he won the election, done deal. What is this all about? This is anti-patriotic, it’s anti-Americ— I mean, it’s not anti-American, it’s anti-patriotic to be demeaning your own government. It’s that quote that I mentioned about from Abraham Lincoln: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” And it is very bad for the country and for the world view of our country when they see this.
S: The right to peacefully protest is written into our Constitution. It has always been a central tenet of our democracy. You can’t push for progress and positive change without outlets for public protest. I mean, that’s something that’s been happening throughout the entire history of this country, so much so that the Founding Fathers put it into the Constitution. Calling peaceful protests and demonstrations unpatriotic, I think, calls into question what your idea of patriotism is. Is patriotism a blind acceptance of whatever the government leaders of the moment choose to do?
E: To an extent. When I — I feel like when Obama won the election, I didn’t like it. I know a lot of people who didn’t like it, but we didn’t — he won the election, and that was — so now, he’s the president. And we’re not going to — we may post things on Facebook which are generally ridiculous anyway, that we don’t like what Michelle wore or — I mean, just stupid things — but we’re not out there causing millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to control demonstrations, I mean, he won the election.
S: There were massive protests against President Obama.
E: No way as much as what’s been going on now.
S: But there was not an idea on the other side that President Obama was threatening the stability of our democracy in any way, which is what the fear is now. I mean, I think the fact that there’s so many people who’ve never protested before, including myself — never been an activist, I mean, definitely had the politics but never ever went to — I don’t like big crowds. I’m scared of them. I never went to a massive protest like the Women’s March on Washington before in my life. All of these people who’ve never been politically active like that are coming out now in response to this particular president, and there has to be a reason for that. It’s not just that — it’s not that we’re unpatriotic. I think it’s motivated more from a place of being extremely patriotic. We love this country, and we feel like this president is threatening core American values. What’s your response to that? Do you feel like Donald Trump represents American values, and if so, what are American values to you?
E: He represents my values. I can’t speak for all of America. He obviously represents the values of a large portion of this country.
CHAPTER 7: ENTITLEMENTS + WELFARE PROGRAMS
S: So then tell me what your values are.
E: Okay, my values are — first of all, I don’t believe in collective — I mean, I don’t believe in a lot of entitlements. I believe there’s entitlements very appropriate for many people. I think there’s—
S: Entitlements meaning like, social programs, welfare?
E: Right, yes. I think there’s too many of them. I think it becomes a whole thing where people believe that the government should be taking care of them. They don’t — I mean, I remember a time when people felt, you know, that they had to take care of themselves, and you know, they had to pay for certain things that, you know, I mean they — there was always food assistance and things like that, but you know, the whole thing with prenatal care, abortion. I mean, every — the government is responsible for me to do — I can do what I want and the government’s gonna pick up the tab — I’m opposed to that. I believe that if people — and taxes — I believe that if people work hard and perhaps spend a lot of money accumulating a lot of debt for their education for multiple years so that they — so they enter the workplace fifteen years later sometimes than somebody else with tons of debt and then they do well economically, or they’re just entrepreneurial and they work hard and they do — I don’t believe that they should be — have disproportionate taxes and be penalized for being successful, and that’s Donald Trump’s take on that, too. I mean, obviously, he’s very successful, if you wanna — I mean, whatever the case may be. So I — that’s a big issue. You know, I have a feeling that too many people in this country — it’s a move toward socialism, and I’m really very anti-socialism. The quote from Margaret Thatcher: “Socialism will end when you run out of other people’s money.” And that’s how I feel. I feel like, you know, that a small portion of this country who does happen to be economically more advantaged, often because they worked to do — worked hard — to accumulate that, should be responsible for people who are able to work but choose not to, in many cases, I mean, or people who — you know, I’m totally pro older people who have attempted to save and the economy got out of hand and they couldn’t — they can’t afford to — I mean, and they put money into Social Security. It — to have these people collect — who have depended on Social Security for their old — for their elderly years — having that rug pulled out of them is totally against me, so I’m not against all social programs. I’m against social programs that I feel I’m being — that we’re being taken advantage of. And I’m really against most programs that move us more towards socialism. And that’s basically where Trump came in. I mean, that’s where his platforms went, and apparently, it resonated with a lot of people.
S: Have you ever struggled with poverty or a lack of income or financial instability yourself?
E: As a child, my parents were really what I would call poor, but they were very careful about what they spent. My father worked hard, and I mean, I was perhaps fortunate enough to be an only child, so that I was — didn’t really suffer too much. But my parents made the decision for me to be an only child ‘cause they couldn’t afford to have another child. They didn’t think, oh, I’m gonna have a few more children and let the government take care of me. They — they — it was independent responsibility which seems to have gone by the wayside.
S: Have you known anybody personally that has taken that attitude, that I’m just gonna have a bunch of kids and the government will take care of me?
S: You have, tell me about that.
E: Well, actually, someone that I worked with a long time ago, her family had — not her, not her immediate family — and she complained about it a lot.
E: Her sister’s — her sister, you know, just kept having illegitimate kids, and saying, you know, that’s fine, I”ll just have one more, and you know, don’t — it’s okay, it’s okay, I’ll just get a bigger check. And you know, there — so there was no responsibility. It was like, I can, you know, I’m entitled to this because I just wanna have another child, and that—
S: Do you think that represents the majority of people that are subsisting on welfare programs?
E: I can’t comment on that ‘cause I really don’t know enough about welfare programs. However, I do know one thing about welfare programs, because I’ve known a few people who’ve worked in social services, and it’s very easy to hand out other people’s money. You know, in other words, to go, well, someone who applies for welfare, you know, may not be scrutinized enough. Maybe we need higher levels of scrutiny, as we all know. There are—
S: I think that that sounds reasonable. I certainly don’t think there should be people just taking advantage of the system and not trying to find a way out and up.
S: But I — I also think that if a comprehensive study of the people who were on welfare was done, you would find that those types of people are in the minority. ‘Cause I think most people want a sense of dignity and want a sense that they’re making a good life for themselves.
E: I think most people do, but as we know, there’s many, many people who would — multiple generations are on, you know, just go — one — multiple generations on welfare. And the people who are in the social services offices — it’s not their money they’re giving away. They’re giving away other people’s money, and their job is to give away money. They have to keep giving it away, ‘cause other way they won’t have a job. So it’s a whole issue of, you know, self-interest, really, you know, caught in there. And I think that the welfare system really needs some careful looking into, as well as the Medicare fraud business. I mean, this is outrageous the amount of Medicare fraud that people get away with. I mean, you know, there’s, you know, there’s so much of that that goes on and, you know, they talk about cutting benefits for Medicare. I think that seniors who have worked their entire life deserve some benefits. I mean, they’ve put that — it wasn’t — that’s not welfare, that’s money that was taken from them as an insurance, and they really should not have that reduced for them. It’s hard. Everybody wants a piece of the pie, and you know, there’s only so much tax dollars to go around.
S: This may not make it into the podcast, but I would love to tell you something I learned recently about how welfare dollars are spent in our country, and this is an example from your home state, Michigan.
S: There is a large portion of the federal welfare dollars in Michigan that is getting used for grants for mostly middle class college students to go to college.
S: These are people whose parents are making, you know, one, two hundred thousand dollars plus a year, who could afford to go to college either way, but are getting money from a welfare program to supplement their expenses for college tuition. Meanwhile, there’re, you know, families struggling to feed their kids who can’t get on welfare because they don’t — they don’t meet the requirements.
S: You’re absolutely right in saying that there is a lot of money that gets wasted, but it’s not always in the ways that you might think. Sometimes, welfare money is going to help people who don’t need it, and not to help the people that it’s supposed to be designated for.
E: Well, that’s what [inaudible] we need a lot of reform.
S: I agree.
E: Yeah, I mean, it’s — it’s, you know.
S: So it’s definitely your turn to ask me a question.
E: Okay, okay, okay.
S: We are definitely coming up on time, so I think we’ll go for another twenty minutes and then—
CHAPTER 8: PROGRESSIVE VS. REGRESSIVE
E: Okay, so this is a — probably a silly question — okay but, a term, which is a relatively recent term, “progressive.” People are — the “progressive movement” — which kind of indicates that anybody who isn’t part of the progressive movement is regressive. Okay? How do you — how do you just— how do you — what is your comment on that?
S: Well, it’s interesting that you ask that because just a short while ago you said that there was a time when our country was great, and it needs to be great again. So — so technically, you do wanna regress to an earlier time that you see as being better than now. Progressives are called such because we’re looking for social progress, working towards a place where more people have equal footing in trying to create a good life for themselves in this country and all over the world. Activist groups, like the ones I identify with — Black Lives Matter, women’s rights groups like the one that organized the Women’s March on Washington — they are simply saying that there’s not equal footing. Things are stacked against certain groups of people in order to benefit other groups of people, and they want to create a situation where things are more fair, where there’s an even playing field. It’s just a fact of life that women have it harder than men, that black and brown people have it harder than white people, that straight people have it better than gay people or trans people, or you know, even just cisgender people have it better than trans people. There are prejudices and biases that are very hard to fight, that are very much hardwired into a lot of people’s brains because of the way they were raised. Not knowing people who represent these groups and just going with fears instead of actual knowledge. Progressives want to remedy that, they want to spread a message of inclusivity. Denying that there are advantages to being straight, white, male, and rich — being the four great advantages in our country—
S: —is something that we just feel like needs to be — needs to be addressed. Those people have advantages. They have set the stage so that they can retain their advantages and – trying to make it so that other people can’t. I mean, that’s the basis of the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement and the gay rights movement. So we’re working towards a place where — towards a future time where in this country and every other country, where, you know, we can have a society that values inclusivity and equality for all, that isn’t based on fearful generalizations that demonize or dehumanize a certain group just because you don’t have personal experience with them. There is so much fear and hate and prejudice amongst so many people, and you don’t seem like a hateful person at all to me. So I’m not pointing a finger at you, and I’m not saying all Trump voters are racist or bigoted, and I know that’s not the case. It can’t be.
E: No, well it’s, no — too many of them. [laughs]
S: But there is a tendency to downplay the dangers for certain people and downplay the hardships that certain people face based purely on superficial qualities about them and not on the actual reality. And that needs to change, and it has been changing. We’ve made so much progress, but we have to keep moving in that direction because the work isn’t done. It’s still not equal. There’s still not a single place in the world, unless maybe some of these sanctuary cities like the one I live in, where everybody is seen as an equal human. [laughs]
CHAPTER 9: SANCTUARY CITIES + SOMEHOW BACK TO FEARING MUSLIMS
E: So speaking of sanctuary cities — obviously, you’re pro-sanctuary cities, I assume — I assume you are?
S: New York City is a city made up of immigrants. When you ride the subway train, you see people of every ethnicity, background, age, gender, everything, and we all coexist and we stand by each other as New Yorkers. It’s reflected in the billboards that you see in New York City, and it’s certainly reflected in the culture that we as New Yorkers share. We can’t let Donald Trump’s xenophobic policies and rhetoric change that about our city. It’s one of the most beautiful things about New York City.
E: Well, Florida also has — is a very multicultural city, from, you know—
E: —Caribbeans, we have, you know, there’s a lot of Haitians, a lot of Cubans, people from all the islands, a lot of South Americans, Brazilians. It’s a very multicultural environment here. I mean, you know, there’s markets where you can go into and nobody’ll even speak English, Spanish being the—
S: You said that earlier about the Muslim community back home in Michigan.
E: But I don’t — it — the Muslim community in Michigan is you’re walking amongst women wearing full black dress with little eye things — it’s frightening, it’s like, medieval.
S: So the garb, the garb scares you — the female garb in particular scares you.
E: It does. Yes. Yes, it does, I mean — where you don’t find that at all in the Caribbean community.
S: But most — most Muslim women don’t wear the full veil. I mean, it’s pretty — even within Muslim communities, that’s pretty controversial.
E: I would hope so, because it’s — it really sets them apart from — you know, I went to the airport once, to catch a flight, and I came to the airport and in front of a gate — there must’ve been a convention or something — there must’ve been, seriously, fifty women and children, girls who looked to be maybe ten — although I couldn’t really tell because they were head-to-toe, except for the little slits for the eyes, in black garb. The men were there also. They were wearing this – Western clothes. I don’t know if they were all — I mean, I looked at that and at first I thought they were shooting a movie. I mean, it was that bizarre. It was very frightening, even though rationally I thought, well, you know, this would probably be a really safe flight to be on, you know—
S: Because they’re all on it. [laughs]
E: Because they’re all on it.
S: And why would they wanna hurt themselves?
E: [laughs] But I mean, you know—
S: That’s funny.
E: And I — I mean, you know, and even girls who probably looked to be the height of a nine- or ten-year-old were also — and I mean I’m not just talking about — I mean, there must’ve been fifty. And it was really — it was scary.
S: Let me draw a comparison. I live in Brooklyn—
S: —which has many communities, neighborhoods that are pretty dominated by Hasidic Jews.
S: I am a person — I’m agnostic. I was an atheist for a long time and, at this point, I’ve, you know, had enough experience with life being crazy that I’m like, alright, I don’t know everything, I’m agnostic.
S: I have issues with any kind of restrictive organized religion.
E: I do too.
S: So we have that in common, which I love.
E: [laughs] We found something.
S: When I — when I’m — yeah, no, we have a lot in common, actually.
S: When I’m in these neighborhoods that are dominated by Hasidic Jews and I see the sort of garb — you know, the outfits they have to wear and the haircuts, and the way the women have to wear wigs and cover everything up. Honestly, it makes me feel bad for them, because I feel that there’s so much more to life, and to let your religion dominate your entire life down to what you can wear, I think, is antithetical to my core value of wanting to live a full life where you get to experience lots of things and talk to lots of different kinds of people. But I don’t judge all Jews based on them. It’s a pretty similar thing when you’re talking about the kinds of really restrictive, extreme Islam—
S: —that ask women to cover up everything but their eyes—
S: —’cause the vast majority of Muslims do not practice Islam that way.
E: Right they — they’re more moderate.
S: Much more. I’m traveling right now with a Palestinian Muslim women. She does not wear the hijab. She dresses like a Westerner. She speaks perfect English, as well — unaccented, as well as many Arabic dialects. She grew up all over the Middle East, and then moved to North Carolina when she was a kid, moved back to the Middle East and then back to North Carolina, grew up here in the South, and eventually went to New York City. She’s an incredibly well–traveled, educated, interesting, lovely Muslim woman who absolutely does not fit into—
S: —what you’ve described—
S: —as the things about the culture that intimidate and scare you.
S: And that is—
E: Well, possibly she—
S: —the vast majority of Muslims are in that same category, are more like you as a Jewish woman—
S: —compared to the Hasidic Jews—
S: —that’s the majority of Muslims compared to those—
S: —who practice the extreme — the most extreme version.
E: Yes, well there’s — there’s various levels, obviously, and I’m no expert on Muslim religion, so I wouldn’t even attempt to — but obviously, within every — there’s various levels of observance, and I can’t comment on which they are, but some of the younger Muslim people in my area are, you know, rather than integrating — such as the Caldeans’ community integrates very well into, you know, into America — they really keep their community tighter.
S: Do you think it’s possible that the reason the Christian Arabs and the Muslim Arabs that you knew in your community where you’re from — do you think it’s possible that the reason the Christian Arabs were more able — were more willing and able to integrate was because they were Christian, and that was more accepted by the people that they were around? Do you think it’s possible that the Muslim Arabs perhaps felt isolated and felt unwelcome because of anti-Muslim sentiment?
E: No, I don’t think so. I think it was that the Christian Arabs were persecuted in their own country, as Christians, and came to America wanting to be Americans. And I would have to say that I think many of the Muslim Arabs don’t have that same—
S: What? Well, then why are they here?
E: It’s a good life in America. [laughs]
S: Well then, I mean, that — that sounds like the same reason. They wanted to — they wanted to live a better life in a country that was gonna be more welcoming.
E: Okay, I — I’m not — I can’t speak for all of them. I’m just — this is my limited observation. I mean, I — it’s not limited with the Caldeans because they are my neighbors, and, you know, and I, you know, there’s no — no issues. Although I will say that when they first started coming to this country — and they have not really been long-term immigrants in this country — partly, they did come — you know, there were foundations set up from some of the ones who came earlier, and had money. They took care of themselves; they did not tend to be a burden on society in any way. They started opening — it was always the joke was they op — had — they would open the food stores — quick food stores in the inner city, and they worked hard, long hours
S: Did you see examples of the Muslim Arabs doing the opposite, not working hard, not trying to get jobs?
E: I — I don’t — I don’t really see what they’re doing, okay, I don’t really [inaudible]—
S: But you said yourself that the Caldeans, the Christian Arabs, were your neighbors and you knew — you knew some of them personally.
E: Right, right, right.
S: Did you know any of the Muslim Arabs personally?
E: No, I’d have to say I haven’t. But I know that they cloister together in communities and, you know—
S: So it would’ve been better for your perspective, perhaps, then, to have had personal relationships with some of them?
E: Yeah. I have had a few personal relationships, but those are out of — out of norm. I mean, those were not, you know — my only—
S: With — with Muslim — with Muslim people, you mean.
E: Yeah, right. I mean, just — you know, as I said, just, you know, shopping at Walmart in an area near that enclave was a — a very — I can’t say “unsettling,” because it wasn’t unsettling, I’ve seen fifty women in the full black dress — but it was — it was like oh my god, I mean, is this really America? I mean, you know, it’s—
S: Do you think you would’ve felt the — I mean, do you feel the same way when you go into the Haitian- or Cuban-dominated areas here?
E: No. I don’t.
S: So it was really just—
S: —the Muslim Arabs that made you feel that way?
E: Yeah. Yeah.
S: Is it possible — is it possible — and this is a harsh question, so please know that’s it’s coming from a place of respect — but is it possible that there may be biases within you that cause you to be fearful of this one group without — without —
E: Probably, yes. Because I think, you know, the 9/11 — I mean, you were probably too young to even remember the impact it had on everyone —
S: I was a sophomore in college.
E: Oh, well you already, okay. So the 9/11 issue. The multiple other issues where, you know, people have connected with the Muslim community as committing terrorist acts. The Orlando shooting. The shooting in San — I think it was San Bernadino, California. I mean, all of these have been — even way before, the Achille Lauro, I mean, which I can tell is before your time, was a ship that were like attacked by Muslim pirates and they threw a man in a wheelchair overboard and, you know, I don’t recall the shooting. Now this was probably in the late 80s or maybe early 90s, I don’t really remember, it was a long time ago. So that I associate that with — with terrorism, I mean, and yes, I’m holding a whole culture responsible, but you know, I feel that, if they know, if this community — within your own type community, people know what, who’s son is in trouble and stuff like that — if they don’t flush out their people, they’re not being good citizens.
S: Is it the responsibility of all white, male teenagers to flush out the white, male teenagers who are prone to taking guns into schools and shooting other kids?
E: If they are aware of it, yeah. I would hope that — you know, if they — and you can’t always be aware of it.
S: But are you gonna go out in the world and be afraid of every white, male teenager?
S: There have been atrocities committed by every major ethnicity, by every major religion, by every major cultural group throughout the course of history.
E: Yes, absolutely.
S: Right now, we are in a period of time where there is a kind of radical, extremist Islam that most practitioners of that major world religion harshly condemn —
E: I don’t know —
S: — because Islam preaches peace. It’s actually —
E: [skeptical noise]
S: It’s all — yes, Islam preaches peace — it’s all the same core tenets as all of the major world religions. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have more in common than they have different, as far as basic values. Most practitioners of Islam are just as horrified by the terrorist acts that have been executed by this one small sect of people. Do you think it’s fair to judge them all based on the actions of a few?
E: No, but we don’t know when a whole group comes in which few are the bad ones. I mean, I — you know, if we knew, we could just keep those out and let the good ones in, but we don’t know who’s good and who’s bad.
S: The vetting process for allowing people into this country is already one of the most extreme and extremely comprehensive ones in the world. It takes an average of twelve to eighteen months, it can take up to two years. Um, we already do extensive background checks, biometrics screening, database screening, multiple interviews with representatives from multiple different intelligence agencies before saying to anybody, “Okay, you can come to our country,” from, especially these compromised regions like the Middle East. We already have this going on. All of the people affected by this travel ban, this executive order, are people who’ve already gone through that vetting process. Trump and his team are talking as if we don’t have a vetting process in place. The order has caused mass chaos in airports around the world; people who were coming here to go to college, people who were coming here because they’re, you know, Nobel Laureates, good people. Real people with families who just want a good life who’ve already been through a very, very long and extreme vetting process now being told, “Nope, sorry, Trump decided you can’t go.” Do you think that that’s reasonable? Do you think that that was a logical, reasonable, well thought out action on his part?
E: Honestly, I can’t say yes or no because I really don’t know what process went in to thinking it out. I mean, I don’t know if there was lots of CIA people working on this behind the scenes, and presented this information and they said, “Okay, we’re acting on it, we’re not gonna just sit on it for a long time,” or it wasn’t well thought out. I may – I’m not privy to enough information on that to really know.
S: There’s so much to talk to you about but we’re coming up on time–
E: Okay, alright.
S: I haven’t let you ask a question in so long–
E: Okay, okay, alright, okay.
S: –we can go another five, ten minutes or so and then we gotta wrap it up. There’s so much to talk about, this is has been really interesting for me.
CHAPTER 10: THE Electoral College
E: Um, okay. The Electoral College, which has been in place since our founding fathers, and there have been probably many elections beyond my history or yours for sure where we had this business of the popular vote overriding the electoral vote, but the Electoral College is our decision. This happened before, I mean, people always say “oh, but,” but this time it was like the left was trying to get the electors to change their vote, which I believe is illegal by the way ’cause that’s like influencing an elector–
S: It’s not illegal.
E: Well, it should be because, I mean that’s like really, you know, that really is influencing an elector to do you know what they’re, whatever. Alright, so suddenly the Electoral College, which has been working fine for two hundred and thirty five years is under the gun. I have feelings about that from an old college class that I took, which I’ll be happy to, what’s your feeling about it and I’ll tell you what my feeling is.
S: The issue with the Electoral College these days is that it gives an unfair advantage to members of the Republican Party. Um, and that’s mostly due, from what I understand, to Republican efforts to redistrict in a way that creates a Republican advantage even in places where they really shouldn’t have one. Drawing districts in such a way that it just, you know, groups, you know, people of certain political persuasions or economic and social backgrounds together so that the voting results will come out in favor of the Republicans. We have a situation right now in this country where three million more people can vote for the Democratic candidate and the Electoral College still goes heavily towards the Republican candidate. That doesn’t seem fair. It is very telling that in the last twenty years there have been two elections where the Democratic candidate won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. It is maddening to people like me because it’s like, well, how is this a democracy, how are our voices being represented when we can literally have three million more votes and still somehow lose the election? And for us it feels like, it feels like the people of our country who are the most well educated, who are the most successful, who have the most diverse backgrounds and the most diverse social circles are somehow considered less important than people in the middle of our country who lack all of those things, but feel somehow – and you’re not one of these people – but feel somehow, you know, disadvantaged by the coastal elites, which I think is a crazy term because if anyone’s a coastal elite it’s Donald Trump. He’s from New York City and he was born a multi-millionaire.
E: Right. That’s exactly it. I mean, you know, this thing that you just said; better educated, better blah blah blah, better this, better that. The whole purpose, from what I remember from my college class years ago, of the Electoral College was to prevent people such as the coastal people from running the country, which is tyranny, against people who might be farmers in Idaho. I mean, those people are Americans too and the coastal elite’s values are so different from those values. So that by having, you know, the urban centers running the country is really essentially tyranny against the non-urban people. The people in small cities in the middle of Kentucky, I mean, since the seventeen hundreds the urban people have always been the more sophisticated, so to speak. That doesn’t mean that the people out there in, you know, Omaha, Nebraska aren’t working and paying taxes–
S: Of course not.
E: –and their voice should be heard.
S: But should it be heard more so, should it count for more? Should their votes count for more?
E: I don’t think it – no, I don’t think they really count for more, it’s just the way that the country…I don’t think it counts for more.
S: But it does when three million more people voted for Hillary Clinton and she still lost. That means that the Republican votes counted for more.
E: I guess they did count, well, but, okay, let’s not talk about the numbers of votes, let’s talk about the land mass involved. When you looked at the map of how it went, the biggest, I mean there was no question, the land mass of this country went Republican.
S: But are human beings counted by how much land they sit on or are they counted for being a human being?
E: Well, okay, this is the way it’s been set up, okay? Unless, I don’t know, an act of Congress, but it would be very hard ’cause there’s really two sides to this. I mean, you don’t really want the urban people trying to represent the people whose values and lifestyles are entirely different and, you know, obviousl this really came to fruition in this election where we saw literally in black, in red and blue. You know, saw that–
S: I mean, the last four, all the elections in recent history, in modern history have been so intensely divided and very close to being down the middle. I mean–
S: –that’s kind of the state of our nation.
E: Right. Yeah, so, I just feel that you know, obviously this was set up for a reason and amazingly enough to me that reason still has validity after all these years, you know, all the changes and you’re saying that reason doesn’t have validity to you. So, you know–
S: Well, I think that there’s been – I mean, Republican gerrymandering is a real thing.
E: Okay, I’m sure, I’m not politically involved enough to comment on that, but I’m sure that if someone else was sitting here they would argue with you on that, so–
S: Well, and we don’t need to argue, honestly, we’ve broken all the rules of this podcast. It was supposed to be no arguing and we’ve been arguing the whole time. [they laugh]
E: That’s okay.
CHAPTER 11: PUSSYGATE
S: Okay. My very last question; it has to do with Pussygate, cause I’m very interested and we haven’t really gotten into it. As a woman–
E: Uh huh.
S: –why are you still able to trust Donald Trump and trust his judgement after hearing how he’s talked about women his entire career? I mean, presumably he’s working with women in his, in the White House, you know–
S: –he’s appointed some female cabinet members, and the way he’s talked about women has been so offensive and, as a woman, I’d like to know how you can reconcile that with a man that you would vote, that you did vote to be the leader of this country, which is made up of half women.
E: Okay, well, I look at Bill Clinton. [laughs] I mean, you know, I mean, what Bill Clinton did in the White House, to me, is much more offensive than Donald Trump’s spouting off. Donald Trump has – bad behavior. He’s not polished about those things, he’s not a politician, he has a lot of things where he says that are, did he really say that, you know, but I really don’t care what he says. I mean, that doesn’t matter, it’s what he does that–
S: How he treats women doesn’t bother you?
E: I don’t really, but he has women that work in his organization. I mean, and a lot of that business about what he said about women and a lot of that was the media. The media hated him, the media was absolutely out to get him. You know, that business about some stewardess that he groped and then it turned out–
S: Many many women have come forward and said–
E: Yeah, but you know–
S: –he groped them and kissed them without permission. His ex-wife accused him of rape and had a very detailed account of what he did to her in the attack–
E: And she came out supporting him eventually.
S: She didn’t come out supporting him – she dropped the rape case and he has a lot of money.
E: Okay, alright, I’m gonna tell you that I really don’t care about Donald Trump’s personal life. I don’t care if he doesn’t open the door for his wife when she gets out of the limousine. I really don’t care about his personal life at all. I care about his policies and if he keeps America safe, and if he revamps the welfare system so there’s not abuse. I mean, any of the things that he does that are important to me are fine. He’s not a Hollywood star. I don’t care what he looks like, I don’t care about his wig, his hair, I don’t care about anything about him except what he does.
CHAPTER 12: COMING TOGETHER OR PROTESTING? + VOTING RIGHTS
S: I feel like I understand your perspective a lot better than I did before.
E: Oh, I understand where you’re coming from, too, I really do. I don’t agree with it, but I do understand it and I think, if anything, I don’t know if this is a question or a comment, well, okay, maybe it is a question: do you think that this country needs to calm their differences and try and move on as a country alone, or do you think that they have to keep protesting everything that he does?
S: I think as long as Donald Trump is doing things that go against what very many of us think are core American values, like equality and inclusivity, that we need to be protesting. But I also think that we need to come together as a country and try to understand each other better, which is why I’m having this conversation with you right now. You’re a person I never would have talked to.
S: I don’t have any friends who voted for Donald Trump. I mean, I recently broke off a dating relationship with a guy because I found out he voted for Trump and I just couldn’t handle it. [Ellen laughs] I’m like, man, this is, you know, I just, that’s too close to me. [laughs]
E: Well, I know a lot of people who voted for Hillary. Majority of people I know voted for Hillary.
S: And I heard that from you earlier, but for me it really, my friends are all of the same mindset that I am and there are little minor things we disagree on occasionally, but for the most part we have a value system based on equality, inclusivity, welcoming people, kindness, compassion, really trying to approach politics and policy and government with these values of respect for all human beings at their core. And I know when we spoke on the phone before this interview that you said that perhaps people of my generation were, you said we were lacking enough life experience to really have good judgement when it comes to politics. You said that maybe we were too idealistic, and I think we are idealistic, but I don’t think we’re too idealistic. I will fight my entire life to make this world a kinder, more compassionate, more respectful place for all people. People who fight, who work against that, people who incite acts of terror, people who try to put legislation into effect that takes rights away from some people just based on who they want to marry or who they find themselves attracted to – not to mention voting rights laws, discriminatory voting rights laws that make it harder for minorities to vote in red states, I mean–
E: Do you feel that we shouldn’t have identification for voting?
S: In New York, you don’t have to provide photo ID to vote, you just have to know your name and address.
E: Okay, well–
S: –and there’s no voter fraud, like there’s no–
E: –but you have to provide photo ID to get on an airplane, you have to provide photo ID to cash a check, you have to provide photo ID often to get a refund at Walgreens if you don’t have a receipt. You have to provide ID.
S: We’re talking about communities that are so poverty-stricken that even something that seems that simple is actually quite difficult. Where they’re working crazy hours, they’re supporting families, they don’t have the kind of time or transportation, the luxury of these things that you or I take for granted, honestly. Communities that don’t have that and it makes it very hard for them to get the things that they need to vote, and it shouldn’t be hard to vote.
E: Well, then that’s a place where somebody, a government agency or something, should be in there to get them ID. I mean, you know, this world–
S: –you believe it should be easy for people to vote?
E: I believe it should be easier for them to obtain the proper identification to vote.
S: I agree. If it had been easier for people like that to vote we might be looking at a President Clinton right now.
E: Maybe, you know, I mean that whole thing with Chicago, I don’t know if, you’re probably too young, but there was always the slogan of Chicago was, “Vote early and vote often.” [laughs]
S: I plan on taking some trips for the midterm elections and the next Presidential election to places where it’s harder for people to get what they need to vote to try to help them out. Try to make it easier for them to get what they need. Run errands, I’ll watch people’s kids for them while they go get their ID, I’ll help out. A lot of people are planning on doing that.
E: I mean, and it’s very easy to vote in a lot of places, they get absentee ballots–
S: In a lot of places it is and then in places like Texas–
E: –and a lot of states have early voting, which I’m not sure I think, I mean it’s–
S: Why not? Why not? Why isn’t voting online for heaven’s sake? Everything else is, you know. Why isn’t there like a two week long period you can vote online?
E: Well, I would probably caution against that with so much–
S: I’m sure there’s a way they could do it and verify people’s identities to prevent double voting. I mean, no one is really out there trying to do that anyway.
E: But there’s so much hacking online, I just–
S: That is true, there is hacking.
E: So I probably wouldn’t really feel comfortable with that.
S: But it should be easier to vote, do you think?
E: It should be easier to vote.
S: Maybe like voting on a Saturday? Mandatory for all citizens to vote.
E: Oh, well, I don’t know that you’re ever gonna do that because you know, there’s people who really don’t wanna bother, I mean, they just don’t want to.
S: We’re so lucky to have these rights to not be civically active. [laughs]
E: Right, yeah, I mean there’s people who–
S: It’s a luxury to not have to be politically active, honestly.
E: Right. Yeah, I mean, it is. There are people who just say, “Okay, you know, whatever,” you know, they aren’t politically – you know, you have to have time to be politically active. As you said just now, people are working two jobs to try and you know, feed their kids and trying to you know, get child care for the gap in time when they don’t have somebody. They don’t have time to be out, they couldn’t be marching on last Saturday. They had to be cleaning house or doing laundry. So, I mean, there is a, you know, the people that are doing this are really privileged people.
S: People who are–?
E: Who are – protesting.
S: Who are politically active and protesting?
E: Yes, I think they’re privileged ’cause they have time to do it.
S: You may have something there, but I do think that it’s the responsibility of the people who can protest to fight for the people who can’t.
E: Well, maybe.
S: Would you be willing to speak with me again at some distant point in the future when we know a little bit more about how Donald Trump’s presidency is going?
E: I might, yes. I mean, I wanna see where it’s going, but just the same as people who loved Obama, supported him to the end even as he was, you know, giving away money to, you know these things–
S: I won’t require you to change your mind about anything. [laughs]
E: No, but as people, you know, people, they’re still, you know, they make excuses for things that they clearly know weren’t exactly on the up and up, but they wanna support him and they’ll make excuses and I think that that’ll be the same case with our current president.
S: I guess time will tell. Ellen, thank you so much for having this conversation with me.
E: Okay, it was good to talk about it, okay?
S: Do you feel like you’ve got a greater perspective on my position?
E: I do, I do. I mean, because, very honestly, I, you know, don’t generally get a chance to speak to people in your generation although I kind of have a feeling just from what I hear and see where you’re at, but you know, I mean, you have some very valid points. Unfortunately, and maybe I’ll conclude with this, as long as there’s been world history, there’s been abuse. There’s nothing, you know, we could go down to serfdom and the land owners, I mean, it’s been an imperfect world since time began, and I don’t really see if that’s an easy fix, because I – I think you’ve got a big job on your hands.
S: I think you’re saying right now that trying to work towards a better world with more equality is possibly impossible. [laughs] “Possibly impossible.”
E: Well, yeah, it depends how much you expect to accomplish. I mean, you can make strides, but I don’t think you can change the world. It’s too big of a job. I mean, nobody’s ever done it, you know, since when Greeks, the ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans, I mean you know–
S: I think we’ve made great progress and I’m gonna, I like you, and I think you also have some really great points, but I’m gonna disagree with you more strongly on that than anything else.
E: [laughs] Okay, alright.
S: I think we can make progress and I think we can have greater equality and a greater culture of kindness and compassion and respect for all human beings and I will work my whole life for it–
S: –and I hope to prove you very wrong.
E: [laughs] Okay, well [Samia laughs] if you think that you make, you know, can rectify all the evils of this world, go for it.
S: We gotta try, right? [Ellen laughs] We gotta give it a try. Alright, thank you so much Ellen, we are signing off now.
SAMIA VO: Okay, so yeah, Ellen has a touch of the Islamophobia. It was fascinating to me that the conversation kept coming back to that, especially since she had said in our pre-interview that wanting Obamacare repealed was her biggest reason for voting for Trump - and then we never got to talking about health care at all. Fear of Muslims kept rearing its ugly head.
But I was impressed that Ellen was willing to admit that perhaps her fear was unfair. That perhaps the actions of terrorists had colored her view of the religion in a way that wasn’t justified. That she’d never had any close personal relationships with Muslim people to temper her fear. And I hope that when she listens to this episode, she’ll hear the inconsistencies. And who knows - maybe she’ll seek out a practicing Muslim and have a conversation with them like the one I had with her. This is my hope. It may sound naive, you might believe I’m being overly optimistic, but I believe our expectations directly affect our outcomes - and for that reason, I choose to expect the best from people.
I left this conversation caring about Ellen. I’m grateful to her for being willing to talk to me, for sharing so openly. She’s in a lot of pain over having a child who won’t speak to her because of the election - and I hope that relationship mends sooner rather than later.
If you enjoyed this episode, please please please go to iTunes and leave a 5-star review. This is a self-funded project with no budget for advertisements, and your reviews will really help put the podcast on the map! Take a few minutes, go to iTunes, leave a review - I appreciate you so much.
Also, if you want more information on the issues discussed in this episode, again, go check out the show notes on the website, makeamericarelatepodcast.com. I also welcome your questions, comments, and feedback - you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your questions and comments may even make it into a future episode!
Many thanks to Marisa Kennedy for transcribing this episode, Andrew Guastella for making the interview audio sound so much better than it originally did, and Christopher Gilroy for being the best audio engineer ever, and helping me edit the show.
Thanks again for listening. Stay tuned for Episode 2 with Yolanda Aponte of Long Island. Yolanda is a wonderful, big-hearted woman with a happy marriage and five sons - all of whom I met and all of whom seem like happy, loved kids. Yolanda also believes that Obama faked his birth certificate. You’ll want to hear this conversation, so if you haven’t already, click ‘Subscribe’ to make sure you don’t miss it.
This has been Make America Relate Again. See ya next week!