EPISODE 8b: SARAH ITO UPDATE
SAMIA VO: This is Make America Relate Again. I’m Samia Mounts.
Welcome to your mid-week mini-episode! I’ve heard from a few listeners who expressed disappointment that most of the interviews on the show so far happened months ago, and so much has happened since then. Surely people’s opinions must have evolved with every new story coming out of Washington, right?
Well, you heard Sarah Ito’s reasons for voting for Trump in Episode 8, which we released just a few days ago. That conversation took place on March 5th, 2017. I decided to give her a call this past Sunday, on July 30th, to see what she thinks of the Trump administration now. Let’s see what she had to say.
Sarah: Hi, Samia.
Samia: Hi, Sarah, how are you?
Sarah: Very good. Happy birthday to you.
Samia: [laughs] Thank you. That's so nice of you to remember. So alright, I guess we should just get right to it. First of all, I wanted to hear how you think Trump's been doing as president so far?
Sarah: Well, I don't think there is a word to describe how disappointed I am in him. He's not doing at all. I had assumed that there would be a learning curve for him and that there would be some rough patches but that he would surround himself with the best of the best, take some suggestions from his advisors and eventually get into a groove but now we're roughly six months in, and he just gets further and further down to where he's not even at the bottom of the barrel anymore, he's the damp spot underneath. [Samia laughs] We’re just dealing with personal drama and personnel drama and we're not dealing with the business of the American people, and it's just reached a point where I can't support him anymore. His choices, such as continuing on Twitter when the man clearly doesn't know how to use Twitter, and his bringing on all these retired generals and now a wise guy into his inner circle. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? It’s—
Samia: When you say a wise guy, are you talking about the new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci?
Sarah: Ah, yes, I am.
Sarah: You don't take a man whose method of communication is to scream vulgarities and put him in charge of your communications arena, so to speak. I don't think the American people really think that four letter words are the new language of diplomacy. It’s frankly, it's disgusting. It truly is disgusting. Mr. Scaramucci is perfectly suited for the work he did on Wall Street, he is not suited to be anywhere near the White House. The guy is nothing but bad news. He's every manager that I've ever worked for on Wall Street, the screaming, the shouting, the four letter words, the threatening to kill you if you don't produce. We don't need this in the White House, we just don't. Especially when you have a president who is as, I think, as emotionally immature as Donald Trump, who will take these words and suggestions literally. So bringing Mr. Scaramucci on board, I think, is a huge negative, and the other thing that has turned him against—turned me against him most recently, Samia, to be perfectly candid, is when he gave a speech to the police officers out, I believe it was in Suffolk County, in the last week or so, and he made this very snide remark to them about not being too gentle when arresting people.
Sarah: Now—yeah, I know, isn't that something? How inappropriate for a man in his position, the president of the United States, to make a remark like that at any time, let alone when we have all of these people being essentially murdered by the police, and in return we have police officers being shot down in the streets? We don't need this type of comment. So I—
Samia: I agree. This week it's been one inappropriate speech after another from the highly political Boy Scout Jamboree speech and then the make America great again speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he talked about immigrants slicing and dicing beautiful young people. Such graphically violent language and then the police speech where he seemed to endorse police brutality. Yeah, it's been one hit after another.
Sarah: Well, it has been. I mean, to most police departments’ credit, they rushed to Facebook and Twitter and said this is not what we do. That's a good thing, that they responded in an appropriate manner, but even so, I think what we're seeing, Samia, is a president who is personally imploding and he's just not choosing the right people around him to support and advise him. That being said, even if he did, I don't think he's gonna listen.
Samia: Yeah, I heard that after Anthony Scaramucci gave that very vulgar interview to the New Yorker, and then Reince Priebus, who he criticized harshly to say the least, resigned as Chief of Staff. I read that sources were saying Trump was disappointed in Priebus for not fighting back against Scaramucci, to the media. People were saying he enjoys that kind of competition between his advisors and encourages it. I'm not in the White House, so I can't say for sure that that's the way things are, but it certainly seems that he's creating a pretty hostile, competitive atmosphere.
Sarah: That would be my impression, too, and that's not where we need to have this type of atmosphere, in my opinion. These are people that need to be working together and presenting a united front for the betterment of the American people. Certainly people all around the world are watching this, and I don't think we look good in the eyes of the world right now. We just don’t.
Samia: I have to agree with you there. To pivot to another topic, I wanted to ask you about healthcare. In our interview, you expressed a strong opinion that the Affordable Care Act should be fixed, and not outright repealed. How do you feel about what's been developing in healthcare since then, with the effort from Republican leadership to repeal without a replacement, and the bills they've been unable to pass that would do what you said you didn't want to see, and kick a bunch of people off their health insurance. How do you feel about all of that, what's happened so far?
Sarah: Well, I think right now, any sort of reform and replacement is dead. I think what we're gonna see is that the Obamacare plan, as it now stands, is going to just die a natural death because the financial structure that's needed to support this is just not there. We have more and more healthcare plans withdrawing from the networks, so there's little or no choice in some areas. I think it's very unfortunate. I do feel that although I don't like the Obamacare plan as it was brought to the table by President Obama, he was on the right path. He made a huge mistake when he brought in Jonathan Gruber as the so called architect of the plan and the financing of the plan was just not realistic. But I've always believed that it would be fixable if you got the right team in there to fix it. Republicans had—what is it now—seven years to come up with the plan to present in the event that they took the White House, which in fact they did, and they brought forth no plan, and now they're making a rather weak attempt to play catch-up, which they can't. Then you have the people on the Democratic side of the aisle, some of whom I think are truly passionate in their beliefs that the plan can be fixed, but you have others that are totally unwilling to fix it or to work with the Republicans. I think there's a lot of fault to go around, but ultimately, it's the Republicans fault because they gained the White House, and they're basically without a clue as to how to proceed with healthcare. Yeah, I think that Obamacare is just gonna die a natural death, and that will clear the way for a new plan, hopefully. I'm not very hopeful though that we're gonna see anything in the near-term, one way or the other. I've lost all hope.
Samia: Oh, no. I was gonna say it sounds like you share Donald Trump's opinion, actually, that Obamacare's gonna implode, and then they're gonna have to start from scratch. I'm hopeful that perhaps Republicans and Democrats in Congress will decide to work together to add little tweaks and fixes and amendments to the Affordable Care Act to try to make it a better set of legislation. Do you think there's any hope of that?
Sarah: I do think there is hope for that if one thing were to happen: if Donald Trump steps down or is impeached or something happens to remove him from office and Mike Pence steps up. Mike Pence is a very popular person with both parties and I think that although there's many aspects of his personality and his personal beliefs that I don't agree with, I think that he's very well spoken, thinks before he speaks, has shown a readiness to work with a wide variety of people, and quite frankly, has surprised me. I think if he were to step into the presidency that Obamacare could and would be fixed because people on both sides will be willing to work with this man. Whereas, they don't want to have anything to do with Trump, and I can't say that I blame them right now, other than that these guys and gals were elected to serve us and they're not serving us. That being said, if and when Mike Pence steps up, I think we'll see some positive change.
Samia: That actually makes me want to ask you a slightly related question, which I didn't send you in advance, so I'm sorry if this is a curveball, but I'm really interested in your opinion. You wrote an article called, 'I am a Radical Lesbian Feminist and I Support the Trump Presidency', as well as another article about Mike Pence specifically, and the whole gay marriage cake controversy that happened in his home state, criticizing him in that situation. You identify as a lesbian and a radical feminist, yes?
Samia: With that as some core pillars of your identity, how did you feel about Trump's Twitter announcement that he was gonna ban trans people from serving in the military, even though there's thousands already openly serving since Obama changed the rule banning trans people a year ago. How did that affect you? Do you still—is Trump losing his luster as the most pro-gay Republican president to ever exist?
Sarah: Well, I don't consider the struggles of transgender people to be the same as the struggle that gay people had in this country. The late Jean O’Leary, who I'm very proud to say was a friend of mine, was adamant about not partnering up with the transgender community back in the day when we were having our marches and our rallies and our extreme cultural changes, back in the 70s—late 60s, 70s. Her theory, at that time, was that the transgender person is the person who has an extremely complex medical and psychological—I hesitate to say problem, but I'll just call it a problem, for a lack of a better word—and it is an entirely separate issue from being gay or being lesbian. She had fought for years to have the American Psychiatric Association remove homosexuality from its compendium of psychiatric disorders, and she felt that by partnering up with the transgender community, we were taking a huge step back and so I—
Samia: It was making it harder to achieve the goals she was trying to achieve.
Sarah: Exactly. I still hold to that belief. Now as far as transgender people in the military, here is how I feel, speaking as someone who served in the army myself: if a person is transgender, and they have completed their surgeries, soup to nut, so to speak, and they're good to go, and they can meet the physical challenges, and they can pass all the psychological tests needed to enter into the military, there is absolutely no reason, in my opinion, why they shouldn't be allowed to serve. Here is where I part company with transgenders, and this is what's been happening a lot, transgender people who are half-way into their journey or have not started their journey, are going into the military and then they are announcing that they're transgender, they cannot just automatically be discharged under the current regulations that the Department of Defense must follow, so they are essentially using the military to pay for their very expensive surgeries and follow-up. Or they are getting almost through with their military service and then upon discharge, they're using the VA to pay for these highly expensive surgeries, and I'm speaking now from a position of resentment, so to speak. We have all of these horribly wounded veterans that have returned from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that are waiting and waiting and waiting interminable amounts of time for the slightest care. I, myself, had to go to the emergency room not too long ago because the doctor at the VA hospital forgot to write a prescription for me, it was the New Years weekend, I did not have the medication that I needed, and I ended up in the emergency room, and the VA is refusing to pay the bill. I look at my situation and the situations of people who have far worse challenges to deal with and I say to myself, you know, transgender, fine, do the surgery on your own time, pay out of your own pockets, if your insurance will cover it, God bless, go for it, but don't use the military to pay for your surgeries.
Samia: Well, you know, that's a perfectly valid argument and I've heard that a lot, but I've been looking into this very intensely and the medical costs associated with the current number of transgender service members is minuscule compared to the overall health budget for our entire armed forces. I mean, it's like a fraction of a percent. In addition to that, the costs associated to transgender medical care are five to ten times less than what the military is spending on Viagra prescriptions. There are places where we could be saving money and redirecting it to taking care of our veterans and I certainly agree that veterans need to be better taken care of by the government they have served and risked their lives for, but I don't think that the costs that are going towards providing medical care to the relatively small portion of transgender service members is really where we need to be taking funds from. There's so many other things that money's getting spent on that aren't necessary of vital, like the Viagra thing. What do you think about that?
Sarah: No, I totally agree with you, no Viagra, but I also say no elective surgery on the military's time and dime until every last combat wounded veteran is taken care of first.
Samia: Yeah, well, I don't know that it can be—I think there's an argument about whether or not a sex reassignment surgery is an elective surgery, considering what we know about the deep psychological pain, and the effect that would have on a person's combat readiness and productivity at work. We know that this is a real issue that really hurts people. I don't know that you can call it an elective surgery, it's not like getting your nose done. It's something that helps people feel like the person they were meant to be and increases their ability to be effective in their job.
Sarah: Well, I would agree with you. However, once you go into the military, it is an elective surgery and you’re taking away from time that should be spent on doing your job. Again, I fully support transgender people being allowed to serve in the military if they're already where they need to be, and I certainly wouldn't begrudge them the cost of any follow-up medications, but as far as the surgery and the psychiatric care that is needed to follow-up, no, not until every last combat wounded veteran has been taken care of, then I'll support that.
Samia: But now—oh, sorry, go on.
Sarah: Oh, no, that's okay. No Viagra, and the other issue that came up with the transgender military personnel is that apparently Trump tweeted this and did not give the Pentagon a heads up about this, and kind of caught them by surprise, too. Yeah, not a good situation overall.
Samia: No. 84 million dollars a year the military spends on Viagra. 84 million.
Sarah: No, no, no, no, that's just wrong.
Samia: That's the number that's out there right now, but the other thing is, if you're saying that transgender people shouldn't be allowed to get medical costs associated with therapy and sex reassignment surgery, you're basically saying that a very small group of people within the military isn't allowed to get their healthcare covered the way everybody else is, because they have special needs. I don't think that we would make exceptions like that for people with certain illnesses, like Type I Diabetes, for example. Or anything else that might be a chronic medical condition. Everybody else would get their healthcare covered by the military, and its such a small number of people who are transgender in the military that it really isn't a huge cost to the entire organization. Do you see any unfairness there, or your opinion is strong on this?
Sarah: I don't see any unfairness there because I don't feel the military exists to cater to special needs. If you have Type I diabetes, odds are you're going to be medically discharged, and the military doesn't exist to be a social experiment. The military exists to defend the Constitution of the United States, in other words, us and our safety. Again, I will fully support any transgender person's ability to enter into the military and perform military service, assuming that they otherwise can meet the requirements, which most of them can, but I do not and never will support them having surgery while in the military on our dime. Absolutely not.
Samia: Okay, we'll never agree on this, but that is quite alright. Alright, a couple more questions for you. I wanted to get your take on the unfolding Russia story, this whole meetings with Trump Junior and the Russian government lawyer, and Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner were there, and all the new things that are coming out. Also, the developing obstruction of justice case that we're seeing against Trump after he fired James Comey, and now he's sort of publicly humiliating and torturing his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, people are saying because he's trying to get Sessions to resign so he can appoint a new Attorney General who won't be recused from the Russia investigation. How is this looking to you, as someone who voted for him and was keeping a very open mind on the Russia “scandal,” in air quotes, since nothing has been proven yet. How are you seeing it?
Sarah: Well, I don't think there's anything new about the Russians trying to interfere or get insider information regarding our electoral process, that doesn't surprise me at all. I'm not surprised that the people that Trump surrounds himself with have dealings with the Russians, these are international business people or people who are going overseas to speak in Russia by way of Speakers Bureau, so none of that surprises me. All these people have to do is be honest about it, and I don't think we would be anywhere near the state of hysteria that we are about this. I honestly think that Russia probably didn't care who won, I think that they were probably were more interested in seeing how easily they could upset the American people, and apparently, it doesn't take much because now we have this almost like a mass hysteria around Russian collusion, or Americans colluding with Russia. Again, I put it back to just a basic dishonesty, if you will, on the part of Trump and his people. All they had to do was be honest about their dealings and we probably wouldn't have this debacle that is drawing our elected officials away from the things that they were elected to do, which is reform healthcare, reform immigration and reform our tax code, and none of this is happening and it never will. I don't take the Russian scandal too seriously, in and of itself. I think it's more a scandal of just innate dishonesty. Remember how our parents used to always tell us that honesty was the best policy? Here's your classic example.
Samia: Yeah. Yeah, alright, alright. I'm gonna check back in with you on this again when we know more. Hopefully we'll get Bob Muller's investigation results sooner rather than later, although everyone's saying it's gonna take, potentially, years, but I'm gonna check back in with you about this at a later date. Last question, and this is a doozy, and I'm really interested in your honest answer on this. If you could go back in time to the 2016 election and recast your ballot, would you still vote for Donald Trump? Knowing what you know now.
Sarah: Oh, no, I absolutely wouldn't, for so many reasons. Would I vote for Mrs. Clinton? Right now, I'm very much on the fence about that. There's still so much about her that I felt would be detrimental to her being in the presidency. Ironically, one of those things was that I thought she would bring to the office so much baggage that we'd be bogged down for months after she took the oath, you know, just rehashing her baggage, and we have the same situation with Mr. Trump, so I'm really on the fence about whether or not, if I could back in time, I would vote for her. But I definitely would not vote for Donald Trump. The Donald and I have fallen out of—and it ain't happening.
Samia: Oh, well, thank you so much. That was a great way to wrap this up. Sarah, thanks for your time today, it was a pleasure speaking with you again.
Sarah: Oh, likewise, Samia.
Samia: Have a fantastic Sunday.
Sarah: Oh, you too now. Looking forward to speaking again.
Samia: Thanks, bye-bye.
And there you have it. One quick thing I want to address—Sarah mentioned that Trump bringing Anthony Scaramucci on board as the White House communications director was something she highly disapproved of, and if you’ve been the following the news, you know that he’s already been removed from that post thanks to the influence of new White House chief of staff, General John Kelly. Scaramucci now holds the record for the shortest term served as White House communications director in history. Kind of like Michael Flynn as national security director and Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff. Things are moving so fast that you can’t even depend on new White House staff members staying on long enough to make an interview you recorded a few days ago relevant now. It’s nuts! I, for one, am very happy Scaramucci was removed, but it doesn’t give me more confidence in the current administration.
This phone call with Sarah was a pretty gratifying conversation for me, as a liberal who never understood how Trump ended up in the Oval Office in the first place. Based on the feedback I’ve been getting from you guys, it sounds like most of you listening are also identify as liberals or progressives, so I thought it would be encouraging for you to hear how one Trump voter’s opinions have changed in light of recent events.
But I would love to hear from any conservative listeners that might be out there as well. I never intended for this show to only be for liberals; I always wanted it to be for people of all political persuasions to find something of value while listening—namely, I’m hoping it gives people an example to reference in trying to take the hostility out of our political discourse. If you identify as conservative, or if you are a supporter of the current administration, I want to hear from you, too. Have you felt represented on this podcast? In your opinion, have I treated my guests fairly? What’s your take on the idea of compassionate, respectful political discourse? Is it something you hope to see more of, or do you think the polarization has become too intense to allow for reasonable conversations? I want to hear from you.
We only have two episodes left in the season, so now’s the time to let me know what you’re looking to hear in Season 2. Send me your feedback by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or using the contact form on the website at makeamericarelatepodcast.com.
As always, you’ll find fact checks and a transcript of this mini-episode on the website. There’s a link to it on the Episode 8 page at makeamericarelatepodcast.com.
Thanks to Christopher Gilroy for editing and mixing this episode and Douglass Recording for letting me use their gorgeous studio space.
Thanks for tuning in! I’m Samia Mounts, and this has been Make America Relate Again.