Ground Shifting Under Trump's Culture War : Politics Podcast : The NPR Politics Podcast President Trump and his campaign are sticking to culture war messaging even as some congressional Republicans cede ground on police reform as an increasing majority of Americans voice their support for the protests.

This episode: campaign correspondents Asma Khalid and Scott Detrow, White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, and senior political editor and correspondent Ron Elving.

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Trump Digs In As Americans Evolve On Racial Justice

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Trump Digs In As Americans Evolve On Racial Justice

Trump Digs In As Americans Evolve On Racial Justice

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ELIZA: Hi. This is Eliza (ph) in Columbus, Ga., where my husband and I are packing up our home with four kids aged 4 and under and an English bulldog during a pandemic. This podcast was recorded at...


1:06 p.m. on Friday, June 12.

ELIZA: Things have probably changed by the time that you listen to it. But chances are I'm still just a mom standing in front of a house, asking it to pack itself.


KHALID: I feel you as somebody who has moved multiple times over the years.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: She picked the right combination of people to appreciate the reference.


I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential campaign.

DETROW: I'm Scott Detrow. I also cover the campaign.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the White House.

KHALID: President Trump was in Dallas yesterday, where he talked about steps his administration intends to take which he says will address racial disparities in the United States.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Americans are good and virtuous people. We have to work together to confront bigotry and prejudice wherever they appear. But we'll make no progress and heal no wounds by falsely labelling tens of millions of decent Americans as racist or bigots. We have to get everybody together. We have to...

KHALID: I was struck by that language there at the end. But, Franco, you traveled to Texas with the president, so why don't you tell us more about what he's intending to do.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, it was very interesting. The country is really torn, and he's trying to confront that. But, you know, I'd say, you know, being there, the takeaway was this was very much another chance to give a law-and-order speech. He talked in general terms about a plan for addressing some of these sensitive issues. They included boosting access to capital for small business owners in minority communities, addressing racial disparities in the health care system. He talked about education and the need for Congress to enact school choice, which, by the way, is a longstanding policy of Republicans. And he talked about an executive order on policing standards but not really the kinds of things that demonstrators are calling for.

KHALID: And, Franco, what you are describing, it sounds like, is - you know, there's this vision of law and order that he keeps shifting back to. But he's also calling then, essentially, for broader policing, right? I mean, he's calling for more policing. And to me, that's interesting because it's a shift from what some of his own allies have been saying, you know, who've been talking about the fact that there is systemic racism in law enforcement. So how is he squaring what he is calling for given what some folks in his own party are saying?

ORDOÑEZ: No, it's right. I mean, a big part of the president's message was to draw a contrast with activists who are using the slogan, defund the police. In fact, the president is calling for more money for policing, saying they want to do more things not less.


TRUMP: Instead, we have to go the opposite way. We must invest more energy and resources in police training and recruiting and community engagement. We have to respect our police. We have to take care of our police. They're protecting us. And if they're allowed to do their job, they'll do a great job. And you always have a bad apple. No matter where you go, you have bad apples.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, he called for professional standards for use of force and de-escalation tactics. He did mention force with compassion. But the emphasis was on the need, in his words, to dominate the streets. He said it several times talking about the need for strength.

KHALID: You know, let's talk about how what President Trump is calling for contrasts with the kind of reforms that Joe Biden is proposing. On the same day that Trump was in Dallas, Biden was in Philadelphia. And he was participating in this COVID event. You know, Scott, you were there. And, to me, what I was struck with was that, you know, he was talking about systemic racism in a much broader way than just policing.

DETROW: Yeah. He's been doing that a lot, including in a recent interview with CBS News, where, when he was asked a question about policing, he made a point to immediately broaden the question.


NORAH O'DONNELL: Do you believe there is systemic racism in law enforcement?

JOE BIDEN: Absolutely. But it's not just in law enforcement. It's across the board. It's in housing. It's in education, and it's in everything we do. It's real. It's genuine. It's serious. Look; not all law enforcement officers are racist. My lord, there's some really, really good cops out there. But the way in which it works right now, we've seen too many examples of it.

DETROW: And he has been speaking more broadly about this. And he's also been making a point to highlight the fact that, you know, overwhelmingly, the people who have been most vulnerable to COVID-19 are African Americans. And that goes for people getting sick, people dying and, also, people on the frontlines of job losses and economic harm from all of this. So yesterday, he was in West Philadelphia - a black neighborhood of Philadelphia. And he was really talking about ways to safely reopen the economy, promoting, you know, federal mandated testing for every employee and a lot of things like that but also making a point to sit at a roundtable with all African Americans, talking about the fact that this is something disproportionately targeting black people in America.

ORDOÑEZ: Asma, I mean, I'm just curious. You've been covering Biden a lot. I mean, what do you make of this?

KHALID: Yeah. I mean, one of the storylines that I've been looking into this week is maybe somewhat tangential to the, you know, explicit conversations around systemic racism. But to me, they're somewhat related. And that is this push that we've seen from a number of folks within the party for Biden to choose a black woman as his running mate. You know, in early May, I spoke with some women who were on this call with the vice president and some of his senior staff. And they made this pitch directly to Joe Biden himself.

But one woman who was on that call told me that, you know, that was a little while back. And she's now even more convinced, just given the protests that are happening in this country, that they really need a black woman on the ticket. She feels like having someone who is African American would just give that person a better understanding of structural racism. So part of it's about policy, but, you know, they also feel like, to some degree, black women have consistently been the most loyal voters in the Democratic Party, and yet they're overlooked, they say, for the No. 1 or No. 2 spot. And they feel like it's just overdue that they should be represented more fairly given how loyal they are to the party.

DETROW: Yeah. And I go back to the sentiment we heard from so many primary voters over the last year or so, even though the Democratic primary did ultimately go to an older, white man, Joe Biden, there was such a strain that as President Trump positions himself, who is really governing for and speaking to a very specific segment of the country and not really making many attempts to kind of broaden his appeal at all, that as the Democratic Party presents a counter to that, they really do need to, you know, follow up their rhetoric that they're the more inclusive party and have more diversity in the candidates offered and in the national tickets that are on the ballot.

KHALID: And, Scott, you're right. And one thing that's worth pointing out is that it's not just black voters who are making this demand. When you look at some recent polling from Politico/Morning Consult, it found that 46% of all Democrats say it's important for Biden to choose a candidate of color. And those numbers have been rising from the last time they did that survey.

DETROW: Absolutely. And that tails with the reporting that you did so much of saying that some of the big shifts are driven more than anything else by white liberals really going far more progressive in their views on racism and systemic racism and fixing all these problems.

KHALID: All right. Well, let's take a quick break. And, Scott, we will let you go. Enjoy your weekend. Take care.

DETROW: Talk to you guys next week.

KHALID: All right. We'll be right back.

And we're back, and we have Ron Elving here with us now. Hey, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Asma.

KHALID: So, Ron, for years, we have been hearing about a movement in this country that has been bubbling up to dismantle Confederate and colonial imagery all throughout the country. And this week, it seems that we've begun to see that dismantling happen literally, both by official and unofficial means. A statue of Christopher Columbus was toppled in Minnesota and another statue of Jefferson Davis was toppled by protesters in Richmond, Va. And at the same time, you've got Governor Ralph Northam in Virginia who had his own blackface scandal last year pledging alongside the city's mayor to remove Richmond's prominent Confederate memorials.

ELVING: Their memorials are coming down, and they're coming down because crowds of people have gathered around them and pulled them down in some instances and in some other instances perhaps it's going to be done more officially. But you're already seeing statues beheaded. You're seeing statues splashed with paint. You're seeing statues smashed with sledgehammers. So to some degree, this is a process well along and whether it's blessed by the courts and all officialdom down the road or not, it's well underway.

ORDOÑEZ: And not only that, I mean, take NASCAR for example and the NFL. NASCAR just announced that they are not going to allow the Confederate flag at their races. That's a huge deal right now. This is an institution that really the Confederate flag was ingrained in. I used to report in North Carolina. You would see the Confederate flag at these races all the time. For that to now not be there is a really significant matter for NASCAR, a significant step for NASCAR to take.

KHALID: I do wonder, though, how much these decisions - right? - or these visuals taking them down, whether it's by NASCAR or whether it's a statue, say, in Richmond, how much these are gestures versus real substantive change around issues of race and racial injustice. And I don't really have a clear answer of that and maybe it's just because we're in the moment right now.

ELVING: It's not a policy change, and it doesn't make the police behave differently to change the name of a street to the Martin Luther King Boulevard. But the symbols of some of these things do become not just symbols but also guides. They also are norms of society, and they send a message about what we honor and whom we honor. And for well over a century since the Civil War, a lot of these figures have still been held up as exemplars. And even though a lot of these statues didn't actually go up until the 20th century, well after the Civil War, they were symbols there, too, essentially of white supremacy. And so for them to be coming down in this fashion, whether it's being done officially or unofficially, is quite a sea change.

ORDOÑEZ: A lot of policy change is based on momentum. And things move first in society and oftentimes it's moved by, you know, corporations, by activism, and I think that's what you're seeing, some of that. I mean, NASCAR is making these decisions. Companies are making these kind of decisions. The NFL is making these kind of decisions. And oftentimes, policy follows later. But, you know, I think this is extremely significant, that, you know, that the country is taking these steps. But it will be a matter of time before we know really in the long term what teeth these things will have.

KHALID: Yeah. Ron, I actually wanted to ask you about that because I know you are a long student of history. And one of the arguments that I often hear from people about not taking these statues down is that they worry that it allows Americans to kind of forget problematic parts of our history as well. And so if you just topple down the statue entirely, it's no longer there, and it allows you to just pretend like these moments never existed.

ELVING: Except that that's not what the statues have been saying over the years. The statues have not been up there saying there was a cruel and inhuman system called slavery. Those statues have been up there saying we fought a gallant fight to defend our way of life, which translates to slavery. And some of the people who these statues honored were themselves slave owners. And some of these forts - and this is another gesture that's been proposed, taking the names of Confederate Civil War generals off of current U.S. military bases. They are in states in the South, and they were done in essence to curry favor with the local acceptance of these Army bases that were being placed in the South, and they did that.

And so some of them actually honor generals who were themselves leaders in the Ku Klux Klan and who were highly retrograde in their attitudes towards slavery and towards white supremacy. So all of that has a meaning. And when you hold someone's name up or their image up in a position of honor, like naming an Army base after them or putting up a statue, you are agreeing with their values and you are telling people these are the official values of our society.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, it's also significant that the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to change the names of these bases, but it also gave three years to do it.

KHALID: You know, Franco, I wanted to ask you, though, about something Ron just mentioned about the idea of stripping Confederate names from U.S. military bases because it feels like this week we've seen quite a bit of daylight between where President Trump stands on that issue and where some Republicans are.

ORDOÑEZ: No, no doubt. I mean, the point that you made about some feeling that taking down these statues erases a bit of history, that is a theme that the president has pushed repeatedly in speeches, as well as on Twitter, saying that, you know, taking these things down, history will repeat itself. But, you know, look, I mean, the president is really doubling down on, you know, these culturally divisive issues. And these are issues that rally his supporters, his base. And it's something that has worked for him, obviously, you know, winning the 2016 election.

But now the question is with NASCAR, with these congressional Republicans talking about these changes, even with some of the Pentagon leaders saying that they're open to having a discussion about changing the names of these bases, the question is whether or not the ground has kind of shifted under the president. He certainly is - feels it has not, and he is sticking to his guns. But there's a lot of push the other way. I mean, just take the issue of kneeling during the national anthem at NFL games. The league commissioner addressed this in a video last week.


ROGER GOODELL: We the National Football League condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We the National Football League admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We the National Football League believe black lives matter.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, meanwhile, the president is describing protesters as thugs and sharing conspiracy theories about an elderly man who was sent to the ICU after being shoved to the ground by the police. You know, and the president's campaign has also really dug in. But, you know, Americans increasingly recognize the reality of, you know, different kind of treatment for people of color by the police. And that could make things difficult for the president in November.

KHALID: You know, Franco, you mentioned that there's this question about whether or not the ground has shifted underneath President Trump. And when we look at public opinion polling, we have definitely seen a shift in how the American public feels around issues around black lives matter but also more broadly just the recognition that there is a growing percentage of people who feel like the police use a disproportionate amount of force with black people in this country. You know, one of the questions, though, that remains for me - and it seems like the president maybe doesn't think this public opinion polling is solid - is I have heard questions from, you know, some Democratic activists and operatives, specifically folks of color, who also wonder really, like, how much of a substantial shift could this country really have experienced in just two weeks? Because it seems like public opinion, it kind of ebbs and flows, right? There's moments that it feels like there's monumental shifts. But then some people revert to other racial attitudes they had in the past. And it doesn't feel like we're always in this, like, linear path.

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, I think there's no doubt about that. I mean, I think there is still that remaining question about what does this really mean and what actual tangible impact this will have. Obviously, the president does not believe in this polling or at least does not believe the polling as strong as some others feel it is. And he has, you know - arguably, he has some grounds to feel that because there were polls before the race in 2016 that said different things than what the electorate actually did in the election and putting him in office. He obviously took a very culturally divisive stoking a culture war on his path to election, and he's doing that again. He's banking that that is still the case. But, you know, there are definite signs now that they didn't have before, which we're talking about - the NFL, NASCAR and, you know, even, you know, members of the military, leading Pentagon officials.

ELVING: One symbol of that, too, Franco, is clearly what we are seeing in the president's plan to go to Tulsa on June 19. Now 19 is what's called Juneteenth. It celebrates the day that the last enslaved Americans who were informed that they were going to be emancipated because this was the end of the Civil War and the news was reaching them of the result. And that symbol, that holiday, means a great deal to the African American community. And the president is going on that day to Tulsa, Okla., which was the site in 1921 of one of the worst racial massacres in American history, which was a planned attack on a largely self-sufficient black community within Tulsa. And that is a painful and raw memory in that city and in many parts of the country where African Americans remember it, where other Americans remember it. And so to go there on that day to that place and have the kind of rally we expect the president to have would seem to be rather defiant unless the president is planning to go there and strike a very different tone and deliver a very different message.

KHALID: All right. Well, we are going to take a quick break. And when we get back, it's time for Can't Let It Go.

And we're back, and it is time for Can't Let It Go. That's the part of the show where we talk about the one thing we cannot stop thinking about, politics or otherwise. So I'm going to go first. And what I cannot stop thinking about is, candidly, like, not funny at all, but I find it just kind of crazy and fascinating, and that is that this rally we were just talking about that Donald Trump is going to be holding in Tulsa, Okla., it turns out that supporters of his are being asked to essentially immunize his campaign from any liability claim of actually contracting COVID if they were to attend his campaign rally. The online registration form says that by clicking to register below, you're acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. And then it goes on to basically just try to prevent the Trump campaign, et cetera, from any form of liability it seems if you were to indeed contract COVID from attending this event, which, you know, to me, seems to be a recognition that there are dangers of holding a large-scale public event in an indoor arena. But nonetheless, they are going to hold it.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, it's been - it was very interesting to see that listed, and it was also interesting to watch how it lit up Twitter when that statement came out.

KHALID: Franco, do you want to go next?

ORDOÑEZ: Yes. I mean, one of the things that I can't let go is I've been listening to how some of the late-night comics have addressed, you know, what are very sensitive issues, but one person especially I've been listening to is Trevor Noah, who is, you know, host of "The Daily Show." He grew up in South Africa. And he's no stranger to these issues that, you know, we're facing in the United States. And he just brings a worldly perspective that is, you know, can be refreshing. He talks about how these protests have not only struck a nerve in the United States but across the planet in places like London and Germany. And he emphasizes that this is a much bigger issue than people realize, a universal issue.


TREVOR NOAH: Everyone is not realizing that we're all in the same fight. Like, these protest may have been sparked by one killing in one American city, but the truth is - the truth is that if you are a black person or a minority or a poor person in many places around the world, in London, Berlin, Seoul, Cape Town, you understand what it means to be a target of the police and a target of a system that is designed to keep you down with violence if necessary. And that's why you now have people in every country standing together, standing together to say this is not acceptable anymore. Black lives matter.

ELVING: I was struck by the fact that in New Zealand the residents of Hamilton, the town there, city there, that's named for the British officer, they tore down his statue, the founder of the city of Hamilton. And they did it because of the murderous way that he treated the Maori tribespeople when he arrived in New Zealand. So that is a very old story, much like the Christopher Columbus comparison in this country. But it certainly speaks to the global nature of what's going on.

KHALID: Ron, why don't you go next?

ELVING: Well, on a totally different note, Asma, The New York Times has just published an extraordinary interview with Bob Dylan, who has not really given any interviews since he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 other than on his own website. And this is just quite a document for the ages. It's done by Douglas Brinkley, the historian. So Bob Dylan chooses not to play games with the interviewer, which has been his signature over the years in being interviewed by music journalists and others. He usually goes into various and sundry kinds of personi (ph) or he puts on an act of some kind or another, doesn't really want to reveal himself.

In this instance, it is truly remarkable the depth of into Dylan one gets in this interview - his thoughts on life and death and all kinds of American music. Who knew Bob Dylan liked the Eagles? He says he liked "New Kid In Town." And this is going to astonish a lot of people of some experience in American pop music. But it's not a surprise that he loved Little Richard who, of course, has just passed. And he has a tribute to Little Richard; also just an extraordinary range of musical memories and observations about everything.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I've been, you know, watching some of the Twitter reaction as well. And it's just been fascinating of, like, there are so many, like, Bob Dylan diehards out there, and they're all saying, like, this may be the best interview ever.

ELVING: Well, one Dylan diehard we know, NPR's resident Dylanologist (ph), Don Gonyea, says it's the best Dylan interview he's ever read, and he's read them all.

KHALID: That's quite a testament then. All right. Well, we are going to leave it there for today. Our executive producer is Shirley Henry. Our editors are Muthoni Muturi and Eric McDaniel. Our producers are Barton Girdwood and Chloee Weiner. Thanks to Lexie Schapitl, Alaina Moore, Dana Farrington and Brandon Carter. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential campaign.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the White House.

ELVING: And I'm Ron Elving, editor-correspondent.

KHALID: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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