CRAIG: Hi. My name is Craig (ph), and I'm from Los Angeles, Calif. I own a small 40-seat theater in Hollywood, and it's been closed since mid-March along with every other performing arts venue in the state. Right now I'm sitting on my stage, listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST and longing for the day when we can have a show in here again. This podcast was recorded at...
SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
We miss our live shows, too. It would be great to do a live show in that venue when we can again. It is 2:26 Eastern on Monday, August 31.
CRAIG: Things may have changed by the time you hear this. OK, on with the show.
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DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the presidential campaign.
JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: I'm Juana Summers. I cover demographics and culture.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.
DETROW: All right, so we've got a lot to talk about. And there's a lot of important context here, so I'm just going to walk through it before we begin the conversation if that works for you guys.
SUMMERS: Let's do it.
DETROW: So on Saturday, a parade of President Trump supporters drove through Portland, Ore., where protests have been going on for weeks. There was a clash, and one person was killed. And altercations between far-right groups and anti-Trump demonstrators have been a fixture of the Trump era going back to Heather Heyer's murder in Charlottesville in 2017. But they've definitely ticked up lately. They are definitely top of mind. This Portland shooting came just days after a 17-year-old white man traveled to Kenosha, Wis., and allegedly shot and killed two protesters. And, Mara, this all happened in the wake of a Republican National Convention where Trump made it clear he's going to make this unrest, this anxiousness, this tension front and center in the final weeks of the presidential campaign and really try to pin it on Joe Biden and Democrats.
LIASSON: Look. In the past, law and order messages have often worked really well in presidential campaigns, except what Donald Trump has to do now is basically show pictures of what's happening while he's president and say, this is what's going to happen if Joe Biden is president, and even make the distinction as his chief of staff Mark Meadows did yesterday that in Trump's America, things are peaceful - in other words, two Americas, and Donald Trump is the president of red America. It's almost a parody or a caricature of the politics of division. Two messages - I alone can fix it; not my responsibility, happening in Democrat cities.
DETROW: Yeah. I mean, it's - us versus them has been a theme since the day he started running for president.
LIASSON: This is as us-versus-themmy (ph) as you can get.
DETROW: So as we talk, Joe Biden actually just wrapped up a big speech in Pittsburgh. It's the farthest he's traveled and campaigned from his home in Wilmington since the pandemic began. And he did a couple of things that were noticeable to me. The first was made the point that you've heard from a lot of Democrats but not necessarily Joe Biden in the last week or so that all of this is happening on President Trump's watch and that President Trump not Joe Biden is the person to blame.
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JOE BIDEN: Fires are burning, and we have a president who fans the flames rather than fighting the flames. But we must not burn. We have to build. This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can't stop the violence because for years, he's fomented it.
DETROW: He also made it much more clear than he has before - even though Biden and Harris and other Democrats have been saying for a while that violence is not protesting.
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BIDEN: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It's lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted.
DETROW: Then he took a moment and said out loud something that a lot of people in his campaign have been kind of thinking and joking about.
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BIDEN: Ask yourself, do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really? I want a safe America; safe from COVID, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops.
LIASSON: What you just heard, I thought, was a really good answer to the question that I've heard from Democrats for months and months about Joe Biden. Would he be able to figure out a way to handle Donald Trump's daily attacks? That's something that has befuddled Democrats for the last four years. Hillary Clinton never quite figured it out. But he just lobbed the ball right back to Trump and said, you know what? He's lying about me. Take a look at me. You know, listen to your own eyes and ears. And then he basically flipped the script and said Donald Trump will not keep you safe. There's a pandemic. There's mass unemployment. There's rioting in the streets on Donald Trump's watch.
SUMMERS: Yeah, a couple of things that I found really interesting was on the heels of a Republican convention that was set on pointing out that Joe Biden, in Republicans' calculation, would not keep America safe, he's actually coming out front and center and saying the thing his allies have been saying for some time himself. And the other thing is he articulated something that Democrats believe, which is that President Trump has been responsible for destabilizing every aspect of American life. And you heard him kind of point by point make that case throughout the speech. And I think it's something that could be really interesting. I'm looking forward to hearing from voters who may still - there aren't that many of them but voters who may still be on the fence as to whether or not that's an argument that sells to them, whether or not they accept that premise.
DETROW: And, Juana, I feel like on one hand, Biden's campaign feels like this is a straightforward argument for them to make. But on the other hand, they hadn't really kind of been engaging with Trump in this way that much. And it also seems like the attacks of the last week at the RNC really did kind of put the Biden camp on the defensive. There was this scramble that Biden felt like he had to travel somewhere a little farther away from normal. He ended up at Pittsburgh. And I feel like - I don't know about you, but I feel like every single Democrat I came into contact with suddenly got incredibly anxious about how - the outcome of this election in the last four or five days or so.
SUMMERS: Yeah. I've heard some similar things from Democrats that I've been talking to, a number of which have said in different ways that their concern that Joe Biden had not been visible enough up until this point in laying out his own views on these issues and pointing back at the attacks from President Trump and his allies, particularly after just having, you know, the week-long Republican convention where the messaging both during the convention programming and outside of it was so relentless in defining Joe Biden and in many ways, distorting his record, particularly on the issue of crime - and they feel like he needs to do and say more.
LIASSON: But I think today's speech will probably quiet the concerns of some of those Democrats. In terms of being worried in the last four days, the Democrats I've talked to have been in a stone-cold panic for the last six months. But there's no doubt that a lot of them said that night - Thursday night, the last night of the Republican convention - they felt Kenosha was going to be more important than anything Donald Trump said on the South Lawn of the White House.
DETROW: So, Juana, I want to end with a question to you. In the second half of the podcast, we're going to hear some reporting that you and Asma Khalid did from the big march in Washington, D.C., on Friday, the commemoration of the March on Washington, taking a look at systemic racism, police brutality, the themes of this summer. But it feels like that moment of early protests that certainly had its violent moments in the first few days in June - a lot of it was certainly instigated by police being really aggressive with protesters, but then it broadened and became this widespread, widely supported movement for social justice. I'm wondering what the people you talked to on Friday felt about this sudden reframing and refocus on violence and chaos.
SUMMERS: I remember walking past the White House, actually, on Constitution Avenue through D.C., and there was a group of tourists from Chicago who were actually sitting there and, you know, kind of pointing at the White House and taking photos as you could see it from some feet away with all the barriers that are up in D.C. now. And they were talking about how we need to clean house and how they felt like Donald Trump wasn't a leader for people like them.
DETROW: All right. We're going to take a quick break. Mara, thanks as always.
LIASSON: Thank you.
DETROW: When we get back, much more from Juana's conversations with marchers in Washington. And we're back.
Before we took a break, Juana was talking about going and talking to protesters in Washington, D.C., on Friday at the big Get Your Knee Off Our Necks march. It was a commemoration of the famous 1963 March on Washington. She and Asma Khalid were both there.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Juana, I feel like this is the first time I've seen you in the flesh in months. But you look relatively the same.
SUMMERS: I know.
DETROW: All summer, we've seen protests against police brutality spring up across the country. And as we enter the final weeks of this particularly strange presidential election, Asma and Juana wanted to figure out whether or not those protesters will turn out to vote.
KHALID: You know, Juana, I think when we first came out here, you know, we were talking about one of the questions we really wanted to answer was whether or not the activism would translate into votes. And for what it's worth, most of the people that we talked to - they seem like they're pretty engaged in electoral politics and do intend to vote.
SUMMERS: Yeah. I think what we didn't expect, though, was the level of concern that these people have, particularly about the tactical act of exercising their vote and, in particular, one big thing - almost to a person, everybody that we talked to was concerned about the Postal Service. I've heard more urgency in the dozen or so people that we have spoken to today about that, the urgency not just to vote but make sure that your participation is counted, whether that is tracking that ballot, whether it is showing up yourself. And, Asma, with the other thing that I thought was so interesting is, I think, that in the weeks leading up to us coming to do this, we'd had a lot of conversations together and with other people on the team about this idea of older people in the party being concerned that younger people who are out here in these streets might not participate in the process.
STEPHANIE LYON: Well, younger people behind me - I preach to them every day about it.
SUMMERS: One of the marchers we talked to was Stephanie Lyon (ph). She's 68, and she told us about her No. 1 message for younger people.
LYON: That you have to vote because if there - if you don't vote, then you can't fuss when there's not a change.
SUMMERS: We have seen so much activism in this season. In cities across the country, people are coming out there, putting their bodies in the streets. But a lot of people like you are saying that you - people have got to vote too. Talk to me about that.
LYON: Well, the younger people, the millennials and the Gen X, believe that - ones I've spoken to because I come from the high school agenda of education - that their vote doesn't matter. They need to know that voting - registering to vote, your count - your vote does count.
SUMMERS: We have not talked to a younger person today who does not plan to go out and vote. We should say these are all really highly engaged people, but they're all planning to vote. And they're convinced that their peers are all planning to vote because the stakes are too high. They're worried about older people not showing up, which kind of made me chuckle a little bit.
KHALID: You're right, Juana. There was a couple of young people who told us that, you know, whether it's the coronavirus or the belief that they've been voting for 40 years and nothing has changed - they have this assumption that if the election is close or if Donald Trump wins reelection that it won't be because their generation didn't turn out, which yeah, I will say, you know, historically, young people have not turned out in as large of numbers. But they seem pretty convinced that, as you said, the stakes are too high or that just there has been a level of activism from their generation that they feel is unusual and unprecedented.
AKINA NEWBRAUGH: I don't think we've ever seen a young generation like this so active.
SUMMERS: Another marcher we spoke to was Akina Newbraugh (ph). She's 26 and believes her generation is more politically active than they're given credit for.
NEWBRAUGH: So active and much more active than the older population right now that are kind of on the in between whether I want to vote or not. And I think luckily, the younger generation - because they're so exposed to media and Instagram and Facebook and everything, they're so - they understand what's going on. And they understand that whether you love Biden or not that you've got to vote for him because we can't have four more years of Trump. So...
KHALID: So you just said whether you love Biden or not.
NEWBRAUGH: Yeah (laughter).
KHALID: What do you think about him?
NEWBRAUGH: Oh, that is a loaded question. I - our best option is Biden, right? Our best option is Kamala. And I will support them to the end of it, and that is how I will portray myself from here on out. You know, we can have problems with their viewpoints and their policy goals. But the important thing is once we can get them into office, that is when we can make substantial change because whether we're aligned perfectly on ideas, that's not going to matter because we - I don't like - I don't know if our democracy will legitimately survive another four years.
SUMMERS: I just - as we're having this conversation, I keep watching behind us. You know, it is 11:40 a.m. We've been out here for several hours. People are still just streaming into this event. Overwhelmingly, the people that we talked to don't live in this area. They came from elsewhere because they felt it was so critical to be here in this moment, and they weren't deterred by the heat. They weren't deterred by the coronavirus, though they were taking lots and lots of precautions, as are the organizers of this I must add. But people just keep coming in, and I think that it shows how historic of a moment this is and how much they're hoping that it sends a message.
KHALID: I guess it is time for us to say goodbye now. It was fun, by the way, to actually report with a real colleague in the flesh.
SUMMERS: We might not see each other again until Election Day if that.
KHALID: All right, well take care of yourself.
SUMMERS: You too.
KHALID: All right. Bye-bye.
DETROW: That was Juana Summers and Asma Khalid at the Get Your Knee Off Our Necks march in Washington on Friday. That's a wrap for today. We'll be back tomorrow.
I'm Scott Detrow. And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.
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