(Van Jones, former White House staffer in the Obama Administration, now TV commentator on CNN, and long-time activist in the African-American community, produced a remarkable exchange between himself and a “white” Trump-supporting family in Gettysburg, PA. Watch the video exchange here. I think you’ll be moved by it, and learn from it. This is the first segment of what will be a three part series (it’s about 10 minutes long).)
Here’s a little more about it:
Van Jones' new Facebook video series aims to humanize political adversaries through in-person interactions. Jones said he was trying to prevent what he calls the “#NextCivilWar” by engaging with a family supporting Donald Trump in their living room. “I feel like we’ve gotten this thing in America now, where we talk about each other, we never talk to each other,” Jones says, explaining the reason for having the conversation in the first place. “We’re here in Gettysburg, where there was a civil war because Americans couldn’t work it out,” Jones went on. “And I’m worried that we’re gonna have another civil war - or is this a civil war?”
One family member agreed that the country stood on the brink of an armed conflict, claiming he knew people willing to take up arms if Hillary Clinton was elected, even if he wasn’t willing to do so himself. “A lot of it’s gonna rely on the way this election ends up,” the man said. “Hillary gets in, there could very well be a civil war.”
From there, the conversation turned more substantive--if tense at times--covering issues like regulation, trade deals and immigration. Kimberly Fean Corradetti, the host who welcomed Jones into the house, lamented that Americans without a college degree could no longer get decent-paying manufacturing jobs. “These jobs have left us within the last 25 to 30 years--they’re gone--because so much federal regulation has strangled business - strangled ‘em,” she said.
Then Jones confronted his hosts with the elephant in the room--race--and specifically Trump’s race-baiting rhetoric, including his comments calling Mexicans “rapists.” “So he’s a horrible speaker,” Corradetti said, adding that Latino immigrants offended by Trump’s comments calling Mexicans “rapists” should “toughen up.” “No, you don’t have the right to tell someone else how to deal with the pain that they’re going through,” Jones responded. “If you say, ‘You should have a thicker skin,’ if you say, ‘You have got to get over yourself,' I’m gonna hear that as, ‘This person does not respect me, does not understand me, does not know what I’ve gone through.’”
Here’s what I think is missing in Van Jones exchange: on the video you will see Corradetti point to pictures on her mantle and tell him, “those people—no doubt her family—were all immigrants.” Given her last name, I think it’s safe to assume that at least some of them were Italians. If you’re as old as I am, you may remember when Italians in this country were “WOPs” (WithOutPapers). Sound familiar?
Had I been at the video session, and were I Ms. Corradetti, I might have responded to Van Jones, “There was nobody in those days to tell people using that term that they shouldn’t. Nobody censured them on campus for ‘hate speech’. While her choice of “toughen up” might not have been the best of phrases, her point is one made by a lot of white-ethnics in this country: “We made it without government telling people what they couldn’t say; there wasn’t ‘political correctness’ in their day.” And they’d probably elaborate, “We made it without affirmative action, quotas or any other programs like that.”
I hope the coming Van Jones discussions (there are two more) get into these issues, and clarify some of these questions. Until he, or any of us who care about the state of justice in the United States, does, we won’t get past the barrier that now makes adversaries of people who should be allies.
Mike Miller has had almost 60 years experience as a community organizer. Before founding the ORGANIZE! Training Center in San Francisco in 1972, he was a founding member of SLATE and an SNCC field secretary. In 1967, he directed one of Saul Alinksy's community organizing projects.
(The quote at the top of the
page is by Desmond Tutu.)