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To read more about Episode 193, visit the main episode page.
Michael Moore [00:00:33] This is Rumble, and I am Michael Moore. Welcome everyone to today’s episode of my podcast. I am going to have a very special guest with me. Baratunde Thurston will be joining me on this podcast. We’re going to talk about a number of things I think you’ll find interesting. Before we get started, though, I want to thank you for all the feedback that you sent to me on the episode, Episode 192, this past week with film director Raoul Peck, the director of “I Am Not Your Negro,” and the new film “Exterminate All the Brutes.” If you have not seen this documentary, it’s on HBO, HBO Max, HBO On Demand. If you don’t have HBO, maybe try to get a free trial for 30 days, just so you can watch this and then make sure you unhook the trial so you don’t get charged any more money or any money at all. “Exterminate All The Brutes,” I’m telling you, my friends, this is an amazing documentary.
Michael Moore [00:01:40] Encourage all of you to see it. And I want to, if you don’t mind, just occasionally, we have a little mailbag segment here of Rumble, where I read some letters from some of you and I’d like to kick today off just for a few minutes to share some of these wonderful emails that I received at Mike@MichaelMoore.com. That’s my email address. So let’s kick it off here with Wendy. Wendy wrote, Michael, I can hardly breathe watching this documentary, but I will finish it and then I will watch it all again. That is the best way to see a great film. And yes, it is hard to breathe while you’re watching it but sometimes we have to keep our eyes open and we have to be shown those things that the system didn’t want us to see while we were in school or after school in the media or whatever. Jane, from Paris, France, wrote to me and she said I finally watched the film, it was magnificent and horrifying. One day, some years ago, while walking in Paris, we came upon a poster for a film by Raoul Peck and my friend said to me, I love this man. He’s the most important filmmaker of our time. It was a moment well remembered. So thanks again, Michael, for recommending that. I hassled with HBO to see it. All the best, Jane.
Michael Moore [00:03:11] It’s wonderful, good luck, and thank you for figuring out from France how to break into HBO. Joe is next. Joe wrote to me and he said, Hi, Mike just wanted to thank you for the interview with Raoul Peck. I started watching “Exterminate All the Brutes” shortly after listening. It is perhaps the greatest and most tragic moment in history when the Europeans decided that a person of color was a brute and one that merits continued examination. Mark Twain’s essays on the issue, which were not published in his lifetime are as timely today as ever. I agree with that. Peck’s and your work are also so incredibly incisive. I only hope the audience continues to grow. Yes, I do, too, and I think it is. Thanks, Joe, for that.
Michael Moore [00:03:59] Rob from Tennessee says, Dear Michael, I wanted to write to tell you how much I appreciate you, and especially your conversation with Raoul Peck, which I listened to this morning. I watched episode one of “Brutes” last night and it’s truly a masterpiece, and I look forward to watching the rest of it in the coming days. It is difficult to explain the range of emotions I am experiencing on this Memorial Day morning and at this moment in history. I’m a white male two weeks younger than you are, Mike, and I’m consistently reminded and appreciative of how similar our sensibilities are. I can’t tell you how comforting it is to have someone like you and to know that my intense feelings and love of country or at the very least, what it aspires to be, are matched by others, especially true While living in these times, watching the convulsions of our right leaning friends as they deal with the truths and lies battling within their subconscious. I was struck and overcome with gratitude by the generosity of Mr. Peck to show us a different path. And for you to show us how to listen, act and reconcile. Thank you, Michael Moore. That’s very sweet. Thank you for saying those things. I’ll make sure Raoul hears this.
Michael Moore [00:05:25] Christiane in Pennsylvania says, Hi, Michael, I really enjoyed your conversation with Raoul Pick. I got a one week free HBO Max trial to watch, yes, good, part one and part two so far. Freaking wow. Shocking and hard to watch. Rich in every way. Brilliant. I’ve learned so much that I didn’t know or understand. I’m a French-Canadian. I live here in Pennsylvania and I’ve been here since 1997. Racism permeates everything here. Lately, I’ve been thinking, What the hell have I done coming here? Oh yeah, I hate the cold. OK, well, you didn’t go far enough south, if you’re just in Pennsylvania. I feel like going back to Quebec. But I have two young kids who consider themselves Americans. So I’m stuck, but I made damn well sure they got Canadian citizenship. There’s always a Plan B, my friends. Thank you for all that you do with genuineness and passion. I’m glad I caught this podcast in time. I will watch Raoul’s other films. Take care, Christiane.
Michael Moore [00:06:33] And then finally, Mary from Reno, says, Michael, I just finished watching “I Am Not Your Negro.” Amazing work. Profound and painful. Wow. Hey, everybody, thanks for all your feedback. I love getting your letters. You can email me at my email address. Yes, it is my address. I read my own emails. Now, I’m not able to respond to hundreds or thousands of people, so please understand that. But I do read them and you can write me at Mike@MichaelMoore.com. And as I said at the beginning, I’ll be chatting in just a couple of minutes with comedian, writer, thinker, podcaster Baratunde Thurston.
Michael Moore [00:10:45] OK, so we’re back here and you’ve heard me discuss for years how civics is no longer being taught in many of our schools and how now generations of Americans are going through our educational system, not learning about the active role they are supposed to be playing as citizens in a democracy. Well, this is just driving me crazy for a long time. And you know, obviously, you know, when I was growing up back in the day, you had civics class, you had government class. And in my high school, student council was actually a class that you got credit for. So you met every day as the legislative body for the students in the high school. So I was fully immersed in the concept of learning about how the government works and what our, your, my role is in it. As I said, none of this is an accident. I think that the fact that we’ve sunk to this low point now with the corporate powers that be, they would much rather have a passive and uneducated society that follows its rules with no questions asked and not knowing what questions to even ask.
Michael Moore [00:12:02] And so for the past few decades, the American people have been trained to be consumers rather than citizens. Well, today I am joined by a guest who, like me, wants to change that. And he has become a forceful advocate for making sure that young people, students learn how our government works and how they can be part of it. Baratunde Thurston is my guest. He’s a writer, a thinker, a public speaker. He’s also a comedian. In 2012, Baratunde published a satirical self-help book entitled “How to Be Black.” With the lack of civics in our schools, though, these days becoming such a problem and generations of Americans now being taught the tools to participate in our democracy, Baratunde, too, has now found a higher calling, he has started a podcast. So it’s with great pleasure to have him here today. His podcast is called “How to Citizen,” it’s a great Title. How to Citizen with Baratunde Thurston. And I’m pleased to welcome Baratunde to Rumble right now for the first time. Baratunde, welcome.
Baratunde Thurston [00:13:21] Welcome yourself, Michael. Young man Rumble. It’s good to be here. Thank you for having me and I’m thrilled. I’m thrilled. Thank you for that great setup.
Michael Moore [00:13:32] Oh no, I’ve been listening to your podcast and it’s such a, you know, for all the complaining all of us are doing, all the all the criticizing, always pointing out to you, what’s wrong, Baratunde does the very important second step of pointing out what’s wrong, he gives concrete ideas and actions for how we can make it right. And so, Baratunde, thank you for that. I mean, it’s really hopeful and inspiring to listen to you on your podcast.
Baratunde Thurston [00:14:04] Yes, mission accomplished. That’s exactly what we were going for. We are so aware of the ills and oh, are there ills, but it’s also necessary to remember what world we’re trying to build, and we have glimpses of it today. There are people building it. There’s folks who are restoring democracy and empowering the people and creating an economy that actually works for regular folks, and we should just follow their lead. So our show helps us all do that. Showcases people doing the work, it gives us a way to contribute to it, and we try to stay hopeful and aspirational in times that often feel quite the opposite.
Michael Moore [00:14:46] Yes. Well, thank you for doing that. You know, often, like if I’m a guest on a podcast or show or whatever, and I’m introduced and I’m described as an activist, and I always politely correct the person introducing me. I say, Thank you for saying that. Yes. But I am. But when you live in a democracy and you call yourself a citizen of a democracy that automatically implies you’re an activist, because if you’re not active as a citizen, then you’re not a citizen of a democracy because democracy will not last, if you’re sitting it out on the bench, if you’re ignoring what’s going on, right? So yes. So it’s enough to introduce me as a citizen of this democracy. That implies, it must imply, it has to imply that I’m also an activist, as are you and you and you and you and you.
Baratunde Thurston [00:15:42] That’s the key to the whole kingdom man. Because it’s not a kingdom. It’s us, it’s the people, it’s the demos. It’s we, the people, literally people power.You gotta break down that old Greek word? And we got it, we’ve got the power and we’ve got to be active in it. You know, when my wife and I, Elizabeth, we architected what we thought the show should be, we had to come up with some theories, some beliefs to kind of ground us before we just started making a show, we wanted some founding principles. And so we said, Well, what do we think if we interpreted citizen as a verb and not just as a birthright, as something that happens to you because of where your parents had sex and you were delivered, which is an accomplishment but doesn’t take much action on the part of the born. What if we interpret it as a verb and it requires you to do stuff? What would that be grounded in?
Baratunde Thurston [00:16:38] And so we said, OK, you show up. That’s number one. It’s a participatory thing. Active. And you invest in relationships with others because you can’t do this stuff by yourself. That’s the opposite of democracy and you understand your power, which is voting, but also so many more things. And you work for the collective benefit, not just your own selfish self-interest, but a collective self-interest. That when you see yourself a part of that, it’s not so much against your interests because you’re also part of something greater than yourself, right?
Michael Moore [00:17:08] Right.
Baratunde Thurston [00:17:09] But that first step, that action, it doesn’t move without that. And I think a lot of us, sadly, I mean, you’ve been doing a lot of anti-corporate work for quite some time and I think you understand this more than many people or more deeply than most people, I think we’ve been trained to feel powerless. And even in some of the rhetoric of our fellow activists, it’s like, Oh, those powerful people over there and then those powerless people down here. It’s like, I don’t think that serves us. I think in a proper democracy, all people have power. And so we have to remind ourselves of that and then behave accordingly.
Michael Moore [00:17:50] And those of us who don’t want us to govern ourselves, those who are what we call the powers that be.
Baratunde Thurston [00:17:57] Yeah, the powers that be.
Michael Moore [00:18:00] Self-appointed powers, because they’ve either held on to political power or financial power or whatever. But they want us to feel hopeless. They want the average citizen to feel that. I mean, that’s why all those sayings exist. You can’t fight City Hall, don’t rock the boat. In other words, don’t even bother because nothing is going to [change]. That’s exactly where they want us. And to, especially in these times, to have us so demoralized, the more demoralized the public can be, the better off. You know, we can get into talking about this a little bit because it’s just, yeah, I have not talked about it that much on my podcast, but I’ve now seen statistics and data of how the rich got more rich in the pandemic year here.
Baratunde Thurston [00:18:50] Oh, that K shaped recovery. Oh man.
Michael Moore [00:18:52] Yeah, oh wow. I mean. But I mean, just let me just start off because I heard you tell this story of you getting an early civics lesson at a very young age. And, you know, it was the same with me as you know, I was telling you beforehand about my mom taking us kids to our nation’s capital and wanting to show us how our democracy worked. But you on your podcast told the story of your mother giving you a pretty tough civics lesson. Would you share that with everyone who’s listening? Because I thought this was, this would be a good place to start.
Baratunde Thurston [00:19:35] My mother was Arnita Lorraine Thurston. She was born in 1940 in Washington, D.C., died 2005. She was an epic survivor in a nation bent on her destruction as a woman and a Black person, all in one. And she grew, I got to witness a grown up grow, which is a great privilege that she shared with me and my sister, Belinda. She also had very high standards. She had kind of immigrant mom standards, even though she was born here. And so one day when I was very young, certainly under 10 years old, she told me that it would be my job to come up with the system that we lived under after democracy or capitalism had failed. That was it. That was the homework. She’s like, if you can figure it out, maybe you and your sister together can work this out, but I think I believe that one of you would?
Michael Moore [00:20:31] Oh yeah.
Baratunde Thurston [00:20:33] Working on it, man. I mean, feeling like I’m running out of time. Quite honestly. There’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of pressure because there’s a lot of signals that both of those systems we have come to rely on are on the ropes. And there is more good that can come, but I feel like we got to innovate quickly, given the situation we’re in in the US and beyond, honestly.
Michael Moore [00:20:54] So how quickly do we do that and how do we do that in your mind in the way that you often, especially on your podcast, talk about this? Just share some of this with the people listening here.
Baratunde Thurston [00:21:06] I think one of the devastating contributors to the weakening of our democracy is the collapse in trust. And much of it for good reason. We have lost trust in major institutions, from big banks to big Catholic churches to Big Pharma. Just big things, just big things, we don’t trust it. You have a big in front of it, people aren’t really feeling it anymore. And many of these institutions have proven themselves unworthy to maintain the people’s trust. Because they have kind of abandoned us or betrayed us in certain ways. But that lack of trust, it has a negative feedback loop, where people who are hoarding power right now, they don’t want us to trust, right?
Baratunde Thurston [00:21:54] They are going to destabilize the whole thing, get us to fight each other. And I think for us to do what needs to be done, which I will describe as restoring and expanding democracy, requires us to kind of reset. And engage in activities which can let us build trust again. In ourselves first, like in our own power and our capacity to claim our power in a democracy, to be heard when so many people are trying to listen. And then we can do stuff together again. It’s not just me versus you. It’s me with you. And we see some commonness in that. That’s a lot of work. But I think if we recognize that trust building is a big part of it and that we’re not just trying to restore democracy, but we’re also trying to expand it because the versions of democracy we’ve had have never been as full as it could be for as long of a democratic history, small d this country has had, it’s never really existed, you know, we’ve never had the multiracial democracy that we have had the potential to cause for most of our history.
Baratunde Thurston [00:23:04] Many of our citizens, in fact, by some measures, most of our citizens, couldn’t participate in democracy. You know, women couldn’t vote for most of their time in this country. So is it a democracy if half of the population can’t legally participate in this most fundamental act? We’re unfinished. So we got to finish it. And so I think as we are all, so many of us and certainly the people who are listening to you are in an anxious state about the state of our democracy. I don’t think it’s enough to want to return to or restore, get the back up copy of the hard drive and put it back in place. We need to expand, you know, new hard drive, new servers, new capabilities and that involves building trust and that involves a lot of us dusting ourselves off.
Baratunde Thurston [00:23:54] And doing and recognizing that voting is great, if you can do it, the good job, if you can get it, but if you’re a child, you’re not able to in this country. If you have a felony record in certain states, you’re not able to. So let’s not stop there. Let’s also be informed about what’s going on in our communities. Let’s create. Let’s collaborate with each other again. Let’s build some stuff together, let’s practice. I think we are, we’re out of practice in democracy, Michael. And that is in part why we’re losing it.
Michael Moore [00:24:29] Well, part of being out of practice is that we used to when we were in school, we used to practice because we had classes about our democracy, about how to participate, how about how it worked? We knew very early on what a filibuster was and when I was growing up in elementary school or Junior High, we saw the filibuster being used for extremely racist reasons. So let’s circle back to what I said about your podcast and your mission to bring civics back.
Baratunde Thurston [00:25:08] I mean, I don’t know the stats, but I have felt the effects. We live in the same country and we are weak in so many ways right now. I think of, you know, what we’re living in, we call it the democratic experiment, and I think a lot of us forget the experiment part. We’re trying something. It is not the normal course of human events for people to govern themselves in such multitudes with such differences peaceably for extended periods of time.
Michael Moore [00:25:40] Mm-Hmm.
Baratunde Thurston [00:25:41] That’s just not how our species has done things. So what we’re attempting in the United States, sometimes doing, mostly trying, often failing, is novel. It’s novel, we’re still young at it, especially for a society of such differences – linguistic, ecological, ethnic, et cetera. We’re trying some radical stuff, man, and it’s pretty cool. Like if you just zoom out it’s like, Oh, y’all are trying to do a whole bunch of different tribes getting together now constantly at each other’s throats. Good luck with that. You know, you sure you don’t want a strongman to just tell you what to do. And we’re like, No, no, we got this. We got a whole division of power situation with the executive and the legislative. We’ve got a free press to hold all these fools accountable. We got judges out here, you know, not fully, it’s amazing what we set up.
Baratunde Thurston [00:26:33] But part of what sustains it is that we are constantly committing and recommitting to it. We’re in a relationship with each other where we have to constantly renew our vows, otherwise we drift and we take stuff for granted, and we forget that this experiment is active, that you don’t just say it and then coast for the rest of eternity. Oh, we said we were a democracy way back in 1776. We good. We’re not. We’re not. We don’t arrive, man, it’s a constant journey. And I think a lot of us forget that. I think we have succumbed to incentives that make it easy to forget that. Now I’ll try to get specific on that because that’s a lot of words. I get very frustrated when people get frustrated that folks aren’t voting. I understand the temptation to just be judgmental and patronizing about it. People die for your right to vote. How come you’re not voting? Why aren’t you informed about your electoral choices?
Baratunde Thurston [00:27:38] Maybe because I’m juggling three and a half jobs. Maybe because I don’t have time to show up as an active citizen because I can barely feed myself and my kids. This is where our version of capitalism undermines our potential for quality democracy. And it’s not just up to individuals to suck it up and walk it off and shake it off and all this nonsense, it’s up to us collectively to kind of reset some things and make it more possible for us to do that recommitment. But I think, you know, to your question about civics education, we have dumbed ourselves down, and when we are in this experimental phase, it’s not like we inherited this system from 5,000 years of tradition. We’re kind of making it up as we go along. You borrowed a little bit from the Greeks. We borrowed a little bit from all kinds of traditions that we haven’t even cited.
Baratunde Thurston [00:28:28] But we’re also just improvising. That the thing we commit to is blood and soil. It’s this idea that we could have a democracy, that we could have an inclusive democracy. I think that’s the best version of it. That means we’ve got to know where that is, and a system of government by, of, and for the people requires the people to understand their system and understand their power in it. And if you create a system where that’s impossible, where only rich people can afford to engage in democracy. That ain’t democracy. Right, because that’s not all the people. So we’re off course, we’ve drifted, we’ve drifted from the beginning. We’re particularly, askew right now, and I think we have a great opportunity, that’s the good news, that’s my positive spin on it. Great growth opportunity for democracy in America right now, Michael. Nowhere to go, but up. You know, we have one whole political party committed to insurrection and we’ve got nowhere to go but up, right?
Michael Moore [00:29:33] And it seems, even though 11 million more people voted for Trump this time last year than four years before that, it’s still the majority of Americans who agree on some pretty basic things. Yeah, and I spoke actually to a high school class today on Zoom.
Baratunde Thurston [00:29:58] They let you talk to children?
Michael Moore [00:29:59] I know the first thing I said to the teacher was, Are you sure you want to do this? Because the grief you’re going to get from what I’m about to say,.
Baratunde Thurston [00:30:09] Oh, I can’t wait for the parent letters to roll in.
Michael Moore [00:30:11] I felt so bad for her at the end of it. The first thing I told the students was that it’s OK to fail. It’s OK to make mistakes. Don’t think if you’ve got a bad grade on something, that’s the only way I learned how to make a movie. Because I didn’t go to film school. So I had to shoot a lot of rolls of film and make a lot of mistakes before I figured out how to do it. And that’s sometimes our greatest teacher is the mistake that we’ve made. And the key is not to make it again, to learn from it, but anyways, yeah, so what I was telling the kids today is that, you know, I have a lot of hope because of them, this generation. That it’s really a generation or two that we’ve raised, they’re not like a lot of the kids when I was growing up. There is a noticeable lack of hate. Of homophobia, of other isms. And it’s. I’m not saying that they don’t have, that there are young people that are serious white supremacists, but it I have noticed that we have a good go at it here because, not only because these kids are so good and smart and they know what’s what, but also because the majority of our fellow Americans believe women should be paid the same as men.
Michael Moore [00:31:38] The majority of our fellow Americans, yes, believe that climate change is real. The majority believe that the minimum wage should be at least $15 an hour.
Baratunde Thurston [00:31:48] The Marxists.
Michael Moore [00:31:49] Yes, but every single poll shows what I’m saying here. So, in some ways, we don’t have to convince the majority of Americans. They’re already there. Do you know how easy that makes it for us to create change? Because let me tell you, Martin Luther King or Gloria Steinem, any of the gang at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, listen, they did not have the majority of Americans with them when they were fighting for what they fought for. The American public is so slow to be convinced and to move toward the light. But somebody had to get it going. Somebody had to get it going. And in some of them, in their lifetimes, they did not live long enough to see it going. But now here we are. You know, the majority of Americans believe that college should be free. That there should be free daycare for young children. That there should be, just go down the list.
Michael Moore [00:32:54] And yet we don’t have these things. But the hard part, I think, is just convincing to turn somebody 180 from, you know, believing that there should even be a minimum wage law to actually agreeing, yes, it benefits everyone. If people are paid a good wage because every boat rises then. And the society is in better shape.
Baratunde Thurston [00:33:18] I love that.
Michael Moore [00:33:20] Right? Yeah, go ahead.
Baratunde Thurston [00:33:23] One of the things…So a lot of companies in the past year needed a Black person to talk to and so they called me and they’re like, Baratunde, please tell us how naughty we’ve been. Please tell us that we still have goodness in us. We’ll pay you, just say something. And I would do a lot of these race talks in 2020-2021. And one of the things I try to do when I’m talking to especially white audiences about race is I try not to lecture down, even though I do know more because I’ve been Black my whole life and America has taught me some things that maybe hasn’t taught them. And I think I see a little bit more of a truth that many white Americans are having a delayed response to being exposed to. But I don’t know everything about everything, certainly, and to try to build a connection and a relationship, I remind them and myself that I am a man and that I’ve inherited such an honor and privileges just because of the genitalia I was born into this world with.
Baratunde Thurston [00:34:26] I didn’t choose it. They chose me. I showed up and teachers listen to me more because I had a penis. That’s just the fact. And maybe I’m good. I mean, I am good. Maybe I’m articulate. Certainly, I know how to weave a word or two and more people paid attention to me and assumed I was credible because I was a dude. And I’m sure that has helped me out. That level of awareness, we all need something like that. We all need more of that, more humility to help us see what’s possible. When you start to describing how much we agree on things, how the majority believe X, Y or Z. Yes, that’s a massive accomplishment. Yes, that is huge, but it makes it all the more painful to me that we don’t have those things. Hmm. And it’s not, I think the good news is we don’t need a whole change in our values. I think mostly we need a system that lives up to our values. That’s the good news. The bad news is we have majorities for health care, for sane gun regulation, for minimum wages and fair compensation and all this stuff. And we still don’t have it.
Baratunde Thurston [00:35:43] Because we live in a system of minority rule. We live in an imbalanced electoral construct with the Electoral College, we’ve got cattle in Montana getting more say than the humans of Washington, D.C. in terms of how we govern ourselves.
Michael Moore [00:35:59] Right.
Baratunde Thurston [00:35:59] So things are out of balance and it’s frustrating. I mean, I’m inspired and excited. I’m also angry and annoyed because like, Oh, we have come such a long way in terms of public sentiment, but our public policy isn’t keeping up in so many ways. And I’m remembering Michael because I’m drifting a little bit when you were talking about people agreeing with paying folks more, like convincing people that it’s kind of in my interest for you to get more money, that’s kind of hard for Americans. Because we’ve been raised on this extreme individualism. The zero sum mentality, as Heather McGhee calls it in her super excellent book.
Michael Moore [00:36:41] Yes.
Baratunde Thurston [00:36:41] But what I realized as a dude, when you talk about pay inequality, my wife gets paid more. That’s more money for the household, right? Right. It’s not, Oh, my wife gets paid more, I’m getting less money. No one’s saying that. No one’s saying reduce men’s pay. They’re saying pay women what they’re worth, pay women fairly. And that money goes into households where guess what men live there to. Little boys who may become men live there. And if that household has more resources than that household is healthier, now scale up the household to the neighborhood, scale up the neighborhood to the city, to the state, to the nation. Oh shit, if we pay women more, we could be a stronger nation. Well, I’ll be. People love to talk about how great this country is. We went to the Moon. Big whoop. We could have been to Mars by now if we paid women equally a hundred years ago. More wealth in the system to power those rockets. And not wait on Elon Musk to save us. End of rant. Thank you for indulging me.
Michael Moore [00:37:45] No, no, listen, I was just thinking about you standing in front of a roomful of essentially, mostly a white audience at some company. In that moment is the sort of I don’t know if it’s the inner comedian or the righteous citizen in you, do you ever just feel like standing up there and saying, Get the fuck out of here? I’m tired of it. I’m tired. I have nothing more to say to you other than: what are you going to do to right this wrong?
Baratunde Thurston [00:38:19] Yeah.
Michael Moore [00:38:19] To right the ship that we’re all on because it’s tilted the wrong way and we’re going to sink as a result of it.
Baratunde Thurston [00:38:26] I’m increasingly having those moments. I think, you know, I was born in ’77, raised in the 80s in the crack wars in D.C., started going to private school when I was 13 years old and started getting acculturated to prestige in America, to a level of whiteness in America, which has made me quite a translator and able to navigate very frothy waters. And it’s also made me super diplomatic to the point where I get to say things that a lot of Black people can’t get away with saying because I got a really dope smile and I can crack a joke to help it go down. There have been times in the past year where I’ve had no diplomacy left.
Michael Moore [00:39:05] Yeah.
Baratunde Thurston [00:39:05] None. I remember speaking to a group of students myself, and there were some parents on the line who were very uncomfortable with my remarks about the then-president. And I just had to stop and I said, Listen, none of you want your children to behave the way the president of the United States behaves, and if they did, you would ground them, you would punish them, you would lecture them, you would not tolerate this in your own house. Why would you inflict that on my house, right? Don’t lie to yourself. You know this shit is unacceptable, right? That was just a moment, and they had nothing to say. What could you say? And then with the companies, I think a lot of these companies want to, you know, they want to post the right thing on Instagram. They want to do the right thing. They don’t want to lose their handful of Black employees, but they have a choice to make in this moment of democracy.
Baratunde Thurston [00:39:59] Are you going to fund insurrection? Are you going to cosign and invest in authoritarianism? Are you going to become a handmaiden to fascism? Is that what you’re about? Because if you are, you should know, they’ll come for you, too, right? You think a nation built on the quote unquote rule of law, once it decides to discard millions of people’s votes and overthrow an election, won’t discard your property rights and your intellectual property claims as well. You think you’re safe? Think again. If this thing goes down, we all go down with it. And so you’ve got to come up off this whole like we don’t get political bent.
Michael Moore [00:40:47] Oh, right.
Baratunde Thurston [00:40:48] You’re pro-democracy or not. That ain’t a partisan thing. No, sadly, it kind of is with this version of the Republican Party. But in the US tradition, we should all be for that, because that’s what protects your ass. That’s why you get to call the police. That’s why you got roads you can drive your goods on. And that’s why you have some security that your money in the bank is going to be there tomorrow if you start chipping away at that faith of trust. If none of that’s around, that January 6th thing should have been a final wakeup call. We’re not playing games. This is it. This is it. The alarms are ringing. You’re not safe. And your lawyers won’t protect you.
Michael Moore [00:41:24] Why have the Republicans, why have they shown their hand? So clearly. It’s stunning to me to see them just out front trying to make sure that tons of people are going to find it very hard to vote next year and the year after and two years after that? Why are they showing such disdain and hatred for democracy, not for the Democratic Party, but for democracy? It’s, I mean, I’ve always known that that’s where their heart has been. They’ve always tried to suppress the vote. But they’re doing it so openly now and still following the former guy. And it’s like, part of me says, why are you trying to commit suicide as a political party? The other part says, maybe they know something I don’t know. Maybe they got those 11 million extra votes last year for a reason. And they’ll get 20 million extra votes next time because they’re so good at this. I don’t know. But yeah, my guard is not down.
Baratunde Thurston [00:42:39] And it should not be.
Michael Moore [00:42:40] I have no sense of, yes, it’s great that he’s gone. But anybody who is thinking that we’re kind of home safe now is sorely, sorely misbegotten. And it’s dangerous to take that position.
Baratunde Thurston [00:42:59] I think this Republican Party is a number of things. I think mostly they’re cowards. I think they were afraid. And I know fear. It can paralyze. It can move us to behave in ways that are not ourselves. It can cause all kinds of irrational behavior, it can cause us to harm ourselves and others because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of the truth coming out. We’re afraid of getting hurt. We’re afraid of losing something. And this Republican Party is afraid, because it knows that on a level playing field, it will get its ass whooped right now, electorally speaking. That without the aid of the Electoral College and significant amounts of gerrymandering and explicit voter suppression that the party of market competition and pro-capitalist free markets could not compete. Could not compete in a free market of ideas right now.
Michael Moore [00:44:04] That’s right.
Baratunde Thurston [00:44:05] They’re on the wrong side. Their product is garbage right now. Now the system needs them, right. I don’t like what they’re selling, but we need competent products on the shelf to beat this metaphor into a pulp, right, for some kind of balance. Argument is healthy. No one has a monopoly on all the best ideas. But right now, these folks, they know, and they have put themselves in this position that they’re strongest with the fear based vote, they’re strongest with the aging, with the white, with the racists, with the afraid, with those who see nothing but loss in their future, a future where their numbers dwindle. Their imagination is so narrow they can’t imagine a multiracial America actually benefiting white people too. Because that’s not the America they tried to build, right? They assume you and I don’t want to build that and include them as well.
Baratunde Thurston [00:45:01] It’s sad. It’s really sad. Yeah, but I think they know one other thing, Michael. It’s not just the raw, brutal math of it. We’ve painted ourselves into a corner with the extremist base. They’re afraid of Donald Trump. They’re afraid of, literally physically afraid of his followers. You know, they don’t, they saw that these folks were willing to try to lynch Mike Pence. And they don’t want to get lynched. That’s a natural human response. I have a small amount of sympathy for that. But at the same time, they also know that, or as much as they love to celebrate American exceptionalism, they understand we’re not exceptional at all. We’re just people. We’re just people capable of anything and we are capable of turning this democracy into a theocracy or an oligarchy or an aristocracy or an authoritarian regime.
Baratunde Thurston [00:45:56] And we can become Hungary, we can become Russia, we can become so many other countries that have flirted with democracy and then drifted and there’s power in that. And it’s not just the leadership, there’s a lot of people on the ground who are like, Yeah, democracy, I just want to win. And I’m willing to cheat. And as long as I’m winning I’ll tell myself a story that I need to believe that it’s the other people who are the cheats. It’s the dead Black people voting. That’s what the problem is. Our guy really won. Because the truth hurts. But I think they’re partially right. I hope in the long-term they’re wrong. That we won’t continue to indulge them in this belief that we can just waltz into fascism.
Baratunde Thurston [00:46:48] They’re betting on enough Americans being cool with fascism. And that’s scary because they kind of make it so by continuing to dally with it. You have a chance to do the easiest thing a politician should be able to do, which is say, Hey, hey, the US capitol, don’t attack that. Like shit, that shouldn’t have to be said, it’s a layup, it’s an easy thing, we shouldn’t do that, and they can’t even fix their faces to say that. That’s how afraid they are. And that’s how tempted they are by the power which lay on the other side of that compromise.
Michael Moore [00:47:28] See then what I think and I mean this in a very nonviolent way that, yeah, if they are that afraid, if their backs are against the wall like that, I think it’s our duty as citizens to put an end to them, not them as people, but to this kind of, this way of thinking, to this desire for fascism. I agree with you. I’m not, I would be willing to say that maybe a third of the country, 100 million Americans wouldn’t be unhappy with some form of fascist state.
Baratunde Thurston [00:48:02] And we’ve had this in our history.
Michael Moore [00:48:03] We have it in our history.
Baratunde Thurston [00:48:05] One hundred percent of Americans were not down with defeating Nazism, right? We had huge Nazi rallies in this country. Huge pro-Nazi stuff. Madison Square Garden full of Nazis. We forget this or we’re never taught it in the first place. But there’s always a number of people in this country who are down to undo the democracy, literally always have been. But I also, I think, there’s a certain type of power which acts as like a gravitational pull on people. And we lean toward, we bend toward the place where we think the power is. It happened to the Republican Party, right? They were at this fork in the road after they got their butts kicked in 2012. They had this whole thing. We gotta, we should start talking to Black people. We should stop painting all immigrants as like terrorists. We should stop that. They did this whole autopsy. They called it an autopsy because they were dead, right, and they could modernize, they could keep up with the changing demographics, they could catch up to the American people or they could go retrograde.
Baratunde Thurston [00:49:17] And they saw the big crowds and the free media attention that the last president brought and they were, like, Oh, that’s cheap fuel, it’s dirty coal, but it burns, let’s get it. And they doubled down on some antiquated ass fuel source and the rest of us out here trying to float on electric hoverboards. And they’re just spewing dirty, dirty coal smoke in everybody’s lungs. Because it works for them. I think there is enough of us. They believe in the clean, fuel powered democracy that we can bend this ship and create a new gravitational pull to lure enough toward a better future. We don’t need everybody. I love Biden’s inaugural address. My favorite line about unity wasn’t this simple idea that everybody has to agree all the time. He said, Enough of us have come together to move all of us forward. That’s all we’ve ever had, right? We’ve never had 100 percent. We’ve had enough.
Michael Moore [00:50:19] Right.
Baratunde Thurston [00:50:19] We just need enough. Just enough.
Michael Moore [00:50:21] That’s right. Wow, I love listening to you and I love your podcast. Thank you very much, Baratunde.
Baratunde Thurston [00:50:29] It’s been nice, rumbling with you, Michael. Thank you so much.
Michael Moore [00:50:32] We must all be rumbling, and thanks to all of you for listening, for participating. It means a lot. There’s so much going on right now, and we all have a lot of work to do together. But I am hopeful. I am optimistic. But I know it won’t be easy. I think you know that too. So thank you for being here with me. And also, thanks to my executive producer, Basel Hamdan, to our editor and sound engineer Nick Kwas and to our underwriters and everybody else, who have a hand in making sure that your voice, my voice, other voices are heard. So I greatly appreciate it and I will see you soon here on Rumble. This is my Michael Moore.