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- “Film ‘Women in Blue’ Explores What Women Bring to Policing,” Roxy Szal, Ms., May 20, 2020.
- “Georgia Wrongfully Purged 200K Voters—With Focus on Black Voters, ACLU Report Finds,” Abby Lawlor, Ms., September 10, 2020.
We’re rounding up the best, worst, and most WTF-inducing of 2020 over here at Ms. Check out our end of year roundups, including our top stories of the year, our favorite reads, memorable moments from “On the Issues,” and so much more.
00:00:00 Michele Goodwin:
Welcome to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. Magazine, a show where we report, rebel and tell it like it is. On this show we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. Join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times.
On our show, history matters. We examine the past as we pivot to the future. On today’s show we focus on the year in review and looking ahead to 2021 and beyond. This year has been defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, a reckoning on racism and policing in the United States, the 2020 election, and the ongoing fight for justice.
So, what does the 2020 election and the Biden-Harris win mean for our democracy? How important is the outcome of the Georgia runoff for the Biden-Harris administration and for our nation? How are we going to address the legitimacy question of our United States Supreme Court, and what hope lies ahead in the realm of reproductive health rights and justice.
Now helping us to sort out those questions and so many more are really important guests. So, I’m joined by Russ Feingold. He is the president of the American Constitution Society. Russ served as a United States Senator from Wisconsin and also a Wisconsin State Senator. He’s the author of While America Sleeps: A Wake-up Call for the Post-9/11 Era.
I’m also joined by Deirdre Fishel. She is an award-winning filmmaker. Her films have been broadcast in 35 countries worldwide. She just finished Women in Blue, a feature documentary that follows women officers of the Minneapolis Police Department, and explores the intersections of race, gender, power, and violence in American policing. This film will broadcast on PBS on February 8, 2021.
I’m also joined by Stephen Vladeck. He is the A. Dalton Cross Professor in Law at the University of Texas School of Law, he’s a nationally recognized expert on federal courts, constitutional law, national security law, and so much more. He’s argued before the United States Supreme Court, the Texas Supreme Court, lower federal courts. You’ve also seen him on CNN, and you’ve probably heard him on his award-winning and very popular podcast, National Security Law Podcast.
Last, but not least, I am joined by Andrea Young. She is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. She is also the former vice president for External Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, and she served as vice president of the National Black Child Development Institute.
Welcome to our Ms. Magazine show. Thank you all for joining us to discuss these very important issues as we wrap up 2020.
I want to start off our end of the year show with the tragedy of the death of George Floyd, which actually came after Breonna Taylor’s death, and turn to you, Deirdre to tell us a bit about the film that you made, Women in Blue, and the backdrop for it because it takes place in Minneapolis, and who could predict that when you decided to do a film on policing that we would be in the space that we’ve been in 2020.
00:03:31 Deirdre Fishel:
Well, ironically, or not so— tragically, I should say, I got interested in the film because of Eric Garner’s killing by the NYPD and it was so…it seemed so…such violence and it’s sort of incomprehensible. So I had a friend, it was a woman cop, and I asked her if it could’ve happened on her watch, and it wasn’t just that she said, no, it couldn’t have, it was that she said I just would’ve started and said, hey, my name is Sally, what’s your name.
And I kept just sort of thinking about that sort of human, just kind of a certain approach, and that led me into some research that showed that there’s been evidence since the 1990s that was done after the Rodney King beating by the Christopher Commission in California that women officers do communicate better and that because of that they tend to slow things down and that they do use less force, and there was kind of a movement to…in the 90s with community policing to get more women into police forces and then 9/11 happened and there was really just this push towards militarization.
And so, that’s…I felt that that was something. Why wasn’t anybody talking about women and what they could potentially bring given the level of police violence that we’ve had in this country? And that led me to Minneapolis, and I went there primarily because there was a woman chief who was trying to reform the department and it was tough going, but she did see bringing women as part of the solution.
00:05:08 Michele Goodwin:
And she’s a woman of color too, right?
00:05:10 Deirdre Fishel:
Yes, she is a Native American woman. And you know, three months after I got there, there was a very tragic and high-profile shooting, this time of a white woman, a white Australian woman by a Black officer and…
00:05:25 Michele Goodwin:
And Chief Harteau was fired.
00:05:27 Deirdre Fishel:
And she was fired rapidly. And you know, it was very…it was really upsetting to see the racial dynamics there that when a white woman is killed by a Black officer everything, you know, everybody looks and there’s a lot of attention and she was quickly fired. But what was shocking to me was that how quickly the police department reverted.
It really within months there were no women in the executive team, women were diminished, and so that’s when I really started to see like, there is obviously systemic racism throughout police departments, there’s no question about that. But there’s also systemic sexism and that’s a sentiment sexism also plays a part in the violence that impacts communities of color.
So, I…unbelievably our story ends with George Floyd’s, you know, murder. There’s no question. It was a lynching, it was a murder that even Chief Harteau now says in retrospect perhaps some of the reforms that she was hoping to get through were naïve, but when do you stop?
And I think, you know, it’s an interesting moment because there’s so much to criticize about the police, and they’ve done…you know, they’re founded on the systemic racism that is our country and yet there are so few people in there, and there are some women trying to reform it. And I really feel like as we look at reimagining policing, we should be thinking about gender as well and particularly, and I think it’s more now in the central character in our film, Sergeant Alice White, Black women…Black women from the community and what they bring in their understanding of trauma.
It is unbelievable to see an officer who really understands the trauma that Black communities have faced with police, and to be a person who’s trying to heal, it’s sort of revolutionary, and not that there aren’t some, you know, racist women in police departments, but I think it’s something that we should be looking at.
00:07:27 Michele Goodwin:
So on that note I want turn to you too, Andrea, because you’re the Executive Director of the Georgia affiliate of the ACLU, go ACLU, and certainly these matters, criminal justice and policing, are issues that you’ve cared about for a very long time, and these are issues that your affiliate has also addressed. How has the wake of George Floyd’s murder affected matters that you work on and are concerned about in Georgia?
00:07:58 Andrea Young:
Well, of course like virtually every community of almost any size in the United States we saw sustained massive protests, and I think that the results and the impact and the awareness that people came to as a result of that sustained effort, we have seen some different people elected to office.
But as the ACLU, one of the things that was really heartening is that we had a lot of members who wanted to be supportive of the Black Lives Matter protest. They didn’t want to sort of get in front of it. They want to be allies. And so, we stood up legal observers across the state, but particularly in Atlanta, when the police started getting very militarized, you know they started interfering with groups that were basically peaceful just because there was a curfew. And so, we found that our legal observers just their presence kind of helped to calm and kind of keep everybody honest.
But when you look at the election results in Georgia we’ve had a lot of discussion about, you know, Georgia going for Joe Biden, but the thing that is missing is really an analysis in Cobb County re-elected a reformed sheriff. An African-American male was elected sheriff. A Black woman was elected chair of the County Commission.
In Gwinnett voters turned out, you know, a sheriff that was anti-immigrant and so forth and elected a progressive sheriff. In Athens-Clarke County we elected the first Puerto Rican woman district attorney in the United States. In Savannah, in Augusta, in Douglas County, so you know, we saw people make the connections that these are elected officials, district attorneys, mayors.
You know, we know the mayors are elected officials, but people became aware that district attorneys and sheriffs are elected by the people, and people used their vote to vote. They voted out the district attorney who refused to prosecute the folks who killed Ahmaud Arbery. This woman was voted out of office in a conservative, rural county. So voters spoke, and I think that the Black Lives Matter, the sustained protests really served to educate lots and lots of people about these issues.
And I have to say as someone who comes out of the nonviolent movement that George Floyd really should’ve been the person of the year. The tragedy of his death, but because he died with such dignity, with such restraint, with such, you know, I mean just totally nonviolent, no violent resistance at all, however, even though it would’ve been totally justified, but he— calling out to his mother, that people saw that, and no one, no one could fail to see, you know, that this was a lynching and what this meant.
And so, I think there’ll be…I think that we are still…the reverberations of this movement are going to continue. I think we saw…had a Black woman sheriff elected in DeKalb County. So I think we’re going to see tremendous change as a result of this movement, and very important policy change is going to happen as well.
00:11:54 Michele Goodwin:
I really appreciate your saying that. So I want to turn to you, Russ and Steve, because what Andrea is suggesting and saying is that there’s some silver linings. In this show we get to silver linings towards the end of the show. But she’s actually suggesting that there were some silver linings that came out of such horrific tragedies that we saw at the beginning of the year.
Ahmaud Arbery’s death, being tracked down, hunted down and murdered, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, that this leading to peaceful movements across the United States, and so it didn’t get the same national attention, the fact that people responded even in some conservative communities to vote out certain people who wield significant authority in the criminal justice realm.
So, I want to turn to you to talk more about that. You know, there are people who say yes, but 74 million people voted for Donald Trump, but is there another way to look at this election that picks up on what Andrea has shared with us?
00:12:56 Russ Feingold:
I think there is, Michele, and you know, looking at the scope of 2020, which isn’t quite over and I think we’re ready for it to be over, I was really stunned by the depth of the response to the George Floyd incident, and I think it is not without significance that this occurred in Minneapolis. I am sitting here in the next state over in Wisconsin amidst all the snow outside.
Another one of the major incidents was in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where my sister is a rabbi. These are not places that people have traditionally associated with problems with police. They may think of the South. They may think of racist things in the South. They may think of big cities. It was really galvanizing for, and of course Deirdre’s film and work on this is about this, to see this problem in places in America where people may not think about, so that in my view created sort of a national perspective on this that was part of the reason that the response was so powerful.
The other thing I want to say is, look, this wasn’t just in the United States. The response was all over the world. People were talking about George Floyd all over the world. Why is that? it’s not because of some great love for the United States or some great hatred for the United States. It’s because those people have been subjected to the results of colonialism just like people in this country.
I love our Constitution, but our Constitution reflects colonialism in many ways, in fundamental ways. And so, I think this is a moment when the whole world realizes that the legacy of colonialism and imperialism in these situations is still playing out today.
Now I know you asked for a silver lining, I’ll give you that. Okay. So you would expect and with my political background is very possible when one of these things happens people take up sides and you say who’s side are you on, and that’s how you voted in the election, and so it’s very possible and there’s property damage and violence, and people say, well, I’m on this side so I’m going to vote this way. It was close. That’s not what happened in Wisconsin.
Even after that Kenosha incident where Trump ran right into Wisconsin as fast as he could to try to exploit what happened in Kenosha, and then Biden came and of course was much calmer about it, Biden still won. People did not go to the racist corner, and that to me is definitely a silver lining that is only a small addition to the excellent examples that Andrea gave.
00:15:37 Michele Goodwin:
Steve, what’s your take on these issues in Texas, a place that the nation turns its eyes to?
00:15:42 Stephen Vladeck:
Yeah, I mean I guess I’m a little more circumspect not because I haven’t been heartened by all of the developments that Deirdre and Andrea and Russ pointed to, but because you know here in Texas I mean even though we are a pretty purple state we have a deep red state legislature, we have a deep red state government, neither which are interested in almost any of these things.
And even when, you know, local jurisdictions try to make progress the response is often for the state to come in and actually pass laws that disempower those local jurisdictions like here in Travis County and the city of Austin from doing that.
But the other thing I was going to say, Michele, is I was more optimistic as recently as the last time you and I spoke that all of this momentum coming out of the summer would actually translate into some kind of nationwide policy reform. You know, we had Congress for the first time really ever having a serious conversation about qualified immunity. We had Congress, you know, considering a whole bunch of legislative proposals that would’ve made it at least easier to hold even local law enforcement officers accountable, and that all died at least, you know, as a matter of public attention.
As we went into the election I think it probably died as a matter of policy almost no matter what happens in the Georgia runoffs, you know, on January 5th. And so, I think, you know, the question is how do we keep the momentum and how do we keep the pressure up so that it’s not just the grassroots efforts on the ground that Deirdre and Andrea were talking about that are responsible for reform, but so there’s actually some leadership at the federal level.
And in that regard, I mean the thing that I was actually most heartened by in all of these developments was just how much energy and effort and frankly money that we saw professional athletes putting into these topics. I mean I think, you know, when we look back at the summer of 2020 and all of these issues the sort of, you know, the shattering of the glass, the breaking of the taboo, you know the era of Michael Jordan saying Republicans buy sneakers too.
That seems to be over now. And I think it’s really important that folks in these communities who tend to be marginalized politically actually use the clear power they have, and we’ve seen that, and so I hope that that becomes one of the hallmarks of the positives that come out of this very tragic, very fraught series of social events.
00:18:10 Michele Goodwin:
Yeah, I’m so glad that you brought that up because it says a lot about whose messaging matters, how we understand facts altogether, right? Because many of these athletes, they play, they play their profession, is in these very spaces where Russ said people don’t really think about Minneapolis, they don’t think about Kenosha, these athletes do, right?
In Wisconsin there have been Milwaukee Bucks basketball players who have been arrested while going to their car in parking lots, you know? The same has been true across the country that these athletes walk a very fine line. On one hand, they’re highly celebrated. Clearly fans know what they look like, but sometimes police officers clearly do not, and so they walk that racial line.
So, I actually want to turn to that communicating, because we see now folks are not just relying on news. News itself has become a bit compromised, and you have this messaging coming from athletes, of all people, and others. So what do we take of that, right? I know you weren’t necessarily prepared for that question, but Steve opened it up, right? Who do people listen to now? How do we understand Fox News or understand what news is at all?
00:19:26 Andrea Young:
But also, the role that the players had was quite material. I mean in Atlanta the Hawks, the coach of the Hawks led an effort that the Hawks stadium was an early voting site, and that inspired all of the arenas to be made available during early voting which made for safer voting, right, it’s more easily to be socially distant. There’s not…you know, we had a new stadium so it’s kind of like, hey, this is cool, I haven’t actually seen it so I’ll go vote here.
And we also did…you know, the multiple recounts that happened in the state of Georgia, they also made the arena available so that people could do a safe recount…socially distant recount. So, they had a very concrete impact on people’s ability in a lot of these urban centers to vote and vote safely despite the COVID epidemic. And of course, you know, the big stand-up was the Atlanta Dream who support Raphael Warnock against the owner of their team, Kelly Loeffler.
00:20:36 Michele Goodwin:
Look at that. Yeah, Steve, add to that.
00:20:38 Stephen Vladeck:
I was going to say, I mean I think one of the things that we’re seeing is, you know, the old sort of mantra, keep the politics out of my sports. I mean the reality is, you know, I think more and more Americans are coming to appreciate that politics are everywhere, not partisanship, right?
I mean that there’s a difference between partisanship and politics, but that politics are everywhere and I don’t know if it’s that COVID drove that home even before George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and all of those tragic episodes as well, but you know much like when Hurricane Katrina, you know, took the bloom off the rose of the Bush administration in 2005, I think …
00:21:16 Michele Goodwin:
Quotable… so quotable, Steve … bloom off the rose.
00:21:19 Stephen Vladeck:
I think that this year has been a cascading series of events that have driven home to Americans in ways that many of us either, you know, might have been too privileged to appreciate previously or just too lucky to appreciate previously that, you know, all politics is local, and that what that means in reality is that the biggest…the leaders of our community are not necessarily the elected officials, but the ones who actually have the energy, the network, the time, and in some cases the money.
So, you know, when LeBron says something people listen, right? When the Atlanta Dream wear T-shirts protesting their own owner, you know, that’s a national story and I think it’s really, really important that we capitalize upon this understanding. Because I think, you know, the apathy of Americans politically I think has been one of the problems of how we got here.
And so, you know, if one of the things that comes out of 2020 is that more Americans are paying more attention, you know, that’s not ideal if what they’re paying attention to are right-wing conspiracy theory, media outlets that don’t tell the truth, but at least they’re paying attention to something and I’ll take that over apathy.
00:22:27 Michele Goodwin:
All right, so how do we reconcile this conversation with Colin Kaepernick, that didn’t know that we were going to turn into a sports show, we will for just a moment, right, because Colin Kaepernick said, you know, take a knee for this, right?
Was it just that, and this is really sad and it makes me think about the work you’re doing, Deirdre, the work that you’re doing, Andrea, does Black death, right…does it take Black people dying, people of color dying in the streets in order for then there to be a kind of momentum that then allows athletes to just stand up as we’ve seen in the last couple years because it’s not as if Muhammad Ali didn’t do it, and it’s not as if Colin Kaepernick didn’t take a knee. What’s been the difference?
00:23:10 Andrea Young:
Well, you know, I think 20…you know, well, Donald Trump is certainly one of the differences, right? I mean, you know, I started at the ACLU in January of 2017 and the shocks started coming immediately. I mean one of my, you know, I think it was the weekend after the Trump Inaugural when, you know, the Muslim ban was implemented.
And so, we, people, you know, you had the Women’s March and then the demonstrations that started because of the Muslim ban, and so I mean we were out at the airport, you know, and people with signs, Mexicans for Muslims and you know, and my favorite, the ACLU is one with me and I’m one with the ACLU, and it’s just been like that for four years.
And so, I think people do understand…you know, every group who thought, you know what, I can just do my job and stay out of this politics thing, started getting attacked, and so we were living that…you know, we were living that quote from the Nazi era is that, you know, they came from the Trade Unionists and I wasn’t a Trade Unionist so I didn’t speak up and then by the time they got to me there was no one to speak for me, right?
And so, I think people really started coming together and I think that’s…you know, so the sheriff, you know the same sheriff who was defeated in Cobb County was someone who criticized and said that the Black cheerleaders at Kennesaw State University, also in Cobb County, should’ve been expelled for taking a knee.
And so, I think people, you know, people remembered, and so I think it’s been a process. You know, these four years have really been a process that government matters, who’s in office matters, policy matters, and that people’s lives are really impacted in very material ways by who our elected officials are.
00:25:14 Michele Goodwin:
So Deirdre, I want to turn to you because I’d like to see…you map out in many ways Andrea’s mapping at the ACLU because you started Women in Blue in 2017. Is that right? And so, and then it ends with George Floyd. What’s the difference between when you first went in and what you saw versus what you come out with now, and by the way, we’re just weeks away before the film comes out on February the 8th, but tell us about what that difference in time meant. And then we’re going to turn to this election.
00:25:46 Deirdre Fishel:
Wow, that’s such a complicated— because there were so many things going on in Minneapolis. But you know, I think that, look, there was police violence and systemic racism in Minneapolis way before George Floyd was murdered. Eight, you know, low-level offenses…a Black person was eight and a half times more likely, that is actually from the ACLU, to be arrested than a white person. They call it Minnesota Nice, but really it is one of the worst places to be a Black person raising a family.
00:26:23 Michele Goodwin:
And just for clarification, what you were saying was that a Black person was eight and a half times more likely to be arrested for doing the same things that white people do.
00:26:32 Deirdre Fishel:
Right. Actually, low-level offenses, you know? And I think that’s where you really…so you know, I think there were a lot of issues. And you know, I know there’s an activist in our film who’s been fighting for police reform for the last five years, Nekima Levy Armstrong, and you know, she said to me why did it take George Floyd’s murder to wake people up? Why did it take that?
And what I want to say is I don’t know, but I do think it woke a lot of people up to things that were happening, you know. It’s just…what would’ve happened if that brave young woman, I’m forgetting her name, hadn’t filmed that, you know, and the courage that she had to do that. I just think that a lot of things…
And I know, I mean my parents are from Nazi Germany so the second that Trump went in I turned to my partner and I said at what point do we leave the country, and I think that fear that people started to wake up and go like, wait, what is our country, what is it supposed to be doing and oh, my God, we’re moving towards fascism, and but underneath that I think that for me I have to say it’s been a real wake-up call, the whole like New York Times 1619 Project, like our country is founded on racist patriarchy.
You know, I really liked what Russ was saying. It’s, you know, colonialism is in our Constitution, and the first election that I had was Carter against Reagan and I have seen the world change so much and you look and you go, yeah, it really was different in the 70s. We were moving a certain way. We were saying incarceration doesn’t work, and look where we are now.
So, I really agree. The question is how do we keep the momentum up? But also, I think how do we have the hard conversations, right? So for me, I’m really interested right now in, you know, can we have Black Lives Matter have a conversation about what women could bring to policing and not as a way of defending the current system, but just having open conversations about what is going to help us move to a more humane society, equitable society for all of us.
So, I do think it’s an exciting time. I don’t, as horrible as its been, I don’t see the same kind of energy and policit…and people rising up that I’ve seen since I was a teenager.
00:28:59 Michele Goodwin:
Steve, you were going to add to that.
00:29:00 Stephen Vladeck:
To me I think the question is how much of what was unique about this year’s reaction was COVID, right, where folks who have been able to live in bubbles of entitlement, and I count myself among them, right, were you know confronted with disruptions of their lives that so many Americans suffer on a far more regular basis, but just aren’t often felt by the folks who tend to have more influence politically and economically, right?
And so, I think this is the challenge going forward which is if this really was a result of a unique confluence of events, not just all of the tragic episodes that we know so well, but also the fact that people were, you know, locked in their homes in ways that were disruptive of their own existence to, you know, different but perhaps empathetically relatable degrees.
I don’t know how you capitalize upon that going forward. I mean the hope is that actually, you know, I hope that part at least is changing. And so, the question is like, you know, in 18 months when things are “back to normal” at least as a public health matter, how do we make sure that we haven’t lost the threat, and I think that’s where it’s incumbent upon not just folks like the five of us, but right, but our political leaders, the athletes, you know the folks who really do have voice in these communities to keep the pressure up.
That’s why, you know, the one sort of discordant note I think I’ve struck so far in this conversation is just how disappointed I am that this conversation didn’t go further, you know, at least on Capitol Hill.
00:30:26 Russ Feingold:
Like if I could follow on that and pick up…
00:30:29 Michele Goodwin:
Go right ahead, Russ, yes.
00:30:30 Russ Feingold:
…to the phrase, thanks, Michele, I’m back to normal. You know, I think that’s exactly the problem and it’s not just back to normal which of course is what everybody’s dying for all over the world, it’s back to normal in our political system after we’ve had an insane President, an attack on the Rule of Law. So the mantra, the feeling is can’t we go back to normal?
The problem is though, what is normal when you talk about polite practices and racism? If we go back to that normal, we have not done the right thing.
00:31:02 Michele Goodwin:
What’s normal in terms of who gets to be elected, right, you know, felony disenfranchisement?
00:31:07 Russ Feingold:
And these things aren’t solved, as Steve’s pointing out. So here’s the problem. Everybody is going to be all can’t we just, you know, have a good life now and return to a good life, and people start bringing up these tragic realities of racial injustice in our country. A lot of people are going to say, come on, do we have to go back to that? Well, we have to go back. It hasn’t been resolved.
There is going to be the most enormous desire to just have things be calm and not controversial that you’ve ever seen for the reasons that Steve just articulated, in addition to the other things.
00:31:39 Michele Goodwin:
So then, what does a 2020 election and the Biden-Harris win mean for our democracy? A lot of people think that it might change things, and to your point, Russ, restore, but as you’ve said, you know, restore to what? Andrea, I’m going to return to you.
00:31:56 Andrea Young:
Well, it means we continue to have one which I think in the aftermath of the November 3rd election and the continuing behavior of many of our…of people who swore to uphold the Constitution, it does mean we continue for the foreseeable…for now while we continue to have a democracy which was very much I think would’ve been in question if…I never thought Georgia would be a factor in this election, and understand the…you know, that how valiant, you know, these Republican officeholders had been. We were trying to say, well, what’s the difference?
So traditionally, voter suppression happens before people cast their ballots and that kind of voter suppression is very acceptable among Southern Republican officeholders. They actually drew the line at throwing away ballots that had already been voted.
The idea that you are a hero because you refuse to throw away legally cast ballots, which is what Lindsey Graham asked our Secretary of State to do, which is what the President probably asked officeholders in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Michigan to do, it’s just breathtaking, but that’s where we are among people who took an oath to uphold the Constitution, that they would put this kind of pressure on officeholders.
So, you know, so I think that’s what it means. We continue to have a democracy. I think, you know, the Presidency has tremendous powers, as we saw. You know, one of the things will be to rehabilitate things like the Justice Department, you know, rehabilitate these institutions of our government, but you know we don’t want it built back the same way.
I mean the ACLU…you know, the ACLU, we sued Obama, we sued Trump, we’ll sue Biden and Harris, right, because we are working toward a more perfect union. And I think the thing we do know and the thing that has happened while people were at home during COVID and watching some of these videos over and over is you can’t…you know you can’t pretend you don’t know now, and so we do know.
You know, if I say if you want to know what structural racism looks like, look at the COVID epidemic. Black people are dying of COVID because we are exposed to COVID because of the jobs we do, because of the lack of access to healthcare, especially in the southern states. And so, the scourge of COVID tracks the scourge of racism in this country.
So I think we have…you know, people can’t un-see, they can’t un-know what they’ve learned this year, and hopefully that’ll give us some leverage to keep pressing for the kind of change that we need to have a society based on racial justice and democratic principles.
00:35:13 Michele Goodwin:
Steve, what’s your sense of what this 2020 election, the Biden-Harris win, means for our democracy, especially in the light of all of the challenges that took place, even after the election, it was like an election period that wouldn’t end?
00:35:28 Stephen Vladeck:
Yeah, I mean, Michele, this to me is the real question which is, you know, what are the lessons we’re going to take away from the six weeks after Election Day where you know for the first time, certainly in modern American history, right, Election Day was like the opening act and the next six weeks were like, okay, different efforts to overturn the clear result of the election, now we’re going to try this one, now we’re going to try this one, now we’re going to try…you know, it’s clear that those efforts have failed. It’s clear to me that, you know, January 6th the joint session of Congress is going to confirm that Biden and Harris are the President…President-Elect and they’ll be sworn in on January 20th.
My question is what happens next time? And so, when we’re thinking about, you know, our democracy and the health of our democracy, man, 2020 to me has underscored the fragility of our democracy. I mean, imagine right now if Republicans had actually won 10 more seats in the House, and were going to have a majority of the House come January 6, I think there’d be a lot more concern that Republican majorities in the House and the Senate would just disqualify Biden electors for no good reason from enough states where at least the election would go to the House and then the Republicans could elect Trump that way. That’s a terrifying prospect for a democracy.
And so, you know, Michele, one of the things that I worry about is how do we try to prevent this from happening when it’s even closer next time, if it’s even closer next time, and you know, that to me unfortunately is going to require Congress.
00:37:02 Michele Goodwin:
So what about those who might push back, Steve, right? So when you think about Republicans, right, so one could say Justice Blackmun was Republican-appointed, he wrote the opinion in Roe v. Wade and it’s a great opinion as he talks about the importance of women being able to set their own destinies and futures in education and employment. It’s a 7 to 2 decision. Five of those seven were Republican-appointed.
Or you think about Richard Nixon and the founding of the EPA, or signing legislation into law that, Title X, providing reproductive healthcare to the poorest of Americans, what’s the difference between those Republicans, those were Republicans, right. Prescott Bush was the Treasurer of Planned Parenthood, that’s George H. W. Bush’s father. What’s the difference between then and now?
00:37:56 Stephen Vladeck:
They’re not the same party. I mean I’m not sure Richard Nixon could win a Republican primary today.
00:38:04 Andrea Young:
Ronald Reagan couldn’t win a Republican primary.
00:38:06 Stephen Vladeck:
I mean that…and I think Andrea’s right on that. And so, I am not the right person to comment on the health and future of the Republican Party, but I think it has become clearer over the last two years especially that Trump is not the disease, Trump was a symptom, and that there is an authoritarian, incredibly sort of nationalistic sentiment within the Republican Party that is not limited to Donald Trump.
And so, you know, when I try to think about…we hear lots of stories about how the Biden administration is trying to look across the aisle to forge, you know, bipartisan consensus, and my question is, who’s there? Who are the Republican leaders right now who actually have it…for whom it actually makes any sense to try to moderate their views and compromise?
I mean look at the lawsuit Texas filed against Pennsylvania, you know, this preposterous invocation of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction to try to throw out the election. What, 65 percent of the House Republican caucus filed an amicus brief in support of that lawsuit. So…
00:39:17 Michele Goodwin:
Yeah, 126 of them I think signed it. Yeah.
00:39:19 Stephen Vladeck:
Right. So I guess, you know, Michele, to me part of the problem here is that, you know, I would love a scenario where you had a moderate Democratic President like Joe Biden in a position to actually build bridges with at least some moderate Republicans and get us back to a point where not everything is tribal. I just, you know, the events of the last couple years, and especially the last six weeks, have not given us a whole lot of reason to believe that that’s likely in the offing.
00:39:48 Michele Goodwin:
Andrea, I know that you wanted to jump in there. Then I’m going to turn to you, Russ, because you’re a Senator and you were there, and I’d love to get your take. So Andrea, what are you thinking?
00:39:57 Andrea Young:
Yeah, I was just going to say, I mean Georgia was one of the states that was sued by Texas, and that you know Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue supported that lawsuit and four members of the Georgia congressional delegation supported the lawsuit.
00:40:16 Stephen Vladeck:
To throw out their own elections.
00:40:18 Andrea Young:
To throw out their own election, which they want, you know? I mean David Perdue was actually the number…actually got more votes, it’s just that they have this weird rule about runoffs. So, it’s bizarre. But the Republican Party has become a far right party. If you look at global standards of sort of where…you know, the Democrats have not really moved, it’s the Republicans that have moved further and further to the right to where, you know, they really are…I mean, you know, the fascist tendencies that we’re seeing right now are quite real.
00:40:58 Michele Goodwin:
So when you’re talking about then what we’ve seen, kids in cages and the ACLU being appointed, designated by a judge to find the parents of kids who were separated, which is pretty outstanding if you think about it, a civil society organization being put in charge of doing something such as that because of concern about whether the Trump administration could actually carry through, and many of the other things that we’ve seen come about in the last four years, Muslim bans, the kind of racist sentiments coming from the White House with regard to people from South and Central America and Mexico, and so much more, I think that that’s part of what you’re speaking about there.
Russ, inside baseball, you’ve been there, so what’s the difference? Do you see a difference between those folks who were your colleagues, both as a State Senator in Wisconsin and then also for the United States Senate?
00:41:59 Russ Feingold:
Well, Michele, it is dramatically different than the world that I served in, both in the State Senate and US Senate. What I remember is when I first started running for the State Senate here in Middleton, Wisconsin in 1982 I would knock on people’s doors in the Democrat area, the Republican areas, it was a very Republican district, and I found out right away that if I started saying something about Democrats are better because of this or so on, people would say, well, we don’t really want to hear that, we want to hear your ideas.
So, the highest form for a Wisconsin politician was to be perceived as an independent and as somebody that could work with the other side. Of course I tried to live up to that, I was able to with John McCain, where we were able to pass probably the best known bipartisan bill the last 50 years. People loved it. And you know something, people think, well, moderates should come together. I wasn’t a moderate, I was on the left, and John was a conservative. It’s not coming together in the middle, it’s people who may be on two different extremes saying, you know what, I agree with you.
00:43:00 Michele Goodwin:
Tell us about that legislation?
00:43:01 Russ Feingold:
Well, this was our bill to prohibit abuses in the campaign finance system, the soft money ban. One of the great myths in America is that Citizens United decision overturned McCain-Feingold. It did not. It just destroyed everything else so that we don’t have a real campaign finance system.
But that took eight years, but it was fantastic, and the technique that we used was it was like the Noah’s Ark, the animals go two by two. If you brought in a Republican co-sponsor you had to have a Democrat join too, so people only joined our coalition. Once we had 10 senators we controlled the Senate. They couldn’t do anything if we would object.
So somehow, and this is where Steve’s words are, and others really concern me, is I don’t know if that’s still possible with these folks. So, back in 2009 I remember that my town meetings were getting very contentious as the Tea Party came up, and somebody started attacking me on the climate change issue and I said, look, I’m co-sponsoring…John Kerry’s co-sponsoring a bill with Lindsey Graham on climate change, and they started screaming, oh, he’s just a RINO, a Republican in name only.
And so, Michele, the answer is this. What politicians want more than anything else is to stay in office and so if their greatest fear is a primary from the right, that drives everything. These people don’t…these people hate Donald Trump, most of these senators, they know—
00:44:25 Michele Goodwin:
It doesn’t seem so. So, this is the thing. You know, to the public it seems like they love him.
00:44:31 Russ Feingold:
No, they…well, I’m talking about the senators now.
00:44:34 Michele Goodwin:
I know, but I think the people think that the senators love him.
00:44:37 Russ Feingold:
I think most of them don’t. I think most of them are basically people who are gentlemen and gentle women who find this offensive, but they don’t want to lose their jobs, so people like Lindsey Graham shame themselves by kowtowing to somebody that, you know, frankly, John McCain’s best friend knows that Donald Trump is despicable, but he’ll play golf with him as often as he needs to in order to make sure he doesn’t get a primary in South Carolina. That’s the bottom line.
00:45:03 Michele Goodwin:
All right, so then I want to turn to what happened after the election, right, because as you said, Steve, this has just been a slow roll. We thought that it would’ve been over that first Tuesday in November and it hasn’t been because there’s been so much litigation, and you’ve been at the forefront of articulating about this, analyzing about this, so give us the rundown. What happened after the election? What do our listeners need to know?
00:45:30 Stephen Vladeck:
I mean I think that the craziest thing to me, Michele, is that from, I guess it was, what, Saturday, November 7th, right, when all the major media networks called the election for President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris. In any other election year that would’ve been it, and that night the candidate who lost would’ve given a gracious concession speech, and the transition would’ve started if not that night, Monday morning. And…
00:45:58 Michele Goodwin:
And we know in the past Republicans have given great concession speeches, right, so it’s not that they haven’t.
00:46:02 Stephen Vladeck:
It was Senator McCain in 2008 I think was a model of not just a great concession speech, but a unifying concession speech and legitimizing the election of the country’s first Black President. I mean I think he understood the importance of doing that. And of course when we have a crybaby in the White House, you know, it’s not quite the same thing.
And so, what’s happened is with the President’s support and in some cases at his direction Trump surrogates and Trump enablers, in some cases the Trump campaign, have brought every conceivable lawsuit and even some inconceivable ones based on this narrative of fraud and misconduct that they have been woefully unable to substantiate in court. And so, you know, depending upon how you count there have been somewhere north of 65 separate lawsuits filed in state and federal courts.
00:46:52 Michele Goodwin:
All right, let’s just repeat that. Sometimes I like doing that. You said north of 65 lawsuits challenging the election results.
00:47:01 Stephen Vladeck:
And you know, and folks say, well, what about 2000 in Bush versus Gore? And you know, yes, Bush versus Gore was an election that largely turned on a lawsuit, but let’s talk about what happened in 2000, right. You had one state, the whole election came down to one state. It came down to a state that was by any measure statistically tied where the final margin between the two candidates was 537 votes out of, you know, what, four or five million votes overall?
And so, you know, it’s inevitable when you have one state that is that close that there’s going to be litigation. You know, I know Russ has some experience with this in Wisconsin politics. There was like a recount in I think one of Governor Walker’s races one year, right, that when you have one election that comes down to a couple of hundred votes, yes, you’re going to have some litigation play out.
It’s unprecedented that you had, you know, Biden winning by far more than one state, I mean by four or five, six states, depending on how you count, where in the closest of those states the margin was still five figures, and yet we have all this litigation.
And one of the things that we saw in the litigation, Michele, is that what the President and his allies were saying publicly was not what they were alleging in court. You know, publicly they’re saying there’s fraud, the Dominion machines, that all this bad stuff happened, but when they actually have to file legal documents under penalty of perjury there are claims—
00:48:24 Michele Goodwin:
With all sorts of typos.
00:48:26 Stephen Vladeck:
00:48:26 Michele Goodwin:
Let me digress.
00:48:27 Stephen Vladeck:
They haven’t been good at it, but just on the merits, I mean, yes, it’s fun to dunk on them for being incompetent, but competence aside, right, the substance of the claims is invariably either small potato stuff where maybe like 25 ballots that were counted and shouldn’t have been, or the entire election was unconstitutional stuff like in Pennsylvania where they have this frontal assault on mail-in voting which the Republican-led legislature approved in 2019.
So, you know, we’ve had this remarkable sort of idea that litigation is where all this process should play out, even though the election wasn’t close and didn’t come down to one state. And as we’ve seen, the litigation has been a spectacular failure where the only case that the President and his supporters won was a case about curing mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania where the state court had said we can…oh, sorry.
Where the Secretary of State had said we can extend the deadline for curing a defective ballot by showing a proper ID by three days. That got thrown out to the expense of maybe a couple of hundred ballots and that’s been it.
00:49:34 Michele Goodwin:
And still Biden won there. Andrea, you wanted to jump in there. And of course, Georgia now, the nation’s eyes are on Georgia and the election there.
00:49:44 Andrea Young:
Yeah, I mean I don’t know the…I don’t think we can say enough, you know, Steve’s point about the things that were said in the press were not said in court, because the things said in the press were not true, and if you lie in court you can get disbarred. And so, so essentially even what they alleged in the official pleadings was not something that had they proven it would have gotten them the release that they were asking for.
So they, you know, just this last weekend they tried to stop Georgia. The Georgia electors, you know all the electors voted on Monday, and so they had a last-minute effort after they lost in the US Supreme Court to try to come into the Georgia Supreme Court, and the Georgia Supreme Court said this has no merit.
And so, I think it’s really important that people who keep saying, well, there’s far…well, these Republican-controlled state…I mean the State Supreme Court in Georgia is controlled by Republicans. The Secretary of State is an elected Republican. The Governor is an elected Republican. The Attorney General is an…the Republicans control both Houses of the legislature and no one, no one is affirming that there was anything wrong with Georgia’s election, and Georgia’s election is run by 159 boards of election which is insane, but it means that there is no way you can mount a systemic, you know…
So, you know, it’s just…but the fact that people would persist, and that’s part of another legacy of the Trump administration is the lying. You know, it’s part of the problem about kids in cages was that then they lied about it. They tried to prevent members of Congress from touring the facilities, the concealment, you know, refusing to have people come before Congress and testify about what they are doing as people who are administering the people’s business.
You know, so that concealment, the lying, the resistance to the…you know, and so we see this playing out continually. They continue to just lie about what happened in this election where, as you said, even in the state of Georgia three recounts, 12 thousand vote margin for Joe Biden.
00:52:17 Michele Goodwin:
And Russ, on that point, at the same time while those efforts were taking place very recently over the weekend in Georgia, the same was taking place in Wisconsin, right? So, in Wisconsin there were challenges to the election that were taking place prior to the electors coming together and finally saying yes, and Joe Biden has secured this victory. What took place in Wisconsin?
00:52:43 Russ Feingold:
Well, it’s both a horror and a ray of hope. The bottom line is good, but we have three of seven justices who basically were open to the most outrageous arguments that Steve was talking about, and had it not been for the fact that the fourth conservative justice…there are currently four conservatives and three liberals, has for whatever reason, I mean he’s a hardline conservative in the last few months has been voting with the three liberals on these issues and he’s been following the law in what I consider to be a profile encouraged, Justice Hagedorn.
I campaigned against him and I tried to defeat him, I definitely didn’t want him to win, but he is modeling the idea of somebody who is actually a justice on our Supreme Court and he shut this thing down. He’s going to get a rough time from the right-wingers. But it’s that kind of moment when people say, oh, wait a minute, why would somebody do that? Well, he actually believes in the Rule of Law. He drove Democrats crazy. He was the legal counsel for Scott Walker, a governor that most people couldn’t stand, and yet he has enough of a core and I hope that will be something that people across the country will realize.
Of course you have people in Georgia, Andrea, public officials who’ve shown that similar courage. But you know, it was shut down, and it’s a wonderful precedent with regard to our Supreme Court which the reputation of which used to be one of the best courts in the country. Its reputation has been terribly tarnished, but this is an upbeat moment and it was in the name of protecting our electoral system and our legal system.
00:54:21 Michele Goodwin:
That’s interesting that you should say that in terms of how the Wisconsin Supreme Court was viewed because as Andrea mentions, this, we’ve see in the last few years a real attack on our constitutional democracy. Who we are, there’s this assault on our Constitution over the last few years and this matters to our communities. This matters in society.
I wish that we had even more time to unpack these issues, but we’re turning to the end of our show, and for the end of our show I’d love it if you could give some sense of what you think of as coming next. I’m mindful of the pessimism or the realism that Steve brings to this, and I think that it’s important to be measured.
But what do you see as silver linings coming forward, and of the things that we’ve seen over the last year, we see the election of Biden and Harris, Harris will be the first woman Vice President in the United States, woman of color, African-American woman, and woman of South Asian descent, and there’s much more. So let me turn to you first, Deirdre. What do you see as a silver lining coming forward as we leave 2020 and climb into 2021?
00:55:38 Deirdre Fishel:
Well, I mean certainly the vaccines are incredibly hopeful, although tragic that so many people are going to die before we get there to all have it, the vaccine. But I mean I think, you know, I am a child of people who left Nazi Germany and I was very, very scared that we were going to lose our democracy it seemed. And I’d certainly agree with Andrea that everything that Trump has done afterwards makes it clear that had he won we would’ve lost all sorts of sense of this sort of legal framework.
I’m not a lawyer, but I have grown to revere your profession because I feel like those checks and balances held up in ways that have fortified, that I was—even though it’s been tragic to see it play out and 65 just seems like lunacy, like you know frivolous suits, but it’s also made me kind of believe in some level in the system.
And so, for me the other silver lining is that I think that we as a country really get systemic racism, not everybody, but more people, and I hope that that consciousness grows and economic justice and racial justice…you know, I heard this crazy statistics the other day that one out of eight children don’t get enough food, and so there’s a lot to be pessimistic about, but I think the inequities in our society, both racial and economic, have…there’s been a light and that they’re in the forefront and I just…I do feel hopeful, and I see the people around me ready to roll up their sleeves. So, I think there’s so much work to be done, but I think that we’ve had a reprieve from something that could have been disastrous and dark.
00:57:34 Michele Goodwin:
What about you, Russ?
00:57:37 Russ Feingold:
Well, I am hopeful that having a mature, decent man be President will model a behavior, especially for young people, that is the opposite of the horrific model that Donald Trump was. I mean, it really does go to the young people. If I had been brought up to believe that you always have to sort of try to model what the President did and President was Trump I’d be a very different person.
And so, you know, instead of somebody that sort of tells the Proud Boys to stand by, we would have a President who says, you know, this is wrong, and what happened in Washington this past few days with the Proud Boys and attack on a church there, I think moral suasion can cause people to say, as we return to normal and we’ve already talked about returning to normal isn’t all good, but returning to the normal of not believing in violence and taking the most extreme step, I think that this can be a period where people actually say, you know what, we don’t want to go back to that and that requires moral suasion from the top of the country all the way down.
00:58:37 Michele Goodwin:
Andrea, what do you see as a silver lining coming forward?
00:58:42 Andrea Young:
Well, you know, the results of what happened in Georgia are the results of, you know, four years of the ACLU just relentlessly pushing back against voter suppression, and you know, work on the ground of dozens of organizations. And what we see is that the first day of early voting for the Senate runoff, more people voted than voted the first day of the general election, so people have gotten the message that votes matter, that when they vote they can win.
And you know, we had a slogan, the ACLU Southern affiliates, “hope, vote, advocate.” This is a nonstop cycle, right? It does not end, you know, you hope it’s what you hope for, you have to vote for it, and you have to advocate for it.
And so, I believe that this election, you know, people are going to turn up and vote their conscience and vote for the principles that are important to them, and then we’re going to go in the legislature and advocate for policies that reflect those, and we’re going to…and you know, rinse, wash, and repeat, and we’re just going to keep doing that until we have the society that’s worthy of Martin Luther King and Jimmy Carter and the ideals of our Constitutions and the best freedom fighters that have stood for justice throughout our history.
01:00:10 Michele Goodwin:
And that’s right. And thinking about Congressman, John Lewis and his passing this year, we certainly have a beacon to live up to and not just look up to.
And Steve, I’ll close out with you, you mighty election warrior, you. So, what’s the silver lining coming ahead in 2021?
01:00:30 Stephen Vladeck:
You know what? About a year ago there was a meme going around on Twitter, right, you know, 2019 in five words, and so my response to that meme was 2020 will be worse, and unfortunately that tweet aged well.
You know, the silver lining, Michele, is that 2021 is going to be better and it’s going to be better along any number of axes. Deirdre pointed out vaccines, I mean we can’t ignore that the lead story of 2020 is that over 300 thousand Americans died in a pandemic that was not avoidable, but that the effects of which could surely have been far better mitigated by an effective federal response. That number hopefully will not be nearly as tragic in 2021.
Russ I think is exactly right about what it’s going to mean to have stable, competent leadership in the White House as of January 20th. Andrea I think is exactly right about the impact on the ground.
So I guess, you know, my— we have a long way to go and we have revealed a heck of a lot of things that need to be fixed, but I feel much more optimistic that we have a chance to fix them going into 2021 than I felt this time a year ago, and I think that’s something that we just…the key is just not to waste the opportunity.
Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin.” I want to thank my guests, Russ Feingold, Deirdre Fishel, Stephen Vladeck, and Andrea Young for joining us and being a part of this critical and insightful conversation.
And to our listeners, I thank you for tuning in for the full story. We hope you’ll join us again for our next episode where we will be reporting, rebelling, and telling it like it is with special guests tackling issues related to the new Congress. We want you to meet the new feminists in Congress. We’ll be joined by Rep-Elect Carolyn Bourdeaux, Rep-Elect Teresa Leger Fernandez, Rep-Elect Marie Newman, and Rep-Elect Nikema Williams. It will be an episode you will not want to miss.
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This has been your host, Michele Goodwin, reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is. “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Maddy Pontz, Roxy Szal, and Mariah Lindsey. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Marsh Alan, and music by Chris J. Lee. Stephanie Wilner provides executive assistance.