Joy-Ann Reid, an MSNBC host and political commentator, began her Monday evening talk at the Watson Institute for International Relations and Public Affairs by stressing that “it is very hard to unseat an incumbent president.”
David Corn ’81 P’21, the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones, editor for the Nation and on-air analyst for MSNBC, moderated the discussion about the 2020 elections, President Trump and today’s media.
Corn first steered the conversation toward the 2020 elections as Reid discussed the lessons from the 2016 Democratic primary that should help inform the Democratic Party’s approach to 2020. “I want (the Democrats) to fight,” she said. Reid argued that the Democratic presidential candidates in 2016 would have been better prepared for the general election if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-VT, “had really let their hair down and just beat each other to a pulp.” The crowd — comprised of a handful of students, some faculty and over forty other attendees — chuckled.
Referring to Sanders running for president in 2020, Reid cautioned that the Democrats are underprepared, whereas President Trump is ready to fight whomever the Democrats nominate. “He has kompromat on you, he’s going to put it out, and he’s not going to be ashamed or afraid, because (Trump) is not a politician, he is a reality show TV star.”
The results of the 2020 elections will depend on how the Democrats play, Reid said. “Democrats don’t know how to do politics because they think there are rules. And they don’t understand that the Republicans don’t believe in the rules, because they don’t believe in government.”
Reid also referenced foreign influence in the 2016 election, suggesting that Russian interference disenfranchised American voters. She called on citizens to stand up for their rights to vote in the face of this new form of manipulation, alluding to Civil Rights and women’s suffrage movements of the past: “We’re willing to fight other Americans to vote, but you’re not willing to fight the Russians?”
What’s at stake, according to Reid, is “the fundamental idea of America.” “Yes, we’ve had racism and sexism and horrible things in our past, but there’s something about the construction of this particular multiracial democracy that makes it work uniquely in all the world.”
Going forward, Reid believes Americans must recognize the injustices of the United States’ past and not “confuse knowledge with … self-indictment.”
Reid also discussed the relationship between media and partisanship, referencing a fraction of the country that “will never listen to us” and asserting that “all you can really do is try to explain what’s happening to the people who are open to hearing it.”
While Trump’s base may prefer certain media outlets, Trump himself is familiar with a range of sources. “He used to draw a paycheck from the same people who pay me,” Reid said. “He worked for NBC. He knows how we think. … He understands what we will cover. … He really knows how to manipulate our medium, TV.” In short, Reid added, “He’s a TV guy.”
Toward the end of the talk, Reid’s focus turned local. She referenced telecommunications conglomerate Sinclair Broadcasting Group, known for its affiliation with the Trump agenda, and its proliferation throughout American households. Sinclair Broadcasting owns Channel 10 in Providence and requires pro-Trump, “must-run” segments in the channel’s daily programming, the Providence Journal reported.
“The most powerful, influential entity in the media business is not MSNBC, … it’s not CNN, it’s not Fox. It’s local news,” Reid said. “Because you’re getting something as simple as traffic from them, you trust them. … So when that person is telling you propaganda, that’s more dangerous than Fox. … They’re mixing it in with your traffic and weather. They’re in your homes as ABC, as NBC and as CBS.”