tv Ben Fountain Beautiful Country Burn Again CSPAN November 24, 2018 4:00am-4:57am EST
i think you could have community consensus with a strong bill of rights. i would love to hear what people in the audience think but i don't think you have to have one without the other. why can't we have a strong communities. communities that are in control of their decision-making and then have a state that backs people's rights. and i can help us get away from the number. why not had big ideas. see mike that seems to be fitting right into our power politics in promised session. let's think the southern trust of books for hosting this event and our great audience here today. thank you.
[inaudible conversations] you're watching the coverage of the recent southern festival of books. next up from nashville. they were cap the 2016 election. in explorers where he thinks the country is headed. i just want to take a minute the festival as a is a whole reason that we are here. if you could visit the website the tent in the plaza, any little bit helps. and the whole enterprise is supported by your donations.
let's go ahead and get to it. i think the structure of the session is gonna be ben is going to read a few short passages and then i'm going to ask him some questions. and then we are going to turn over to you guys. without further ado. been found. thank you for coming out. he grew out of a series of pieces i did for the guardian in 2016 on the election i did about one a month. at the end of 2016 went there and things have turned out the way they did. i felt like there was a lot more to explore and try to understand at that okay i have
got to do a book. i spent the next 18 months digging, and digging and thinking. it is the record of me trying to answer the questions myself. i begin with very few answers. i think i ended it with a few answers. upset and undermined by daily events. just so that you can get the feel for that. i started out covering the iowa caucuses for the guardian.
in a little town called hubbard iowa. we were in the middle school cafeteria. it was a very interesting thing. in the person that introduce cruise this morning was steve king. he is one of the anti- immigration hawks in congress among other things. free feel free to laugh. the candidate begins with lavish props. every day steve stands up and fight for the constitution. he crawls over broken glass with a knife between his teeth. fighting for the men and women
of iowa. this is a fair example of the rhetorical style. the over stimulated. the faithful ever at war with the armies of darkness. in that world we are always standing at the abyss. pulling this nation back from the cliff. we are perpetually running at a time. we are here at this money for something a lot more important than politics. his voice dropping as it nears the end of every thought. you would think that he gargles twice a day with the hot cocktail of high fructose corn syrup. they mastered the catch in the throat.
as every pro- knows pro knows that's where the money is. that certain bias in these pages. i hope i come by it honestly. and why not put in the book. if i think someone is a phony and abbasid. we will read a little bit about manafort now. in cleveland. at the republican convention. they have a press briefing the afternoon.
the classic behind the scene guy. the convention's theme for monday night was make the company safe again. then he instantly admitted make the country safe again. the slip was even weirder. with the broader spectrum of american people. parts of his bad personality of his biography that people might not be aware of. did he really just say that. he acknowledged that. a garden-variety goof
admittedly but still it serves no purpose. their precision their breath taking moment. off-limits even to a reporter with the fiction habit. but those vapors would take on form and substance in the coming months. as we discovered the high end autumn feeding that were the bread and butter. off the books payouts from ukraine. the client list. they might share that because it's called bad personalities. and so we can hardly imagine the attempt for which they might have the i voted stickers with the flow
charts. what a bunch of chumps we must seem. our cherished rule of law. we think those things matter a nation of idiots. how could he not hold as in the deepest contempt. but what a strain even for a seasoned pro they could be read as flashes of the truth slipping out. he had signed on for this joke election. >> let's have a conversation. my first question would be when did you know. theoretically with how everything is going. you could've just turned into a series. and is kept on going.
where do you go from that. do you think that's a satire. well had that discussion later. i wasn't digging of the satire so much. over loan and cartoonish. that is our reality now i think. and that has only been more borne born out in the years since really late came out. first this book we have a motion notion. when they approach me. if i do it right. i will publish these pieces of the guardian. at the end of 2016 we will slap them between covers and
get it out. in january or february 2017. when there somewhat interested. that even before then. i was thinking there is a lot more here i need to try to figure out. and so already i was thinking those pieces in the guardian are just the starting point. that 70% of the book is new. for my own have, for my own attempt at some peace of mind. about the state of this country i live in. i think we all, all of us especially people here book people, the public life. there is not a wall between the public life in our interior lives. especially with this day and age when we are so assassinated --dash make saturated with media. it is very much a part of our
interior lives. the huge spike in this people reporting that they are depressed and anxious. it has to do with the election. i need to go as deep as i could. and write the most rigorous book about that i could. but how we got there. why things turned out the way they did. see my camera has a response been to the book. people are really nice. and as is a self-selecting group. rarely do people who hate your books or think they hate your books do they take that time. there had been exceptions.
the people who have read the book. the response i'm getting as it leads me to believe that i helped them understand something that has been the response so far. it's a thick book. and i've a lot of flip notes. but the footnotes can be funny also. there is a lot of loose, cheap talk in writing. and i really became sensitive to that. the course of spending a year. to be as rigorous and disciplined with my thinking and writing than i could be. i did not want end notes. i wanted footnotes.
i wanted to be reading that passage. my source. that's all you have to do is drop your eye down. there are a lot of political books were if they do had sourcing at all. in this kind of the sneaky way to say that involves effort on the reader's part. you see a lot of cut corners with that. yes it will probably kill sales. that's the way i wanted. and what about amongst people who believe similarly to you. how is the generational divide affected their responses. and what i mean by that is for me, it's hard to see a way out of where we are right now.
i just want to know if there has been a certain tendency among those to be more pessimistic. i really like this question. i can certainly see where that sentiment and that feeling would come from. our politics of the last 18 years had really been degraded in corrupted in not that politics was ever a bunch of choirboys in girls, no, but the response i've gotten is yes there does seem to be a generational divide getting a lot of young people feel like mainstream american politics really offers me nothing.
we look at people of your generation. the norm is to run up a tremendous amount of debt. the job market is very tough. it's hard to get a job that would allow you to make a decent living in do all of those other great american things like buy a house, buy a car, start a family. the certain measure of dignity and self-determination. i think all of those things and possibilities which were very real possibilities from 1950, to the middle 1980s that has been tremendously freighted. and i think one of the jobs we have to do as a country is to
remember that there has been tremendous changes in the society. they have agency and self-determination. or in the words of the declaration of independence. how are you going to do that when you come out of college with $100,000 in debt. that is a very right off the bat constraint limited existence. i think people my age have to remember what it was like. i hope people of your generation would go to the history books. and see that america was a much different place.
i will say this. the new deal came about because of an extra essential crisis in america. and i think there had been really too big crisis. the first was the civil war. it resulted in emancipation. but america, a turning point was going to split it into countries or it was going to continue as one country with a vast expansion of freedom. that was a very tenuous and fragile in many cases it was hardly freedom at all. we have have the 14th and 15th amendments. i think the second crisis was the great depression. it became found reordering of
society. in order for it to continue as a plausible possible society. that was the new deal. what resulted was a social democratic state. industry you have a strong anti- monopoly laws you a social safety net. you've a lot of relief. and you also had collective bargaining. all of these things allow they get a bigger share of productivity and prosperity. i think it became invisible.
i want to write. this is grover's day. he wants to shrink taxes and government down to the size of a baby that can be drowned in the bathtub in his words. you start out with grover's day. in the new deal society social democracy has been so successful they don't realize what holds them up. what are the first things that he does when he gets up in the morning. and he washes his hands.
those are both the result of progression --dash make progress of government. they date back before the new deal. at the end of the 19th century average life span for americans was 45 years. not much better than it was in the neolithic age. it took upon itself to start delivering clean water and have it efficient sewage disposal. he goes to the bathroom he washes his hands. he goes down to breakfast. he hasn't has scrambled eggs and bacon. another thing about progressive government. the food in drug administration. it was pretty rare in the united states.
you can go all the way through goal grover stay. he is putting gas in his gas tank. how does he know there is a state agency ways and measures and they make sure. it permeates our life. it makes the pursuit of happiness feasible and possible for a broad swap of the american public. in in the the in the last 35 years. the last 35 years that framework has been in the process of deconstruction in the name of free markets. and i think we are seen the results of that now. it is harder than ever for working people in this country
the dependable affordable healthcare. in a way that doesn't bankrupt them or require unbearable sacrifice. so i really like what you said about most of the reason that everything is terrible now. most of that happened in the last 30 to 40 years. and when you study history at all. you listen and learn how quickly things can come and go. i believe theoretically. with that new ipcc report that came out last week. we seem to be it doesn't seem
like we have another 40 years to turn it around. so what are your thoughts on this. do you think were going to. i guess that would be my question. we to try. we have to get up every day. it still has tremendous potential. i think it's can be very hard because of the role that money plays in politics i call it black money as opposed to dark money. american politics is really a wash in oceans of dark money. and not only does that dark money goes to elect candidates who serve big money interests but it goes into oppose of the
progressive colleges. in gerrymandering. it's legal. that is our election system now. those are the laws of the land. and so how are you going to elect. you had like chicken and eggs. for the kind of change that we need to come about. is going to take a political resolution. i don't think this change can be included incremental. a whole lot of things i can have to change all at once. when the candidate like bernie sanders says i'm calling for political revolution. it wasn't just rhetoric to
fire up the troops. he was taking his political logic to his ultimate conclusion. i think it is going to be very hard. singing at this point i would like to turn the questions over to you guys. [inaudible conversations] >> there is also like this movement in the coke brothers funding a lot of legislators for the constitutional convention which would rewrite the constitution. and is very close upcoming two for mission. it's not like a lot of people are aware of it. so what are your thoughts about that basically, that's
it. when trump was elected. a constitutional convention which really would put fundamental change out of reach short of an actual revolution. and so i think it's dangerous as hell. we know who is can have the money on the resources coming into a convention like that. and i think we are going straight towards a third crisis in this country. the first being the civil war. the crisis it may be economic i thought 2008 was possibly going to be it. it may be constitutional if the investigation is allowed to go to its conclusion in its
his conclusion that trump violated the law. while the rule of law be allowed to take that natural course in the system. or are in trenched powers are they going to resist the rule of law. they could be this constitutional convention. that probably scares me more than anything. if you rewrite the constitution the very basis of the law it will be very tough for this country to get a genuine constitutional democracy. these are our fellow americans who do not believe in democracy.
we need to keep that clearly in mind. >> if anyone wants to just line up at the mike two days ago. i have never heard of you. and yesterday i read the new york review of books and you dominated this. what's going on. our people discovering you. i'm glad to hear every word you are hearing. this is amazing. >> think you very much. no seriously, thank you. it is just one person's attempt to try to think -- think his way through why they are the way they are.
.. .. united states for a big chunk of the 20th century was truly a society that allowed for greater or lesser opportunities for a critical mass of its citizens, but more often greater understanding that gender and race -- always more difficult for women, always more difficult for people of color, and still is, and yet -- i mean, there was for many people a reasonable chance of providing for a decent life for themselves and their
families, life above subsistence levels and we have lost that the last 35 years. hough did that happen? how did we lose sight of that? that's where i'm trying to get. i'm looking forward to seeing that new york review of books issue. thank you very much. >> thank you. i just came from sonya vote mior's talk and i thought we have hope and burst into tears, and i felt lucky, and then i came outside. >> guest: then you came over here. >> i know, i read everything in the guardian. love the guardian. in my purse is "the new york times." i get it still delivered to my door. i grew up reading journals. last night i was watching bill maher and they were discussion the origin of hate and die it to
the gingrich years. i think is goes back to 1964. there's hate here, like nothing i've ever seen where candidates in "new york times" today, two or articles where the asked candidates to speak kindly of their fellow candidate, one want senator cruz would couldn't say one civil thing but beto or rourke and the other was front tennessee, ms. rockburn on senator rosen, our future. sonia sotomayor rolled me into a positive moment for five minutes and then i win back outside. i really do think it goes way back in time to '64. i don't think it's '96. this newt was a casualty of it. >> will, i think the hatred goes far, far, far back to the very earliest days of the colonial
era, and i think it -- a good deal of it came out of race based -- a race-based economic system, and in order to justify this palpably grievous sin, white people in america had to invent and project all kinds of demons and demonization of people of color and native americans. who -- it's explicit in the rhetoric of colonial times how native americans were the children of satan, and deserved to be exterminated or converted. that is powerful poison, and i
think it has come down to this very day and i think a lot of the poison and toxicity in our public discourse on one level or another is racist in its nature, and uses racism as a cudgel to beat your political opponents. and so -- yes, '64 was a turning opinion. the cow palace convention that nominated barry goldwater and the republics acting like a bunch of dixiecratscrats and wae and the 1990s were another turning point when newt gingrich got up in a speech and said, democrats are the enemy of the american people, we are fighting
a civil war and it must be conducted with a savagery and intensity equal to a civil war, and, i mean, it's going to be lard for the -- for a constitutional democracy for it to function when political parties are viewing one another in those terms. [inaudible] >> i see a 30-year cycle. we're not there yet. i want to go back outside again and start crying and see sonia sotomayor. she is my touchstone but i feel it's coming but going to have to be a massive revolution and has to come from ongoing people like in my era, the of 60s. >> has to come from automatic -- all of us. you what enabled the new deal, not only was franklin roosevelt
elected president in 1932, he was elected with on the wave of a genuine movement. there was a democratic wave, progressive wave, in that election and it continued into '34 and '36 and so he was able to make these wholesale changes in american life, say, bernie sanders had been elected in 2016, but say he had gotten the congress we have now, he would have been able to do very little. so, i think what is it going to take? i think it's going to take -- there's a thing in the book i call the fantasy industrial complex, and basically it's media saturation, we are inundated with screens and messaging, practically every minute of our day, and i think
it makes us numb and dumb. and i don't think it necessarily makes us evil but it makes us susceptible to fuzzy thinking and fuzzy perceptions of the world, and so i think somehow this society needs to get control of the news machinery, the media machinery. think it's far outstripped our ability to process it and deal with it. yeah issue think it's -- i would not give up hope at all. i think there's too much promise in this country and there's too much riding on it, but it's going to take much more than we have seen so far to bring about the changes we need. >> i was wondering if you could address kind of the -- how to
describe it -- the schism in the american mind now. one hand we're talking about this is a terrible time and everything and yet most people are tuned into facebook or watching game of thrones or where is the best place to get a $25 entree or the best coffee shop. more young people are signed up for facebook than insurance. health insurance. so, -- >> it's free. >> yeah. it's easy to have ad hominem argument about and be scornful about people in the public but there needs to be a critique of the american citizen and his or her priorities and level of self-indulgence as well for a change and i'd like you to address that, please. >> well, mean, we elected trump. he was elected as far as i can
tell, accord ago the laws and eelectoral system of the country. nowsch how much russian bots and media manipulation had to do with swaying american opinions, i think remains to be seen, but it wasn't russianabouts who were pulling the levers in the voting booth for trump. and so it's something in us that was susceptible to that message. >> could you say that we are susceptible on both sides to candidates we might not have otherwise chosen because we had our eyes off the ball? >> i think, you know -- we do have to be better citizens. we have to think more clearly, make more of an effort to inform ourselves otherwise we're going lice e lose the country. we -- we're going to lose the country. we have many ways to fulfill the
impulse towards instant gratification go to starbucks and get a fancy coffee, or you go to facebook or you get that $25 entree, but as for the things that really matter in the long-term, toward building a decent life for yourself, like health insurance, good public education, a rigorous social safety net so that for people who suffer a trauma, tragedy, crisis in their lives, they are able to get back on their feet. i mean, those things we're lacking. very fundamental things, health care, obviously. we lost a lot in this country and i think part of that is the -- there's been a great brainwashing of the american mind the last 35 or 40 years and very concerted, organized and premeditated. goes back to a memo that future
supreme court justice lewis powell wrote in 19 723, a corporate lawyer -- 1973 and he generated a enemy o'for the republican party brain trust to the effect of, the republican party is losing the culture war in america, and we are going to have to have a sustained campaign to influence and redirect american thinking, and that is what happened. there were some very smart, well-resourced people who followed through on that and now we are here. >> thank you. >> the trump rallies, i found them sort of shocking and appalling and still they continue, and is this sort of thing going to be the wave of the future? i wonder what you think about that.
>> yes. it's scary, isn't it? he is a very effective demagogue, and there was a politician in texas named pappy odaniel in the 1930s and '40s, and he rose to fame because he was one of the first media celebrities of this day. he had a show, the hillbilly flour show and bob wills and the light crust dough boys were part of that show. put pappy o'damage had a great voice for radio and he built a following, eventually ran for governor, elected governor, he won four elections in four years in texas. and eventually ended up in the united states senate. well, his rallies, they sound like very much like trump rallies. kind of like camp meetings. the old come to jut meetings in
the -- jesus meetings in the south. where people would just go into near religious ecstasy because of the power of the message of the speaker. and i mean, joe mccarthy, could do the same thing. in the early '50s. george wallace did it in the '60s self-as his daughter said, she was reminiscing on his rallies and said, daddy's recalls could get right rough, and i mean, chair-throwing, so, it is -- i mean, some people have this gift, the demagogues gift, and trump really has it. he is an extraordinary politician. that is volatile energy. he is gathering, channeling, and surfing, and i wouldn't call it by any means the energy of our better angels.
it's very dangerous. >> as someone who lives in texas, could you talk about the current senate race there? >> could i talk but the current senate race there. >> maybe what your involvement has been with it? >> my involvement. in in my involvement is tithing to a particular candidate. i think -- i think beto o'rourke is running a very fine campaign, taking the high road. not taking pac money, talking about things that really matter to people. is sharpening the distinctions between his agenda and the mainstream republican agenda. not going for this kind of swing voter. he is looking to bring lots of new voters interest the process and that's the only hope for democrats instead of narrowing
your message to get this -- just exactly the right percentage of swing voters. democrats have to sharpen the distinctions with republicans and go after the 40% of americans who don't vote in presidential elects. and the 60% who don't vote in mid-term evictiones. the studies show that the majority of those people lean democratic or just plain democrats in their political orientation. texas being texas, i think it's going to be really hard for him to win. i don't think a statewide democrat has won more than 40%, maybe 41% or 42% since 1994, and so he has an uphill, very much an uphill battle but is racing a lot of money. doing it in he right way. you don't have to rely on pacs to fund a serious campaign and
bernie sanders show that, too. that's a powerful message we need to keep going forward. we'll see. hope springs eternal. >> i just want to say that it seems to me that the progressives are -- the people in this room, in america right now, i think more people live better than they ever have before. i know there as demographic when, like, my generation did very well on very little, but the thing is for health, we have a really fine medical -- i mean, i'm not saying everybody gets what they need but we certainly are doing a lot of vary, very good things in the realm of health. most people live comfortably. i mean, very few people are-do
without the basic needs and i think our problems are much more in social real of people have no focus, no real education, i think our education system nowdays is right pathetic. and i think we have lost an awful lot in our family relationships and social relationships, and so much focus on me and my hurts hurts and my, that and the other. it's not good for the culture at all and i think that's what a lot of the people who voted for trump felt, the progressives are the ones leading us into tremendous range of people whereas a lot of people believe that we're all humans and we're all interrelated and there's not
nearly the offense intended that people claim to feel. and i just don't understand it. >> well, i hear you. you foe, if you look at the numbers, there's a lot of information out there and in the past 30 years, life expectancy among several demographics in the united states has fallen. not only has it ceased to increase but it has started falling for white people over the age of 50, over the age of 60, also, young adult white people, and in some cases
dramatically and that's been in the last ten years. americans aren't as tall as we used to be relative to other developed countries. and height is a significant indicator of -- a very accurate indicator of quality of life in a country. we used to be the tallest in the '40s and '50s but most western european countries, they exceed us in average height now. infant mortality has risen in this country significantly in the last 15 yeast. in texas in the last five years it has doubled. mothers dying in childbirth. access to health care, i think the aca, obamacare, certainly
was a help in 14 million, 15 million americans now have access to healthcare they didn't before, but i think it's -- given the political environment that it very tenuous. it is harder and harder to afford to educate your kids now. i think -- culture is absolutely part of it. so often culture is used as a political cudgel to divert attention from bedrock economics, who wins, who loses. who takes the profits, who does the work. are the job doers getting their fair share of the productivity? we're working -- americans working harder, more hours, than
they have since the turn of the 19th century. we're producing more corporate profits are higher than ever, and yet wages in real terms have risen very little since the late 1970s. and so -- i mean, in a way, yeah, we live really well. i mean it's a rare american household that doesn't have a big screen tv. it is a rare american who doesn't have a smartphone, and so in terms of consumer goods, david brooks of "the new york times" a couple years ago had a column, he said, oh, you walk into a walmart and you will find everything you need for a healthy, fulfilling life. whoever laughed back there, i love you.
and in the consumer realm, that's true. i mean, there's a lot of cheap stuff out there. and you can go to walmart and get a dish pan for 79 cents. but what about the things that really provide for a decent life? access to health care, being able to educate your kids, decent housing. i think those are real problems for real challenges for significant part of america. something like 78% of americans live paycheck to paycheck. and almost half americans have less than $400 in savings. and they're working two and three jobs, just trying to get by month-to-month, and so your point is well-taken. in a lot of ways this number of people have never lived so well in terms of the stuff in our
life, but as for long-term quality of life, and ability to have some agency in our lives, some self-determination, i think it's very tough for a big part of america. >> hello. readure book but when you trees the issues we're facing and how we have got ton where we are, i you address and critique the sort of democratic corporate third wave bs that a lot of america reacted to. i remember my friends and i were reading what is the matter with kansas a few yearsing and there was all this liberal sort of why do people vote against their own interests? they're crazy. and my dear friend ann said, no,
they're half crazy. they're crazy thinking the republicans are going to actually do them any good, but their absolutely right on realizing that the clinton neoliberal corporate centrist democrats -- they're absolutely right on knowing that wasn't working for them, either. >> yeah. and so that leaves the political land kay wide open for a figure heir donald trump or bernie sanders sale the system i rigged. donald trump was saying you're damn right it's rigged. there's a chapter, probably the longest chapter called hillary done live here anymore, and i started digging into the very question you raise. why are people seemingly voting against their own interest? and it is a dark tale, much
darker than i suspected when i started exploring this, of the neoliberallization of the democratic party, starting in the mid-1980s. and basically the democratic part establishment went corporate and the way i look at it now, democrats are the party when they're in power, things get worse more slowly for working people. republicans in they get worse faster. with democrats, it's just slows down a little bit but -- so, yes, no wonder people are not -- i mean, a critical mass of the electorate did not vote for hillary clinton even though on its face it looked like she was offering more. anyway issue think it's a great point. it's something i thought about a lot and tried hard to explore and try to explain.
>> check out your book. >> okay. >> okay, and that concludes the time we have today. please join me in giving ben a round of applause for being here. [applause] >> if you want to get your copy of "beautiful country burn again" signed, he well be back upon at the plaza in the signing tent right next to book sales. [inaudible search bar at the top of the page. >> now from the southern festival of books on booktv, journalist john lingen and karida brown cuss race, class, and call noor plain. >> good afternoon. >> i'm linda caldwell. it's my flour welcome you to this session ofhe