Cenk Uygur Interview: "We Don’t Run from Them; They Run from Us"
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Cenk Uygur is the host and founder of The Young Turks, the largest online news show in the world, and CEO of TYT Network. With a verified global audience of more than 200 million views a month and 8 billion total video views, TYT Network is considered one of the most watched online news networks in the world.
Uygur launched The Young Turks as a talk show on Sirius Satellite Radio in 2002. The show then became the first daily video show on YouTube in 2005 and has since become the leading news and politics show for young, progressive viewers. He has also appeared as a political commentator on CNN, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, NPR, Al Jazeera and Voice of America, among others. Uygur graduated from the Wharton School of Business at University of Pennsylvania and from Columbia Law School.
"Yes, these are dark times, but the light at the end of the tunnel is blinding. It is wonderful. And I can see it. And we’re almost there."
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): According to recent approval ratings, Donald Trump is the most unpopular president ever to enter a second year in office. What are your biggest concerns after reflecting on his first year in office?
Cenk Uygur: Well, his instability, (although I know that he’s a very stable genius from what we hear from him), is actually my biggest concern. In terms of what he’s done, he’s actually done very little. He’s done a giant tax cut for the rich. But let’s keep it real. Almost any Republican president would’ve done a giant tax cut for the rich. So that’s not necessarily particularly Trump. Yes, Trump started out with an even bigger tax cut for the rich. Yes, he created a pass-through loophole for real estate holdings specifically to enrich himself. But that’s just a matter of degree between him and other republicans. They all voted for him. They all loved him.
In terms of saying there were some very fine people in Charlottesville, encouraging that kind of white supremacist attitude, trying to ban Muslims from the country, continuing his rhetoric against immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants, all that is damaging, not so much in policy because he hasn’t been able to execute a lot of the policy, but in terms of degrading the culture and giving permission for some of the dark forces in the country to come out of the closet once again. If that continues unabated, then we’re in a world of trouble. I think Trump clearly has fascist tendencies. He doesn’t believe in the rule of law, and he showed that over and over again. He thinks the president should have complete power. He doesn’t really believe in our form of government with the three branches and that the president is not above the law.
If those things continue for an extended period of time, it degrades not only our culture, but our constitutional traditions and rule of law. That would be massively damaging. The last thing is, we survived 2017. He didn’t press the button, his very big button that definitely works. But for 2018, at any moment, he could do something insane and not just on Twitter, but in the real world. So I am very, very concerned about 2018.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Donald Trump has been visibly upset and has threatened to sue author Michael Wolff for writing Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Is there anything that you’ve heard or read in this book that sounds unbelievable to you, and what would you say are the most important takeaways?
Cenk Uygur: I think there is a tinge of hyperbole in there, so when Michael Wolff says that 100% of the people in the White House believe Trump’s not qualified for the job, it’s probably 90% (laughs). I doubt, for example, Hope Hicks, who is such a close confidante of Trump, would say that to Michael Wolff. On the other hand, what difference does it make? 100% or 90% of his own staffers think he’s wildly, dangerously incompetent and unqualified for the job.
Here are big takeaways from the Michael Wolff book: His dangerous, maniacal instability and money laundering. I’ve been saying for close to a year now, “It’s the money laundering, stupid.” The collusion in the election is the tip of the iceberg. Money laundering is the iceberg. He’s been in bed with the Russians for decades out in the open. Both Eric Trump and Donald, Jr. have said, “Yes. We took a lot of money from the Russians. They financed our golf courses.” When Eric Trump was asked why, he said, “Oh, they really, really like golf apparently.” (laughs) What a child. What a ridiculous, ignorant child. Those are giant takeaways.
I mean, as much as people understand and laugh at how unintelligent Trump is, we’re still not getting the severity of it. We have a mentally unstable person with control over nuclear weapons and arguably the most powerful man on earth. That is not a good scenario. That’s a recipe for disaster. He’s a ticking time bomb. So I think we’ve got to get him out of office as soon as possible before he does something that I know he’s capable of, which is both incredibly stupid, and more importantly, incredibly damaging.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you believe invoking the 25th Amendment could actually be a viable end to his presidency when, even if the majority of the Cabinet deems him unfit, it’s still up to a Republican-controlled Congress, and the president himself can disagree to mental incapacity in writing?
Cenk Uygur: Here are the two ways that I think it can go down realistically for Trump. One is that Mueller goes to Congress after he’s done with his investigation and says to them, “Here’s the evidence. I got him A to Z. Here’s the trail of money from Trump to the Russians and back to Trump, and here’s all the money laundering they’ve been doing for all these years and why he owes the Russians.” They go talk to Trump. He huffs, and he puffs, and then Congress says, “If you don’t go, you could be in prison the rest of your life and so could your kid and Kushner and all of them.” Or they say to him, “Oh, my God, you’ve had a medical exam, and it turns out you’ve got really early onset Alzheimer’s. But because you’re such a hero, you’re going to sacrifice himself for the good of the country. Make sure you step down, and we make all of this stuff go away, so that the country doesn’t blow up.” That’s scenario number one, and I guess I’m the only one who thinks this, but the most likely scenario.
Secondarily, Mueller gets him, and he bunkers down, and then we have madness because all these alt-right brown shirts will come out in full force and talk about arresting his political opponent. There will be unrest in the streets, and we brace for impact. But what is not going to happen is publicly debating impeachment or 25th Amendment, having a civil discourse back and forth and having Trump go, “Oh, golly, yes, I guess I’ve lost this public debate. Now let me go forward.” No. They’re either going to do it quietly behind the scenes, or it’s going to be holy hell.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): From observations on social media with Democratic voters, it appears there is still a rift between Hillary and Bernie supporters. Hillary Clinton has said that she will not run in the next presidential election. How do you propose to unite Democrats for 2020, and I’m sure that I know the answer to this, but what candidate will you support?
Cenk Uygur: The candidate’s name is Bernie Sanders, and here’s my case for it. He’s the most popular politician in the country. We should stop there and soak that in for a second. Whenever anyone is the most popular politician in the country, that’s a big deal, and people talk about them and say, “Are they going to run for president? Is it going to be easy for them to win?” We don’t have that conversation just because it’s Bernie. The establishment hates Bernie, so they just won’t recognize his enormous popularity. Also Bernie has over 80% approval rating among Democrats, so there is no actual split. The only split is with establishment Democrats who can’t stand Bernie Sanders because they think he might stop their gravy train. So they keep acting like there’s a split.
Democratic voters love Bernie. We’re done with it. There’s no split. He has massive name recognition. You’ve got people in Washington talking about Amy Klobuchar. Klobuchar? Who’s Klobuchar? She has no name recognition. I mean, to think that a Klobuchar could beat a Bernie Sanders is to fundamentally misunderstand politics. Right or wrong, name recognition made a huge difference in the primaries. Donald Trump had huge name recognition. These things matter. The assumption from establishment Democrats is that there’s a split because progressives will not agree to bow their heads. That’s not how it’s going to work. Either they’re going to agree with over 80% of Democratic voters, or we are going to defeat them. I don’t need to be unified with them.
Are we unified in the 25th Amendment or impeachment? Sure. God Bless. Are we unified after a primary to defeat loathsome Republications? Sure. God Bless. Right? Am I glad to be unified during a primary? No. That defeats the whole point. Why would I be unified with people who, by the way, I think are fundamentally corrupt? I don’t want to agree with corrupt politicians.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Speaking of name recognition, after her speech at this year’s Golden Globes, “Oprah for President,” was trending on Twitter. Do you think she could be a viable candidate even without political experience?
Cenk Uygur: I think that Democratic voters are far more serious than Republican voters. Republican voters love empty celebrities whether it’s an actor like Ronald Reagan, it’s an insane singer like Ted Nugent or it’s a reality show host like Trump. For God’s sake, they picked a reality host, a reality show host as their leader! They have no substance whatsoever, whereas I think that Democratic voters care about policies. Sure, of course, not all of them, but they care about policies a lot more than Republican voters do.
I get the appeal of Oprah. I don’t think it’s out of the question. I think almost every other celebrity is completely out of the question. The only one that’s not out of the question is Oprah. But at the end of the day, I would be shocked if the huge contingent of Bernie voters, if Bernie’s in the race, are going to be starstruck by Oprah and vote for a talk show host instead. I would be shocked by that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why did you want to become a political commentator, Cenk?
Cenk Uygur: Because I absolutely love it. I’m fascinated by it. I’m energized by it, and most importantly, this is where you can make a difference in people’s lives. I worked in a couple of prosecutor’s offices when I was in law school over the summers, and it was one case at a time. I care deeply about justice. I wanted to bring justice for those victims, but it’s one case, one case, one case. Whereas in politics, you effect hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of people.
Our politics have been so corrupted for the last 40 years that people feel powerless when they feel it doesn’t make any difference, that whatever they do, the rich and powerful win. Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth to that because of the way the system has been taken over by corporate interests. But I think that we can reverse that, and I think like FDR with Social Security and LBJ with Medicare, we can make a gigantic difference in an untold number of lives. So that’s super powerful, and it energizes me, this idea that we can liberate people and make their lives better.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were a social conservative when you were younger, so why did you leave the Republican Party?
Cenk Uygur: Why did I stop being a Republican? I think the real question is why everyone hasn’t stopped being a Republican. As you mature and have more empathy for others, it’s just stunning to me that anybody would stay a Republican. Their claim is “get peace through strength.” Did we get peace? Nope. They gave us endless wars. They claim they were for balanced budgets. Well, they just proved what a joke that was. I figured that out decades ago, that they were never going to balance the budget, that it was just a marketing gimmick. But now the case is closed. They never cared about the budget. It was a lie. All they ever cared about was the rich, and it’s logical because that’s who their donors are. They serve their donors. Come on, who do you work for? You work for the guy who signs your checks. The multi-national corporations sign their checks.
These politicians, especially the Republicans, are not leaders. That’s comical. They’re servants. They’re servants of the upper class, and in return, they get to stay in the house, so they get a nice salary. When they leave, they get to be a lobbyist or consultant, make a couple of million dollars, stay in power for a long time and feel good about themselves. But at the end of the day, they’re just waterboys, sad, pathetic waterboys, and I’m not interested in being on that team. I can do down the full list for you, the Iraq War, torture, warrantless wiretapping, it’s one debacle after another. Why do you want to be in a party that the entire point of its existence is to serve their rich and powerful donors? That’s crazy to me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Alabama has definitely had its share of corrupt Republicans over the last few years, not the least of which was a governor that resigned last year due to ethics violations.
Cenk Uygur: Yeah. It’s tough. I empathize. I’ve been all over the South. I love the south, and I see some great things. There’s some congeniality overall. Once you’re there, you’re considered one of us instead of one of them. That’s wonderful about the South, and there’s a fighting tradition that I appreciate as a Turk (laughs). But we’ve got to snap them out of their collective brainwashing and thinking that the Republicans have their best interests in mind. I mean, you show me your estate, and I’ll say, “Yes, that makes sense. You should vote Republican and reduce estate taxes on your kid.” But if you don’t have an estate, you’re nuts to vote for a Republican.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You recently interviewed Jen Senko on her documentary, The Brainwashing of My Dad, where her father changed from a Democrat to a radical, right-wing fanatic after his immersion in talk radio and Fox News. Do you think there will ever be a light at the end of the tunnel and a chance that we can change the minds of these older voters?
Cenk Uygur: I do. I have nothing but hope there. Yes, these are dark times, but the light at the end of the tunnel is blinding. It is wonderful. And I can see it. And we’re almost there. Let me explain. In the Alabama race, over 60% of the people under the age of 45 voted for the Democrat. Now I get that it’s a unique circumstance with Roy Moore, but still, in Alabama, over 60% of under 45 voters voted for the Democrat. So the Republican Party is on borrowed time. They did that exploding heart trick from the karate movies. They just walk around and don’t know their hearts are going to explode in 24 hours (laughs) Okay? They’re dead men walking. You cannot lose 60% of under 45, not 25, not 35, but under 45-year-olds in the reddest state in the country and have any type of existence in the future. So, yeah, they’ve got a bunch of 78-year-olds watching Fox News and getting all mad, but tick tock, tick tock.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Cenk, thanks for speaking truth to power and for being a strong voice in the resistance.
Cenk Uygur: Thank you so much. Just let me add these last two things. One is, thank you for staying in Alabama and fighting. That’s what I counsel people all the time. We don’t run from them; they run from us. Okay? That flag isn’t theirs. It’s ours, and you’re going to turn that state.
I think you guys are among the quiet heroes who stood and fought until we won, and we will. We’ve got the future totally on our side. The last encouraging note is, I know it’s anecdotal, but I have dozens of people who come up to me and say, “I used to be a conservative. You changed my mind. I used to be an evangelical Christian. You guys changed my mind.” So they got media. We got media. Let’s get it on.
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