We examine the state of U.S. politics, Trumpism, journalism and more with Mehdi Hasan, host of The Mehdi Hasan Show on MSNBC and Peacock. His new book is titled Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson kicked off his first installment of analyzing footage from the deadly January 6th Capitol insurrection, that was shared with him by Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy exclusively, by playing cherry-picked clips on his top-rated Fox show Monday night.
TUCKER CARLSON: They were peaceful. They were orderly and meek. These were not insurrectionists; they were sightseers. Footage from inside the Capitol overturns the story you’ve heard about January 6th. Protesters queue up in neat little lines. They give each other tours outside the speaker’s office. They take cheerful selfies, and they smile. They’re not destroying the Capitol. They obviously revere the Capitol. They’re there because they believe the election was stolen from them. They believe in the system.
AMY GOODMAN: Tucker Carlson claimed the House January 6th committee withheld evidence about the attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters and said of the rioters, quote, “They were right. In retrospect, it is clear the 2020 election was a grave betrayal of American democracy,” unquote. This comes as Trump addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, Saturday night as he campaigns for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination while facing multiple criminal investigations.
DONALD TRUMP: In 2016, I declared I am your voice. Today, I add: I am your warrior, I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. I am your retribution. Not going to let this happen.
AMY GOODMAN: “I am your retribution,” Trump said. Other speakers peddling Trump’s big lie of election fraud got top billing at CPAC, where they addressed half-filled rooms while calling Trump the former and future president.
For more, we’re joined by Mehdi Hasan, journalist and author, host of weekly shows on MSNBC nightly, also on Peacock. His new book is titled Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking.
Congratulations on your book. No argument there.
MEHDI HASAN: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Your take on President Trump and the case he’s making for 2024?
MEHDI HASAN: So, you played that clip from Trump at CPAC. And as I pointed out on my show on Sunday night, that was pure, unadulterated fascism. I know some people even on the left don’t like to use the F-word in relation to Trump and Trumpism, but when a candidate for high office, a candidate who has previously incited an armed insurrection, when he stands up on stage and says, “You put me back in office, and I will be your retribution,” that is straight out of the authoritarian playbook. That is rhetoric going back to the 1920s and '30s, I'm sorry to say. So, he is not hiding this stuff. He’s saying this stuff out in the open. We know what is on offer from Trump for 2024. We know what this country is in line for, were he to get back in.
And let’s not rule out — people say, “Oh, well, he can’t win.” Of course he can win. This is America. He’s won before. There’s an Electoral College. Of course he could win. It’s a two-party system. So, for me, it’s chilling rhetoric. It’s not something I take lightly. He has created an army of Mini-Mes in Congress, the Marjorie Taylor Greenes of this world. He has people like Kevin McCarthy still covering for him, providing that footage, as you mentioned, to Tucker Carlson, who then lies about it on air — Tucker Carlson who tells Dominion in a lawsuit, “I don’t believe in the big lie,” under oath, but then goes on TV to say he does. The cynicism of Fox and of the Trump enablers never ceases to amaze me, Amy.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mehdi, I wanted to ask you, in terms of this issue of authoritarianism — I don’t know if you saw there was a piece by Chris Hedges, the former New York Times reporter, recently, where he calls the crowd in the January 6th protest and insurrection deplorable, but at the same time he claims that — he believes that there has been excessive government crackdown on them, to the point that many people are being sentenced to long sentences for what are essentially minor crimes. And he lays out the case that this is actually creating more divisions in the country than necessary. I don’t know if you’ve seen the piece, but what you think about —
MEHDI HASAN: I haven’t seen the piece.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — how the government —
MEHDI HASAN: I haven’t seen the piece.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — has handled the protesters?
MEHDI HASAN: Yeah, no, I haven’t seen the piece. And I think anyone who thinks — let’s just — it’s a very simple — let’s just have a very simple thought experiment. If the hundreds of people who had attacked the Capitol, injured more than 140 officers, threatened the lives of members of Congress, had been Black, had that been a mass crowd of Muslims, of people who look like me with my name, I can assure you, and I can assure Chris Hedges, the sentences would be far longer, the prisoners would be treated much worse, and there would be no political support, as there is from one political party for these, quote-unquote, “political prisoners.” They’re not. They’re people who launched an armed insurrection on the Capitol. So I don’t agree that they’ve been treated in an excessive way.
Now, has there been an overfocus on the foot soldiers of the insurrection, while the ringleaders and the inciters have gotten off? That, I completely agree with. Has the Department of Justice, has our political and judicial and legal systems and our media gone only after the people who were ransacking the Capitol and going after members of Congress and assaulting police officers? Yes, because — you know, at the expense of the people in charge? Yes. I mean, I’m amazed that we are two years — more than two years out from this, and Donald Trump is running for president.
Think about how the rest of the world sees us. A president who lost an election, refused to leave office, claimed he hadn’t lost, incited an armed insurrection, then left office, went to his exile in Florida and carried on inciting more insurrections, is now running for office again and polling pretty well. Like, what would we say if we saw that in another country? Our democracy is broken. Our judicial system clearly cannot handle a Republican Party that is effectively pro-insurrection. And I think, you know, anyone who says that these people have been dealt with excessively needs to google the term “white privilege.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you — you’ve also been very vocal and follow the restrictions of voting rights all across the country. Your sense of the impact this is going to have on our next election?
MEHDI HASAN: I think we don’t know, is the honest answer. We had the midterms that came along. Some of us were warning, look, this is a really important midterm election. Thankfully, voters in states, in key swing states, rejected election deniers for the secretary of state positions in places like Michigan, in places like Arizona, in places like Georgia. They rejected gubernatorial candidates who are election deniers in places like Arizona, Kari Lake still refusing to accept she lost, in true Trumpian fashion. So, that was a good sign that came out of the midterms.
Now, my worry — and I’ve said this on my show — is, let’s not be complacent. The threat to democracy is not over. I have said on the record that the Republicans controlling the House of Representatives — we don’t know whether they’ll control the House of Representatives come January 2025. It’s likely they will. They control it currently. That’s a real problem, because I don’t see a House of Representatives led by Kevin McCarthy and Marjorie Taylor Greene in January 2025 agreeing to certify the election. I think we’re in no-man’s land come January 2025. And I think there’s enough election deniers still in local levels that can cause problems.
I think there’s enough voter suppression laws that can cause problems. Look at Florida, where the majority of Floridians voted in 2018 to restore voting rights to former felons, disproportionately Black former felons, and Ron DeSantis has led a crusade, both at the political level and judicial level, to reverse that decision, the decision of the people of Florida, in his supposedly free state of Florida. So, the Republicans are not sleeping on this. They are not relaxing on this. They are taking every possible measure to try and restrict the vote, to try and limit young people from voting, people of color from voting, because they know they can’t win otherwise. Nikki Haley said it herself at CPAC. Seven of the last presidential elections, the Republican Party has lost the popular vote. They know that.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re talking on the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, which happened just two weeks after the assassination of Malcolm X. But I want to turn to your book, Mehdi, Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking. And I want to refer to a moment that you talk about, where you’re interviewing, in October 2020, John Bolton, who has —
MEHDI HASAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — who was the Bush White House national security adviser [sic]. He was promoting his memoir, The Room Where It Happened, and he came on your show. This is what happened.
MEHDI HASAN: The reality is, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. There was torture, millions of refugees. And that did follow from the decision by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others in the administration, like yourself, to invade Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people died. And just to go back to my question, which you didn’t answer, do those deaths never —
JOHN BOLTON: [inaudible]
MEHDI HASAN: “Do those deaths weigh on your conscience?” was my question, which you didn’t answer.
JOHN BOLTON: No, I did answer, and I’ll answer it again, since you didn’t seem to listen to it. The fact was, after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a number of decisions could have been made in different ways. …
MEHDI HASAN: With respect, John Bolton, you weren’t — you weren’t a pundit on Fox News then. You were in government. I don’t remember you quitting in objection to the occupation. And the fact is, that occupation —
JOHN BOLTON: [inaudible]
MEHDI HASAN: — that occupation — let me just finish my question, and then you can come back in. That occupation produced thousands of dead, torture, refugees. Richard Clarke, who was White House counterterrorism czar at the time shortly after 9/11, called it war crimes. Kofi Annan called the war illegal. I just wondered: Do you ever worry that — you know, people have tried to do citizen’s arrests on you in the past. Do you ever worry you may have to face a court to answer for that war and that occupation for the war crimes that happened back then?
JOHN BOLTON: Of course not, because what you’re saying is completely ludicrous. And those who made those kinds of criticisms are not reflecting what actually happened.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Mehdi Hasan questioning the former Bush national security adviser [sic], John Bolton. And I just wanted to read a little paragraph from The Guardian talking about you. “For those who criticise the … news media as too white, too Christian, too complacent, too inward looking, too pompous, … too prone to herd mentality and too deferential to authority, Hasan has come along in the nick of time. … a British-born Muslim of Indian descent, anti-establishment muckraker [and] unabashed lefty with a bias towards democracy.” Talk about this in the context of the argument you’re making in Win Every Argument, what it means not to go on bended knee to power.
MEHDI HASAN: Yeah. Well, thank you for having me on to talk about the book. Quick correction: John Bolton was the Trump national security adviser. Under George Bush, he was a State Department official.
AMY GOODMAN: Trump, oh, yes, right, right. Sorry about that.
MEHDI HASAN: So, he came on the show shortly having left the administration. I mean, the Bolton interview is a good example of what The Guardian very nicely said about me, which is, I interviewed him in 2020 — we’re now at the 20th anniversary. That was what? Seventeen years in. And I was amazed that no one had just asked him a very direct question, which is, “How do you kind of sleep at night? How do you deal with all the deaths on your conscience?” We can argue the rights and wrongs of the Iraq War. I clearly think it was wrong; he clearly thinks it was right. But no one’s really asked him about his moral responsibility for everything that went down. And when I asked him about it, he ran from that debate. He tried to separate out the occupation from the war. He just said things are ludicrous or inaccurate, without dealing with the substance of what I was saying, which was obviously 100% true about the deaths and torture and refugees.
And I feel like, you know, unfortunately, it’s required someone like myself to come in and say, “Why are we not asking these questions?” These are questions that people have. These are legitimate questions. And for far too long, too many interviewers in America have been a little too deferential, in my view, to people in power, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, whatever it is. And I come from a British media culture. The British media has many problems, has its own deference to people in power, but, in terms of TV interviews, has a culture and tradition of much more outspoken, much more combative interviewers. And I’ve tried to bring that with me into the U.S. media on my show on MSNBC and on my show on Peacock and to try and give — you know, I used to work at Al Jazeera English prior to joining MSNBC, and the motto there was “give voice to the voiceless.” And when I’m doing an interview, I’m trying to think: What questions would an audience member who would never get a chance to sit down with a John Bolton — what would they want to ask? And I try and ask those questions. And I try and get an answer. That’s another important point that I make in the book. If you’re having a debate, an argument, an interview, and someone is gaslighting you, trying to steamroll you with nonsense, don’t budge. Don’t move on to the next question. Don’t allow them to distract or deflect. Don’t budge. Follow up. Stick to your topic.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mehdi, speaking of people in power, I’d like to ask you about Joe Biden. Unlike many on the left of the spectrum in America, you have a kinder assessment of his role as president so far, even though you were skeptical and didn’t really initially support his candidacy.
MEHDI HASAN: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m wondering your — if you could talk about that assessment?
MEHDI HASAN: So, I’m going to push back on the premise of your question and say many on the left — a lot of lefties I’ve met are, surprisingly, you know, positively surprised by what Biden has achieved. You can take Bernie Sanders at the top of that list. You could take members of the Squad, who have all been, like, “Wow! We didn’t expect some of this stuff.” Obviously, he has not been as left-wing or progressive as we would have liked, but certainly more than we imagined. I never imagined he would be the Democratic nominee. I thought he wouldn’t win the primaries. I didn’t think he — I worried whether he would be able to beat Trump. He did beat Trump. So he proved me wrong twice.
And then I thought he would be a classically centrist, neoliberal president. And again, the third time, he surprised me. You look at what he’s achieved in some of his legislation, from the American Rescue Plan, which was one of the biggest poverty reduction acts in modern memory. You look at what he achieved with the Inflation Reduction Act and the record spending on climate change — again, not enough, but more than his predecessors. You know, life is relative. I can only compare him to other presidents. And he’s done far more than Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, his Democratic predecessors. I think it’s fair to say he has achieved more legislatively than any president going back to LBJ, maybe even back to FDR. And people just don’t look at the results.
Now, has he done enough on immigration? Not at all. I’m not a fan of his recent immigration moves. I’m not a fan of some of the stuff he’s done on COVID. I’m not a fan of his Israel-Palestine policy, of course. But then, take Afghanistan. The man ended the longest war in American history. And he did it at great personal political cost. You look at his polls — people forget this — Joe Biden’s polls first took their nosedive in August of 2021, when he pulled out of Afghanistan, with the entire Beltway media, the entire D.C. political establishment saying, “Don’t do it. This is a mistake. This is a disaster.” And he did it. And I think you’ve got to give credit where credit’s due. Now, as I say, there are many things I will continue to criticize him on. And I’ve had his members of his administration on my show, and I’ve challenged them. But on the big picture, he is, without a shadow of a doubt, whether we like it or not, the most center-left president of our lifetimes. Now, is that a low bar? Yes. But has he exceeded it? Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we just have 30 seconds, but you had Senator Peter Welch on your show this weekend, who is supporting Bernie Sanders’ call to debate conditioning aid —
MEHDI HASAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — to Israel. And you talked about the reference to what’s happening, what the Israeli soldiers are doing in the West Bank, as a pogrom.
MEHDI HASAN: Yeah. So, that was an Israeli general who used that word. And I’m glad that American politicians, led by Bernie Sanders, are starting to talk about this aid debate, that we cannot just give billions and billions of dollars to Israel every year as they carry out massive human rights abuses, pogroms, ethnic cleansing. We keep saying it’s shared values. That’s why we support Israel. Well, these are not shared values, and I’m glad that Democrats, increasingly, slowly, are starting to speak up. Let’s see if the rest of them do.
AMY GOODMAN: Mehdi Hasan, we thank you so much for being with us, journalist and author, host of shows on MSNBC and Peacock. His new book is Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking.
Watch the video of this interview below: