The Vanderbilt Hustler talks with Michael Steele, Joshua DuBois and Ana Navarro

Alexa Bussmann, Content Development Director

Before the Chancellor’s Lecture Series Tuesday night, the Vanderbilt Hustler sat down with the featured speakers: Michael Steele, Ana Navarro, and Joshua Dubois. Steele is a former politician from Maryland and served as the head of the Republican National Committee from 2009-2011. Navarro, a Republican strategist, is a political analyst on CNN. DuBois served in the Obama administration as the head of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The three speakers discussed President Barack Obama’s legacy, what to expect from Donald Trump’s presidency and more.

Vanderbilt Hustler: In his farewell speech, President Obama said that “race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.” How do you see race relations now compared to eight years ago?

Ana Navarro“I would agree with that statement. Anybody that thought that President Obama’s election was going to mean that we were in a post-racial time in the United States was unfortunately and gravely mistaken. I think some aspects have been, if anything, exacerbated, of divisions and just racial disparities. You know, I think there’s a lot of people who were disappointed that President Obama didn’t achieve more reconciliation. When I try to find the silver lining to Trump’s election, and it’s not an easy thing for me to do, I think one of the silver linings is that he laid, he exposed the hostility and the divisions and the racial and ethnic disparities and anger. So we can’t pretend they’re not there, they are there, naked and shining for all of us to see. And as a country, we have to now figure out how to address (them).”

Joshua Dubois: “Yeah, I would agree with that. I think the last eight years under President Obama have really held up a mirror to the American psyche on race. If there’s one point of progress, it’s that we can finally see where we really are. And quite frankly, we shouldn’t be all that surprised. We’ve had roughly 350 years of really, really tough stuff on race in this country and just about 50 years where we’ve begun to unpack and deal with that tough stuff. And so we’re really in our infancy in terms of grappling with issues of race. So we’re not in a post-racial place but we can finally, as Ana said, deal with the stuff that’s on the table and see where we really are.”

Michael Steele: “The thing that strikes me the most about the discussion of race is how dishonest we are in the discussion. We lie to ourselves, we lie to each other, we pretend like we really wanna solve the problem. And to your point, there is an anxiety about that, because we don’t know where it leads, we don’t know what it looks like. Once we start down that road, white folks are nervous about it, black folks, hispanics, everyone is just kind of like tenuous in dealing with it. The president in various points in his time, both as candidate and as president, has had to deal with or at least try to put to words some of that anxiety and sort of confront some of that. And it think it’s in a very honest way, although I’ve always come to the conclusion that we always look to the wrong place to begin to get the answers to these questions. It doesn’t rest in the Oval Office. It doesn’t rest in the President of the United States. He can give a nice speech, and he can make us feel nice about it, and make us think about some things, but where it really needs to be dealt with is where you live.”

VH: President-elect Trump spoke about inner cities a lot during the campaign and stated that their conditions have deteriorated under President Obama. What does he need to do to convince minorities, especially African Americans, that he will work to improve their lives?

MS: “We’ve seen this week is what a crock that is, to begin with. I stated the day before yesterday in an interview that I’m sick and tired of the BS when it comes to the stereotyping of minority communities, whether they’re hispanic, whether they’re black, you know urban communities, where they sit there and they say, “Oh, well you’re a black congressman you must represent a largely poor, poorly educated, etc.” So having the stereotypes sort of lead the conversation gets back to my first point. I think for Trump… I’ve said this for years as chairman, which is probably why I wasn’t very popular… that we’ve gotta stop the game of assuming a lot about communities of color.”

JD: “Ultimately, I don’t think that the president-elect really knows black people. I think he has this picture of African Americans living in sort of burning down ghettos, where folks are rioting in the streets. And that’s just not the African American community in this country that I know and love from communities here like Nashville where much of my family is to rural Coffee County, Tennessee where I have black farmers in my family there. But that said, I think the African American communities have to be careful not to get distracted by the trivialities in Trump’s tweets and so forth… We have to be careful not to be distracted by terrible things like him attacking John Lewis, or saying things about cities burning down, and really keep our eye on the ball in terms of issues that impact African Americans.”

AN: “I think he’s got a lot to prove with African Americans, with Hispanics. This was an election that brought out the worst in America, and that included I think a lot of racism, a lot of misogyny, a lot of discrimination of every type. And he didn’t invent racism, certainly, but he did peddle in it, and he did pander to it during this election. And I think it’s now on him to try to do something about some of those ugly feelings he unleashed. I think the appointments that he makes will be important. I think seeing a very inclusive administration will be important. And I do think that the tweets and things like that, because this is a president who communicates through tweets, he bypasses normal, traditional methods to communicate through tweets, and I do think that they are distracting, but they’re also symbolic. And they’re important. And so I just don’t know how somebody who has so much work to do with the African American community chooses Martin Luther King weekend to try to go after, to attack one of Martin Luther King’s best friends and allies that are still alive. I think you’ve got to just stare and wonder at that kind of thing.”

VH: This past weekend, Representative John Lewis said that he doesn’t consider Trump to be a “legitimate president,” to which Trump responded with a tweet saying that Rep. Lewis is “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results.” What does this kind of rhetoric from both sides of the aisle portend for the Trump presidency?

MS: “Well at the end of the day it’s something that the president himself controls…Put the phone down. It starts with that. Don’t tweet it. It is, I think, incumbent on him to recognize at some point, sooner rather than later, that this office that he’s in carries an awesome burden of responsibility. And part of that burden of responsibility is temperament. It’s demeanor, it’s behavior, it’s discipline and focus.”

“Donald Trump is largely unfiltered, he says what he really thinks, he says it in a way that a lot of folks out there sort of go ‘Yea, that’s what I was thinking.” But that has a real danger to it because it does stir passions and it can, as we’ve seen over this past weekend, put an incoming administration in a defensive crouch that it shouldn’t be in, number one, because you don’t want to start in a huddled defense position, but it also begins to take down any efforts, serious efforts, you have to reach and have a conversation with your communities of color.”

JD: “February, 1960, almost exactly 57 years ago, John Lewis, Diane Nash, and a couple others left this university and went downtown and began the Nashville sit-in movement and the ripples of that movement went to North Carolina and states farther down and became the Civil Rights movement as we know it. If there is any person that deserves a level of sanctity in our political discourse, it’s John lewis. His direct actions, and not theoretically, but applied actions, materially secured human dignity for millions of people and the fact that the President Elect of the United States can go on Twitter and write him off as if he’s just any other average Joe and then the next day call him a liar means that quite frankly that nothing is sacred to this president.”

AN: “I think what it tells us is what we’ve learned in the last two-plus months that he’s been elected is that he’s not going to change. Certainly his public persona is not going to change. He’s still going to be the politically incorrect, fight picking, rabble rousing, media manipulating, distracting, undisciplined person we saw in the campaign. He’s not the unifier, he’s not even pretending to be the unifier. Hes not become presidential. He has not risen to the position. What we don’t know is what his private governance will be like. Something that has happened that’s interesting is that he’s named all these people to Cabinet positions who don’t agree with his public positions and say so publicly in the hearings.”

“If Jared Kushner somehow blows us away and is able to make strides in Middle East peace, if the economic indicators go up, if unemployment goes down, believe me few people on this planet detest Donald Trump as much as I do, but if in those measurements, he achieves, I’m going to have a hard time saying he’s been a bad president. I will have no qualms saying he has no fitness of character, but if he achieves certain marks in his presidency, what are we going to say.”

MS: “And I think that is a very honest point because what Ana just said is the most difficult space to begin to occupy and it is I think a testament of our citizenship right now as we look at this administration that is asymmetrical, unpredictable, and all the things that you’ve said, and yet beneath it, I look at this man and I go over the time that I’ve worked with him, I’ve know him a long time. I’ve seen him in the business setting and now the political setting, and the one takeaway that I come away with is he’s a guy who actually does not want to fail. Regardless of however you cut this, to the issues you laid out there, that’s exactly the space he wants to be into. How he gets there will disturb the hell out of a lot of people, but it will be critical to watch what he does in that Oval Office setting when he’s gotta make a decision when Paul Ryan says Mr President, the Congress is planning to address Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and the President goes ‘no you’re not.’ ”

JD: “I think that those are some of the macro indicators. I’m concerned by the moves he’s already begun to make that impact communities of color or will impact them in more subtle ways. If Jeff Sessions becomes our AG and sends signals to police departments around the country that civil rights of individuals who have been killed by police are not going to be as aggressively investigated and defended as they have been in the past, if we’re going to give them more benefit of a doubt.”

AN: “I think one of the positive aspects of John Lewis’ testimony, of the NAACP’s testimony, all that testimony that we saw last week is that he knows he is under the microscope. He knows that he is going to be watched carefully specifically on those issues. I wish that the Hispanic Caucus had been as active. I wish that the Hispanic Caucus had a presence there. And I think what you’re going to see if those things start happening is states take over, what they did President Obama to counter executive orders. You saw so many different states take action, Texas and others on things like immigration, and actually achieve some things… I think you’re going to see folks like Jerry Brown, I think you’re going to see Democrat governors and their attorney generals take very active, proactive positions to guard against some of those concerns that you have.”

MS: “I haven’t given up on the citizens. I still think that (we have) an active citizenry, probably more active that we’ve seen in a long time. Certainly millennial activists will be the check and whether it’s Black Lives Matter or some other organization that is organically created, I just don’t see people idly sitting by and letting an egregious act of police violence, if you will, go unchecked and go undealt with by the Justice Department.”

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