On NPR’s All Things Considered show, I joined the consummate host Michel Martin for the barbershop discussion to talk Paris Climate Agreement, Kathy Griffin and more.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now it’s time for the Barbershop. That’s where we sit down with a group of interesting people to talk about what’s in the news and what’s on their minds. Joining us for a shape up this week are Farajii Muhammad. He’s the host of “Listen Up.” That’s a radio show on member station WEAA in Baltimore. He’s also director of a youth organization, Piece by Piece. He’s with us in our Washington, D.C., studios. Farajii, thanks so much for coming.
FARAJII MUHAMMAD: Absolutely.
MARTIN: Also joining us here in Washington, D.C., Gayle Trotter. She’s a political commentator. You can find her writings at Right in DC. Gayle, thank you so much for coming back.
GAYLE TROTTER: Delighted to be with you.
MARTIN: And also joining us once again from Irvine, Calif., Gustavo Arellano. He’s the author of two books, and he’s the writer of the syndicated column Ask A Mexican. Gustavo, thank you so much for showing up once again.
GUSTAVO ARELLANO: Hola, Michel.
MARTIN: So let me start with the news that we started the program with, which is this big decision that – President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord after a week that, you know, some people likened to a reality TV reveal. The president made his announcement from the White House Rose Garden on Thursday.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won’t be. They won’t be. I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.
MARTIN: You know, it has to be said that a number of U.S. mayors and governors, including Pittsburgh’s mayor, Bill Peduto, said that they would in fact uphold previous commitments that they made to meet whatever the targets were in the climate accords despite the president’s decision. Now, we heard earlier in the program from people who, you know, think about energy and climate science for a living. But my feeling was everybody has a stake in this. So I just wanted to get a sense from each of you of what you think. But I’m going to push each of you to tell me not just what you think but what informs your views on this. Like, is there some particular data point or some particular fact that informs your thinking about this. Farajii, do you want to start?
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, it’s pretty interesting. I mean, one is from that statement right there. It shows a sense of arrogance that he was not willing to work with other global leaders. And I think that that’s the issue. What we’re seeing, even when we saw it in his campaign, he said make America great again. He gave the tone throughout the campaign saying that, look; I’m not going to take anything from anybody. I’m not willing to listen to outside forces. I’m only going to look at what’s going on inside.
And the issue that I’m having with President Trump at this point is that he doesn’t have – doesn’t seem to have that long-term vision. And I think that what this accord or this pact was about is looking at the long term, 2025 and those type of timelines. But we’re not seeing it from this president. He makes these decisions, and then he makes these decisions not based upon any real fact. But he’s making these decisions and saying, OK, well, we’re going to do this from a couple of his advisers, but he doesn’t give it an alternative.
MARTIN: What informs your thinking about this? You’re saying that you don’t think he listens to science or other people, whatever.
MARTIN: But what – how do you come to your views on climate science and what you think the U.S. should do in this?
MUHAMMAD: I mean, I think the only way we can do it – I mean, I’m certainly not a climate scientist, but at the end of the day, you have to look at what people are talking about. I mean, we have to look at the leaders in the field, if you’re looking at Al Gore or who else that you respect. But then you also have to do your own personal research. And I think that in the area of diplomacy, I think that it’s best for us to – if America is the leading emitter of greenhouse gases in the globe, we should be the first one at the table to determine having better – a more efficient environmental policy.
MARTIN: OK, Gayle, what about you? What is – how do you react to this and what informs your views, sort of how you frame this issue?
TROTTER: Sure, sure. He said just the opposite in his speech announcing that he was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. He said that he was willing to open it up for renegotiation. He was willing to go back into the agreement.
MARTIN: But, you know, he can speak for himself. I want to hear what you think.
TROTTER: Oh, sure.
MARTIN: What do you think? What does Gayle think?
Right – that the enormous costs that the United States will bear right now in terms of $3 trillion towards our GDP, in terms of 6 million jobs that will be lost because of the Paris Agreement. It’s an agreement that is meaningless because it does not have any real effect on lowering carbon dioxide. It hamstrings the United States. And China and the other developing countries actually put out 63 percent of carbon emissions, and they don’t even have to start reducing their carbon until 2030. And there’s no mechanism in the agreement for any enforcement.
MARTIN: OK, so what is the most compelling factor? Or what – over the course of time – I mean, today isn’t the first day you were thinking about this…
TROTTER: Right, right, right.
MARTIN: …So, you know, as a person who writes about policy. So over the course of time, what has informed your views? And I was particularly interested in your views, Gayle, because I know that – if you don’t mind my mentioning – you are a very devout Catholic. And as you know, the pope has a very strong – the Holy Father has a very strong view of this…
MARTIN: …Even to the point of giving Donald Trump a copy of his encyclical when he visited him at the Vatican. And I was just wondering, you know, does that play any role in your thinking?
TROTTER: Right. To answer your first question, I’m a book nerd, so I read a lot. I’m really interested in data, and I’m interested in facts and statistics and looking at what really works. If we really want to preserve our environment and our standard of living not only for us but for our children and future generations, then we need to look at what works. If you look at what works in the United States, the way that we were able to actually reduce carbon emissions was through the innovative technology of fracking.
So it’s not that the pope and I disagree. It’s not that I disagree with Al Gore. It’s just I believe that there are solutions to this problem based on innovation and a rich, large, productive economy that puts us in the position. And I think the Paris Agreement, if it were carried out, it would put us in a weaker position to climate – to engage and defeat climate change than if we withdraw from it.
MARTIN: OK. Gustavo, what about you? What – how are you reacting to this, and what informs your thoughts about it?
ARELLANO: I think it’s funny that Trump’s – President Trump says he’s representing the people of Pittsburgh, who voted overwhelmingly against him. I also think it’s funny that he says that he doesn’t want people to be laughing at America for what we do when the whole world is laughing. I also find a – scary in a way that now China is positioning itself to be a world leader in reducing carbon emissions when the United – when he – Trump himself said we need to be the most powerful nation on Earth, America First. So he can’t have it both ways. He can’t be an isolationist while at the same time allowing America to lessen its, you know, its world standing.
MARTIN: OK, but I have the same…
ARELLANO: Go ahead.
MARTIN: But I have the same question to you that I had to Gayle, which is I’m asking you what you think and what informs how you feel about this.
ARELLANO: Oh, no, no.
MARTIN: Or think about this – not so much how you feel, what you think.
ARELLANO: Sure sure. I think Trump – I think this is just horrific. And I am informed by living in the wonderful state of California where Governor Jerry Brown for years has been saying, OK, if the rest of the United States is not going to be trying to clean up their end of the carbon emissions, we’re going to do it. So – and that has led to thousands of jobs in the green economy here in California. That has led to, you know, far better clean air quality, frankly, whether in the ports of Long Beach where my dad worked, going back to the smog of Los Angeles in the 1950s.
I agree. Let – in many ways, you do need the government to help out or at least have those scientists tell you what’s the way to go. But at the same time, you should also listen to what business is doing. A lot of business people are upset with President Trump, saying we’re going to pull out of the Paris climate accords because they know it keeps us bad on the world stage.
MARTIN: I wonder, though, in a way, this is making me wonder whether this is a Rorschach test because people who support Trump find his views dispositive on this and people who can’t stand him, it’s – does that – does anybody think that that might be true?
TROTTER: Right. That’s why people voted for him.
ARELLANO: Of course.
MARTIN: That might be true, it’s become a Rorschach test. It’s really more about how you feel about him as opposed to – I don’t know. That might be unfair.
MUHAMMAD: No, I think that’s a great assessment.
MUHAMMAD: I mean, it certainly puts the spotlight straight on him. But see here – Trump is such – has become a very polarizing figure. And one of the things that…
MARTIN: Become – when did that happen?
MARTIN: I’m sorry. OK, OK.
MUHAMMAD: But here’s the thing. When he was trying to make the point that saying, OK, we need to, you know, create more jobs, but then he also said we need to hire more police officers in that whole statement. And again, it made – that sent a red flag to me that said but you’ve – Mr. President, you’ve already put a lot more money in your budget to the military and to the defense of this country. And so, again, what is his priority? Again, that’s why I speak of the terms of that long-term vision.
MARTIN: OK. All right, let me switch gears now, though, because I just want to go back to something that’s very – I don’t know. It’s both short term and long term in a way. It’s this whole question about what is OK to say and what is OK not to say even in something as freewheeling as comedy. And we’re talking about this because comedian Bill Maher ignited what I guess I would have to say is just the latest fire storm around what’s OK to say and what crosses the line when he used the N-word on his HBO program “Real Time With Bill Maher.” This came during a live interview with Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse. And I’m just going to give you a warning. We are going to play the short clip. We are not going to bleep it so you can hear exactly what was said. And I’m going to say right now. Nobody else here is going to say it, OK? With that understood, here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”)
BEN SASSE: We’d love to have you working the fields with us.
BILL MAHER: Working the fields?
SASSE: That’s part of the…
MAHER: Senator, I’m a house nigger. No, it’s – it’s it’s a joke.
MARTIN: So you hear he’s saying it’s a joke because you can hear that there were some groans. He has since apologized…
MARTIN: …Sort of. But now this comes in the wake of a similar debate that’s been percolating after comedian Kathy Griffin posted a photo of her released on Twitter in which she was seen holding a prop of President Trump’s head seeming to be decapitated. And she was dropped as co-host of CNN’s annual New Year’s Eve program along with several other employers. She apologized, you know, tearfully for this, but then she said that she’s been cyberbullied by this. And she was kind of – well, you can just hear for yourself. Here’s what she had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KATHY GRIFFIN: There’s a bunch of old, white guys trying to silence me, and I’m just here to say that’s wrong. You don’t have to like me, but you shouldn’t silence a comic.
MARTIN: All right, so, well, I’m going to say, Farajii, why don’t we start with you again on this?
MUHAMMAD: Oh, man. Well, first, Bill Maher – I mean, totally insensitive, totally insensitive. It was no – you know, when we talk about free speech, I mean, he said it’s a joke, but again, it’s coming – he has enough intelligence to recognize that you cannot say that as a white male. It’s just very simple. And there’s no laughing matter. And, you know, he can – it incenses me because the fact that, like, Bill Maher, you’re – this is 2017, and you’re making a reference like that – totally insensitive.
MARTIN: Gayle, what do you think?
Right, totally inappropriate, completely agree with you. And on the Kathy Griffin point, I’m still upset about that image. I did a lot of writing on the two journalists, Steven Sotloff and James Foley, who were executed by being beheaded by ISIS. And to have that gruesome image about any human being is so offensive, let alone the president of whatever party, let alone – that image has now been circulated across the world. I mean, I’m – I just kind of have chills thinking about how upsetting that is. And her lame effort to apologize and then turn it back…
MARTIN: You weren’t trying to cuss, were you?
ARELLANO: Girl’s about to cuss.
MARTIN: Well, OK, but, you know, I do have to ask, though, some commentators have called the outrage from the right hypocritical, citing, look; the comments made by Ted Nugent about President Obama during his presidency as an example of violent speech against a sitting president. And you know, where was the outrage meter on that? And also the continual racist trolling against the president’s family. And some people say…
MUHAMMAD: There was always – there was always outrage.
MARTIN: Where was the…
MUHAMMAD: Michel, they were always outraged when – with the president.
MARTIN: No, what I think what she’s – what I’m saying – oh, let me hear from Gustavo on this. Enough from me. Gustavo, what do you think?
ARELLANO: Well, yeah, I…
MARTIN: You’re in the land of comedy and, you know – and so forth. Tell me what you think about this.
ARELLANO: Absolutely. I stand 100 percent – people could say whatever they want. However, they have to be able to stand by it. So that’s where I fault – if Bill – I haven’t heard Bill Maher’s apology, but shame on him if he did apologize. Same thing with Kathy Griffin. That said, I don’t agree with what they did at all. Well, maybe Kathy Griffin, but I’ll talk about it in a bit. But with Bill Maher, why did he say that? It wasn’t funny. There was no context whatsoever.
MARTIN: You’re going to have to say – you’re going to have to say why Kathy Griffin shouldn’t have apologized.
MARTIN: You can’t say that and not defend it. Tell me why.
ARELLANO: Oh, no, no I am going to say. No, what I’ll say with Kathy Griffin, she should have had Mexican friends because if she had beaten up a pinata of Donald Trump, you would have nowhere near the same controversy that she had right now. If you go to my Twitter account right now – @GustavoArellano – you’ll see a photo of me holding a Donald Trump head of a pinata. So basically the same thing except it’s not bloodied or anything at all. If people want to ask me why I do that, they could ask me 100 percent and I’m going to stand by it. So Kathy Griffin knew exactly what she was doing. And now – when everyone got all upset, now she’s apologizing. So that to me just shows no character, which is kind of her character to begin with – having no character or no qualms whatsoever.
MARTIN: Oh, wow. I don’t even know where to – I don’t even know where to wrap on this. I mean, I guess I just think to say that this is why we’re talking about it because it really is a thing. OK, so that was Gayle Trotter, Gustavo Arellano, Farajii Muhammad. They were all – Gayle and Farajii here in Washington, D.C., Gustavo in Irvine, Calif. Clearly more to talk about here. Thank you all so much for joining us.
TROTTER: Great to be with you.
MUHAMMAD: Thank you.