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ANDERSON COOPER: Joining us now is, Dr. Cornel West, professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University.
Dr. West, I’m glad we are talking tonight. What are your thoughts watching these images tonight around the country people in the streets and the horrific images we saw of George Floyd and what is happening?
CORNEL WEST, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: I just want to begin by extending my condolences to the Floyd family. They exemplify spiritual nobility has very important long history, 400 years of black people having to come to terms with these kinds of vicious murders and assassinations and, and attacks. Now, no, I haven’t seen you Anderson since the little brother, Wyatt Morgan made his appearance and then the — in the midst of all of this ugly greed and hatred and corruption, it’s very important to also celebrate birth and reverence here.
But I think what we’re really experiencing here though, brother and I say this in all honesty and deep sadness, because, you know, I’ve been trying to bear witness home for over 53 years, telling the truth and trying to say something about the least of these, but I think we are witnessing America as a failed social experiment. And what I mean by that is that the history of black people for over 200 some years in America has been looking at America’s failure. Its capitalist economy could not generate and deliver in such a way that people could live lives of decency. The nation-state — its criminal justice system, its legal system — could not generate protection of rights and liberties.
And now, our culture of course is so market-driven — everybody for sale, everything thing for sale — It can’t deliver the kind of — the kind of really real nourishment for soul, for meaning, for purpose. And so when you get this perfect storm of all of these multiple failures at these different levels of the American Empire. Then Martin King already told us about that. When I saw those pictures there in Atlanta, you could see Martin right there in Atlanta saying:
“I told you about militarism. I told you about poverty. I told you about materialism. I told you about racism and all of its forms, whatever forms it takes. I told you about xenophobia.”
And what we’ve seen in America is now these chickens coming home to roost. You’re reaping what you sow. And in this instant, you have brother George, where it is so clear. It is a lynching at the highest level, nobody can deny it. And I thank God that we have people in the streets. Can you imagine this kind of lynching taking place and people are indifferent? People don’t care? People are callous? You have just a few people out there with signs?
I recall the moments in which during the Reagan years, there was a *few* of us out there. In the ’60s, you had *masses* out there. Now you’ve got a younger generation of all of these different colors and genders and sexual orientation saying: We won’t take it any longer!
But you know what’s sad about it, though, brother? At the deepest level? It looks as if the system cannot reform itself. We’ve tried black faces in high places, too often our black politicians, professional class, middle class, become too accommodated to the capitalist economy, too accommodated to the militarized nation-state, too accommodated to the market-driven culture tied with celebrity status, power, fame — all that superficial stuff that means so much to so many fellow citizens. [8:45 pm EDT]
And what happens? What happens is, we got a neo-fascist gangster in the White House who really doesn’t care for the most part. You got a neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party that is now in the driver’s seat with the collapse of brother Bernie. And they don’t really know what to do because all they want is: “Show more black faces, show more black faces.” But oftentimes these black faces are losing legitimacy too, because the Black Lives Matter movement emerged under a black president, black attorney general and black homeland security, and *they* couldn’t deliver, you see.
So that when you talk about the masses of black people, the precious poor and working class black people — poor and working class brown, red, yellow, whatever color — They’re the ones who are left out, and they feel so thoroughly powerless, helpless, hopeless — Then you get rebellion. And we’ve reached the point now it’s a choice between non-violent revolution — And by “revolution” what I mean is: The democratic sharing of power, resources, wealth and respect. If we don’t get that kind of sharing, you’re going to get more violent explosions.
Now the sad thing is that this neo-fascist moment in the White House, you got some neo-fascist brothers and sisters out there who are already armed. They show up there the U.S. Capitol, and they don’t get arrested. They don’t get put down. The President praises them —
COOPER: That’s extraordinary thing.
WEST: You see what I mean?
COOPER: You have, you have this white weekend — You have these white weekend warriors showing up, as if they’re former Special Forces ops when they’re not, you know, busting into the statehouse. And the President praises those people. And yet everybody else is a “thug” to the President. He quotes, you know, a white Sheriff from the south in spite, I guess, was ‘67 or maybe ‘68. I mean, that’s if you wrote that in a movie people would say: There’s no way the President of the United States would quote a southern Sheriff on the night that a great city in this country is seeing, you know, people in the streets. I mean —
WEST: That’s exactly right.
COOPER: It’s —
WEST: But let’s keep in mind —
WEST: He’s being true to himself. He is being true to himself. He’s saying what he really feels that is so!
COOPER: Well that’s the truth.
WEST: — You see what I mean? But see, we have to recognize too, ‘cause I know, like Tupak Shakur, I got some thug in me. I know I’ve got some gangster in me, and as a Christian, I got to fight it every day. What does that mean? That means we have to call people who they are. A neo-fascist thug in the White House calls my brothers and sisters in the street “thugs.” So then the question becomes: How do we keep alive moral, spiritual standards? — keep alive standing contact with the humanity of all of us across the board — but recognizing we’re living in a moment of massive economic – with this capitalist economy — failure when it comes to delivering the needs.
The nation-state? failure to put to protect. Criminal justice system? failure to be fair, you see. And the only response we have is Samuel Beckett, my brother: “Try again, fail again, fail better.” “Try again, fail again, fail better.” Because white supremacy is going to be around for a long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long time —
COOPER: “Try again?”
WEST: — Don’t be surprised this happens again. “Try again” —
COOPER: “Try again” —
WEST: ‘Cause you know the big moment in — “Try again, fail again, fail better.” That’s the blues line of our Irish brother. But the question is we must fight, even in a moment in which we have a failed social experiment, we must fight. And we must have an anti-fascist coalition against what’s going on in the White House (and) Republican Party. We have to tell the truth about the milquetoast, cowardly activity too often that we see among the neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party. And we must be critical of ourselves in terms of keeping alive the highest moral and spiritual standards of Martin Luther King Jr. and Fannie Lou Hamer, and Ella Baker, and you see it at work in the soul of brother George Floyd’s family.
COOPER: Dr. Cornel West. I appreciate your time tonight and —
WEST: No, I love you though brother. You stay strong, man.
COOPER: Thank you. I love you too. Thank you. Let’s go back to Brian Todd in Washington. Brian, where are you now?