Author and Editor-At-Large Gary Younge

The author and editor-at-large discusses the French presidential election and parallels in politics around the world.

The author and Guardian editor-at-large discusses the French presidential election and parallels in politics around the world.

Journalist and author Gary Younge is editor-at-large for the Guardian and columnist for The Nation.

He just won the 2017 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize for his most recent text, Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives, which movingly chronicles the lives of young people killed during a single day to gun violence.

Younge is also a Alfred Knobler Fellow at the Nation Institute and author of No Place Like Home: A Black Briton's Journey Through the American South and The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream.

He covered US news and politics for several years as the Guardian’s New York Correspondent and served as the Belle Zeller Visiting Professor of Public Policy and Social Administration at Brooklyn College, CUNY.

In 2015, he was awarded the Foreign Commentator of the Yard Award in Britian and the David Nyhan Prize for political journalism by Harvard’s Shorenstein’s Center.

Follow @GaryYounge on Twitter. Follow Gary Younge on Facebook.


Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.

Ripple effects in both directions across the Atlantic have piqued the interest of many American voters who are finally starting to pay attention to the elections in Britain and in France.

So tonight, we’ll sort it all out with Gary Younge, Nation magazine columnist and editor-at-large for the Guardian and author of a powerful and arresting new book. It’s called “Another Day in the Death of America”.

We’re glad you’ve joined us. Journalist Gary Younge in just a moment.

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Tavis: Always a pleasure to catch up with Gary Younge, editor-at-large of the Guardian newspaper and a columnist for the Nation magazine. He’s been tracking the rise of the far right and the far left in recent elections in the U.S. and in Europe, for that matter.

He’s also, though, been tracking the epidemic of violence with his latest text, “Another Day in the Death of America”. Gary, good to have you in Los Angeles, sir.

Gary Younge: Thank you very much for having me, Tavis.

Tavis: Let me start across the pond and then we’ll come back to the text here stateside. First of all, the French elections. What do you make of the interim outcome? It’s not quite over yet, but Marine Le Pen comes in second, not first.

Younge: That’s right. I mean, well, first of all, there’s the Le Pen factor. Now I studied French. I studied in France when I was 15 and following a school exchange, I went out to visit one of the kids that I’d become friends with.

Second day I was there, he came into my room with a tent and tears in his eyes. His father said I couldn’t stay in the house anymore. He didn’t want a Black man in the house. It was this weird — it was more traumatic for him actually than it was for me, but I was kicked out of the house.

I was 15. I hadn’t done anything. This was my summer holiday. I had to wait for my mum to send me some money. That year, ’84, Le Pen’s father gets 8% of the vote and the whole of France is like, oh, my God, what on earth is going on? What’s happened?

8%, then you fast forward 33 years and his daughter, Marine Le Pen, is on about 22% or 23% and people are feeling like who? She didn’t win. She didn’t win and she probably won’t win the second round and we really dodged a bullet.

So you get a sense, I think, from those two stories of how the far right in Europe, which is now fascism is a mainstream ideology in Europe, it’s like arsenic in the water supply.

It’s in there and it’s hell to get it out once it’s in there, and it has a foothold. Now I don’t think it’s a dominant foothold. I don’t think that — we’re in a very volatile time, you know, Brexit, Trump.

You don’t want to make too many predictions. It’s unlikely that she will win the second round because France still has in living memory and hard in the consciousness the experience of fascism on its soil, Nazi Germany and so on.

But nonetheless, it’s clear that it’s not going anywhere and that’s troubling. And in that sense, in the sense that the hard right is on the march, Holland, Britain, France, Germany to a lesser extent,

I think one way of understanding it for Americans is to say that everywhere has a Trump. And actually in many ways, Trump is a latecomer to this party. This has been going on for a while. And to that extent, America is not exceptional.

In fact, this is where we are right now, although what is exceptional is that he won the whole thing, although one could make comparisons between him and Silvio BerlusconI, a big businessman, very kind of mercurial character.

Tavis: Sure, sure.

Younge: But the other thing about these elections which was interesting was that while the centrist candidate, the center left candidate, rather, in France, it’s the socialist party, but it would be more like the Democratic Party here.

While their vote collapsed, Mélenchon, hard left, higher taxes, kind of appealing to the white working class among others, he did really well so…

Tavis: Sounds like Bernie, yeah.

Younge: Most European countries also have a Bernie. France, Germany, one again to a lesser extent, Britain with Corbyn, Greece, Portugal. So you have these two countervailing responses to the anxiety neoliberal globalization.

Tavis: And the question is, is it enough? It wasn’t enough to stave off a Trump victory here. So is that other approach, that other alternative, enough?

Younge: Not yet, no, no. It’s not yet. In a few places, it’s done well. Portugal and Greece has done well. But I think what’s important in this moment where there’s a lot of despair everywhere, is at least to realize that there is a response out there and it is gaining an audience.

It hasn’t broken through yet in many places, but for people who think what is going to stop this, there is energy out there and it’s finding its place.

Tavis: You mentioned Britain and Brexit a couple of times now. So let me jump from France to Britain. So Theresa May has decided that she wants early elections. She’s trying to shore up her support so she can engage the Brexit conversation the way she wants to.

Tell me what we need to be paying attention to regarding that election and what you expect to happen there.

Younge: With that same caveat about volatility, I would expect that she will probably win the election. This election is really not going to make a whole lot of difference to the substantive issue, which is that Britain has decided to leave the European Union.

It now has nothing to negotiate with actually. Before, it could say if you don’t do this, we’re going to leave. But once you’re out the door, well, and it’s about to find out what a small country it is.

You know, they used to say the sun never set on a British empire. My parents from Barbados, they came to Britain with British passports, you know. That’s not the country that we live in anymore.

Scotland may leave, so we should be looking out for Scotland. And the other thing to look out for — and I don’t know how this is going to play out — is the fortunes of the labor party.

So you have to imagine that Bernie won the nomination and then kind of imagine how that might have played out here with elements of the Democratic Party trying to undermine him, trying to snipe at him, Bernie’s shortcomings which did exist then being kind of on full display, how he might have done. And if he had then lost to Trump, what the conclusions might have been.

So in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn took over the labor party. They spent a year trying to undermine him because he’s a left winger, to dismiss him, to claim that he was hopeless.

They forced another election and he won with an even greater majority. And chances are, a bit like we were saying earlier, it might not be enough to fade off. Labor might even do quite poorly.

If you spend a year, fine, with your own people, things might not go so well, and he’s not infallible. He’s made mistakes. So the other thing to watch out for is how well or badly the labor party does and what conclusions are drawn from that.

Tavis: It’s always fascinating for me to have conversations with you, Gary, or people who study these elections around the world to see the parallels, the similarities, the differences, between how it’s done here, how it’s done there.

And what you really find and discover, as you’ve already said, there’s a Trump everywhere, there’s a Bernie everywhere, there’s somebody in the middle everywhere. The similarities are just mindboggling to me sometimes.

Younge; Yeah. I mean, I got to say I watched this election. I spent the month of the election in a small town in Indiana called Muncie for the whole time.

Tavis: I grew up about 30 miles away from there.

Younge: Is that right? So I was in Muncie, Middletown, they called it. But I was watching the election through Brexit eyes. I’d just been through this, so every time I say Trump couldn’t possibly win. I was like, you know, never say never.

And before you start talking about this new normal, let’s think about what this old normal was. Muncie lost a quarter of its manufacturing, a whole lot of jobs. You know, I had a great time there. The people were very warm, but they were struggling.

And in many ways, it looked like when it came through, the story of the election, which was turnout was down, the white working class in Muncie switched to Trump, but not by much.

They’d voted for Obama twice and the margins in the wealthier bits of Muncie went way up, which seemed like kind of the story of the country in a way.

Tavis: I talked to a number of my friends back in my home state of Indiana and in other parts of the Midwest. They were telling me months before this election ever happened that Trump was going to win. So much of it was about being in the right place and seeing at ground zero what was happening, sometimes on the margins.

In New York and L.A., we just don’t get it. So we think Hillary’s going to win, Hillary’s going to win, Hillary’s going to win, but you’re not in the middle of the country to see what…

Younge: I mean, both of those elections in different ways really broke open to me the kind of the flaws in a journalistic culture, which is too white, too coastal, too rich and, therefore, too kind of disconnected and, therefore, after a while, believes it’s own assumptions.

It makes these assertions and then on the basis of these assertions, then it makes a series of conclusions which form the basis for new assertions. There’s no real response for getting out there and actually talking to people.

But in the absence of that, you know, reality will intrude. And when it intrudes, it will intrude in a kind of, you know, in a very upsetting manner quite often.

And that was also the same for Corbyn. You know, when Corbyn won the labor party, when the left decided, well, this is ridiculous and said, well, obviously, not to a large number of people who voted for him, so let’s go find out what they think, you know.

If I had a criticism of the media, not necessarily the American media, but certainly wherever it is, it’s that they have to escape their own trap of kind of believing that they really know what’s going on.

Tavis: It’s arrogance. I was going to say the only word that you didn’t put on your list with rich and white is arrogance. There is an arrogance in our business that we don’t want to face.

So as I’ve said a thousand times on this show, not just an arrogance, but also we know there’s greed. There’s just greed that we make money coming and going.

So you make money building Trump up and now you try to make money tearing him down. It’s just the way the business works. You been at this longer than I have, so you understand that.

Let me switch now to your text, so thank you for taking those questions. I really wanted to get your perspective on what’s happening around the globe. “Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronical of Ten Short Lives”.

Can I just say, first of all, the way that you went about framing this text was beautiful. I don’t know if I’ve read a book that was framed in the way you framed the chapters. Say a word about what you did, for those who haven’t read it as yet, and why you did that.

Younge: Well, the book is based on a very simple and really brutal statistic. Every day in America, seven children or teens or shot dead, so I decided to pick a day at random and find out who these kids are.

Most of them passed without much mention, either locally and certainly not nationally. So I spent two years finding out who’s these kids, their teachers, their preachers, their parents, anyone who would talk to me about them.

Each child is a chapter and I go through the day and introduce you to each child, the circumstances of their death, and where there are issues surrounding their death, and I go into that too.

Tavis: Did you see the film, “Fruitvale Station”, the Oscar Grant story?

Younge: Yes.

Tavis: When I got your book, that movie came to mind. Because the movie, as you recall, put us in his space and we spent the day with Oscar Grant until he was tragically killed by the police in Oakland.

So I thought about that as a parallel to this book and the way you did it, which is to take us through what that day was like for that child and give us a sense of who that person was.

To your earlier point about these children, our children, passing without much fanfare, notice or attention, what does it say about how we value or don’t value the humanity of our own children?

I ask that, Gary, because we’re so fond of saying the children are the future and every politician stands on a platform and talks about the children and their future and all that.

When kids can be shot 7 to 10 a day and there is no outrage about that, it says something to me, at least, about how we disregard their humanity.

Younge: I couldn’t agree more. One of the things I say when I talk about the book is that in no other western country would this book be possible.

This is a uniquely American thing and I don’t think American parents are any worse than parents anywhere else in the world. I don’t think American kids are any worse than American kids in the world, so it’s something else that’s going on that can be fixed if you want to fix it.

It’s not a book about gun control and I make that very clear in the beginning. But it is a book about what happens when you don’t have gun control.

And one of the things I’ve said to people who haven’t read the book, but want to command me with the Constitution, I said to them, “Do you love the Constitution more than you love kids? Do you love the Second Amendment more than you love kids? And your interpretation of that Amendment?”

Because I’m British. I’m not going to argue with you about the scripture of your Constitution, but you just need to talk to me about how we keep these kids alive.

It was stunning to me in writing the book the degree to which the Black parents in the book — so 10 kids got shot dead that day, 7 are Black. Every Black parent in the book that I spoke to, when I asked them, “Did you think this could happen?”, to a person they would say, “Well, yeah, I thought it could happen.”

The mother in Dallas of Samuel Bradman, Audrey, she said, “Well, I didn’t think it would be him. I thought it would be his brother.” The father of Gary Anderson in Newark said, “You’re not doing your job properly as a Black parent if you don’t believe that your child could be shot dead.”

Now I’m British, but I lived in America. I covered this country for 12 years and my kids are African American. My wife is African American. First of all, there was a realization — my son would have been six or seven at the time — that I was carrying that around with me too just in the back of my mind.

But, secondly, that how in 2002 I interviewed Maya Angelou. It was just after the 9/11 attacks. I asked her about those and she said, “You know, I don’t want to be dodgy, but we have been living in a state of terror for several hundred years, and this was a hate crime.” I thought it was a clever thing, but I didn’t fully understand it.

But when I was writing this book and thinking that all of these parents are walking around in their gut having this fear, having this anxiety, wanting to just keep their kids alive in working class Black neighborhoods in particular, but not exclusively, then I understood what she meant.

Tavis: That is an arresting question that you have and continue to pose to your critics which I want to go back to. Do you love the Constitution more than you love your children? Do you love this document more than you love your babies? When you pose that question, what kind of responses are you getting?

Younge: Well, they really don’t want to talk about these kids. They want to talk about their rights and…

Tavis: So they avoid the question?

Younge: They do. They avoid the question, or what they tend to do is talk about parenting. The easiest and reflexive place for people to go with this issue is to blame the parents and to say that, you know, the Constitution is a sacred document.

When people are bad parents, well, you know, that’s not the fault of the Second Amendment. I say I’m not debating the Second Amendment with you, but what I get from that is a chronic lack of empathy.

They’re saying it’s not just that these are demographically, socioeconomically different from me. They’re worse for me. The children are feral, the parents are negligent, they’re saying this could never be me, and that’s an entirely different proposition.

Tavis: Last week on this program, we had the wonderful screenwriter-filmmaker, Jonathan Ridley, and Ridley and I had a conversation. We’ve gotten so much social media response to this conversation.

I’ve been online just kind of watching the conversation and listening to what people have been saying about that conversation with John Ridley.

So he hit a nerve last week. Part of what Ridley said that hit a nerve was the same thing you’ve just said, which is that there is a lack of empathy in our society.

We were talking to him about specifically his work around this documentary on the 25th anniversary of the uprising here in L.A. So in that conversation, he makes note of the same thing you make note of now, which is that there is a radical lack of empathy in our society.

So I got him to unpack that and will give you the same opportunity now to unpack a bit more about that. Again, I’m fascinated to get your take because Ridley and I are both Americans.

We’re born and raised here. You are not, but you’ve studied America and you’ve lived here. So from your vantage point, when you see this radical lack of empathy in our society, tell me what you see.

Younge: First of all, I see segregation and that my experience of reporting from certain areas of any city is that there are bits of cities that nobody comes out of and nobody goes to. They are chronically isolated areas, areas of the south side of Chicago, I mean, every city has them.

That geographical proximity in that sense means nothing. So you can live in Chicago and not know anything about the lives of many of your fellow Chicagoans because they’re over there. And sometimes over there is only three or four blocks away.

That’s one element to this lack of empathy. Another, I think, is with the disintegration of news sources, people are getting their information from very different places.

So some people are talking about or fixated on Michael Brown and the cigarillos and other people are talking about Black Lives Matter and everything else that’s going on with the Ferguson Police Department.

Therefore, the common conversation that you need to have, not to agree, but to understand, okay, that’s where you’re coming from. I see.

So there have been times when the point from this country, where I’ve been to, the NRA convention, or to a Republican meeting or the Republican Convention, and I’ve had conversations with people who are working off entirely different — not just the odd story or two — but an entirely different narrative about how we got here.

You know, the source of the crash of 2008 was something to do with [inaudible[ and African Americans and housing, and not to do with like Goldman Sachs.

Then finally, I think that people want easy answers than exist. So one thing that happens with this book is I say, well, it’s a book about 10 children and teens who got shot dead one day.

Some people want to know how many were in a gang. I want to say, well, you know, they’re still kids, they’re still kids. By the way, being in a gang, it’s not like they pay dues and hand out membership cards. It doesn’t work like that. But they want to know. Are they worthy to have been killed or were they unworthy?

Tavis: And that’s the wrong question.

Younge: It’s the entirely wrong question.

Tavis: It’s the wrong question, yeah.

Younge: You know, one of the boys who dies in the book, the first comment after the story says, you know, well, what was he doing out so late? I would not let my kids out that late. You’ve got to ask the parents.

Then you find the parents and you find that, that night, they had a family night. They drank cocoa, they watched “We’re the Millers”, he played Uno. The worst thing Samuel Bradman did that night was cheat at Uno.

He’s 16 years old. He decides to walk his friend three minutes back to his house and, in that time, he got shot. But you have this assumption below the line, first comment. His mother knew where he was. She just couldn’t save him.

Tavis: The book is called “Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronical of Ten Short Lives”. Brilliant, brilliant text written by Gary Younge. Gary, thank you for your work, thank you for sharing it. Good to have you on this program, my friend.

Younge: Thanks very much for having me.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

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Last modified: April 25, 2017 at 1:49 pm