On Climate Change — and the Climate That Led to the Success of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump

The Autonomous podcast with Van Jones of CNN — from Tennessee to Yale Law School, and working with the Bush and Obama White House

CNN’s Van Jones has a warning to his fellow liberals: if you don’t start taking Trump seriously, he’s going to win. He expands on this point in several ways in the latest Autonomous podcast, which you can listen to here. “I think that Trump is highly likely to win, mainly because the Democrats have the same view as him that the Republicans do,” said Jones. [16:55 in the podcast] “If the Democrats learned something they could beat him. Literally it’s like they didn’t watch TV for the past ten months…he is beatable, but he’s not beatable by the people who right now are saying he’s beatable.” But:

[Trump is] beatable because he is a con artist who actually is taking advantage of people’s actual pain. There was a bipartisan consensus to throw the working class of this country under the bus, and people are rightfully pissed off about it. But sometimes when you’re rightfully pissed off, that’s when somebody can come and sucker you.

Also: “Politicians do really well when they master a new Medium. FDR mastered radio, JFK mastered television, Obama mastered the internet with the online fundraising and viral videos. Trump has mastered the era of social media and reality television.” [14:05] And wait until you hear his thoughts on Bernie Sanders. Listen to the FULL podcast here, or below, more quotes from the overall interview:

Van Jones was born in a small town in Tennessee, and his parents were born into segregation. “I’m 9th generation American but I’m the first one in my family who was actually born with all my rights,” he said. [:40]

He grew up with a dad who loved to watch cable news and read the newspaper, in the church (with a grandfather who was “kind of like the pope of our small denomination”), and as a decent student — that only became a great student to impress a girlfriend (“my motivation was I wanted to keep my girlfriend and she was a straight A student”). [2:30]

Jones was a “total nerd,” and still to this day has never had a sip of alcohol, a cigarette or done a drug. [22:45] He ended up at Yale Law School, a “huge culture shock,” and excelled. Plus, his upbringing gave him a leg up on his fellow students. “I knew I could learn, if I worked hard, everything that they knew. But they could never learn the things that I knew,” said Jones. [7:00]

Working as an intern still at Yale Law School in the Bay Area during the Rodney King beating, Jones combined protest with law and “decided to start suing police officers, suing police agencies.” [25:10]

Fast-forward to today, and Jones has taken some nontraditional positions as a cable news pundit, specifically about Bernie Sanders, who Jones is impressed with for “his ability to survive this media blackout against his campaign just by being online and by having so many passionate supporters online.” [10:05] “I knew on the left there was a pent up demand for change. On the left we felt the president had been a punching bag and pin cushion for the right and hadn’t fought back as aggressively as people might have wanted,” he said.

One “dumb thing” he hears from pundits is there’s going to be unity on the left after Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, citing 2008. But “the rebels are going to be defeated. The idea that young rebels are going to just swing around and do their civic duty, it’s totally nuts.” [20:05] Also, regarding both Sanders and Trump: [12:05]

There was a much bigger volcano of pain and isolation and frustrating on both sides than the poll numbers were revealing, than the DC beltway crowd was good at detecting. You wind up being in the DC beltway primarily by ignoring mass movements.

We talked about the circumstances behind changing his name to “Van” from Anthony [25:50], his work with the Bush White House on green jobs (“One of the few things that Pelosi and Bush agreed on”) [31:35], working in the Obama White House briefly until the uproar over his past brought up by Glenn Beck and others forced him to leave (“not a pleasant experience”) [35:55] and the “team sport” of working at CNN during political coverage, working with “living legends.” [50:50]

Jones talked about working with Newt Gingrich, who Jones says has the “ability to make everything around him better”: [48:45]

The most exciting part was getting a chance to work with Newt Gingrich. I have studied Newt from the 90s when he first came into power, when all my liberal friends were running around like Chicken Little and I said ‘this guy is a genius.’

On the media in general: “Increasingly it now feels to me like cable television is just a feeder into Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. And frankly for a lot of people, if it doesn’t get into their feed, it never happened, because a lot of people aren’t watching TV at all.” [16:10]

On the climate change front, Jones said we have people now “swinging between denial and despair and forgetting to do any work between the two positions.” [38:20] He explains why we need to call it “climate disruption,” and described the first steps he would take if he was president. “We need to go all out on energy storage. The battery problem is a major problem that should be non-controversial anyway,” said Jones. “We need a Manhattan Project on energy storage… We need to have an internet for energy.” [42:00]

We also discussed Prince, his friend and colleague who died just last month. Prince worked with Jones, somewhat under-the-radar, on projects like #YesWeCode, and Jones remembers Prince as someone who was a “complete news nerd,” and would “spend hours on YouTube” and actually get in touch with people he thought had talent. Said Jones: “When you get to that level of success you can do a lot to help people, and you don’t have to have your name in the newspaper to do it.” [44:45]

Thanks to Van Jones for his time — please listen and give any feedback (good or bad) as we continue to shape the podcast!

Next week: Vlad Duthiers of CBS News.

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