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Van Jones On 'The Messy Truth'


Another winner of the 2016 elections was Van Jones. Mr. Jones, a former special adviser to the Obama White House, is a political contributor on CNN. He earned acclaim for his commentary during the election season, which managed to be impassioned, personal and fair. He referred to Donald Trump's election as a whitelash (ph) on election night. But his new book, "Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together" has blurbs from both Bernie Sanders and Mike Huckabee. Now there's a balanced ticket.

Van Jones, a longtime activist in progressive causes who grew up in the conservative South, joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

VAN JONES: It's an honor.

SIMON: And for reasons you will understand, we have to begin with the debate about gun control so tragically revived this week by another mass shooting in Las Vegas at an outdoor country music festival. Do you see any concerted action Democrats and Republicans can take together to reduce the number of people killed each year by guns?

JONES: Well, I think that, you know, there are. The problem is that they're not likely to find a way to each other because the overall culture now has gotten so toxic. Look, if we don't change course, we're going to end up where we're headed. And where we're headed is very, very bad. The entire national political discourse now on both sides is simply, I'm right, and you're wrong. And that's it. And the idea that there might be some kind of common ground is now almost, you know, sacrilegious.

Part of the reason I wrote this book is because, you know, I get a chance to sit on set at CNN every night. I hear both sides. I went all around the country. I went to red states, blue states. I talked to a bunch of people. And here's what I'm seeing - people are miserable - and especially liberals and Democrats - are still in grief and in shock. And there is a way out of this, but we're going to have to actually make some adjustments on both sides.

And so I wrote this book to try to gather all the ideas that I think are healthy to actually give some tough love to both parties and to try to give some resources to people who need to find a way out of this miserable corner that we're in and start working together to get something done.

SIMON: Recognizing that you're coming from a background as a liberal activist...


SIMON: ...You worry that many liberals are isolated in a liberal echo chamber, which, by the way, seems to include NPR and kale.

JONES: Yeah (laughter).

SIMON: I ought to note the paragraph you write. How so?

JONES: Well, it's just - it's one of the things where - and the reason I write the book with tough love to both parties - I write a letter to liberals and a letter to conservatives. On our side, we are very clear about the flaws in the Republican worldview. We can see very clearly the bigotry and the bias that they exhibit toward Muslims and women and people of color and LGBT, etc.

SIMON: You said they.

JONES: Yes, they. Yes, I'm a liberal - very proud.


JONES: I mean, I'm not a centrist. I'm...

SIMON: No exceptions to that they?

JONES: I am a - oh, sure. Listen...

SIMON: Yeah.

JONES: ...On the Republican side...

SIMON: You're not calling every Republican a bigot.

JONES: No, no. But I'm saying that liberals can see that there's too much room for bias and bigotry on that side, that there's too much space in the Republican Party for people who have views that we find abhorrent. But what we don't see is on our side, there's too much room for a certain kind of elitism, where we tend to - not all of us - but we tend to look at the red states as - almost from a colonial point of view. These are ignorant, backwater - you know, full of unwashed, uneducated people who do need to be converted to the NPR religion, who do need to be force-fed some kale and then they'll be better off. And we don't see that we are creating a market for the Donald Trumps of the world by our own elitism.

And so both sides got to look in the mirror. And when you say that, people go, but we are right, and they are wrong. And I say, ha - that's what - it's exactly my point, is that at some point, you've got to have a conversation that says, I want to understand, and I want to be understood. Before we get into the fight - we can fight from 9 to noon, but from noon to 3, can we have a conversation that's more about understanding?

And that's what the book is about. And I think people will be surprised that, you know, without changing your point of view, left or right, we can actually get a lot more done than we're getting done.

SIMON: By the way, let me ask the control room. Has my kale smoothie been - ready yet?

JONES: (Laughter) I'm all for kale. I'm just saying...

SIMON: That's all right.

JONES: ...Other people eat other stuff, and they're still good people.

SIMON: I'm afraid we've run out of time. Van Jones' book "Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together."

Thanks so much for being with us.

JONES: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.