Melissa Harris-Perry: Thanks for sticking with us on The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. According to the Washington Post, more than half of all Republicans running for congressional and state offices in this year's midterms have, "denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election." Steve Phillips is author of the new book, How We Win The Civil War:Securing a Multiracial Democracy and Ending White Supremacy for Good. In it, Phillips argues that we're engaged not simply in a biannual electoral contest, but in an existential struggle between democracy and white supremacy. All right, I think we got to start with, I didn't know we were in a civil war. What do you mean? [laughs]
Steve Phillips: I started out framing this as a theoretical construct, then eight months later, people carrying the Confederate flags stormed the United States Capitol and tried to block the peaceful transfer of power. Then through the writing of my book, I began to see and better understand that the Confederates and their ideological, in some cases, genealogical successors, have literally never stopped fighting the Civil War. Even just starting with Abraham Lincoln, which I didn't even fully appreciate. Obviously, we all know that he was assassinated.
I did not realize it was just five days after the supposed surrendered Appomattox and that John Wilkes Booth heard Lincoln's post-Appomattox speech and says, "That means N-word citizenship, that's the last speech he'll ever give," and two days later, shot Lincoln in the back of the head. That's not surrendering. You take that to then the rise of the KKK, the destruction of reconstruction, and a hundred years of legalized segregation, white nationalism within this country. There's a very clear throughline from the actual supposed end of the Civil War to today where we continue to fight this battle over whether or not this is a white nation or a multiracial democracy, and that continues to animate our politics today.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right, so say more about this in the context of what you write, which is that whiteness is a threat to democracy.
Steve Phillips: The title of the introduction is A Choice Between Democracy and Whiteness. That's a quote from Taylor Branch, author of the Parting the Waters books. He was in conversation with Isabel Wilkerson and she captures in her book, cast this conversation in the context of the rise of white domestic terrorism under Trump. Particularly after the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, which was directly an outgrowth of Trump's attempts to whip up fear and hysteria around the supposed Central American caravan. They began that nonsense on a Monday of that week, on Friday of that week, that man picked up his gun and went to that synagogue and shot people and killed them.
What Branch says is that it has to do with the increasing diversity of the country. He says people said they would not stand for being a minority in their own country. That then he poses the question, he says, "The real question is, if given a choice between democracy and whiteness, how many would choose whiteness?" Then Wilkerson says, "We let that hang in the air, neither of us willing to hazard a guess as to that one." That's what happened on January 6th, is that we had a national election.
We elected a president through a democratic process and people who did not want that democratic process to be completed, carrying a Confederate flag, wearing sweatshirts saying, MAGA Civil War, January 6th, 2021, chanting racist slurs at the Black police officers, went in and tried to stop democracy to protect the most pro-white president that we've had in a long time.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As you have watched the work of the January 6th committee, in what ways do you think they have succeeded and in what ways are they missing the centrality of race to the issue that they are presenting to the American people?
Steve Phillips: Oh, I think they've done an excellent job really trying to lift up these issues in a way that a lot of people don't want to actually face. It's a very similar situation to what happened after the end of the Civil War itself. Lerone Bennett Jr. talks in his book, Black Reconstruction, that the Confederates expected to be imprisoned and expected to actually face charges of treason because the moment passed, and then they became re-emboldened, and that's what then enabled them to go have the confidence and the determination to take back the southern states after the end of reconstruction.
We're in a very similar moment in time here, is how do you respond to insurrection, if not outright treason, and do you hold it accountable and do you punish it and do you enforce consequences for trying to undermine our democracy? I've been very pleasantly surprised by how forceful and strong the committee has been. I don't think it's accidental that the head of the committee, the Congressman Thompson, is from Mississippi. In terms of understanding this country's existential ongoing battle around what kind of nation it is and the intensity of that fight, Mississippians get that.
It's critically important mainly from a historical standpoint to make this case and make it clearly. I'm very pleased that they've been so strong and unrelenting in making that argument.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, the book is not exclusively a mapping of the problems, it's also a roadmap, as you describe, to victory, a way to actually win this civil war. Give us some of the stopping points along this roadmap. What does it take to win?
Steve Phillips: First half, they stop being a Confederate battle plan about how they've maintained this fight. Voter suppression has been a core component of this and the way to move forward is to expand the electorate. As the country's composition has changed, there is a new American majority. The overall majority of people of color, plus what I call the meaningful minority of whites is the majority of people. That's what elected Obama, reelected Obama, and has flipped those states in Georgia.
Doing the work of finding the leaders and the groups who are expanding democracy in these states, going through demographic transformation, investing significantly in those groups and leaders is the cornerstone of being able to make the progress to transform these states and be able to actually win the creation of a multiracial democracy.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me about the New Majority Index.
Steve Phillips: The New Majority Index is what we created in terms of trying to analyze particularly congressional races in elections. All of the analysis and the projections and the predictions around elections are race-neutral. They don't look at race explicitly. Then strictly from a statistical standpoint, race is one of the most predictive data points that there is. If you look at every presidential elections since '76, nearly 90% of Black people always vote for the Democratic nominee and just low 40% of whites vote for the Democratic nominee. That's a profound racial gap.
It's a very relevant data point, but it's not factored in at all in terms of these different analyses, and so people don't understand what happens electorally because they don't look at that. My title, my Georgia chapter, Georgia, that's not one we expected because that's what Joe Biden said election night because they didn't actually see the underlying work to change the composition of the electorate. What we do with the New Majority Index is we add to, the Cook Political Report has the partisan voter index, so we look at that same data set, but we add in the racial data.
We add in what is the racial demographics of that district, and then what is the voting patterns by racial group. Then if you were to then increase the turnout of people of color to have it be equal to the turnout of whites, what would that mean current to the electoral outcome?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Steve Phillips is author of How We Win the Civil War. Thanks so much for being on The Takeaway, Steve.
Steve Phillips: Thanks for having me, I enjoyed it.
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