Transcript

599:

Seriously?
Transcript

Originally aired 10.21.2016

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/599

Prologue.

Ira Glass

OK, so I don't know any other way to get into this than to just say it. I'm alarmed about something with this year's election. And yes, I know everybody is alarmed about this election. That feels like the one bipartisan thing going on in our country, is that everybody on both sides is kind of a little freaked out. But even in that context, there was this one moment where I felt like, oh, this is the world that we're living in? Like, it's this bad? This is a moment that was widely reported. I bet you saw this. September 16, Donald Trump held a press conference to say that he now believes that Barack Obama was born in the United States. And then he added this claim.

Donald Trump

Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean.

Ira Glass

Jake Tapper was doing the live coverage of the press conference on CNN. He's their chief Washington correspondent. And he knew the whole history of the birther controversy. He had covered this for years, knew it backwards and forwards. And I got in touch with him because I wondered what it was like to be on live television when Trump announced this.

Jake Tapper

It was just-- it was just bizarre. And there's a famous quote from the writer Mary McCarthy who was in a feud with another writer, Lillian Hellman, and she said, "every word she says is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'" And that's what it was, watching that press conference.

Ira Glass

In the live coverage, Tapper almost sounds mad. Here he is on TV.

Jake Tapper

Donald Trump said that Barack Obama was born in the United States, which has been a fact since 1961, but congratulations for realizing it. And then he said, Hillary Clinton started birtherism-- not true-- and I ended it-- also not true.

Ira Glass

Watching you, what it seemed like is that you were feeling something like, oh, something so wrong is happening here. A lie is being born in front of my eyes. I must stop this somehow.

Jake Tapper

I have no delusions that I can stop a lie. [CHUCKLES] But, I mean, I just wanted anybody watching who heard this to know that it was wrong. It was just false. He didn't end it. He perpetuated it. He made the birther lie bigger than it had ever been. But let me add one thing just because I do want to say one thing about--

Ira Glass

OK. At this point, Jake Tapper could not control himself. He ran through all the facts about how we know that Hillary Clinton's campaign did not start the birther issue, and this has been summarized plenty of places by now. Look it up if you're curious. Back in that September press conference, it was the boldness of the lie that was disturbing. Like, seriously? Do you think they were going to believe you? Or do you know that we're not going to believe you and you just don't care?

And it didn't take long for the results of the lie to be measured. Just a few days after the Trump press conference, a Monmouth poll showed that one third of likely voters in Florida believed that Hillary Clinton started the birther controversy. I told this to Jake.

Jake Tapper

[SIGHS]

Ira Glass

Your reaction?

Jake Tapper

I mean, there is a large percentage of the country that thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim.

Ira Glass

That would also be a third, about 30%. He's a Christian.

Jake Tapper

I mean, there are a lot of people who believe a lot of wrong things. It's-- it's crazy. I mean, and it's dispiriting. I mean, it's just-- I've never seen anything like this.

Ira Glass

In just the last two weeks Donald Trump has said that Hillary Clinton may have been on drugs in the second debate. He said Hillary Clinton, quote, "meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty." During the debates, he denied saying that climate change is a hoax created by China and that Japan should get nuclear weapons even though, A, many of us remember him saying those things. It was not that long ago. And B, we can all just find this in our phones in, like, seconds.

These lies are perplexing in their nakedness. Like, he knows lots of us know these are lies, but we're in some kind of new kind of universe where that is normal and that is OK and we will just accept that.

Jake Tapper

It's crazy. I mean, honestly, Joe McCarthy said crazy things in, you know, the '50s, but I've never seen accusations this wild in American politics from a major, major political figure.

Ira Glass

I feel worried about the country. Like, I feel worried that we live in a country where so many people distrust the fact-based media and fact-based journalists and are getting their information from other news sources and that things like this can enter the atmosphere, and then they become true for so many people. I feel worried.

Jake Tapper

What's uncomfortable about this election is that the Trump campaign-- not the Republican Party, but the Trump campaign-- has made it so when you stand up for facts and things that are true, they act as though those facts are partisan. And that's very uncomfortable because I do not belong to either major political party. I don't think the Democratic Party or the Republican Party have answers to the nation's problems independently.

Ira Glass

In addition to his live coverage, Jake did a whole fact-check segment with FactCheck.org about whether Hillary Clinton started the birther movement. But, of course, he's on a network that is seen as so partisan-- it's so hated by some Republicans-- that stadiums full of people chant against them at Trump rallies.

Crowd

CNN sucks!

Ira Glass

CNN sucks.

Crowd

CNN sucks! CNN sucks! CNN sucks! CNN sucks!

Rush Limbaugh

This fact-check technique is the latest. Let me tell you what it really is. There is no fact-checking.

Ira Glass

This is Rush Limbaugh, a couple weeks ago.

Rush Limbaugh

The fact that The New York Times and The Washington Post and USA Today and all these other papers and networks now have fact-checkers is for one reason. It allows them to fool you. The idea that it is a fact-check story is designed to say to you that it is objective and analytically fair. And all it is is a vehicle for them to do opinion journalism under the guise of fairness, which, if you fall for it, gives it even more power.

Ira Glass

So that's where we are right now. The presentation of facts is seen as partisan opinion, and then every day a barrage of untruths are presented as truth, and we're just supposed to suck it up. That's the moment we live in. That's our country right now. And this is going to continue after this election, no matter who wins. Like, this is the rest of our lives, I think, this post-truth politics. With so many of us getting our news from social media and from sources that we agree with, it's easier than ever to check if a fact is true, and facts matter less than ever.

Well, today on our program, we take stock of how far we've fallen, and we've got some other stuff, too-- about truth and the elections. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

Act One. Lies Become the Truth

Ira Glass

So before I say anything else, I want to say, of course, there is solid, fact-based journalism done on the right. That is not what I'm going to be talking about right now. I'm talking about the stew of websites, talk radio, and commentary that churn out all kinds of stuff every day that is half-true or not true at all. And I feel like for months I have been thinking about this just all the time, how extreme the gap is this year between the reality put forth by the mainstream media and the reality put forth by the right-wing media. Like, why is the gap so big?

This was really driven home to me recently when I've been talking to my uncle Lenny on the phone. My uncle Lenny's 81. He's a retired plastic surgeon outside of San Diego. He gets all of his news from Fox and The Wall Street Journal. Not into President Obama or Hillary Clinton at all. Doesn't like Trump very much, but he's voting for him as the lesser of two evils.

Uncle Lenny

Ira. Good morning.

Ira Glass

Hey. Have you been for your walk today yet?

Uncle Lenny

No, I'll do that after we finish.

Ira Glass

Really? I thought the walk was more of a first thing in the morning kind of activity.

Uncle Lenny

Well, it sometimes is, but I don't want to be too rigid.

Ira Glass

You don't want to be somebody who at night eats exactly seven almonds.

Uncle Lenny

[LAUGHS] That's right.

Ira Glass

That's a crazy person.

That's right, I'm telling my Republican uncle an Obama joke just to make him happy. A few weeks ago, I started recording conversations with my Uncle Lenny about the election. Mostly we read The New York Times together online and he would tell me what he thought of the stories. But what struck me most about these conversations is when Uncle Lenny would talk about Hillary Clinton, and especially about Barack Obama, the way he sees them. The story in his head about them seemed very out there.

Ira Glass

Hey, can I ask, what do you think of Obama?

Uncle Lenny

I think he is an intelligent man who's never done anything worthwhile in his life. A print at--

Ira Glass

Hey, wait, stop right there. I feel like I find that confusing. Like, he's the first black president. That's an incredible thing. That's an incredible thing.

Uncle Lenny

Well, symbolically it is. But his performance has been that of an amateur, which he also is. He's done nothing. He's played more rounds of golf than any president in history.

Ira Glass

I checked this later. Untrue. Dwight Eisenhower played nearly three times as much golf, Woodrow Wilson played four times more than Obama. But everything in Obama's biography seems suspicious to Lenny. Obama claims to have run the Harvard Law Review, Lenny told me. Why didn't he write a single article for them? I looked into it. He did.

Uncle Lenny

And no one in his graduating class from law school can remember ever having seen him there.

Ira Glass

Oh, I know somebody from his law school class who knew him.

Uncle Lenny

Did he know him?

Ira Glass

Yeah. Ayelet. My friend, Ayelet. She knew him in law school.

Uncle Lenny

Well, that's the first person I've ever heard of who said they knew him in law school.

Ira Glass

Notice that we're not even out of law school yet, and already this is a narrative where the most mundane details about the man's life are doubted. Already there's this tone of conspiracy and cover-up over nothing.

And I bring this up because these details are part of a story that grew up around Obama in the right-wing media. He's not what he seems. He has a secret agenda. This story got traction, of course, partly because he's black, but the right-wing media would probably do the same thing with a white candidate. I mean, look at some of the things they've said about Hillary Clinton, a candidate who gives them plenty of legitimate things to criticize, and yet somehow they dwell on this nonstop speculation about her health, the earpiece she supposedly wore at the debates.

When Lenny and I talked about this, the story that he believes about Barack Obama and the one that I believe based on the mainstream media, each of us was like, really? You believe that?

Uncle Lenny

He hates what America stands for. To him it stands for slavery, it stands for exceptionalism, it stands for mal-distribution of wealth.

Ira Glass

When Lenny talks about Obama's policies, it is all conspiracy. The president is a Muslim. He's on a mission to put Muslims in positions of power and influence. He has an ultra-left-wing agenda to erase the borders with Canada and Mexico and end the United States as we know it.

Uncle Lenny

This guy-- he wants to have one country of North America, which is composed of Canada, the United States, and part of Mexico, if not all of Mexico. That's why the existing laws, which dictate that border trespassers shall be deported, he chooses to ignore.

Ira Glass

Well, no, he actually deported 2.5 million people. More than any other president.

Uncle Lenny

I don't believe that, Ira, for one minute. I don't believe that.

Ira Glass

OK, I love my uncle. I remember crying as a kid when he went off to Vietnam. Back in the '70s and '80s, he hated liberal politicians, but he hated them because they were liberals. Like, they spent too much money, they were soft on defense. Like, that was enough. He didn't believe these kind of dark conspiracies. That's the thing that's changed, for him, and lots of people, I think.

And those numbers that I quoted him are true. They're from the Department of Homeland Security. But facts do not have a fighting chance against this right-wing fable. And in the last few weeks since I started obsessing over all the lies that are being presented as truth right now, at some point I realized, like, oh, maybe the defining issue of this election is built around a story that isn't true. Like, honestly, this is one that I just took for granted. Like, people talk about this all the time. I hadn't given it a second thought. This issue that propelled Donald Trump to win the Republican nomination. You know the one.

Donald Trump

I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.

Crowd

Yes!

Donald Trump

Mark my words.

Crowd

Yes!

Ira Glass

The premise of the wall is that immigration is out of control. Trump told an interviewer on Fox--

Donald Trump

I'm not just talking Mexico. I'm talking about all over the world, they're coming through the southern border. You're going to have them coming in from the Middle East. You have them coming all over. It's not just Mexico. Everybody's pouring through the border.

Ira Glass

So when this became the central issue of the Republican primaries, the wall, to me, seemed like it might not be the most practical solution to this problem, but I figured this was a response to a problem facing the country. People might agree or disagree in the way that they would with any policy. But if you look into it, you come right away to this fact. And this is not a big hidden secret or anything. It shows up in news stories from time to time. This flood of people pouring across the border-- the total increase in the number of illegal immigrants in the United States each year-- is zero.

Alex Nowrasteh

I think he's describing an alternative reality. Or at best, a reality that existed over a decade ago.

Ira Glass

This is Alex Nowrasteh. He's a conservative, a Republican, the immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Ira Glass

And so there's not a flood of illegal immigrants right now.

Alex Nowrasteh

There isn't. There are new illegal immigrants entering the country each year, but they are offset by the illegal immigrants who are leaving.

Ira Glass

There's about 350,000 in each direction each year. And it's been that way for years, since 2009. In fact, between 2007 and 2009, at the start of the recession, when jobs dried up, the number of illegal immigrants in our country fell by about a million people. And so why do so many people believe that we're being flooded with immigrants if, in fact, we are not being flooded with immigrants? I ask that question, but of course, you know what the answer is.

Ann Coulter

I mean, the problem is out of control. We need a fence on the border like Israel has.

Sean Hannity

All right, listen. Look at the impact it's having on our health care system, our criminal justice system, our educational system.

Ira Glass

That's Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity on Fox TV two years ago. Stories about our out-of-control immigration system have been a staple of the right-wing media for years now. Ann Coulter here is talking about President Obama's immigration policy, which includes some permissive things but, like I told my Uncle Lenny, he's ordered removals of more illegal immigrants from the country than any president-- 2.5 million.

Coulter characterizes his policy towards immigrants this way.

Ann Coulter

Obama just wants-- get 'em in. Just get 'em in. And in a matter of years, they'll be voting Democrat and collecting welfare. Unfortunately, the country can't afford it. We have our own poor people we need to take care of. And we're running out of money for that. It's completely out of control.

Ira Glass

Researching all this-- I hadn't listened to Rush Limbaugh for a while, and listening I remembered, oh right, he just makes facts up. Like, that's standard operating procedure on right-wing talk radio.

Here he is, trying to give a little immigration policy history.

Rush Limbaugh

You know, I still am amazed by the reaction I get from people when I tell them that there was zero immigration in this country from 1924 to 1965. People don't know it. It's not reported. It's never been part of history class, history education. 41 years, essentially, there was no immigration.

Try telling people that in the midst of this debate, and they won't believe you. They'll think you're making it up. They'll think you're lying about it.

Ira Glass

Well, there's a good reason they think you're making it up and lying. Millions of people became legal immigrants during that period. 8 million were granted status as permanent residents. 6.5 million became citizens, according to the federal government.

Alex Nowrasteh, the guy from the Cato Institute, contests all the big plot points that you hear on right-wing media about immigration. That immigrants cause more crime than native born Americans, that they are a drain on taxpayers, and, of course, that they are flooding across the border. I wonder what it was like for him to see those ideas propagated so often, so broadly, and taken so seriously by so many people. Like, to the point where a candidate is proposing a wall and then stadiums cheer.

Alex Nowrasteh

It's incredibly depressing to see people base their policy opinions on things that just simply are not true, that are basically just myths. Like, to say otherwise, to state what the facts otherwise are, gets you labeled a traitor or gets you labeled sort of anti-American, or gets you labeled a socialist. All things which I am not. Absolutely not. So it's depressing, and it's hard to fight against.

Ira Glass

Wait, wait. Just walk me through that. Are you in a situation often where you're trying to present these facts and people who you feel like are your natural allies don't believe you?

Alex Nowrasteh

Frequently. Frequently. I travel across the country all the time to speak to different groups. Out West in Arizona, in California, a lot of conservative and Republican clubs. And just the quantity of skepticism for well-established facts on this topic is astounding.

Ira Glass

And are you often in the situation where people just think you're some sort of pinko, like you're working for Obama and Hillary Clinton?

Alex Nowrasteh

All the time. Increasingly, all the time. When I go on the radio people, will call in and they'll say something to the effect of, oh, well, of course you believe that. You also think we should make guns illegal. You know, not knowing that I'm personally quite a gun nut and I have the exact opposite opinion. So it's like, a lot of political assumptions go into this.

Ira Glass

Alex used this phrase that I'd never heard before-- Patriotic Correctness. It's like political correctness, but the right-wing version of that. Like, if you say that there is no flood of immigrants coming across the border, well, that is just out of bounds. That's not something you say. You are not patriotically correct. So people do not even give him a chance.

I think that's because politics, at some level, is more than the sum of facts. It's an identity. You know, you're a Republican or you're a Democrat, and then there's a whole set of stories and beliefs that go with that identity. And facts do not have much power against a set of beliefs. Those of us in the fact business-- our facts are puny compared to that.

Act Two. Judges with Grudges

Ira Glass

Act two, Judges with Grudges.

So let's turn now, in this election year, to the story of one little referendum on one state ballot. Here's how we heard about it. A few years ago we devoted an entire episode of our program to the story of this judge in Georgia, a woman named Amanda Williams. Judge Williams had a history of doing things that it seemed like judges just should not do. For instance, she put a teenager named Lindsey Dills into solitary confinement for an indefinite period of time. Indefinite, like, until further notice. No end date. No access to a lawyer. Lindsey told me--

Lindsey Dills

I cried a lot. Pretty much all the time I was crying. I was like, how is this happening? How is this ethical? Where am I? Like, am I in a foreign country? Have I killed someone that I don't know about? Like, how does what I did merit that type of treatment? But there's nothing I can do about it, because I can't even use the phone. I can't even send a letter.

Ira Glass

Finally, during this confinement, Lindsey tried to kill herself. We attempted to interviewed Judge Williams about this and some other issues, but she declined to comment on those issues. So while I was working on that story, an official commission in Georgia that is charged with investigating judicial ethics violations was also looking into Judge Williams. The commission later filed a 14-count ethics complaint against her. Shortly after that, Judge William stepped down from the bench.

The commission that filed those charges-- before we did that story, I didn't even know anything like this existed, but all states have them. Sometimes they're called JQCs, for Judicial Qualifications Commissions-- that's what the one in Georgia is called-- and they are the way that we as a country have come up with for getting rid of judges who do bad things. Georgia's JQC seemed pretty impressive. They have a tiny staff, seven members, who work pro bono. They are not paid. And in the past decade, in addition to Judge Williams, over 60 judges in Georgia have stepped down after being investigated.

So we did that story years ago. And then a few months ago, one of my sources in Georgia called me to say, guess what? Lawmakers in Georgia were trying to neuter the JQC, and the whole thing was going to be on the ballot this fall. And, OK, I know that state-level politics can be kind of nutty sometimes, but my question was, OK, here's an example of a government agency doing a good job. It would seem like a very low cost. Like, how can something like that happen, right? Like, why was this on the ballot? It seemed like the only people who would benefit from weakening the JQC would be bad judges. Like, that is not a big constituency. Like, who's going to vote for that in a democracy?

Well, one of our producers, Dave Kestenbaum, flew to Atlanta to figure out what was going on. A quick warning to podcast and internet listeners. There is some language in the story that we have un-beeped here in the internet version of our show. If you prefer a beeped version of our program, go to our website.

Dave Kestenbaum

To understand this referendum, you first need a little background on Georgia's JQC, and just how aggressive it's been at going after judges. More than anyone, the person who probably embodies the boldness and zeal of the mission is Richard Hyde. Hyde is a commission member. He was their paid investigator for a decade. I've heard him describe himself as "the point of the spear," and once at a legislative hearing under oath, "the turd in the punchbowl."

When I asked him about the 60 judges that had resigned, and that that seemed like a lot, he shrugged.

Richard Hyde

Georgia judges are no different than judges around the country. What is different is the way we investigate judges.

Dave Kestenbaum

Hyde calls it "the Georgia method." He's traveled to Ukraine to train officials there how to do it. Basically, they'll get some tip about something a judge may have done, they'll investigate the hell out of it, and if they find something, they'll confront the judge. Hyde says he'll explain that the judge has the right to a public trial, but then he'll just say this--

Richard Hyde

Judge, given the nature of the allegations, if true, what do you think the appropriate sanction from the commission should be? And about 90 percent of the time, those judges would say, I think it is time that I leave.

Dave Kestenbaum

Honestly, I can't tell if that question is some high-minded way of trying to engage a judge's inner sense of duty, or just a fancy version of, we can do this the easy way or the hard way.

Judges are powerful people, but Hyde is not easily intimidated. He used to be a street cop. Back then he would tow the cars of state lawmakers who had double-parked near the state capitol. Once, he shot an escaped chimpanzee who was attacking people on a street. He felt bad about that. In the Atlanta school testing scandal where teachers were doctoring students' test scores, it was Hyde who got an elementary school teacher to wear a wire, which broke the whole thing open. One news story quoted someone saying they would "rather have a wasting disease than to be investigated by Hyde." He's just so relentless.

But Hyde says the JQC is not out to get judges. They're just trying to protect the public. If a judge slips up, they try to work things out. Here's an example of that. When I went to interview Hyde, he'd brought along a transcript of a case they'd had to look into. It's a murder case, and the defendant is refusing to use a lawyer. Just refusing. He starts actually swearing at the judge, using profanity. The judge tries to reason with him, and then this happens. I had Hyde read this part.

Richard Hyde

The judge-- listen to me.

The defendant-- fuck you.

Listen to me.

The defendant-- go fuck yourself.

The judge-- I'm finding you in contempt of court.

I don't care.

I know you don't, and I sentence you to 20 days for that. And if you say anything else, I'm going to add 20 days for everything you say.

The defendant-- fuck you.

The judge-- 40 days.

The defendant-- fuck you, again.

60 days.

The defendant-- go fuck yourself.

The judge-- a year.

The defendant-- your mama.

The judge-- 10 years.

The defendant-- suck my dick.

The judge-- you know something? This is going to be an interesting trial.

Dave Kestenbaum

The defendant threatens to kill the judge's family, and the judge just kind of loses it. When the defendant says he's going to masturbate in court, the judge says, why don't you do that right now? Do it now. Do it now. Hyde says the judge had a stellar record before this, so the JQC, when it heard about it, did what it often does. It had the judge in for a little talk, to discuss what had happened and how to avoid it again. They publicly reprimanded him and the judge went back to being a judge.

But Hyde says there are more extreme cases. Like the time a judge, in court, took a gun out and told the witness she was, quote, "killing her case and might as well shoot her lawyer." And then there was this other time. An attorney said that a judge hearing her case had sexually harassed her, at one point leaving her a phone message in which he, the judge, identified himself as Santa Claus and said the following, "hey, hey, hey, little girl. Want to sit on Santa's face?" The woman gave the recording of that message to Richard Hyde, and Hyde went out to talk to the judge.

Richard Hyde

I met with him at his courthouse. And he's got an office full of people doing whatever it was that was going on, and I identified myself and asked him if we could talk in private. So we walked outside, and I'm asking him questions about, have you ever sexually harassed any of the women in front of you? Did you ever make any sexual demands? Did you ever leave a message on somebody's voicemail inappropriately? He denied all of that. So I said, well, then we have a problem because somebody is lying to me. Either the complainant or you are lying.

So I played-- we sat in my truck, and I played the recording, and he listened to it.

Dave Kestenbaum

What was his reaction when you played him the voicemail? He just told you he didn't do it.

Richard Hyde

He became very emotional. He wept. He walked in his office, got a piece of stationery out and hand-wrote a letter to the governor, resigning and agreeing never to be a judge again.

Dave Kestenbaum

Before we get to why some in the legislature wanted to dismantle and remake the JQC, it's interesting to see how badly they wanted to change it. This is not an easy thing to do. In Georgia, like in a lot of states, the Judicial Qualifications Commission, this entity with the power to remove judges for unethical behavior, is written into the Constitution. One lawyer who helped put it there-- this was back in the '70s-- told me it was put in the Constitution expressly to avoid political tampering. People make a basic separation of powers argument. Keep the JQC independent. If lawmakers got their hands on it, they might pressure JQC members to drop cases against their friends, or go after a judge they don't like.

But this past January, one Friday afternoon, House Resolution 1113 was introduced, a bill proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would abolish the JQC and allow lawmakers to remake it however they saw fit.

Lester Tate, at the time a member of the JQC, says he'd pulled into his driveway when someone called with the news. Tate was furious. It seemed like a straight-up power grab. He told me he saw HR 1113 as an act of war.

Lester Tate

Clearly it was. You know, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we had no knowledge that it was coming. Nothing's been said about this to anybody, and then all of a sudden you introduce a bill like this, I think it's pretty clear that a sneak attack has been launched.

Dave Kestenbaum

It's not quite as bad as Pearl Harbor.

Lester Tate

Well, no ships were sunk in the process, but the analogy, I think, still holds true.

Dave Kestenbaum

There's one little detail worth pointing out here. It gets mentioned in a lot of the local news coverage. One of the sponsors of the bill is a representative named Johnny Caldwell. Before being a lawmaker, Caldwell was a judge. The judge who was accused of leaving the Santa Claus "sit on my face" voicemail. Representative Caldwell declined our request for an interview.

Man

Secretary will read HR 1113.

Woman

House Resolution 1113, by Representative--

Dave Kestenbaum

Altering the Constitution is a big deal. For starters, any proposed change has to be approved by 2/3 of the House and 2/3 of the Senate. Then the voters have to approve it as well. Republicans introduced the measure, and they had the votes in the House. But in the Senate, it was tight. If all the Republicans voted for it, the bill would pass.

But here they had a problem. A man named Josh McKoon. McKoon is a Republican who seems to enjoy not voting Republican sometimes. He's loved politics since he was a kid. Favorite President, Calvin Coolidge. McKoon is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he thought taking the JQC out of the Constitution, letting politicians remake it however they wanted, sounded like a terrible idea.

Josh Mckoon

And I just remember somebody mentioning, hey, this is coming up. And I kind of dismissed it because it seemed so absurd.

Man

Chair recognizes Senator 29.

Josh Mckoon

Thank you, Mr. President.

Dave Kestenbaum

This is McKoon on one of the last nights of the legislative session for the year. The bill, at this point, has failed to pass once, but it's coming up for another vote. McKoon doesn't shout. His tones is more, (INCREDULOUS) seriously?

Josh Mckoon

Um, it's just really hard to wrap my brain around the fact that we are going to do this. We ought to think long and hard before we say we're going to abolish the independent constitutional agency that has overseen judicial ethics in this state for the last four decades.

Dave Kestenbaum

McKoon is particularly upset about how the legislature would remake the JQC. The JQC has seven members, and lawmakers want to give the Speaker of the House and the president of the Senate the power to pick four of the seven seats. Currently they pick zero.

I looked into what other states do. According to the Center for Judicial Ethics, only one state gives lawmakers the power to pick a majority of its JQC members.

Josh Mckoon

We are taking, literally, the only bright spot in the network of ethics and conflict of interest laws in state government and we are throwing them in the garbage. And for what?

Dave Kestenbaum

McKoon began to suspect that this was all about personal gripes, or lawmakers who are friends with judges who the JQC had investigated. The Speaker of the House, in particular, seemed unusually determined to overhaul this little commission. This became very clear in the final days of the session. Time was running out to pass the bill. McKoon says he and the other Republican senators got pulled into this urgent meeting.

Josh Mckoon

We were told that the Speaker had made it clear, if we did not pass the JQC constitutional amendment, that he would, quote, "shut the building down." Meaning, the House would not consider any Senate legislation.

Dave Kestenbaum

Until the JQC got passed.

Josh Mckoon

Correct.

Dave Kestenbaum

Two days before the end of the session-- it's after 9:00 PM-- the bill comes up for a final vote.

Man

--is agreed to. All those in favor, vote aye. Those opposed, no. The Secretary will unlock the machine.

[BELL RINGS]

Dave Kestenbaum

A minute later, the bill narrowly passes. If you look at the breakdown, you can see what happened. One Democrat crossed party lines and voted in favor. A woman named Donzella James. She declined to talk with us, but a newspaper reporter who was in the room, Greg Bluestein with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says it was totally clear what had happened. Republicans had made a trade. They'd offered to support a bill that she'd been trying to get through for years, to turn the area where she lived into a city. The bill was to put a referendum on the ballot about it. Bluestein says he knows this trade happened because a Republican, at this point, walked up and just started narrating what was going on.

Greg Bluestein

He said, she stuck with us, now we'll stick with her. So this was-- this was-- there was no effort to hide that there was horse trading going on here.

Dave Kestenbaum

Like, you watched it happen.

Greg Bluestein

Oh, literally watched it happen. And had people openly talk about it.

Dave Kestenbaum

In case there was any doubt, the very next bill brought up was for the city referendum, which passed easily. Lawmakers were willing to create a city to get control of the JQC.

If you're wondering why this was such a priority, why the Speaker of the House seemed so determined to push this through, Josh McKoon, the Republican, wondered that too. So we asked around.

Josh Mckoon

You know, why is this such a high-profile-- why is this thing moving so quickly? And the answer was, this is a priority of the Speaker of the House. And then when you would say, well, why does he care about the function in the JQC? It was, well, this all goes back to his conflict with the state bar.

Dave Kestenbaum

The state bar. This takes a little explaining, but stick with me. The speaker has a longstanding, very heated feud with the state bar. The bar has filed charges against him that could get him disbarred. I've read some of the back and forth. It sounds like people yelling at each other in the most formal language possible. Like, "it is clear that absurdity is no prohibition on the actions of the state bar."

What does all this have to do with the JQC? The bar currently gets to a appoint three members of the JQC. If these changes go through, the bar will get zero. To McKoon, it looked like revenge. The House Speaker declined to comment.

This is the story I initially heard, at least, about how petty politics, personal gripes, and a Santa Claus voicemail were threatening to gut an institution that was doing its job, and doing it quite well. It's the kind of story that one side of an issue tells itself all the time, I think. And when you hear something like that, it can be hard to imagine any other version. But, of course, there is another side. And on that side, another story involving the very same events. So come with me. Let's cross over to that other side. Let's try to get to the bottom of this one ballot measure in one state.

Cynthia Becker

I am here so that the JQC never again abuses its power to the detriment of those who serve and the public we all serve.

Dave Kestenbaum

This is Cynthia Becker testifying at a recent hearing before lawmakers. Until recently, she was a judge. And in the alternate narrative of this story, she's the main character.

Cynthia Becker

I heard with dismay a former director testify last week, between 2010 and 2014, 50 judges were removed. We are not trophies. We are not scalps. That's not a good start.

Dave Kestenbaum

Becker was investigated by the JQC and was visibly furious about how it all went down. She says she was called in to talk to JQC members about some complaint, but she wasn't told what it was. Turns out, there was a question about whether she had denied somebody bail-- a former school superintendent who ended up spending four days in jail.

She says when she got to the JQC one of the members just started yelling at her.

Cynthia Becker

One commission member was so over the top that, if he had conducted himself that way in a court room, deputies would have escorted him out of the courtroom. He was standing, he was red-faced, he was pointing his finger at me, lecturing me--

Man

Who was that?

Cynthia Becker

That was Mr. Tate.

Dave Kestenbaum

Lester Tate, the commission member you heard comparing the JQC bill to the attack on Pearl Harbor. According to notes from that meeting, at one point, Judge Becker started weeping. The whole thing, she says, was recorded without her knowledge.

Another judge who testified said that the same JQC member, Lester Tate, behaved improperly in his court. According to an affidavit by a court clerk Tate, quote, "turned bright red all over and got extremely upset." A month later, Richard Hyde, the crusading investigator you heard at the beginning of the story, showed up demanding to see documents. A court clerk wrote, quote, "he was questioning me like a drill sergeant in the army. He almost brought me to tears. I have never had anyone treat me like this." The judge, Mitchell Scoggins, says Hyde then went through his things.

Mitchell Scoggins

the reason I know he did is because we pulled our security camera video, and we could see Mr. Hyde in there with my clerk-- just those two people-- going through paperwork on my desk. And I didn't appreciate that. I didn't like that at all.

Dave Kestenbaum

Lester Tate denies doing anything wrong in either case. In fact, he's resigned in protest over this whole effort to remake the JQC.

Richard Hyde told me things did get heated when he came by court that day, but here's what he said about searching that judge's desk.

Richard Hyde

I looked through the papers on the public bench, yes. That is not his bench. That bench belongs to the people of this state. Those documents belong to the people of this state. They were in plain view, they looked out of place, and I looked through them. I make no apologies for that.

Dave Kestenbaum

Richard Hyde has publicly said that the JQC owes a couple judges an apology for how their cases were handled-- but just a couple. Which of those judges who step down do you really want back on the bench, he asks? Most of the complaints, he says, are just from a few people.

Richard Hyde

Those are the five empty beer cans in the back of a pickup truck going down a dirt road.

Dave Kestenbaum

Hyde was quick to say that the vast majority of judges do a fine job, under difficult circumstances. But, he says, sitting up there in that black robe with the gavel, it can go to some people's heads.

Richard Hyde

People stand up when they walk in the room, they stand up when they leave. They bring them coffee, they laugh at their dumb jokes. They tell them how smart, thin, tall, and funny they are. It's black robe syndrome, is what I call it.

Dave Kestenbaum

One way to summarize the criticism of the JQC is that some of its members have fallen prey to their own version of black robe syndrome. After all, there is the power of being a judge. But then there is the power of judging the judges.

Even after hearing these stories, it wasn't clear to me why lawmakers felt the need to amend the Constitution and give themselves control over the JQC. I didn't see how that would fix whatever problems there were. As I've said, the Speaker of the House wouldn't talk. Neither would the representative who allegedly left the Santa Claus voicemail. So I found someone else.

Wendall Willard

I'm Wendall Willard. I'm a state representative, state of Georgia.

Willard is a Republican, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. He's socially progressive, co-sponsored a bill recently to protect LGBT employees from workplace discrimination, but he's conservative on a lot of other stuff.

Willard was actually the author of the bill, so I asked him to tell me his version of all this. He said it begins with Amanda Williams. Amanda Williams, the drug court judge that we did an hour show on who stepped down after a JQC investigation. Willard says, what really troubled him is that it didn't stop there.

Wendall Willard

Next thing we're reading about is there's an indictment being taken out against Judge Williams. I said, wow, she must have really done something pretty drastic to have a felony indictment.

Dave Kestenbaum

I looked this up. What she'd done, according to the indictment, was lie to the JQC. It's a felony offense with possible jail time.

Dave Kestenbaum

Is your position basically like, maybe it was correct that she stepped down for what she did, but the idea that she would--

Wendall Willard

I'm not concerned about her stepping down. It's the process-- what I call the due process--

Dave Kestenbaum

Willard says these judges think they're coming in for an informal conversation, so it seems unfair to him that they can get charged with a felony if they misremember or mis-state something. He says the whole point of these meetings is to try to work things out. Most judges just need a little counseling, like the judge who imploded under a barrage of F-bombs.

If every judge who goes to talk to the JQC has to worry about being charged with a felony, what judge would ever come talk to them? He says the same thing that happened to Amanda Williams also happen to Judge Becker, the one who said she was yelled at and recorded without her knowledge. She later faced six felony charges for making false statements in that meeting. The charges were dropped, but in the end, she had to promise not to be a judge again.

The JQC has changed its policy since then. It no longer records its meetings with judges. But Becker said she felt sucker-punched by the whole thing.

Wendall Willard

That is one segment of the concern that was growing.

Dave Kestenbaum

Is that reason enough to, like, dismantle the whole JQ--

Wendall Willard

I didn't say that was the reason alone, did I? Did I? We're not trying-- it's not a dismantling. I keep hearing that term used by the press. It is a reconstituting of the JQC. And to do so is going to require a constitutional amendment.

Dave Kestenbaum

I asked Willard if I could just run down the things his opponents say is happening here, to play the other side's narrative for him. Actually, I had a whole list written out on a sheet of paper.

I asked him why one of the co-sponsors is the guy who had allegedly left the Santa Claus voicemail. Willard said the co-sponsor thing-- that was kind of his fault. He says he'd just gone out looking for legislators to sign on.

Wendall Willard

Maybe the better part of valor would be to leave him off the bill, but I didn't think of it that way. It just didn't come to mind as being that issue.

Dave Kestenbaum

It was a pretty embarrassing thing. He'd left, like, a voicemail for an attorney telling her she could sit on his face.

Wendall Willard

I don't know what the story is. I don't know want to know about it, either.

Dave Kestenbaum

I asked about the vote trading in the Senate. He said, I don't know. That's the Senate's side. I look back at my paper. What else you got, he says?

Wendall Willard

What else you got?

Dave Kestenbaum

Uh, yeah. I got a list.

Wendall Willard

Find something important you want to talk about.

Dave Kestenbaum

OK. Uh--

Wendall Willard

I'm about through.

Dave Kestenbaum

There are people who say the reason this was put in the Constitution was to keep it out of the hands of politicians, and you're undoing that.

Wendall Willard

It's still in the Constitution. It's a constitutionally-created body.

Yeah, but the Constitution used to spell out how the people were appointed.

Wendall Willard

[INAUDIBLE] we feel there's a way it has to be changed that will improve upon that.

Dave Kestenbaum

Which is to give the legislature power over more seats?

Wendall Willard

Give the legislature the right to make necessary changes. You know, the legislature is made up of the people who elect them. We're not some animal out here, and we create other agencies and bodies all the time.

Dave Kestenbaum

I can see how Willard sees things. He thinks the JQC needs bigger fixes. And he figures, who better to fix it than us lawmakers? People voted us into office. We are the people's representatives. And voters will have the final say. This is going to be on the ballot next month, so people will have to decide which of these stories makes more sense to them. Or maybe they'll just hear one of the stories. That will make the decision easier. Frankly, I can't imagine most voters even know what the JQC is.

This referendum is not an example of democracy at its finest, though it's probably a pretty good example of how democracy actually is.

Ira Glass

Dave Kestenbaum is one of the producers of our program. Coming up, one of the stars of Hamilton sings the words that Barack Obama is not saying but might be thinking. We are not sure if he's thinking this. We made this up. That's a minute, from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Three. Aw, Do We NAFTA?

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's program, the sometimes-frightening chasm between the way the two sides in this election see everything. We take stock. We have arrived at Act Three of our program. Act Three, Aw, Do we NAFTA?

So the one big thing this year that it has felt like the presidential candidates are not disagreeing about is free trade. But it's weird. Both parties used to agree free trade is good. This year, they seem to be agreeing it's bad.

During the primaries this year, when Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton were out bad-mouthing deals like the TPP and free trade in general, I had this feeling, like, wait, is it supposed to be good or bad? Like, I can't even tell anymore. Like, what happened? I felt genuinely confused about what to think. Are these deals good or bad? And so I asked Jacob Goldstein from NPR's economics podcast Planet Money to come in and just help me briefly weigh the pros and cons of these deals.

Jacob Goldstein

I'm here. I talked to a lot of economists. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about economic models of trade deals.

Ira Glass

I like that I asked you to come in, and you heeded the call, and then you lost sleep over it.

Jacob Goldstein

I-- it's true. It's all true.

Ira Glass

That's so great and sad at the same time. So, all right. Let's start with the obvious downside of these trade deals. We lose jobs, as a country. And the number that we hear when it comes to NAFTA is 700,000 jobs we've lost.

Jacob Goldstein

Yeah. I mean, 700,000 people is clearly a lot of people, right? It's football stadiums full of people.

Ira Glass

Yes.

Jacob Goldstein

And if you are one of those people, NAFTA was really bad for you. So that's certainly true, and that's real. If you zoom out a little bit-- I mean, one thing. So that number-- that 700,000 number is over about 15 years.

Ira Glass

OK.

Jacob Goldstein

So that's 700,000 jobs over 15 years. Just for context, the economy-- like, say, this year, is adding about 200,000 jobs a month. 200,000 jobs a month. So already this year, the US has added more than 700,000 jobs.

Ira Glass

So wait, wait, wait. So I just want to be sure I've got these numbers right. So we're adding, like, 200,000 jobs a month.

Jacob Goldstein

Yeah, a little less than that. But about that, yeah.

Ira Glass

And this is, like, a crazy boom time and that's super unusual?

Jacob Goldstein

I mean, it's a little high. But, like, normal would be, like, I don't, 150,000. Something like that. 130,000.

Ira Glass

So we're adding 200,000 a month right now, and this is 700,000 over 15 years.

Jacob Goldstein

Yes. And, I mean, to be clear, it doesn't mean that there are 700,000 fewer jobs in America than there would have been. It's not like a hole, right? These jobs went away and other new jobs were created.

Ira Glass

Right. But the thing that we always hear-- and Donald Trump has said this many times-- is that the good jobs are gone. Like, the good high-paying factory jobs, those are gone. Making cars in Detroit-- that's gone. And what we have instead are these kind of lousy lower-wage jobs.

Jacob Goldstein

That's true, and it's mostly not because of NAFTA. I mean, there are-- millions of factory jobs have gone away and, that's because of automation. Jobs for people with low skills are lower-paid partly because unions are weaker, so there are a lot of reasons it's been a really bad time to be a low-skilled worker in this country. Mostly not NAFTA.

Ira Glass

So in other words, don't blame Hillary Clinton and NAFTA, blame the robots.

Jacob Goldstein

Yes.

Ira Glass

OK. So that's the downside of NAFTA. And what's the positive side to NAFTA?

Jacob Goldstein

So there's--

Ira Glass

'Cause we are not hearing much about that.

Jacob Goldstein

No, it's true. So there's two things. I mean, this is true of trade deals in general. There's two big upsides. And one of them, when politicians are selling trade deals, they talk about, and that is, we get to sell more stuff to other countries, right? They lower their tariffs, we get to sell more stuff to them.

Ira Glass

And has that worked out?

Jacob Goldstein

Yeah. Yeah, we sell a lot more stuff to Mexico than we used to.

Ira Glass

OK.

Jacob Goldstein

The other one-- the other one politicians almost never talk about, but it's huge in economics. It, like, goes all the way back to Adam Smith. It is the central idea. And that is, trade deals mean we get to buy stuff for cheaper.

Ira Glass

In other words, people in Mexico and China are making stuff with their lower wages, and then they sell it to us and it's cheaper to us.

Jacob Goldstein

Yes.

Ira Glass

And so we live a little better because of that. And has anybody tried to, like, actually name the dollar amount that each of us makes on this? Like, how much do each of us make on NAFTA or the TPP?

Jacob Goldstein

So those numbers are hard, because there's lots of different things going on in the economy, and there's definitely ranges of estimates. But for NAFTA, one study I found by a guy at Yale that seems, like, very reasonable-- it uses pretty standard assumptions-- he found that in the US every year, we get an extra $15 billion because of NAFTA.

Ira Glass

That's $15 billion, with a B.

Jacob Goldstein

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Every year.

Jacob Goldstein

Yes.

Ira Glass

Wow. And that's a combination of us exporting more stuff, and also we all save money on stuff that we import.

Jacob Goldstein

Exactly.

Ira Glass

So $15 billion a year is what the whole country makes. And when you divide that by the number of us in the country, how much is that?

Jacob Goldstein

So it's something like $100 per worker, per year. Which clearly is, like, pretty small, right? I mean, one of the striking things about NAFTA in general is that, when you look at the US economy as a whole, the economic effects of NAFTA are just not that big of a deal, plus or minus.

Ira Glass

That blows my mind too, to hear you say that, the way people talk about it.

Jacob Goldstein

Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of trade is symbolism.

Ira Glass

And let's just go back for a second, OK? If it's 700,000 people lose their jobs, and then I only get $100 a year-- I don't know. $100? I think maybe I'd rather have somebody in Detroit keep their job. I got $100.

Jacob Goldstein

I mean, that is reasonable. You know, I think one of the reasons trade is so unpopular is, the pain is really concentrated and visible. And the benefits are really diffuse, right? Like, emotionally, like, who cares about $100? I mean, what economists would say is, in the long run-- in the long run, one trade deal after another, they add up, right? We all get significantly richer because of trade.

In the case of a trade deal, there is this transition period where there is real pain for a lot of people. After the transition is over, we keep getting that extra money forever. And the transition is over.

Ira Glass

OK. So overall, the economy is bigger.

Jacob Goldstein

Yes. And that right there is why economists love free trade. It's one of the few things that almost all economists agree on. In fact, there's this survey that the University of Chicago did where they asked all these economists, all across the political spectrum, are Americans better off on average because of NAFTA? 95 percent said yes, 5% said they were unsure.

Ira Glass

How many said no?

Jacob Goldstein

None. Nobody.

Ira Glass

Nobody said no?

Jacob Goldstein

Not one economist said Americans are worse off on average because of NAFTA.

Ira Glass

And when it comes to the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Jacob Goldstein

Very good.

Ira Glass

So when we do estimates on how much we all might get if that were to go into effect-- like, how good are we going to do, each one of us, from that?

Jacob Goldstein

So the federal government estimate of that is, once it's fully phased in, will be about $60 billion, with a B, richer every year, we'll get that extra money. So if you do that per worker, it's like $375 per worker.

Ira Glass

Every year.

Jacob Goldstein

Every year.

Ira Glass

A little under $400 per worker gets that money.

Jacob Goldstein

Yeah. And, I mean, that's just dividing the total value by the number per worker. They're not saying everybody is going to make that much more money. And just to be clear, this is a super rough estimate. You know, nobody knows exactly what it's going to be. And I should point out one more thing about the TPP, and that is, a lot of the opposition to the TPP is not about what we've been talking about. It's not about reducing tariffs. It's about all this other stuff, like rules about patent protection, or what happens if a company doesn't like a regulation in a foreign country. TPP gives them ways to challenge that regulation. Some people don't like that.

Ira Glass

But the big picture with these trade deals is, like, a small number of workers get bonked on the head, and then the rest of us get a bigger economy.

Jacob Goldstein

Yes, although it is leaving out another piece, which is the other countries.

Ira Glass

Jacob, I have two words to say to you. America first. Like, really? You want me to care about the people in the other countries?

Jacob Goldstein

You don't have to care about them. But, I mean, it's a fact that when the US trades more with people in poor countries, they get richer. And that is, for them-- maybe not for you, but for them-- a big deal. China is, like, the big case here, right? In the last 20 years, say, hundreds of millions of people-- like a whole America of people have come up out of, like, grinding, you know, subsistence farming, $2-a-day poverty basically because of trade with rich countries.

And clearly there's pollution because of that. Clearly those are terrible factory jobs.

Ira Glass

Right.

Jacob Goldstein

But it has been an incredible anti-poverty program for China. There's this one example from Vietnam that's, like, really clear. What happened with Vietnam was, in 2001, the trade barriers with the US came down, like all of a sudden. Not all the way down, but--

Ira Glass

Tariffs were dropped.

Jacob Goldstein

Yeah. They got a lot lower.

Ira Glass

Mm-hm.

Jacob Goldstein

And this economist in Canada realized like, oh, here is this natural experiment where we can just see-- like, there's a very clear before and after. What happens?

Ira Glass

Right. There wasn't free trade, now there is free trade.

Jacob Goldstein

Freer. Much freer.

Ira Glass

Right.

Jacob Goldstein

Yeah. And what he found-- so he looked at what happened in Vietnam over just the few years after this change happened. What he found was, in three years there were a quarter of a million factory jobs created.

Ira Glass

These are clothing?

Jacob Goldstein

Yeah, like textiles. Like, it's low-end manufacturing, right? Yes. Like, cheap stuff. You know, what we would think of as very bad jobs, right? So there was this quarter of a million factory jobs. And then around those jobs this whole sort of economy grew up, these people at the factory jobs were now richer. They could buy more stuff, so--

Ira Glass

Oh, people selling them food and apartments and all that sort of stuff.

Jacob Goldstein

Exactly. Exactly. And so you have millions of people coming out of poverty in three years. In three years, 7 million people come out of poverty in Vietnam. The poverty rate for the country falls by a third. And to be clear, that is not all because of this one trade deal with the US, but it is a big chunk of it.

Ira Glass

I mean, when you say that, the thing I picture is like, oh-- it's almost like there's, like, a certain amount of misery in the world, and then when we lower the trade barriers we import a little misery to the United States and a certain number of people lose their jobs, and we export a certain amount of our prosperity, and they get to have the prosperity.

Jacob Goldstein

The sort of classical economics answer to that is, in fact, when you have freer trade, the total amount of misery in the world declines. Yes, there are some people who get screwed, but on the whole the US gets richer and Vietnam gets richer. It's not zero sum.

Ira Glass

Right, but some individuals get screwed.

Jacob Goldstein

Absolutely. That is absolutely true.

Ira Glass

I thought you were going to say the idealistic argument is, like, world peace. Like, if we're trading with each other, we don't kill each other or something.

Jacob Goldstein

Also that one. Sure. World peace.

Ira Glass

Jacob Goldstein. You can download the great show he co-hosts, NPR's Planet Money podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

Act Four. Seriously?

Ira Glass

Which brings us to Act Four, Seriously?

Barack Obama

Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science. These are good things.

Ira Glass

Well, the sometimes-fact-free utterances of one of the candidates for president this year has been such an issue that several times Barack Obama has spoken about facts and their importance over the last few months. At the Rutgers University commencement this spring he talked about how we live in a moment when, quote, "opinions masquerade as facts, and the wildest conspiracy theories are taken as gospel."

Barack Obama

When our leaders express a disdain for facts, when they're not held accountable for repeating falsehoods and just making stuff up, while actual experts are dismissed as elitists, then we've got a problem. Look, our nation's founders-- Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson-- they were born of the Enlightenment. They sought to escape superstition and sectarianism and tribalism and know-nothing-ness. They believed in rational thought, and experimentation, and the capacity of informed citizens to master our own fates. That is embedded in our constitutional design.

Ira Glass

There's this thing that we've been talking about here at our program, that Donald Trump probably would not have happened if there had not been a black president. You know, like, Trump rose to prominence among Republicans as the leading proponent of the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. And the sudden visibility that we're seeing of white nationalism during this presidential race-- that is hard to imagine if there had not been a black president right before it.

Donald Trump is one of the consequences of the Obama presidency. And we've been talking about how that's probably a thought that's occurred to the president. But, as far as we can tell, he has not spoken about that publicly. And so wondering what his thoughts might be, we decided to try something. We asked a songwriter, Sara Bareilles, to write a song imagining Barack Obama's thoughts on that and on Trump, and we present that now.

Sarah puts out albums of her own, but she also wrote a Broadway show, Waitress, and she invited a Broadway colleague to sing this, Leslie Odom Jr., one of the stars of Hamilton. Here's the song.

[MUSIC - SARA BAREILLES, "SERIOUSLY"]

Leslie Odom Jr

(SINGING) Let's start with hope. I threw it in the mirror like a skipping stone, the ripples won, son of a gun. Some would not have thought so, but I stand here, Commander-in-Chief.

And I take that seriously.

But along the way, a rogue ripple turned tidal wave in reaction to what I tried to do, the rebirth of a Nation's hatred, red, white, and blue. Is black in there, too? Seriously.

One man rewriting the book on bad behavior. Maybe cheats the neighbors. Feels he gets what they paid for. We can't pat him on the back and send him on through. No man's ignorance will ever be his virtue.

Is this the best we can be? Seriously.

Let's talk of fear and why I don't bring it in here. It's a dangerous word, spooks the herd, and we all bleed in the stampede. Fear makes a false friend indeed. And I take it seriously.

Oh, hear me now, for the truth gets drowned out by a demigod flexing. A demigod flexing. He's history repeating.

Angry.

Am I angry?

You ask, am I angry?

And I'm at a loss for words. After all we've done, every battle hard won, every hair gone gray in the name of this place, in a history plagued with incredible mistakes. Still, I pledge my allegiance to these united, divided states.

Seriously.

Let's end with, why? It's a question I want to ask of us as a populace. Why not take our time for the weight of this story?

Seriously.

Ira Glass

Leslie Odom Jr., singing words and music by Sarah Bareilles. We also shot a video of Leslie Odom Jr. singing this song. It'll be up online soon.

Well, our program was produced today by Dana Chivvis and Susan Burton. Our production staff, Zoe Chace, Sean Cole, Neil Drumming, Karen Duffin, Emmanuel Dzotsi, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, David Kestenbaum, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Robyn Semien, Matt Tierney, and Nancy Updike. Research help today from Christopher Swetala and Michelle Harris. Music help from Damien Grave.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, ThisAmericanLife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks as always to our program's co-founder Mr. Torey Malatia, who is so tired of dealing with radio hosts. They are so spoiled.

Richard Hyde

People stand up when they walk in the room, they stand up when they leave, they bring them coffee, they laugh at their dumb jokes.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.