Why Is This Happening? The Making of Joy Reid

We’re happy to share a recording of the second half of our double header WITHpod live program in Philadelphia, which was recorded on October 16th. Our own Joy Reid joined us for the most recent tour stop to discuss her fascinating trajectory, including her years in Florida, which have given her unique insight into the state’s current culture wars. She also talks about her time working on political campaigns, the anti-CRT movement, the peril of this political moment and more. 

Note: This is a rough transcript — please excuse any typos.

Chris Hayes: Hello, and welcome to “Why is This Happening?” with me your host, Chris Hayes. Well, we had a great time in Philly during the third stop on our WITHpod live national tour. It’s been great to hear from so many of you about how much you enjoyed it. We’re so thrilled to share the second half of the double header with Joy Reid. Hope you enjoy.

Doni Holloway: What’s up, Philly? Good evening, everybody, and welcome to our live recording of “Why is This Happening? The Chris Hayes Podcast.” I’m Doni Holloway, producer of “Why is This Happening?”. I got to say thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. We have been looking so forward to tonight’s conversation. We have an incredible talk ahead. And as we go throughout the program, don’t forget to share some of your favorite moments online using the hashtag #WITHpod. You can keep the conversation going online by using the hashtag #WITHpod. Yeah, go Philly. We are feeling all that love here in this beautiful space tonight. And I want you to share even more of that love and join me in giving a warm round of applause to our host, Chris Hayes.

Chris Hayes: What’s up, Philly? How are you? So I’m going to do something different than I usually. I’m curious and you can be truthful here and my feelings won’t be hurt. How many people listen to the podcast? Good. So usually at the beginning of the podcast because apparently I need to talk all the time about everything, which is, I don’t know why. It’s my job, but also I would do it if it weren’t. Let’s be honest here. I give a spiel, some sort of take, but to be totally honest, I’m going to cut the take because I am so excited to introduce our guest tonight. The one and only Joy Reid. Come out, Joy.

I would like the podcast record to reflect they gave her a standing ovation, which you can’t see when this is streaming. How are you?

Joy Reid: Thank you. I’m good, but not as good as the Phillies who apparently are up 3-0,

Chris Hayes: 3-0.

Joy Reid: Go, Arizona.

Chris Hayes: First of all, I want to say thank you for being here tonight. Joy did her show and raced over here. So she’s got her own double header. I have known you for a long time. You’re a beloved colleague and friend and I have never gotten to like interview you. We’ve talked on air for years. Where are you from? I want like, if I’m writing, we sit down, I’m doing the Joy Reid bio. Where were you born?

Joy Reid: East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Chris Hayes: Okay.

Joy Reid: So, I’m kind of from a multiple set of places. I was born in East Flatbush. And then when I was two years old, my mom, my sister and I moved to Denver, Colorado. Denver, Colorado. Yes. We got a little love there. And I was raised there along with my baby brother who was born there. So, I grew up in Colorado. And then at age 17, my mom unfortunately passed away. And so I moved back to East Flatbush to live with my auntie. And then from there I lived in New York and then I spent 14 years in the great state of Florida.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Joy Reid: So I’ve lived equal parts of my life in Denver, New York and Florida.

Chris Hayes: You can tell me if this is too personal.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: That must have been unbelievably difficult at 17.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: To lose your mom, to move. What were the tools that you developed in that moment?

Joy Reid: I had no tools because I’m generation X so we didn’t have this thing called self-care that the young people do. I don’t know what that is.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: So I didn’t have any tools. I mean, honestly, you know, my parents are immigrants. My mom came here from Guyana, which people mistakenly call British Guyana, but it’s just Guyana. And my father was from the Congo. I have no idea how they met, but somehow they ended up in Iowa where my sister was born, but I do know how —

Chris Hayes: You really don’t know how they ended up in Iowa?

Joy Reid: I don’t. I don’t know how. I know how he did. I know how my father did. So my father ended up there because he was on the same program that Barack Obama’s dad was, that after these African countries gained independence, there was a food fight between Moscow and the United States to get the sort of big men from these communities, from these tribes to send their sons to either Moscow or to the United States. And so —

Chris Hayes: Soft power diplomacy kind of thing, yeah.

Joy Reid: Soft power diplomacy because the idea is you would educate these African men and then they would go back and run their countries, right? And so my dad came over because his father was a big man in the house of tribe in Kinshasa. And he came and I think what happened is that government, they just literally threw a dart and they said, there’s got to be a place where we can have, you know, an education for our boys that is affordable. I like this Iowa. It’s a short name. It starts with I. I think we go to Iowa. Go. Go and be successful. And he said, okay. So he went.

Now how he met my mother, I honestly don’t know. But the funny sort of story is when he was there, there were actually a lot of African students in Iowa.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: And so he’s in Iowa City and for a while he lives with this white family because you know, there was still a lot of racism staying in the dorms was really not necessarily where he wanted to be. And he lived with this white woman who the mom in the family was named Joann. So my mother is Caribbean. And if you go to the Caribbean, everybody has Ann. They’re Mary Ann, Joy Ann, Joan Ann, Tone Ann, everything Ann. It’s like a very Caribbean name. So I just assumed that the Joy Ann was a Caribbean thing. But this elderly white woman, her name is Joy Ann.

Chris Hayes: Wow.

Joy Reid: So I’m actually named after her. She just recently passed. I got to know her and her son calls himself my uncle. So my Uncle Carl reached out to me when I was an adult and said, I’m your Uncle Carl. And he sent me a picture and I’m like, okay. This white dude is my uncle, but okay. It’s all good. And it’s because Joy Ann is his mom. That’s who I’m named after.

Chris Hayes: So they were there, they met there.

Joy Reid: So they somehow met in Iowa, had my sister, went back to New York, had me, and then they broke up and somehow got back together and had my brother. But there was like a whole period where they weren’t together. So my parents’ lives are a mystery. I don’t know that much about it. And since my mother was Caribbean and, you know, we just grew up with her, you know, West Indian moms don’t talk a lot. They don’t tell you things. So I actually didn’t know that she had cancer. We didn’t know anything.

And so, she passed away and it was like a total shock because we didn’t have the thing where you go through the process of beginning to grieve in advance. We just didn’t know. And I had gotten into Harvard. My sister was at Brown. She was actually away at school and my brother was 12. And so an 18-year-old, a 17-year-old and a 12-year-old, we just were suddenly just orphans. We just didn’t have anyone. And so, my Auntie Dolly, who was the only girl in the 11 kids in my mom’s family and they were super close, so I went to live back with her in East Flatbush.

And my godmother, who was my mom’s best friend, my Auntie Bernice like reached out to me and was like, I’m your Auntie Bernice you’re coming with me. And so I had these two women who sort of swooped in and became like my surrogate moms. And I just came back from Jamaica where we just celebrated my Auntie Bernice’s 90th birthday.

Chris Hayes: Wow. And you know, obviously you excelled as a student in high school. I mean, that is a very difficult set of circumstances in which you show up at Harvard University.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: As a freshman.

Joy Reid: Yeah. And Harvard now is a lot cooler. I have a couple of young cousins that went Harvard. When I went there, not so cool. Not very diverse. It’s at 6% African American. Not even just African American, but Africans and black folks from around the world. And we were not really welcome there, you know? It was a hostile environment. And also, I kind of had lost my identity because growing up in a West Indian family, the worst thing you can do is ever say or indicate or hint in any way that you want to be a doctor or a lawyer because, oh, my daughter is going to be a doctor. I’m so proud. Oh yes. And then they tell everybody in the family.

So everybody thinks, oh, this child’s going to be a doctor. This is going to be amazing. She’s going to Harvard. Oh God, Harvard, we’re so proud. And then I got there and after my mom passed, I didn’t believe in medicine. I didn’t believe that, you know, I was devastated and I blamed the doctors and I was like, they failed us all. And I was like, there’s no way. I would hyperventilate walking into hospitals. I’m like, how am I going to be a doctor when I don’t have faith in it? So I got there and did something that I had never done, which is fail. I failed classes. I was literally going to fail out because I couldn’t concentrate. I was deeply depressed.

Chris Hayes: I can’t imagine being any other way —

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: — under those circumstances.

Joy Reid: I was spiraling. I just didn’t know how to process anything. My sister actually did therapy. I never did it. So I was just kind of trying to figure it out. And it was really hard and I didn’t have a mom. And my mother was like my biggest cheerleader and we were super close. I was the closest to her. And so I just didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So I ended up just taking a year off. I was like, either I’m going to fail out of this school, and I had just had never experienced academic failure. So I didn’t even know what that even looked like.

And so I took a year off and I had to kind of figure it out. I tried to go live with my Auntie Dolly, who I love her to death, but she was a very Evangelical Christian. And, you know, not one, not two, not three, but four days a week of church. It was a lot and I was a Methodist. So I was like, I was like one hour church and then home to watch the football game.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: That’s the kind of church I grew up in. But this was like Evangelical four days a week church and it was too much. So I ended up moving on my own and I moved to Fort Green, Brooklyn. I got an apartment. Yes. And it was Brooklyn Boheme. It was Spike Lee was around the corner. You know, Missy Elliot in her very early days was shooting music videos on my block. Like it was like the Bohemia of Brooklyn. It was that moment, you know, in that era when Brooklyn was just dope, you know. It was just a creative, you know, cornucopia of, of incredible creativity. And I got an apartment and this is going to make you all mad. I paid $450 a month —

Chris Hayes: Wow.

Joy Reid: — for an apartment overlooking Fort Green Park. And I moved into this apartment and the man downstairs had a big German shepherd and he was this big Italian retired policeman. And he was like, this is what you’re going to do. When you come out, you want to always go left. Don’t go right. The projects are to the right. You’re going to get robbed. Go left. And then he was like, if you come home and if you have any problems, you knock on my door. My dog is a police dog. And he’s got what you call a death grip. If he bites you, he’s not going to let you go until I say something. So if anybody bothers you, you just knock on my door. So I had like, you know, so I had like help and I ate ramen and I survived.

Chris Hayes: Then you went back to Harvard.

Joy Reid: Went back.

Chris Hayes: And you graduated.

Joy Reid: Switched my major.

Chris Hayes: You were not going to be a doctor.

Joy Reid: Was not going to be a doctor, switched my major to their equivalent of a film degree. And I ended up getting a documentary film degree because like Spike Lee inspired me. And I was like, I’m going to go back and be Spike Lee.

Chris Hayes: And how’d you end up in Florida?

Joy Reid: So, I came out of school with the idea that I was going to be Spike Lee and all I needed was a crew.

Chris Hayes: A crew.

Joy Reid: So, I need a crew. I need a crew so we could shoot films and I could be a filmmaker. That was my thing.

Chris Hayes: And you wanted to make feature films?

Joy Reid: Feature films, yeah.

Chris Hayes: Okay.

Joy Reid: I didn’t want to do documentary, but Harvard’s super snooty. And they won’t literally let you make.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Joy Reid: They want you to make documentaries.

Chris Hayes: Totally. Yeah.

Joy Reid: Which was against my will, but I was like, okay, fine.

Chris Hayes: But you wanted to make feature films.

Joy Reid: I wanted to make features, but I need a little crew. I need a cameraman. I need a team. So I took a job for $5.40 an hour at School of Visual Arts and became a manager of the production office. And that’s where I met Jason Reid, my now husband who was at the time was kind of my employee because I was kind of his boss.

Chris Hayes: A little Michelle and Barack situation.

Joy Reid: There was no me too movement at the time, so it was totally fine. He asked me out on a date and our first date, we went to see a movie and McDonald’s, and we split it because we both were broke and he paid for the movie and I paid for the McDonald’s. And I let him supersize it, so he was very impressed with me. I was like, you know what you all, you know, usually I don’t do this. You can go on and supersize it. He was like, oh, she’s a baller. And I was like, yes I am.

Chris Hayes: She’s got a Harvard degree. She’s my boss.

Joy Reid: She’s got a Harvard degree.

Chris Hayes: She’s my boss. She’s balling on a budget.

Joy Reid: And so we met. And so it was like we were going to be a crew and we ended up instead of making features, him and I and his group of friends, we ended up doing a music video show instead and not going to L.A. and doing features. We did this show called “Video Dub Play.” We produced it. This was during the, you know, the era when MTV actually played music videos. And so did BET and all these networks, right? And so, you know, we’re all Caribbean, you know, American or Caribbean or whatever. And we started doing this music video show.

And back then it was easy to do it because all of the record companies would provide the music videos for free. And you just put the show together and we did this show. It was like the most fun I’ve ever had. Like we produced this show. We were a crew of like six young black people. I was the producer. Jason was the director and his best friend, Joe, was the cinematographer. And we would go around and I ordered us all these same matching black jackets. And so when we would show up, you know, to like backstage at a concert, like Mary J. is doing a concert or something and there would be all these reggae artists playing. And these six young black people show up in the same jacket and they were used to only white crews. All the crews were all white.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Joy Reid: Even for MTV, even for BET, there was nobody black. So all the artists would look at us and come to us. So we were getting interviews with everybody because they were like, we want to talk to them. We don’t know who they are, but we love their little cute little “Video Dub Play” jackets. We’re like, we’ll talk to you all. So we were getting interviews with everybody and we did this amazing show. And so after doing that for a while, I got pregnant. And then I kind of got pregnant again and because, you know, we were best friends, but we were going out, but we were dating. And then we realized we couldn’t afford to buy a house in New York. And we moved to Florida because one of our members, our “Video Dub Play” crew moved to Florida. Jason went to visit him, saw that we could get an affordable house. So we moved. I mean, that’s economics.

Chris Hayes: That is a microcosm of the entire story of American migration to the Sunbelt over the last 50 years.

Joy Reid: Totally. Totally. Yeah. It was a place where we could get a house with a yard and I didn’t have to run across Eastern Parkway because we were living at the time near the sort of Brooklyn Museum, that area in New York, and you had to run. I had to take my daughter, Winsome, in her little buggy across, you know, Eastern Parkway, like three lanes of traffic going both ways to go to the park. And it was like, this is just not going to work. And we can’t afford a home. We need a house for these kids and we needed to get married because West Indian parents were looking at us both like, so you all got how many kids and you all ain’t married? Yeah. I actually got married pregnant with my second child. So we did it a little backwards.

Chris Hayes: We’ll be right back after we take this quick break.


Chris Hayes: I’m curious about your political formation. I grew up in a household that was pretty political. You know, we talked about politics a lot, the dinner table kind of thing. I’m curious where your political sensibilities came from, your political formation, how you sort of started to think —

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: — in those terms.

Joy Reid: Well, I grew up in a very similar house. We talked about politics all the time. My mom would have these amazing dinner parties and the kids were actually allowed to hang around and people were always talking politics in my house. My mother was a Carter liberal and my father was a Reagan conservative. And so, I mean, their marriage clearly didn’t work out for a lot of reasons.

Chris Hayes: I was going to say that Cold War soft diplomacy really worked but they got —

Joy Reid: It was wild. But yeah, my father was a big Reagan fan and they used to, you know, when he was around, a lot of the conversation would be political and we were a part of it. And you know, when I was in the sixth grade aging myself, I just happened to wander in front of the TV when this show was on at night. I was up a little late, I don’t know, a Friday night and they were talking about this hostage crisis in Iran. And I was like mesmerized by it. And I asked my mom, can I sit up and watch it? And she was like, no problem. And she was a big news junkie. So I would sit up and watch this show that ended up becoming “Nightline.”

Chris Hayes: “Nightline,” yeah.

Joy Reid: And I watched it every night and I became obsessed with it. And then I started watching the Sunday shows and I was watching the news. And since my mom was a big political junkie, we would watch it together. I mean, you know, she used to take us with her to vote when she finally got her citizenship. And you know, I think she got her citizenship, I want to say in ’79 because she got it in time to vote for Carter. And we went to vote with her. We were very a very political family.

Chris Hayes: Do you ever think you would be doing this what you do now?

Joy Reid: You know, what’s so funny, no, because first of all, I made that commitment to be a doctor, which wasn’t really a passion of mine. My passion was really news. And so the way that I ended up being able to shift to that was that my plan was broken. I didn’t have any enforcement mechanism to stay in the premed world. I broke out of it. The documentary thing, you know, or making film or making movies, being, you know, children will quickly disabuse you of the idea that you can struggle and try to be a filmmaker when you have two little kids.

And when we moved to Florida, my Spanish wasn’t good enough for me to get a job doing something like, you know, marketing or something else. So I had to like plan a whole new career. And when I got to Florida, I was like, you know what, I’m just going to do something I like. I’m going to do something I’m interested in. So, I wrote a letter to the Fox affiliate Channel 7, WSVN in Miami. And it was a two-line letter. And I said, dear, to whom it made concern, whatever, I really love your 6:00 PM entertainment show. Do you think you could hire me please with a question mark. And they actually hired me.

Chris Hayes: Wait, really?

Joy Reid: Yeah, but not for that show. They hired me. They said we loved your letter. It was very funny, but we actually need a morning show producer and you’d be an AP. I got $7.50 an hour to come to work at 2:00 a.m.

Chris Hayes: You had two children at this time?

Joy Reid: I had two little kids. Thank God Jason had a good job. He was working at the Discovery Channel in Miami. He’s an editor. He’s a video editor. So he, you know, had a job that could hold us down. And the only way I could really afford to do the job because even with two people working, I worked at Burdine’s Department store during the day after my job writing for the morning show at WSVN. So I would get there at 2:00 a.m. and write and we used to do everything, tape, pull tape. There used to be a thing called tape for all the young people out there. We had to pull tape, we had to write, and I would write, you know, my little morning show stuff and then leave, get on the little bus and go to Burdine’s and be a copywriter. And I would write for the fine jewelry and lingerie departments. So I was writing news in the morning and then jewelry and lingerie ads by day.

Chris Hayes: And you had two young kids.

Joy Reid: With two kids.

Chris Hayes: How long did you do that?

Joy Reid: I did that for about a year and a half. And then that schedule, which is too much for me.

Chris Hayes: I mean —

Joy Reid: I was exhausted. And so I wrote another letter to the NBC affiliate, which was closer to our house. And I was like, I need to be close to the house. So I wrote them a letter and weirdly enough, they hired me to be a digital editor. So I was a digital editor at NBC and that’s how I actually got into news.

Chris Hayes: I mean, that’s really interesting. So, how has doing this job changed you the way you think about politics, the way you think about communicating? Like I’m always thinking about the craft of what we do.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Because we do it so much and it’s so dominant in our lives and I’m curious how you think about it?

Joy Reid: I think I would say that, first of all, the collaborative process of doing these shows, I think people don’t realize how many humans make a show like this.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: Right. And so it’s really forced me to think collaboratively because when I was a digital editor, you don’t really get to think a lot, right. You’re just regurgitating whatever’s on the television into a digital product that at the time, you know, these networks really didn’t really respect the digital world. So they didn’t really care what you were doing and they didn’t want to break news online. It was really a struggle, but it was really your individual project. And I actually quit that job because of the Iraq war. I was so against the Iraq war. I wrote an op-ed for the “Miami Herald,” which the editor titled “Against a Senseless War.” I didn’t make that title, but they made the mistake of accidentally putting my work e-mail on it because you know, you had to publish your e-mail when you did op-eds.

And instead of using the e-mail I sent to them all, which is my personal email. They used my work e-mail. So I almost got fired from the NBC affiliate for that. But a guy named Ike Seamans, who was one of my mentors. He was this craggy old white dude, but he liked me because he would bring books to work and I was the only one who would take them because, you know, you bring books for everybody to take, nobody took the books, but me. So he was like, you know, I like you. So he introduced me to the editor at the “Miami Herald” who gave me an a column. And my very first column was that column and almost got fired for it.

And then when the MOAB started being dropped on Iraq, I called Jason and I said, I’m going to quit my job. And knowing we had little kids and we had a lot of responsibilities, but I quit. And by that time we had three kids. And I quit and I went and worked in politics. And I worked for this thing called America Coming Together, which was George Soros put $260 million ACT on the table to try to defeat George W. Bush. We lost. And so, I couldn’t really go back to WTVJ and I needed to find another job.

I wound up getting a talk radio producing job by just sort of walking up to this guy named James T. Thomas, who was like a radio legend who was starting a thing at Radio One. He hired me to be his producer and then I ultimately became his co-host. And then when the Obama campaign came to Florida, some of my old friends that had been in ACT were working on that campaign. They were like, hey, do you want to come and help us out? I went and worked on that campaign. We won. And suddenly I was a pundit. Because when you win, everybody wants to interview you. I was press secretary. It’s like, you were press secretary to Obama? Come and be on our shows.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Joy Reid: And so, you know, and I say all that to say that

Chris Hayes: Yes. Well, I’m curious to hear you reflect on this. So I think a lot about like 2003, 2004 Iraq war that re-election, the George Bush re-election and now.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: There’s a lot of things I wouldn’t have anticipated, like the fact that like a lot of people that I associated with the worst excesses of the Iraq war have become like leading Never Trumpers.

Joy Reid: Yes.

Chris Hayes: Which I did not see coming back then, like at all. It’s like, oh, Bill Crystal and David Frum really wrote some great pieces. What? And all of the different ways our politics have changed and not changed.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Has anything gotten better?

Joy Reid: No. You know, and it’s funny that you say that. Nicolle Wallace and I have talked about this, You know, we’ve fought on the opposite sides of that 2004 election —

Chris Hayes: ‘04 race, yeah.

Joy Reid: — weirdly enough, and now we’re like great friends and I love and adore her, but it’s wild that somebody like Nicolle, we wound up on the same side. And so, that has changed is that the allies that were created by Donald Trump were very surprising. You know, I never thought that Bill Crystal and I would ever agree on anything, but we end up agreeing on that and, you know, Tom Nichols and some of the people that, Jennifer Rubin, who I used to hate to read her column, she’s like now like, I’m cool with her, you know? And they’re kind of world view about America’s role in the world.

The one piece of it that actually this has changed that I think we’ve come to agree with them on, from the progressive point of view is that the stabilizing influence of America being a democracy actually matters, right? And that if you have that world order in which the United States is not a democracy, that that actually impacts the world in a really negative way. So on that, the NeoCon and I agree. I still think the Iraq war was an apostasy to everything that America is supposed to be doing. And I still I’m glad I opposed it. I feel proud of having opposed it. But I do believe that a lot of people who are on that anti-Iraq war side, we’ve learned to make allies of people who we are imperfect allies of. And I think that actually is a good change.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, I agree. And I think the other thing that that’s interesting to me about that, about the sort of Never Trump tendency is that there’s always something, I think, self-delusional, their vision of America that I think was very destructively self-delusional about how great we are —

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: — and because we’re great, we can’t do terrible things. But the self-delusion is at least an aspirational vision of what America can be.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: And Trumpism is so cynical about America.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Like it really is a bizarre, even though it’s like MAGA and all this stuff, it is a bizarrely cynical view —

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: — of everything like law, democracy, equality. Everything is just kind of this like Hobbesian world of war of all against all and might making right. And like the laws only who can get away with what.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: And there’s no actual higher ideals. And I think that like that cynicism is really corrosive and dangerous and that there’s a weird ideological allyship that’s formed between people —

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: — that whatever their vision of what America can be at least is a vision of something great.

Joy Reid: No, I totally agree with you. And the thing that’s so interesting about the rights war against history is the irony of that, is that no one has believed more in what America can be than the formerly enslaved.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: If you want to find a group of people and had no reason to believe it, because they were being treated like animals and cattle throughout their entire life, and then when they got free, the first thing they did was sign up to vote, run for office. They won office. You know, blacks were the majorities in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi. And they promptly elected lieutenant governors, governors, senators, and joined this black and tan movement that was the actual multiracial democracy that we claim we want.

That multiracial democracy actually existed for 12 beautiful years, right? And then when it was ended, it was ended with a, you know, sort of a harsh (ph) like brutality with extreme brutality in 1877. That deal that ended reconstruction ended multiracial democracy.

And then we’ve been trying to fight to somehow get it back. The people in the MAGA movement share the ideology of the people who ended reconstruction. Because the idea is that the more perfect union isn’t perfect if everyone gets to be a part of it, that we have to have an exclusionary union, that the only great America is the America in which straight white Christian men with money rule. Because let’s just be clear, poor white people ain’t in that either.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Joy Reid: They don’t think they should have anything either. And all of the machinations to try to force the rest of us, to fight each other instead of fighting them, they’re actually quite brilliant and they work, you know? And, you know, my parents we’re both immigrants, they both passed, but they were both immigrants. And so I’ve never had the delusion of American greatness. My parents came here buying the narrative and the marketing of America and believing it. And then my mom, you know, my godmother talks about the fact that they got to New York and experienced American racism in the 1960s. And we’re like, oh, hold on. That’s what America is.

Oh, and they experienced it almost as observers as well as participants because as foreign blacks, with that accent, they could get away with a lot more than American blacks and had to fight for American blacks. And so they witnessed the horror and had to like intervene for American black people. And so they really understood that the marketing wasn’t true, but still immigrants also believe. You know, the people who don’t believe are the people who are like the MAGA folks who are like that idea of multiracial democracy is (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and we’re not going to let it happen.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. It’s a vision of the country for some set of people as that the greatness is a bond between that set of people and the country.

Joy Reid: That’s right.

Chris Hayes: This is a difficult question, but there’s a bunch of grand theories about why we reached the moment that we have reached with American democracy in such perilous, you know, situation. And I’ve got my own theories. I’m curious, like tracking back to that 2004, like what’s happened in the last 20 years, what is it? What do you view as the sort of main causal actors that have brought the country to where it is?

Joy Reid: So I think one of the issues is demographic panic.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: The thing a lot of people forget about 2008 is there wasn’t just an election between a black man named Barack Hussein, like Saddam Hussein. Obama rhymes with Osama, right. Barack Hussein, Obama —

Chris Hayes: Right.

Joy Reid: — is on the ballot.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: It’s a big deal. But the other thing that happened that year is that the United States census came out and announced the date at which America would become a non-white majority country. And the panic that that induced, I think we don’t really remember, but there was a lot of panic about that announcement. And then to add to that announcement, Barack Hussein Obama wins the election, despite folks saying he’s a secret Kenyan Muslim who hates America, he’s a Mau Mau, blah, blah, blah. He still wins. Why did he win? He won because non-white voters gave him 80% of their votes collectively between Latinos, Asian Americans and African-Americans. African-Americans gave him 90%.

White Americans gave John McCain 60% of their votes. So what that election said, right, what that election told white America is that that black man who you think is a Kenyan Muslim can win over your objections. He won over your objections. That happened once and people said, okay, maybe we’re in a post-racial America. We can live with it, but he ain’t going to win again. When he goes to run for reelection, he wins again despite 6 out of 10 white voters voting for Mitt Romney. Oh, now we have a trend. And I think that the same panic that was induced by reconstruction and very wealthy white conservatives, seeing what a small, relatively small number of black people can do. South Carolina, they created public schools, free public schools that didn’t exist before. That was a reconstruction thing. The idea that they were saying —

Chris Hayes: Free public schools for everyone we should note.

Joy Reid: For everyone.

Chris Hayes: In a society that was at the time, not literate among white people.

Joy Reid: Correct. And the trend that I think that very wealthy white interests noticed is that when black voters vote, they tend to vote for very liberal public policy. Things like healthcare, things like public schools, they tend to vote for those things, which also benefit poor white people. That it tends to be coalition building if you let it. And I think there is a fear that public policy that is progressive produces more taxation on the rich.

Chris Hayes: Oh yeah.

Joy Reid: And that’s always been the driving force behind our division, because it’s easier to get poor whites to fight poor black people and get them fighting each other and keep them distracted from fighting rich white people, right? That’s a better outcome for these groups. Think about the Tea Party Movement. Who funded that? Very rich people. And they have been on a project from the very beginning of this nation to keep everybody else fighting each other so they can keep getting richer.

Chris Hayes: I mean, the most perfect example of this, there’s two examples. Two things I’ll never forget. One is that after Trump wins, one of the first things he does is he shows up at this like fancy New York City club the next day —

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: — where people are eating. It’s like a caricature of rich people that are like, I think they’re in actual tuxedos. And he goes and there’s footage of this. We played it on the show and he shakes hands. He’s like, I’m going to get your taxes down.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Like the next day.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: And then the other thing that I think really, the most remarkable thing is that when you look at what are the actual, tangible lasting domestic policy accomplishments of the Trump administration that last. He tried to do the wall. There’s one big —

Joy Reid: It’s one.

Chris Hayes: — piece of legislation. It’s an enormous tax cut for corporations.

Joy Reid: That’s correct. Correct.

Chris Hayes: And for rich people, that’s it. That’s what they got like–

Joy Reid: That’s it.

Chris Hayes: — and they were locked and loaded for that. They couldn’t get ACA done. He couldn’t even get the wall built. The one thing that they could get on the same page about amongst their fractious coalition.

Joy Reid: Correct.

Chris Hayes: After all that, after all the populism and all the, you know, we’re going to ban all the Muslims and yada, yada, the one thing they got just like locked in —

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: — and they were able to get across was that, and that speaks a lot to your thesis.

Joy Reid: Right. And whenever I hear Republicans say, yeah, I didn’t like Trump’s personality, but I liked his policies. I always ask which policies. And I wish more reporters would ask them that because people say, you know, I don’t like everything he did. And I don’t like his tweets, but I liked his policies. Again, which policies, because he only had one policy that he signed: the tax cut.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Joy Reid: And, you know, that’s December of 2017, they passed that tax cut. And that tax cut was so good to Paul Ryan because that was his driving dream. He was like, peace, I’m going to go work for Fox. He left. He did his tax cut and bounced. He got it. He got that money and was like bye-bye. And that was the point. There’s that idea of the first hundred days, you know, and you go back and you look at all these presidents’ first hundred days. President Obama, there were a hundred years of Democrats trying to get universal healthcare.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: FDR wanted it, couldn’t get it past the doctor’s lobby. LBJ, you know, sneaked in Medicaid and Medicare and so we’ve been expanding the Social Security Act little by little by little. The only reason that we were able to get Obamacare is that, you know, you got that 60 seats in the United States Senate, right. First thing, as soon as I got the 60 seats, they’re like, we’re using this for healthcare. So that was Obama’s big accomplishment. Trump’s big accomplishment was to hand —

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: — to, what, $1 trillion. You know, there was a study that showed that 82 families split a trillion dollars off of that or billion dollars off of that, sorry. It’s like, that was a tax cut for like 400 people.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. And what it also says to me and I think relates to the current turmoil of the speaker race, which is what’s so striking to me is I watch this speakership race happen and I watch the Republican debates, is just the sheer ideological, bankruptcy and exhaustion at the center of the Republican governing project.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: It’s like, you know, the reason that Democrats were able to stay united and wield a narrow majority is, A, Nancy Pelosi is extremely good at her job.

Joy Reid: Yes.

Chris Hayes: B, I think there’s like a dispositional difference in the kinds of people that get elected to democratic politics and Republicans, but C, the most important is that there was an actual governing project they were all invested in. Like there was stuff people wanted to do with the power. There were bills they wanted to pass. There’s stuff they want to get into riders and omnibus bills. People are invested in this project. When you look at the Republican Party, it’s like, what are you trying to do?

Joy Reid: Right.

Chris Hayes: If you watch the Republican debates, they sound like someone put them in a time machine back to 2011 with some kind of like later, like anti-woke, you know, whatever nonsense culture war stuff.

Joy Reid: Right.

Chris Hayes: But fundamentally the governing vision is like, it’s what you’re saying. It’s like, let’s get those capital gains taxes down.

Joy Reid: It’s tax cuts and deregulation.

Chris Hayes: Even that feels like they run out of steam on that. I’m just like, I’m watching all this and I’m finding myself increasingly incapable of even parsing what the factions are —

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: — and what the politics are because I’m like, what do you people even fighting about?

Joy Reid: Right.

Chris Hayes: What do you want? What do you want to do with the power? No one seems to have an answer.

Joy Reid: The thing that’s so wild is that, you know, the difference between a normy Republican, like a Michael Steele, and these Republicans isn’t right. Michael Steele and others come from that era of Republican politics, that Reagan era, where they wanted two things: tax cuts and deregulation. And they were very clear on that. The Democrats are the party of taxing spend. We’re going to get you a tax. It’s just tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts. You’re right. This current iteration of Republicans, what they seem to want is attention.

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Joy Reid: What they want is to be on Fox and to be online and to have a hit podcast and to be seen.

Chris Hayes: What freaks.

Joy Reid: They just want to be seen. They want to be heard. They just want to yell and scream. And the thing about the Republican Party is that if they wanted something, they are more of a monochromatic party. They are 90% white.

Chris Hayes: It should be easier to get everyone together. They have less difference.

Joy Reid: It’s like herding cats. Democrats have blacks, gays, Jewish people, Christians.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Joy Reid: People who are irreligious, Asians, you know, we have everybody. Democrats are such a polyglot, moving us to the left is impossible. It is a mess, and I’ve been a Democrat. You know, I’ve a show where I’m allowed to save my party affiliation. I’ve been a Democrat my whole life. They’re a hot mess. Democrats are a mess. They’re every iteration, every age, you got young people, old people, we just got everything. You got like, you know, old hippies from the 60’s.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: Then you got young folks. You got everybody.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: And we have to make them all move in one direction. It’s impossible.

Chris Hayes: Yes, and it’s very hard. Coalition politics, exactly. And yet, so much better at doing it.

Joy Reid: But you know why? Because Democrats, whether you are a, you know, hippie from the 60’s or you’re a member of the squad, there are a certain number of things you want and that you both want —

Chris Hayes: That’s right.

Joy Reid: You want healthcare. All of you all agree.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Joy Reid: Right? You all agree that people should have healthcare, that people shouldn’t die of treatable diseases.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: Right. You agree that you want gun reform. Actually, a lot of Republicans want it, too. You agree that women should control your own body. And so for as much of as a polyglot, like sort of —

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Joy Reid: — you know, mess as Democrats are, there are certain ideas they agree on. People should have the right to vote.

Chris Hayes: More of our conversation after this quick break.


Chris Hayes: This brings us to the sort of, I think, final theme here, which is why I think it has been so hard to both replace Trump or reproduce his effect.

Joy Reid: Yes.

Chris Hayes: It is interesting how many people have tried to be like him and failed. And we saw that in the midterms, right?

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: There were people that were, you know, the Kari Lakes and the Blake Masters and the Doug Mastrianos. Like that guy ran an exceptionally terrible race. It was almost impressive.

Joy Reid: Horrible.

Chris Hayes: It was like, just, yeah. What’s the opposite of a good campaign. But like, it has proven to be difficult. I think it’s going to prove to be difficult in the speakership. And partly I think it is because his strange charisma and he has genuine charisma, married to his bizarre feral instinct for people’s kind of worst parts of themselves, and his own deep and sort of almost unparalleled brokenness combines to create a thing that is just hard to copy.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: And right now it’s holding together a coalition that doesn’t actually know what it wants to do as a governing vision and wielding power.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: And when you take it away, when you take it out and you run, you have the Republican debates or you have a speakership race, obviously he’s involved in that, that vacuum is very apparent.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: And it’s not like, yeah, Jim Jordan, he’s sort of, you know, he’s a Trump faction guy. He’s been endorsed by Trump.

Joy Reid: Right.

Chris Hayes: He’s Trump-like, but he ain’t Trump.

Joy Reid: No.

Chris Hayes: You know what I mean? Like, and you see that with everyone that tries to do this.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Which makes me wonder, and I find as a sort of slightly hopeful note, which is that there is something sui generis to the deep malevolence of him as a figure that is obviously born of structural things like the panic and the demographic backlash, but that so far I have not seen anyone. And the person who was supposed to do that, person that you cover a lot on your show, is Ron DeSantis.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: I’m going to put like five minutes on the clock to talk about how badly his campaign has sucked.

Joy Reid: I mean, he’s the inverse of Trump, right? He’s the inverse of Trump.

Chris Hayes: Because he has negative charisma.

Joy Reid: Negative charisma.

Chris Hayes: It genuinely is impressive how uncharismatic he is.

Joy Reid: It is. And the only place Ron DeSantis could ever be elected to dog catcher is Florida where a puddle of warm poop could get elected as long as it’s a Republican puddle of warm poop.

Chris Hayes: Why, though? Here’s the miniature version of the Ron DeSantis story. The structural features of the state’s demographic and voting populations —

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: — changed in a way that made him look more successful as a politician than he actually is. And there was a little bit of a mistake happening in the analysis and you were out front on this. This was the Joy Reid take.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: I’ve heard this take next to me at the table. Was it the COVID? I think there’s like a COVID influence.

Joy Reid: There’s a COVID thing. Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. Like a selection effect that happened during COVID.

Joy Reid: The very brief story of Ron San is that, number one, Florida is a state that is the most elderly state. Pennsylvania, and it sort of go back and forth over of which is the most elderly state. It’s a state with a lot of older folks and it’s a state with a lot of retired people and they care about literally one thing: low taxes. That’s it. Keep my taxes low.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Joy Reid: And so, Republicans have a structural advantage because they’re the low taxes party. They’re the party that will never implement a higher state income tax. And so, they all get elected almost no matter what. It’s very hard for a Democrat to get elected in that state, period. There was a candidate named Alex Sink, who was for a while their COO, and Alex Sink was a Democrat, she was also a woman. But the way that Alex Sink won is that Alex Sink never put her picture on any of her ads and people thought that was a guy. And so they were like, oh, a guy named Alex Sink. I think I can elect him.

And then they found that it was a, her and they were like, oh. And then when she tried to run for other stuff, they were like, we now know who you are. Please leave. And so, you know, he gets elected because all Republicans get elected. So, right? So he comes in, Ron DeSantis, in 2018 —

Chris Hayes: Narrow win. Much narrower. Yeah.

Joy Reid: Narrowly, he beat his African-American opponent who galvanized black Floridians in a way that only Barack Obama had before him. He beats him by 38,000 votes, fairly squeaks in, but he wins. When it comes time for his re-elect, he basically benefited from the fact that other than Barack Obama being there, and I’m saying this, having done two elections there, voter turnout and generating voter turnout is very hard in Florida. Younger Floridians, African-Americans, Latinos, they voted very, very low rates. You have to drag them out of the polls unless Barack Obama is literally on the ballot.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: And so, he takes advantage of the fact that 1.3 million people stayed home. One of the ways he helped to generate that was by introducing a fear factor. Florida had voted to allow to re-enfranchise former felons. They voted for that by 65% white, black, Latino, everyone voted for it. He comes in the Republican legislature implements what amounts to a poll tax saying you have to pay all these fees and fines before you can get your voting rights back. It’s like 50 grand for some people. They can’t afford it. But some people, you know, their case had been adjudicated, they think they can vote. They go into the DMV, they’re given a voter card. They’re like, I can vote. He then ostentatiously arrests a bunch of them, makes sure it’s on TV, humiliates these people.

Chris Hayes: That was —

Joy Reid: And terrifies people. I have friends that work in elections down there and said black folks who have no criminal record were scared. They were like, I’m not going to risk getting arrested and black turnout plummets. He wins by omission. People just don’t come out and vote. And then there’s a combination of that and apathy in the state. Again, without Barack Obama on, and with that 38,000 loss demoralized a lot of black voters. And there was just this sort of (inaudible), people just didn’t vote.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: And so, people perceive him as having this great victory, but it was a great victory because people just didn’t vote.

Chris Hayes: Well, the thing I always pointed, too, is that like he and Rubio run by the exact same amount more or less. You know what I mean?

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: Clearly there was something structural going on.

Joy Reid: Totally.

Chris Hayes: And you saw it up and down. Now, people, the story that he told was the reason you had Republicans doing so well in Florida up and down the ballot was the DeSantis coattails.

Joy Reid: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: That was the story. Rather than he was a beneficiary of the same structural factors that was driving Republican victories everywhere.

Joy Reid: Right.

Chris Hayes: And then the primary got to be the rare randomized controls trial of the hypothesis.

Joy Reid: Yeah. And then —

Chris Hayes: Like, is this guy like a once in a generation politician?

Joy Reid: Exactly. Well, and —

Chris Hayes: I think we have an answer.

Joy Reid: Well, and the thing is he benefited from switching his position on COVIC. So what Ron DeSantis did I think is one of the most cynical things that anybody did when it came to COVID.

Chris Hayes: I agree.

Joy Reid: He essentially said I’m opening up the state, but before he did that, he made sure to get the vax —

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Joy Reid: — which he claims he isn’t for to all the older folks.

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Joy Reid: Because he wanted to make sure that Florida didn’t have a disproportionately high death toll among old because it’s got so many seniors. But he made sure that the older folks that got it were mainly richer and white. He put it in Publix. Publix is a supermarket that does not exist in the hood. It doesn’t exist in lower income areas. So he made sure by strategically partnering with Publix, which is, you know, the lady who owns it and founded it is a MAGA Trumper.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: So, he partners with Publix to make sure rich white people in Florida get the vax. Then he does a thing where he says, no, you need to take Regeneron. We don’t have to worry about to vax you younger people. Go to this pop-up clinic and that’s where you can get treated. So go ahead and get COVID. He refuses to let schools have mask mandates. He sues cruise lines if they try to have mask mandates for the vaccine. He basically says this state is open now that he’s protected the older people. And he does this ostentatious way of saying we will not protect against COVID. We will simply treat COVID with a drug that happens to be made by one of my donor’s companies

That actually produced a disproportionally high rate of death in Florida. But the storyline was the Bill Maher storyline. This is the best place in the whole country. It’s the only place you can go to a comedy club, go to a club. You can go to the barbershop, you can go to the gym. And so the perception of people who were frustrated with the closures was that Florida is paradise. And so, he rode that into people thinking he might be the answer. He’s Trump without the baggage, okay. But unfortunately he’s not Trump at all.

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Joy Reid: He literally has no charisma. Even Republican friends of mine in Florida can’t stand him. They’re like, we don’t even like this guy, but we are very happy to send him to Washington if you want him. But he also had a super majority in the state legislature that were like, what do you need in order to win? He was like, I’m going to need a six week abortion ban. I’m going to need to ban all these books. I’m going to need to ban drag shows. I need to put on a big show of shutting down drag shows. I need to shut down, you know, black history. He did all the things because he has Christopher Rufo, who is the architect of this phony strategy of making up a fake version of CRT advising him.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Joy Reid: And so, he’s essentially creates in Florida what you could call a sort of white utopia where if you are white, it’s literally illegal to make you feel uncomfortable in Florida, literally. The Stop Woke Act means that you are not allowed to make white children feel uncomfortable. You make black kids feel uncomfortable. You make gay kids feel uncomfortable, but not white people or white children. And so, he creates a sort of white utopia model, which the national Republican say, great, we can have that without the baggage.

But here’s the problem, Trump’s quote, unquote “baggage” is also his strength. It’s his charismatic approach —

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Joy Reid: — and his ability to communicate in a way that is sometimes funny, is sometimes not self-deprecating, but like deprecating of other people, but with a comedy that twists to it. He still knows how to perform like he did on “The Apprentice.” And he still seems roughly like the guy from “The Apprentice.” And so, a lot of Americans don’t find him threatening. They find him amusing. The media finds him amusing. And so DeSantis doesn’t have that skill set. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t have any communicative skills at all. And he doesn’t seem to like people, but you kind of need to, if you want to be a politician.

Chris Hayes: Well, I think —

Joy Reid: And he eats pudding with his fingers, which is disgusting.

Chris Hayes: I will say this. Your thesis, you predicted that he would absolutely flame out in the primary and you have so far. I mean, again, you never know what happens. We learned it’s a crazy world.

Joy Reid: It is.

Chris Hayes: I always think about New Year’s Eve of 2019 into 2020, when I was thinking about like, what am I going to do in 2020? What’s in store this year? So we don’t know the future, but you predicted that correctly, and you predict many things correctly and you are an incredible asset to American public conversation and to our network.

Joy Reid: Thank you.

Chris Hayes: Everybody, Joy Reid.

Joy Reid: Thank you. Thank you, Chris.

Chris Hayes: Philadelphia, you have been amazing. Incredible stamina on a Monday night. We are so honored and grateful for your attention. Have a great night.

Once again, my great thanks to my good friend and colleague Joy Reid. I love that conversation. I learned so much about her. I’m just so glad that we did that. I hope you enjoyed it, too. You can get in touch with us on X, the site formerly known as Twitter using the hashtag #WITHpod. You can follow us on TikTok by searching WITHpod. Threads now has a search function. You can follow us there. Look for us there on hashtag #WITHpod or @chrislhayes, which is my handle or Bluesky, where I’m at @chrislhayes as well. “Why is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News produced by Doni Holloway and Brendan O’Melia. This episode was engineered by Bob Mallory and features music by Eddie Cooper. Aisha Turner is the executive producer of MSNBC Audio. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here by going to nbcnews.com/whyisthishappening.

“Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by Doni Holloway and Brendan O’Melia, engineered by Bob Mallory and featuring music by Eddie Cooper. Aisha Turner is the executive producer of MSNBC Audio. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here by going to NBCNews.com/whyisthishappening?

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