Juan Williams was in North Texas last week, speaking at events sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Dallas-Fort Worth. He’s written a new book called “We The People.” He explores modern-day Americans who extend the Founding Fathers’ original vision of the United States.
Williams is a political analyst for Fox News Channel. He’s a former NPR analyst and correspondent.
Williams sat down to talk about his book, presidential politics – and life after NPR.
Interview Highlights: Juan Williams on …
… On what “a new generation of American founders” -- people like Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt -- have in common:
What they all have in common is that they have shaped America as we live in it in 2016. Here we are caught up in the middle of a political storm. Nobody like Donald Trump, I think, has been on the political scene in my lifetime. People say it’s like a Ross Perot or like a Pat Buchanan. But I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this. We see the Republican Party imploding at the moment as a result, in terms of its ideological heritage no longer being carried by the party’s leader, its nominee. And on the Democratic side, you see a socialist insurgent, challenging the Democratic Party. … This is quite a moment. The idea is that all of the people in the book, about 24 of them, are people who have been the drivers of change in America as we live it.
… On what the founding fathers would think of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump:
I think at first, they would say ‘well, we know nasty politics.’ They would call each other all sorts of names. I think what would shock them about Trump is the degree to which he’s able to manipulate mass media. They knew media – they had penny press -- but they didn’t know anything like Twitter. They weren’t tweeting – and not at 2 o’clock in the morning. And that whole notion that he can go beyond the news business and be directly in relationship, I think, would concern them. They spoke of fear of tyrants, of demagogues. Alexander Hamilton, writing in the Federalist Papers, and others and Madison saying 'when we have to deal with demagogues and tyrants that could be the end of us.'
… On how large chunks of people in a recent poll said they feel like a stranger in their own country – Republicans, Democrats and independents:
When you talk to people, it’s the discontent, it’s the anxiety, it’s the distrust. You see it in those poll numbers where people say it’s not the country I grew up in. I feel like a stranger in my own land. People assume this is coming from white, conservative Republicans. But what you see it’s like half of independents, more than a third of Democrats. People might think it’s older whites. Yes it is. But it’s over half of blacks who think the same thing.
… On whether people are afraid of changes and whether those changes have been accelerating in recent years:
If you have any question about people being anxious about change, think about Trump’s slogan ‘Make America Great Again.’ As if ‘let’s go back, let’s slow down this change.’ In the book, I cite two futurists … and they said if you think of America as having gone through 100 years of change in 20th century, in the 21st century it will be like going through 10,000 years of change.
… On life after NPR and what lessons he’s learned following the high-profile firing. (In 2010, NPR fired Williams for comments he made, saying he was concerned about going on a plane and seeing people wear Muslim garb. He later said he was fired for telling the truth.)
The takeaway, for me, is painful. I’m still a big NPR fan. I had a great relationship with the NPR audience. It’s like family to me. When you have that kind of estrangement there’s a lot of difficulty. I understand the politics involved. Sometimes in media we think we’re not politicians. … At this point, people see us as having political influence and as such you get some political blowback, criticism, lack of trust, in what we do and say. My bosses at the time said it was bigotry or that it was evidence of my being mentally unstable. I said: ‘Wow, where is that coming from? There’s no evidence of that in my career that would suggest a sort of ad hominem criticism.’ But that’s what happened. And, as you can tell, I live with that pain.