Politics Robert Scheer SI Podcast

Katie Halper: Trump ‘Broke Liberals’ Brains’

The comedian and host of two popular progressive podcasts offers her take on why the American left keeps getting things wrong.
Katie Halper.
Katie Halper. [Womens Media Center]

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Katie Halper needs no introduction in leftist circles these days. The comedian cut her teeth working on documentaries such as Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein’s “The Take” on the Porteño workers’ movement in Argentina and “La Memoria es Vaga” on historical memory in Spain after the fall of Francisco Franco. She writes for a number of left-leaning publications, including The Nation, Jacobin, The Guardian, and many others; and has most recently reached a broader, often younger audience through two podcasts she hosts: The Katie Halper Show and Useful Idiots–which she co-hosts with Matt Taibbi and Aaron Maté. 

On this week’s “Scheer Intelligence,” Halper and host Robert Scheer discuss the time they first met when the comedian performed on The Nation magazine’s annual Seminar Cruise over a decade ago. The two progressive thinkers also examine the state of the American left—a topic on which Halper has a unique perspective given that she’s interviewed everyone from Bernie Sanders to Breaking Points’ host Krystal Ball, among many others. For her, there have been two recent turning points in U.S. politics: one was Sanders’ presidential campaigns, and the other was the election of Donald Trump. While she viewed the Vermont senators’ runs as something akin to a litmus test regarding the true political beliefs of liberals and progressives, perhaps more revealing than that has been liberals’ reactions to the right-wing president. 

“Someone said to me once that, for liberals, Trump winning was what 9/11 was to conservatives,” Halper says. “It was a moment that they could have looked at objectively [and] maybe understood how the world works, but they totally took away the wrong message from it. 

“We saw something comparable with the way liberals reacted to Trump,” she concludes. “People’s brains kind of broke. I think they were so disgusted by Trump that reason kind of left their minds in many cases and they just became very reactive and emotional […] it’s scary.” 

Halper and Scheer discuss how the Ukraine war and treatment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are two other issues where even Sanders and other progressives have gotten things wrong. Given the dire state of American politics, their conversation takes on an added urgency—listen to it in full in the player above of two popular progressive podcasts offers her take on why the American left keeps getting things wrong. 



Robert Scheer


Joshua Scheer

Rush Transcript

Robert Scheer: Hi. This is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guest, and hopefully, humor, insight, a different generational perspective, all of that with Katie Halper, who I met as a groupie, actually. I was on an Asian cruise, and she was performing, one of those seminar cruises that are usually… Well, they can be very serious. I didn’t want to say dull. And then we had this entertaining, very entertaining, sharp performance by Katie Halper, who in addition to being a comedian is a filmmaker. I love that film about the Commie Camp. We can talk about that.

Katie Halper: Thanks.

Robert Scheer: And you know, went to Wesleyan. I don’t know, I guess you were inspired in all of your political activism and insight, by Hillary Clinton, who went to the same school. Did you-

Katie Halper: No, she went to Wellesley. She went to Wellesley.

Robert Scheer: Oh, it’s different. God, I knew it.

Katie Halper: Yeah, she went to… Yeah.

Robert Scheer: I am never any good when it comes to the ruling class watering holes.

Katie Halper: Right. Right, can’t remember that.

Robert Scheer: But it’s probably pretty similar. And you are also a great podcaster, and a lot of people I teach at USC, they don’t listen to my podcast, but they do listen to you, so I’m going to score points now, having you on the show. And you do your own Katie Halper Show, and you are a cohost… Is that still going on in Substack now? Used to be with Rolling Stone, with Matt Taibbi.

Katie Halper: Right. Yeah, Matt Taibbi’s on a book-writing leave, so I’m cohosting now with Aaron Maté.

Robert Scheer: Oh.

Katie Halper: But it’s still happening.

Robert Scheer: Well, he’s really good. I’ve done a podcast with him. Done with both of them. I have a lot of respect for Matt Taibbi’s independence of mind on the whole Ukraine stuff and everything else, banking certainly. So let’s just jump to it. You’re somebody who started out, I know, because I met you when you were much younger, with very good intentions, to make this a better world, and to use this new emerging media of the internet to accomplish that, and you’ve been very successful. What have you learned about it? What have you learned about power in America, and where are we now? We seem to be back in the worst days of the Cold War. We’re talking about the possibility of nuclear war, on certainly in terms of foreign issues. On domestic issues, we have a disaster of increasing income inequality and possibly a great recession if not worse, and the reversal of Roe V. Wade, so there’s a lot to talk about, and instead of my directing you in this, why don’t you take over, and kind of just tell us, what have you seen? What’s going on?

Katie Halper: Huh. What have I seen? Well, the world is a scary place. I feel like I don’t know how to make the world a better place. I like the idea of… I mean, I guess with my podcast now, I try to, as corny as it sounds, elevate voices of people who are doing important things, doing organizing, or have important perspectives. I try to provide people with, also, I guess an antiwar perspective, which is increasingly rare these days. That’s been very disappointing. I feel like what I learned was that I learned through… There were a couple like line in the sand moments for me. One was the Bernie Sanders campaign, and one has been Russiagate.

Now, Ukraine, and in some ways Trump too, but the first one was probably about Bernie Sanders. I was a big Sanders supporter, and I kind of couldn’t believe that anyone would not be excited, who calls themself a leftist, wasn’t excited by him and his campaign. Now, I get when people think he wasn’t sufficiently left, but I’m talking about people who preferred Hillary Clinton to him, or Elizabeth Warren. I thought that was a very revealing moment.

Robert Scheer: Why? I mean, they might favor finally a woman president, or women’s leadership, or not want an old white guy again.

Katie Halper: Yeah.

Robert Scheer: You know?

Katie Halper: Sure, that’s… I mean, if all things being equal, if we had like a bunch of progressive candidates, who were equally progressive, and one was a woman of color and one was a straight old white dude, yes, I would prefer the woman of color, but that really wasn’t the case. And I think that with Sanders, people were… Some people were, I think, seduced by the identity politics of it, and of course, I mean, if you consider yourself a feminist, then you should be caring about issues like minimum wage, which just a shorthand, Bernie Sanders of course supported the fight for 15. He wanted to raise the minimum wage. Hillary Clinton, who fashions herself as women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights, she didn’t support the fight for 15. Just the kind of shorthand example of superficial feminism that we saw in the campaign.

Robert Scheer: Well, not just superficial-

Katie Halper: I didn’t feel like a lot of-

Robert Scheer: Yeah.

Katie Halper: Excuse me, sorry.

Robert Scheer: I just wanted to say, I met-

Katie Halper: But I feel like a lot of people were pretended to be more leftist, and it turns out they actually were just kind of centrist or had hangups around identity politics.

Robert Scheer: Yeah, and also opportunistic. I mean, after… I met Hillary Clinton when her husband was governor of Arkansas, and she was doing all these deals in the potentially richest corner of the state, ignoring the delta and everything else, and there’s been a lot of issues. Welfare reform, his great achievement, he was bragging about in Arkansas. I spent a lot of time on that, and it was really a wave of denying the value of poor people and single mothers. It was horrible, horrible, and then on the federal level, it was a disaster. But let me ask you, if we look at the Democrats now, including Bernie Sanders, and including Elizabeth Warren, none of them, not a single elected one on the national level, that I know, even Barbara Lee, who I’ve long admired and was a lone voice speaking about up against the Iraq War, have raised-

Katie Halper: The Afghanistan War.

Robert Scheer: … any questions about this drive for an ever-expanding war. I mean, where is “Give peace a chance”? Where is negotiate? For god’s sake, Richard Nixon went and negotiated with Mao Zedong, and the world has been a better place for it. You know, he even negotiated with Brezhnev and Khrushchev when he was vice president. Whatever happened to the idea of, yes, whatever you think about the Ukraine, where is diplomacy? Where is concern? And there’s a nuclear-armed opponent. How do you explain that? You interview a lot of these people, and the few voices that have spoken up, including Aaron Maté, and Matt Taibbi, and a few others. My god, they get called traitors.

Katie Halper: Yeah, it’s really-

Robert Scheer: Right?

Katie Halper: I mean, we had a kind of dress rehearsal for this in some ways, with Russiagate, where we saw people become very kind of weirdly neo-McCarthyite and jingoistic, and talk about treason and traitors. And then I think that that’s something that was very destructive, kind of in and of itself, and it really distracted from what should have been a robust resistance to Donald Trump, because they were just going after him for all the wrong reasons, and they were going after him for things that they couldn’t prove, and they were going after him for things that undecided voters couldn’t have cared less about, and his supporters also couldn’t have cared less about.

And then we see it coming home to roost so to speak, with this war in Ukraine, where I think people are just… It is very scary, and it’s really scary that as you said, none of the progressives are speaking out against it. I don’t understand why, as you were saying, diplomacy isn’t being pursued. I mean, I do understand why. I do and I don’t, but it’s disturbing, and it’s embarrassing, and it’s really disturbing that the only ones speaking out about it are right wingers, for cynical… I mean, not that they have a worldview that I agree with, but it’s just pathetic that the left is ceding the ground on this to the right.

Robert Scheer: Well, yeah. They’ve co-opted, in a way, okay, the so-called left, the squad, and Bernie Sanders, Liz Warren have co-opted what used to be a peace movement, and which kept us sane, and it’s kind of bizarre. After all, Saddam Hussein was no saint, you know?

Katie Halper: Sure.

Robert Scheer: And yet, we all felt you didn’t have to invade his country, or those of us abroad, and I remember Barbara Lee, my congresswoman from the Bay Area, she was heroic, and said, “What are we doing here?” Now, a lot of Democrats went along with it, including Hillary Clinton of course, and Joe Biden, but still, there was a vigorous peace movement. There is none now, none.

Katie Halper: Yeah.

Robert Scheer: And I think fear has something to do with it. You know, the whole idea, “Well, we’re not Trump,” you know? And that whitewashes everybody, Trump-washes. I find this a… I’m an old guy now, 86. I grew up before the war, World War II, and I just find it quite amazing that there isn’t any caution. You’ve got a nuclear-armed opponent. Let’s say you think Putin is crazy.

Katie Halper: Exactly.

Robert Scheer: Let’s say you think he’s another wants to conquer the world or so-forth. Well, that’s what used to be said about Mao Zedong, but Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who by the way, one of the amazingly sane voices now is Henry Kissinger.

Katie Halper: I know.

Robert Scheer: And I interviewed Nixon, by the way, after Watergate, and he was writing about giving peace a chance, and I must say, he looks pretty good in comparison.

Katie Halper: Yeah.

Robert Scheer: And I’m not giving him a pass. I was in Cambodia before and after the bombing. I was in both North and South Vietnam. I covered all of that. The guy was a monster, a war criminal. I understand all that, but when push came to shove, he favored negotiation, and we were able to get along with what was supposed to be the most feared, barbaric communist of them all, Mao Zedong, and the world has been a much better place for it. Where is the voice of sanity, or… This is not left or right. This is people are giddy, giddy on the prospect of actually even, “If there’s going to be nuclear war, bring it on.” It’s goofy.

And now, you know, you got Pelosi going to Taiwan, even the Biden administration knows, what is she doing? You know? What are you claiming? You’re going to liberate Taiwan? The One China policy is over? So you know, by the way, I want to applaud you. On your shows, you’ve been willing to discuss these issues. I notice you have a blurb for a new book coming out on the Ukraine, which are OR… I guess it’s OR Press is publishing, right? And-

Katie Halper: Oh, Mateo Benjamin’s?

Robert Scheer: Yeah, on the whole Ukraine war.

Katie Halper: Yeah.

Robert Scheer: So maybe we should talk about that. Okay, you meet a lot of people. What do they say to you? They don’t care?

Katie Halper: You mean the people who don’t agree with us?

Robert Scheer: Yes, but I’m not… I’m a hick here in Los Angeles, you know?

Katie Halper: Yeah, no. Yeah.

Robert Scheer: You get to the-

Katie Halper: [inaudible]

Robert Scheer: … Washington and New York circuit there, you know? Tell me, what do they say? I mean, yeah, you’ve got people on your show, and as I say, Matt Taibbi deserves a lot of credit, and Aaron Maté, and so forth, but what are these other Democrats that you know and hang around with, what are they… Are they no longer scared of nuclear war? Do they think it’s winnable?

Katie Halper: That’s a good question. You know, I think that it almost… Someone said this to me once, which was that Trump winning for liberals was what 9/11 was for conservatives. Like, it was a moment that they could have looked at objectively or looked at in a way that would have made them maybe understand how the world works, but they totally took away the wrong message from it. I think we saw something comparable with the way that liberals reacted to Trump. I think that people’s brains kind of broke. I think that they were so disgusted that reason kind of left their minds in many cases, and they just became very reactive and emotional, which is funny, because of course, that’s one of the things that they don’t like about Trump, right? That he’s not a great thinker.

But I think a lot of people, it’s scary. Like, we see this with Assange also, and I’m talking about standard-issue liberals, who just believe in, “I may not agree with you, but I’ll fight to the death to defend your right to say it,” not that they actually would do that, but they believed in that idea at least, of free speech. We see this with people with Assange. They just have this weird Pavlovian response, like oh, they think he helped Trump get into office, so who cares if his rights are being violated? And I see this from people who I otherwise would respect, and who are smart, thoughtful people. I think that Trump winning, for some people, was such a disruptive moment.

And of course, Trump’s victory, I mean, or I should say his presidency, what made it so unprecedented was… A lot of it was aesthetic. I’m not downplaying how he was an aberration in many ways, but I also think that some people like to pretend that the way that… People talk about the good old days, when George Bush was president, as if that was some kind of reasonable presidency. So there’s a lot of decorum issues and a lot of Trump-washing, you used that term, which I think Samuel Moyn came up with that term, who is a professor of law and history at Yale. I don’t know if you’ve had him on the show, but the way that things are kind of were outsourced out to Trump as exceptional, when so much of what Trump did was stuff that was already being done, just without a nice finish on it.

Robert Scheer: Hi, Katie. Let me just frame this a different way. You know, in terms of our own careers, I’m twice your age, but we do well. I can’t speak for you, but I assume, your shows are popular, you do a lot of interesting work, you work with some real stars, like Matt Taibbi and so forth. Ironically, I actually came out of the pandemic. I didn’t die. That was a close call, given my age. Nonetheless, I can’t complain. Yet, we’re living in not only a world, and I shouldn’t say not only, in a world of great pain, trouble, suffering, but a country, this, the most prosperous country in human history, has so much anxiety, difference, that the most recent reliable polls show that half of the people, both Republican and Democrat, in almost equal numbers, don’t believe democracy is going to survive, and they don’t believe it’s working, and they go for a dangerous demagogue from the right, not the first time, but they also go for what I would consider just as dangerous, although more effective and more subtle, demagogues from the so-called Democratic progressive side.

And the big issues that concern us go not only unaddressed. You’re not allowed to even bring them up. If you want to bring up questions about war and peace, you’ll be called a Putin agent, and you’ll probably be banned from the internet, that just a few years ago, we could celebrate, for all of its faults, as just an open forum, where people could communicate. That’s gone. People get silenced on the internet, and they don’t even know why and what they can do about it. On the economic issues, the whole Biden, the Democratic Party program has come to naught, and once again, we’re arguing about, you know, it’s the Supreme Court, and who’s going to appoint [inaudible 00:17:09] I’m not putting that down, but we’re really concerned about getting the Supreme Court because we don’t think we can get many state governments to do the right thing, or even get the legislature, the federal legislature to do the right thing.

Robert Scheer: So you know, let’s assess this moment. Where are we? How did we get here? And is it… I mean, can you get on MSNBC? Do they actually… I don’t know. I don’t watch it anymore. Do they interview a Matt Taibbi?

Katie Halper: No, definitely not.

Robert Scheer: So let’s talk about that, the state of media. We have the illusion of freedom, and we did have, for all of its contradictions, the internet gave a great forum. Now, increasingly, I’m talking to people, no matter their credentials. They could have been with mainstream media for much of their life, but if they don’t line up now, they become nonpersons.

Katie Halper: Yeah. I think there’s a lot of really scary censorship, self-censorship too, but just outright censorship, or with platforms like Twitter or Facebook, without a lot of transparency, can remove people’s tweets or remove links to people’s work. We see that, and again, it shouldn’t be… I think that Trump just became this relative… like this reference point, and for so many people, all of their morality and their ethics were kind of built around Trump. So if something was good for Trump, then it was evil. If something was bad for Trump, then it was good. I mean, I saw this with people upset that he had a nice interaction with Kim Jong-un. They wanted him, I guess, to be more belligerent, which never seemed to make sense, going back to what you were saying earlier, with even if you think Putin’s an insane person, what is the endgame? What do you want to have happen?

Katie Halper: I would often ask that question during Russiagate, when people would accuse Trump and Putin of being romantically involved, which was a stupid, homophobic trope, that people should have been better than, but a lot of people got on board with that. But you know, I’d say, “Okay, so you think Trump is a unprecedented and unprecedented existential threat, with dementia, who’s erratic, is a Cheeto Mussolini. You think that Putin is an evil dictator. Both men have nuclear power. What is the endgame? Why would you want Trump to be more aggressive with anyone?” And we’re seeing the same thing now. Trump is not in office, but it’s the same kind of thinking, which is this weird, irrational embrace of militarism, and it gets very jingoistic and embarrassing.

Robert Scheer: No, and they are quite willing to destroy anyone who disagrees with them. I mean, for god’s sake, to my mind, the test case, the one test case that you really have to assert is the Julian Assange one.

Katie Halper: Yeah, I agree.

Robert Scheer: Anybody who claims to be a journalist, whether they’re left, right, center, whatever, and they don’t recognize that what Julian Assange was basically doing was giving the media, and was a part of the media, collecting information that we had a right to know about, in order to have a democracy. I mean, I don’t know how. I mean, the major news outlets used his material. He didn’t fabricate it. It was material we needed to understand, just as with Edward Snowden, to understand the extent of the surveillance state, the extent to which even private organizations were invaded, the extent to which our own government was committing war crimes, and yet, and yet, where are even the major civil liberties organizations? I know, on one of these shows, I criticized Penn for not speaking up enough about this, and the next thing I knew, they were writing a letter to the station that carries the show-

Katie Halper: Really?

Robert Scheer: … challenging me on everything. And all we do… I mean, where have they done it? Where is it? And there is this incredible intimidation. There’s an intimidation in places like Facebook and Google, that they should censor more, you know? I don’t think I’ve, in my 86 years on this Earth, lived in a time quite like this, in this country, where the call for censorship is fashionable. It’s called real news. Everybody else is doing fake news. Anybody who disagrees with your narrative, they’re illegitimate.

Katie Halper:Yeah, and they’re [inaudible]

Robert Scheer: And [inaudible] you know?

Katie Halper: It’s also such a weird… It’s often projection. Like, they can’t imagine people have independent views for any other reason than they’re on someone’s payroll or they want to get clicks. I mean, I get accused of this all the time. “Oh, you’re just a grifter. This is for… What are you, a Putin lover, or you’re just doing it for clicks?” And again, it’s like, “You’re just projecting your own understanding of the world and your own value system onto me, because you do things for weird ulterior motives, not because you actually believe in them.”

Robert Scheer: Well, you know, the whole thing about “Putin lover,” I happen to, when I was working at the LA Times, I was in the old Soviet Union, when Gorbachev was in power there. I interviewed a lot of people, and I was familiar with Yeltsin and the St. Petersburg group, where Putin came out of. And during that whole period, Putin was the guy. He was the sober Yeltsin, and he was a guy who was going to… And he was certainly a strong anticommunist. He saw through the whole system. He was bringing back the… You know, he was a conservative. He was bringing back the Orthodox church, bringing back a sense of pride in Russia and so forth, and they all loved him, you know?

Katie Halper: Right.

Robert Scheer: And if you said something about Gorbachev, you know? Well, Gorbachev was unpopular, right? Because he was telling people what they didn’t want to hear, and so forth. And now these same people, because Putin is a nationalist. Whatever else he is, he’s certainly asserting some national interests, and can challenge our narrative in the same way as leadership of some other countries, including China. They become the enemy. I have not been in a time like this, I mean, where there’s no complexity. There’s no nuance.

Katie Halper: Right. There’s no nuance.

Robert Scheer: The sophisticated position is to deny complexity. Now, the reason I’m talking to you about this is that you are much more plugged into this media world now. I used to be, but you’re there, at the scene of the crime really, that Northeast corridor, and I don’t know how these people get away with it. I mean, for example, let’s take one thing. The old, horrible Cold Warriors, The Project for a New American Century, the neocons, they’re back in this government, in the State Department, not just in the Defense Department. The people who are designing the whole Ukraine policy are the people who have wanted a war with Russia, whatever the system is, and certainly with China. They’ve wanted it for a long time. They are now in fashion, and in power.

Katie Halper: And on the media.

Robert Scheer: Oh, on the media.

Katie Halper: Yeah, like Bill Kristol, who’s always on MSNBC.

Robert Scheer: Yeah, but we’re not allowed to mention that MSNBC is a sort of corporate mouthpiece, that we’re not allowed to talk about the enormous salaries that people make, and we’re not ever to talk about selling out. I don’t even know if selling out is appropriate, because these people seem to all be true believers.

Katie Halper: Right. It’s not even… Yeah.

Robert Scheer: Well, how did they get… I just don’t know what happened. One would have thought… I actually thought that with the collapse of communism in Russia, and the recognition that China could be a useful capitalist country as well as a communist one, and we… I mean, after all, I spent much of my life trying to say we didn’t need to be fighting in Vietnam. Now they favor communist Vietnam as a place to make iPhones instead of China, because the Vietnamese communists are thought to be good communists. The Chinese communists are thought to be bad. Why? Because they care about, what, their future for their people or something. It’s hard to tell. But it’s a time of irrationality, and we have to pretend it’s not, or we’re considered purveyors of fake news.

Katie Halper: No, I mean, I’m not quite as chummy with… I feel like especially now, there’s not the same… I mean, I’m based in New York City. I’m from New York City. But I’m kind of in the… I guess I have a media circle, but I also am considered persona non grata to the extent that people know who I am, by lots of media elites. But what’s weird is that I do think that there’s… And I don’t want to oversell this similarity, because I don’t… I’m not someone who believes that populism from the right and the left is the way to go. I’m not a right-wing populist, and of course, for someone like Thomas Frank will tell you, that that doesn’t even exist. But I do think what’s weird is that I’ll agree with people on the right sometimes, more than with liberals, which is a weird phenomenon. Not about everything, but certain issues, like censorship, or… And again, not all of them, but I guess kind of people who are more on the libertarian right side of the spectrum, which is weird. But it makes sense at the same time, this-

Robert Scheer: Well, I mean, okay, we’re going to wrap this up, but I think we’re really at the limits of careerism, and I think again, you’re even younger than half my age, but I think one thing all of us in the media struggle with is to what degree will you accommodate power and wealth, and to what degree will you play the game, and now, there’s actually a real whip out there. You don’t play the game, and they’re going to get you as a trader. And I notice, like in the case of England now, they’ve got this blogger in the Ukraine. I don’t even know his name. They froze his assets.

Katie Halper: Wow.

Robert Scheer: Because he reports a different way.

Katie Halper: Oh yeah, that’s another thing that we didn’t even get into, is how PayPal was freezing assets of like Consortium News and individual journalists, Alan MacLeod. That’s another really scary thing.

Robert Scheer: Right, and the scary part is not coming from the traditional Republican right wing. I’m sure they’re cheering it on, but it’s coming from so-called liberal democrats. And here, I want to get back to us Bernie supporters. Where is Bernie on this? Why isn’t he speaking out, you know? Why isn’t Elizabeth Warren speaking out?

Katie Halper: Warren is less-

Robert Scheer: They know you can’t-

Katie Halper: Warren is less surprising to me than Bernie. I mean, Warren is less surprising, less disappointing than Bernie is, because she’s never been particularly progressive on foreign policy, and of course, Bernie’s never been as left as you and I would have liked. But you know, Aaron Maté talks about this a lot. He says that it’s Bernie’s foreign policy advisor, Matt Duss, is giving Bernie his advice, and has a view that… I mean, I don’t want to speak for Aaron, or Matt Duss, because I haven’t looked into it, but I know that Aaron, whose view on this I trust, says that he’s getting his advice from this advisor.

Robert Scheer: Yeah, but let me just… Okay, so sort of way to wrap it up, but I think it’s not a left-right issue anymore. We all agree that we have to have international cooperation or you can’t deal with the climate crisis, which is right in our face right now. Okay, you can’t do it, and we don’t have the time to be screwing around. Yet we are in a situation now, where we were urging the Europeans to fire up their coal plants, Germany to get your nuclear back, you know? Follow the way of the French, you know? I mean, I was at Chernobyl a year after that explosion. If anybody tells me nuclear power plants are a way to go, like god, we haven’t learned that. So you know, forget about any… And you cannot have this huge military, and everybody else building up a huge military. I mean, that’s the greatest waste of resources, and polluter, and everything else, and we’ve forgotten that whole agenda, you know?

And again, I use this word giddy. It’s like we don’t have adults watching the store. What is going on here? And now you want to pick a fight with China over Taiwan again? You know? You want to go back to the? I mean, Nixon was able to work out some kind of accommodation. Now you want to break it? And now I have to sit here with my memory of my great late friend, Christopher Hitchens, who wrote such a savage and, I thought at the time, accurate analysis of Kissinger. I now look at, god I hope-

Katie Halper: I know.

Robert Scheer: … Kissinger says something more.

Katie Halper: I know. It’s very [inaudible]

Robert Scheer: You know? I mean, yeah. And then I wonder, what’s… I use this word, they’re drunk on their careerism. It’s like, “We’re going to get these guys because they almost got us, and they’re bad guys, and we’re now going to do it to them, otherwise they’re going to have the hearings, and find crimes against us, and the world be damned.” So I’ll let you have the last word here, but I don’t think this is left-right. I think this is are people serious? Do they really care, or do their words mean anything? You know, look, we had a strong antiwar movement, and you could be against being in Vietnam without saying that the government in Hanoi was enlightened and liberal. Some people thought it was, but that wasn’t the main thrust of the… It was that we didn’t need this war, that the war was not justified, that we could live with these people. And sure enough, Vietnam is still communist, and yet we’re hoping now, they’ll take some of the iPhone business away from China, because they’re the good communists, so you know?

How come we were able to get along, even with Stalin for god’s sake, but we can’t get along with Putin, you know? There’s nuttiness in this, and the idea that we’ve turned our back on diplomacy, and that war… And who gets killed in the war? They’re always going to be the vulnerable civilians, whether they’re Ukrainians, or Russians, or Afghans, and people have forgotten that. And we’re giving the most sophisticated weapons, because weapons will solve the problem. I mean, think about it. We are at a point now where we think arming and getting the most high-tech weapons, and rearming everybody, instead of trying to get to a negotiation, and that’s endorsed by social Democrats, by liberals, by progressive people, as well as by reactionary people, and in fact, you’re actually getting more pushback from the right than you are from the so-called left. I don’t know, that’s my editorial. It’s a really frightening time. I’ll let you have the last few minutes here.

Katie Halper: Yeah. I mean, I think that I agree with what you said, and I think it is scary, and I think that it was an unfortunate order, chronology, of having Obama and then Trump. The left was a little asleep at the wheel with Obama, and then didn’t know how to react to Trump, and focused on the wrong things, and became very reactive, again, so everything was defined by its relationship to Trump. And I think that it is scary. It is weirdly just anti-survivalist to have this gung-ho attitude towards war, and we saw… I mean, what was so weird was the media was pushing for a no-fly zone. I mean, you even had people from the Biden administration and people from the Pentagon were kind of like, “Are you serious? Do you realize what you’re asking for?” But you had a whole room of journalists, basically impatient with the Biden administration for not calling for a no-fly zone.

I don’t know if it’s… I mean, when you talk about careerism, I think it’s an interesting question what motivates people, whether they’re true believers, they’ve drunk the kind of jingoist Kool-Aid, whether it’s just self-censorship, whether it’s just careerism. I think sometimes, people are often… It’s hard to distinguish those things, because you’re paid to not talk about certain things. So you may just start not thinking in a certain way, because it makes your life easier, but it’s a scary time, and people have to band together. I guess you’re right. It is kind of… There is some post… I mean, we can’t afford to be siloed, so we of have to work with as big of a coalition as possible. Because if not [inaudible]

Robert Scheer: Well, I just think that we have to be willing to do what you have been willing to do, and what Matt Taibbi and others, and I know Glenn Greenwald’s not everybody in fashion of the moment, but I love his independent spirit and willing to speak out. And I just think whether they’re doing it out of stupidity, or jingoism, or intimidation, or careerism, you know? I mean, when people make millions of dollars by being in mainstream media, you know, I understand that. But to not worry about the fate of humanity.

Katie Halper: I know.

Robert Scheer: That’s what really-

Katie Halper: [inaudible]

Robert Scheer: … what’s going on here. The place is burning, and burning down, and then what are we doing, playing games here? I don’t know. Katie Halper, let me leave it at that. I want to thank Christopher Ho and Laura Kondourajian, our producers at KCRW, for putting these shows up, and for the station for hosting it. I hope they continue. I want to thank Joshua Scheer, our executive producer, for insisting I interview Katie Halper.

Katie Halper: [inaudible]

Robert Scheer: Not a week without interviewing Katie Halper, and I did, and I’m glad I did, and also all the students. I have a lot of them keep asking me to interview you, so I’m glad I did that. And Natasha Hakimi Zapata, who does the introduction and stewards the show. And I want to thank the JKW Foundation, which is the name of a very independent journalist, Jean Stein, helps fund these shows. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.


  1. Liberal has become a dirty word and had to be rebranded as “PROGRESSIVE ” The Progressive Caucus of the Democratic party is a fraudulent and worthless talk-a-good-game but never take liberal action even when they can AND IT IS NOT BY MISTAKE.

  2. Robert, PLEASE let your guests speak. I deeply appreciate your work, but you dominate too much of these interviews with circling things back to you and your career.

    1. In this interview it was deserved! Halper is a dull, boring, rambling narcissist. Some of her takes, like on Assange are good, but she’s too annoying to listen to very long. Compare her shallow analysis and lack of solutions to this old Gore Vidal video from 1991 that I keep posting, which is more relevant today than ever- besides being a response to those who claims that the neoliberal Clinton Administration laid the foundation for most of the problems we have today (yeah, his admin was awful, but it was symptomatic of deeper problems that are rarely discussed, particularly concerning the existence of the national security state):
      It seems too late now for an Article 5 convention of the states solution, but hey, I’d back such efforts just to do something.

      1. @jho blho

        I don’t agree on Halper: however we are on the same page with one person who’s sorely missed — Gore Vidal — who died before he could see Trump ooze from the gangrenous womb of a doomed society.

    2. To Mark,
      I agree – he even admits early on that not a lot of people listen to his show, so he tries to get more popular people like Katie on his show so people will tune in – and then we proceeds to say “let us have a discussion” which proceeds to be a monologue by Sheer punctuated periodically by his guest saying “Right” …. count the times .. “I’ll let you have the last word” and then proceeds with another monologue! Almost sounds like he was “mansplaining” …

      I much more appreciated what Katie had to say, especially when she talked about being “unpopular” because she disagrees with some of the stuff the “Left” considers verboten, and, heaven forbid, some of the stuff from the “Right” may well be worth considering … I would have rather heard a lot more from her on that because that is where I am as well – the idea that we judge the worth of an idea depending on our opinion of where it’s coming from than on its merits – that is where the “Left’s brain broke” –

      A transcript of this stuff would be a lot more “palatable”

      Re Sanders – the fortunes of the Dem party seem more important to him than his professed principles – proof of that was when he supported Clinton, who was opposed to just about everything he said he supported, instead of Stein, who was actually getting a lot of his stuff on the ballot – So why doesn’t he delve into that – the idea that the “Left” has allied itself for too long with the DP instead of allying with and supporting actual progressive, non-corp ind parties …

      Mr. Fish’s cartoon Donkey Punch is the point in a nutshell … a picture, as they say, that is worth a thousand words …

      I like Scheerpost because of the stuff he reprints from other sites or the folks that write for it – but frankly his “discussions” with guests sound so much alike that when you’ve heard one, you’ve pretty much heard them all …

      I realize the moderator may well not “print” this because of my critique, but honestly proffered critiques, “feedback” if you will, I have always thought necessary – the role of “Devil’s advocate” is an underappreciated, but, IMO, necessary role if we are to have a real “conversation” 🙂

      1. Having listened to both Halper and Scheer, I would have been most interested in where they disagree. Scheer noted that he was twice as old, but didn’t pressure for any age-related insights.
        Both are anti-war generally, but not sure either are isolationist; the US used to be much more cooperative with other countries, but now “It’s: we want your resources and if you don’t give them cheaply, we will take them and obliterate you (remember John Bolton quoting the Libya Model, much beloved in DC, to Kim Jong-un’s face.”
        The US seems incapable of negotiating. Russia tried for eight years (Minsk II) but puppet Zelensky, who ran on a “Peace with Russia” platform, refused to honor Ukraine’s signatures on the peace deal, no doubt at Biden’s demand. Now having lost the Crimea, Donbas, and looking at loss of much of their south coast (all with major ethnic Rusian Ukrainian populations), Ukraine and Biden think that negotiations should go back to where things were before the SMO. Putin, after expending lots of Russian blood and treasure (the stated desire of the US and NATO to bleed Russia, along with regime change), is not negotiating. Obviously Biden and Ukraine are incapable of negotiating in good faith. Besides Biden has moved on to War with China over Taiwan, and War with Iran, with Israel.
        US and Ukrainian oligarchs have squeezed all they can get out of the Ukraine lemon.

  3. “The American left keeps getting things wrong” barely scratches the surface. What could be more wrong than shoving Biden, a warmonger and Israeli boot-licker, down our throats instead of backing Tulsi Gabbard, a strong and capable candidate. Oh, that’s right. Her honesty scared them spitless, so they did the usual trick of calling her “a Russian asset,” as they did Jill Stein. The DNC is on the exact level as the GOP. A pox on both their houses. There’s no “left” and “right.” There’s only money, power and control.

    1. @Rob Roy

      “Tulsi Gabbard, a strong and capable candidate”?!?!?

      L I M A O ! ! !

      1. She would have been a great candidate for VP. Unfortunate that her voice was shut off during the debates, as well as the radically alternative voice of Williamson. Both were willing to discuss values and a real debate could have ensued.

  4. I stopped listening to Useful Idiots because Halper was so annoying, adding almost nothing to the conversation. She is almost anti-funny and unknowledgeable considering her elite NYC pedigree. Jimmy Dore is a great litmus test separating the Kulinski, Halper and Brianna Joy Gray incrementalists who thrive as personalities from the real journalists like Greenwald, Maté and Blumenthal. I understand that Bob rambles a bit, but thanks for the great work, old man.

  5. “The Nation’s 2012 Seminar Cruise…”? WTF…

    The idea that there’s a comedian who can acerbically frame the mental dysfunction USA politics as a sort of PMS or emotional overreaction to something we saw on TV is in keeping with the total incapacitation of our mental commons. We’ve regressed to a degree of an inability to handle democracy, and have become generally fearful and disdainful of it.

    Personality end-runs the hard-work and sacrifice of shared power. Trump threw the switch which short-circuited political power by an over publicity of winner-take-all, in the most base sense. We’re just lucky that Trump has such banal ideas about what to take due to being utterly overmatched by his circumstances. Truly tiny hands.

    Wherever happened to Reagan and Thatcher?

    Adam Curtis’s Hypernormalisation describes how Finance took over politics in the 80s, with Trump as the vanguard, and politicians lost power. Ever since they politicians spend all their time making up scenarios appear like they’re relevant and hide the fact that actual governance disappeared into a black box of the corporate technocrats and the Aladdin computer system.

    Everyone inside is on a gravy train of corporate welfare, and no one who could slow this train down is allowed into politics.

    This week Biden wrote singled out an 80 billion dollar welfare check to the chip industry, after Congress ladled $1.1T into a single years “defense” and “infrastructure” industries; read oil and high technology.

    No, America’s “innovators” can’t do it on their own. We’ve got to get “growth” back on track. Add a jack-booting of the electorate by the Supreme Court and we’ve got the makings of real policy. Joe Manchin wrung his hands and compromised on accepting a huge giveaway to corporations in his state!

    So where does this political comedian fit in? To tell us Trump is the capper for a generation lost to cults of personality? How about telling a joke we haven’t heard before?

    ‘So I says to ’em… I says: My wife really sits around the house!’ Aa-ha-ha-ha! It’s hilarious!

    There’s this super weird take across Democrats today about a need to reclaim and restore conservatism, to bring the GOP back to what it was at G. W. Bush. Trump was a bridge to far. Just ask Liz Cheney.

    This is the messaging I would expect from a party that is enslaved and has run out of ideas for its own relevance: they’ve got a job to do protecting you from themselves.

    Cue loop of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock for eternity.

  6. Katie Halper even now, is a staunch Bernie supporter. It is why I can’t take her seriously.

    1. Separate Bernie’s election platform from his too-frequent voting compromises (and reducing it all to the wing and a prayer that continuing his friendship with Joe might get more than a minimum raise raise) and its what would enable the Dems to be taken “seriously.” It certainly isn’t the antics and grandstanding of the D hierarchy.

      Even now there has been an effective moratorium on affording a credible Dem – even debating credibility – the kind of exposure – for ideas and platform – that might counter the “anything that is said works to his advantage) Trump exposure. It wouldn’t surprise me if merely seeing his name in headlines is all that many need to feel he is, still is relevant, validating their initial reactions to the lies he told to attract them.

  7. A nation of amnesiacs. Very odd interview, very odd reactions by Scheer, and Katie is not the sharpest tool in the marble etching kit. But Scheer is lost, goes back to some faux golden age, and then wonders how censorship just happens? The media, the press, academia, chambers of power, they have ALWAYS censored, deplatformed, moved people away from truth.

    He also doesn’t interview, but rambles.

    This is the West Coast (he’s east coast really) and East Coast lack of ground truthing.

    Some of us are journalists, smalltown, on the US-Mexico border, and in Mexico, trying to pry open the vaults of gatekeepers. It’s work, but we also live with the people we report on. Some of us get advanced degrees from real colleges, i.e. state universities. We go beyond this superficiality. Rest on the laurels, Robert, but some of us in our 60s but not 86, saw the rigged system in our teens. To believe the internet was a freedom highway, ahh, we were talking about this lie in the 1990s.

  8. Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992): “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that your ignorance is just as good as my knowledge.”

    There is no US leftwing politics. There are only astroturf collaborators. The same situation exists in all other US-NAYOYO countries. Amused sneering won’t change anything.

    Anna Wiener, Uncanny Valley: A Memoir: “Certain unflattering truths: I had felt unassailable behind the walls of power. Society was shifting, and I felt safer inside the empire, inside the machine. It was preferable to be on the side that did the watching than the side being watched.”

  9. One of the oddest aspects of contemporary liberal media is their (deliberate?) confusion between liberals and the left. It wasn’t the left that went into hysterics about Trump who, dare I say, was comparatively inconsequential. That was liberals/Dem loyalists. On a broader scale, anyone who knows the political left from right would know why the liberals’ years of promoting middle class elitism within the capitalist system establishes that they are not on the left. The left recognizes that our poverty crisis is proof of the failures of our “free market” capitalism. Liberals don’t acknowledge our poverty crisis at all.

    There were a few times over the past half-century when liberals and the left saw eye to eye. This is not oine of those times.


    A blue collar labor activist, I was trained in the early ’70s by old leftist union organizers. Who told me that “liberals are the ones who leave the room when the fight starts.” In other words, they won’t be there for the long haul. And they weren’t.

    Seems like fish and the sea, to products of the privileged east coast intellectual elite who live totally in its environment, it’s invisible. Its sense of superiority and its limited reality tunnel taken as givens. K.H. does see that her neighbors failed to support progressivism. What she fails to see is that this isn’t new.

    Ask anyone in the service industries how we are treated by the elites. The uber rich who expect the servant class to be obsequious are actually less annoying than the liberals who think they’re oh-so-wonderful when talk to us as if we were semi human. As a member of an H.E.R.E. local, (hotel & restaurant employees) I was among the volunteers who worked Dem fund raisers and victory parties. It seldom, if ever, occurred to D elitists we might be well read with an IQ over room temperature.

    Their inclusiveness comes with a class requirement. Simply have parents who were both college professors, and it doesn’t matter if you’re half Black and half South Asian. Disdain for working people is never far below. HRC let that nasty cat out of the bag with the egregiously elitist “a basket of deplorables.”

    We old labor leftists know from bitter experience that scratch a lib, and that thin veneer of genteel rationalism cracks open.

  11. a money worshipping masculinist—“in America equality means money”. Christopher Lasch
    anyone that admires the ruling class sheepdog sanders is a fascist…this is what the ruling class describes as “leftist”? “to vote is to abdicate your power”. JP Sartre ‘Election s: A Trap for Fools’

  12. who will emperor gates install to replace the international joke Biden? trump or desantis? neither could hope to equal bidens incompetence

  13. Katie is ironical captured by her own critique, in terms of the Trump focus and reaction.

    It was Hillary Clinton and the corporate democrats – not Trump – who are the problem.

    They crafted and used Russia-gate to deflect and avoid critical reflection on their own corporate Neoliberal failures that created Trump. They crushed Bernie. They co-opted the so called “progressives” and Squad. They destroyed the movements, like BLM and Sunrise.

    They embraced what professor Nancy Fraser has deemed “Progressive Neoliberalism” to use identity politics to make pro-corporate Neoliberal economic policies.

    None of this was Trump. He is a symptom, not the disease. The effect, not the cause.

  14. Pundits interviewing each other? What’s the point? I come here for the wonderful work of Mr. Dwayne Booth!

  15. And now we see it materialize once again, and just in time for mid terms. The Third Way playbook has been pulled out by the supposed liberal punditry and it will be run frequently between now and November 8th. Let’s face it, step one has already been enacted. Democratic Party pundits (and sorry Robert, but you and your acolytes are counted in that group) have been busy for the last two months laying the groundwork for the democratic excuse machine in the wake of a potential mid term apocalypse. Just like their failures of 2020 (they should have won much bigger) 2016, 2014, 2010, 2000 and 1994, they are already blaming actual progressives for their unreasonable pie-in-the-sky demands. How dare they not support the ideals of the Nixon republicans that now run the Democratic Party?
    Vidal was correct. There is only one political party remaining in the USA. The property party. It is a flightless bird with two Right wings.

  16. As a veteran of the Nader campaign, I can attest to the fact that the Democrat’s Brains were Broken decades ago.

    You see it right now. The Democrats have never admitted the factual reality that they won the 2020 election both narrowly and on the strength of Progressive votes. Then, the brain-damaged spend the next two years both giving the Progressives absolutely nothing for their essential support, but attacking the Progressives and their ideals at every opportunity.

    We now know what the Democrats believe in. It turns out to be represented by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Wars of Conquest, Mass Death from War, Mass Death from Famine, Mass Death from Disease. All with unrestricted corporate price gouging along the way. The Democrats support all of this, as long as they can believe that it will help the billionaires get even richer.

    Now the Dems are looking confused, because while they’ve met their goal of making the rich become even richer, they can not figure out why this is an unpopular policy with the base of their party.

    Like I said, the Democrats brains were broken decades ago. This has been so thorough, that even now the Democrats are having a hard time understanding that their brains are indeed broken. They all just wander around looking to shake invisible hands that hand them $millions more for their accounts and hedge funds.

  17. At least with the old corrupt Democratic ward bosses, you got something in return. If a neighborhood voted for the ward bosses people, they in return got jobs and money flowing back to them from the ward boss.

    This of course made sense. You reward the people who supported you because you know you will need their support again. You build this into a system, where people support you one day, and then you respond by helping them between elections.

    The modern Democrats are so corrupt that rewarding the people who just voted for them is regarded as some sort of sick joke among the party faithful. Their only goal is to reward Billionaires. And perhaps a few rich families who are only Millionaires for now because they are only corporate vice presidents.

    The modern Democrats have spent the last two years kicking the people who voted for them in the teeth an in other sensitive places.

    Notice that even now, only months before the election, there is zero effort towards helping the American people deal with massive inflation. The minimum wage does not go up. They do not give social security recipients a mid-year emergency boost. The Democrats do nothing at all to help people. Even when the Senator from Fossil Fuels and the Senator from Wall Street reach a ‘big deal’, its all just corporate handouts and tax credits and nothing at all to help ordinary Americans.

    And the notion of actually helping Americans does not even occur to the Democrats. But every day there is a new announcement that $Billions more is being spent on Armageddon. And the Democrats always beam big smiles and look so very proud about it.

  18. Just thought I’d help those perplexed about liberal / left non talking heads support for Ukraine. It addresses the criticism that they only care about identity politics & personality.
    Rank & file are yearning for ideas flowing from ideals, & not finding them anywhere in party or politics. However, an ideal emerged from Ukraine. Self-determination by an activated polity under attack (a real one, w/ dead people). Think of it as spiritual practice for adjusting to giving a damn about insurrection in the USA.
    “why don’t liberals see our truth!?” cry out Scheer & Halper. oh, they see something alright. anyone non-coastal sees it & experiences it & is getting prepared for it – emotionally, by supporting Ukraine vs Russia.
    Elite coastal liberal / progressive / leftists (or whatever the hell you want to fight amongst yourselves over) best wake up & smell the armed Christo-Fascists (20% of the polity, at least) here on the home front. “they live amongst us” will dawn too late in the game… after all, only one nuclear armed nation is playing.
    thx for keeping you eye on the ball, & good fing luck.

  19. Time to stop diddling with liberals, Democrats and fake socialists like Bernie and AOC — who recently threatened to trade in her Tesla to spoire Musk — and start covering REAL leftists like this — who in 2014 predicted what’s happening today and exposed hopey-changey Obama as the charlatan he was and is . . .


    Here’s a valid left publication, kiddies


    Naturally, it’s led by Black revolutionaries, who don’t have time for white liberal ?”progressive” onanism.

    They’re COMMUNISTS.


    See the woman hugging Chris Smalls, the union leader? She’s Justine Medina, a member of the US Communist Party and a seasoned organizer.

  20. Dear Bob:
    I love ya, but you’re just wrong on the Ukraine war. Your July 29 podcast with Katie Halper devolved into a big Kumbaya, can’t we all get along, peacenik discussion. The two of you lamented that there has been no Vietnam-like protest against the Ukraine war, and you complained that too many mainstream journalists (and Americans) are cheerleading the war rather than protesting and urging a diplomatic solution. And that was the springboard to a discussion that the Democrats are screwing things up in this country. Bulls**t. The Ukrainians have been aggressively invaded, with Vladimir Putin and Russia seeking to forcefully seize their land, property and people. It’s Adolph Hitler all over again and history proved that sometimes appeasement is the wrong choice. Suppose I lived next door to you and decided that half your property was mine and took it, using force and arms. Where is the diplomatic solution? Where is the negotiation? What – Okay, you’ll just give me a quarter of your property if I leave you alone? Would you agree to that? Would it be right? And look in the mirror – it is the height of arrogance for you to sit in judgment on how the Ukrainians are responding to the invasion. Get real.

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