Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump was bashed on the right for not being a true Conservative. Many hard-core old school Republicans joined the Never Trump movement, you recall, and publicly distanced themselves from the controversial candidate.
But Donald Trump, of course, won the election and now some of those Never Trumpers are searching for new ways to define and characterize Conservatism. One of those persons is Glenn Beck who only a few years ago was considered too far right even for Fox News.
But in recent years, Beck has experienced a transformation of sorts and has joined us tonight to talk about how he thinks we can work together in fact to unite the country.
We’re glad you’ve joined us. A rare conversation with Glenn Beck in just a moment.
Tavis: The election of Donald Trump has exposed an America deeply divided over race, gender, and economic lines, to be sure. Conservative political commentator, Glenn Beck, sees a nation of people at each other’s throats.
He believes that the divisive language and hate-mongering he preached on his radio and TV show paved the way for the incivility and intolerance that we see today. He joins us tonight from Irving, Texas. Glenn Beck, good to have you on this program, sir.
Glenn Beck: Thanks, Tavis. How are you?
Tavis: I’m wonderful. Good to have you on.
Beck: Thank you.
Tavis: Is it fair to say that you have been on an apology tour and, if so, what are you apologizing for?
Beck: I mean, we jokingly call it the apology tour because it’s been going on now for almost three years. You know, I guess what I was attempting to do and what I am attempting to do is to show people that it’s reasonable and rational to look back on the things that you have done, especially with the light of the day now, and say was that right? Did that help? Did that hurt? Did that move us forward or take us backward?
And while it was never my intent, in some ways, my dialog moved half of the country in a wrong direction and moved us away from each other. What I was hoping was that I would see others on the right and the left that would be self-reflective enough to say, “You know, what role did I play in this? Did I do anything? Was I really listening to the other side?” So far, Tavis, I haven’t found anybody and that concerns me.
Tavis: Hmm. I’ll come back to that, I promise, Glenn, in just a second. Let me ask, though, in follow–up, to those who see what you are attempting to do and, to your credit, you’ve been at it for a few years now. This is not a story that just happened with the election of Donald Trump.
You were a Never Trumper before he got elected. but to those who see this as a sort of ruse that this is Glenn Beck’s way of building his new network, how do you respond to that critique?
Beck: Tavis, you’re smart enough. You’ve been in the business long enough. Can you figure out a business plan where this works [laugh]? I mean, I wish I was some evil genius, but I’m not. I don’t find a business plan where you take on the people who brought you to the dance and say, “You know, I think really we are misguided on the way we handle some of the things or at least the way I’ve handled them.”
Take that on, stand against the guy who is, you know, the great savior now apparently, and at the same time, try to reach out to a group of people who despise you [laugh]? I mean, if that works, that’s going to be a miracle and an unforeseen miracle.
Tavis: I’ll come back, as I said, in a moment, Glenn, to why it is you’ve not been able to find any compatriots, so to speak, at the level that you operate on the left. But let me ask first about the parishioners, if I can put it that way. Are you converting anybody in your audience?
Beck: I think so, Tavis. I mean, I’ve taken — I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to listen or watch or read any of the things that I’ve printed in the last really two years…
Tavis: I have, I have.
Beck: You know, I’m not preaching to the choir by any stretch of the imagination. My audience size has not grown over the election, which usually is typical in talk radio, but it has not diminished. That’s pretty remarkable in and of itself. I believe that my audience has gone along with me on this journey because it’s been a long time coming, as you pointed out. It’s not now.
What was it? Four years ago, we put the first sold-out spoken word performance at the Dallas Cowboy stadium here in Dallas and it was called “Restoring Love”. It was all about we’ve got to change our tone. We’ve got to serve each other. We have to approach life in a different way.
Tavis: Pardon the pun, Glenn, but what’s love got to do with it?
Beck: Everything. It’s why I believe I can strongly empathize with those on the left right now. I can see the pain, the suffering, and the fear and it’s what I went through, and half of the nation went through under Barack Obama. Now it’s the left’s turn and even some people like me,
I’m very concerned as well. But unless you can see yourself in other people, you can’t have any empathy. If you don’t love other people, you won’t have any empathy either. I think that’s really what we’re missing here is we’re not hearing each other. We’re not listening to each other. More often than not, we’re not seeing each other for who we really are, that we’re neighbors. We’re all neighbors. We’re in this together.
Tavis: Let me ask you what was the genesis of this Damascus Road experience that you had?
Beck: It’s come in several different ways. You know, when I was at Fox, when I was at CNN, I went from the fourth most admired man in the world in between Nelson Mandela and the Pope. That shows you how screwed up the American people are [laugh]. And a year later, I was one of the most hated people. I was on the cover of Time as a madman.
The story was wrong at both times. I’m not the man between Nelson Mandela and the Pope, and I’m not the most despised man in America. But you can’t have that turnaround that fast and not ask yourself, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. Who am I? Because there’s a lot of people saying this about me, is that who I am? What is causing them to say that?” That takes a toll.
I mean, it’s one of the things honestly that concerns me about our president. He doesn’t seem to have moments of reflection. In fact, he said at one point in an interview that he didn’t like to reflect. He didn’t like time to think because he regrets too much. That maybe is something that he should do more often. It’s something that all of us should do more often.
Tavis: What have you learned, then, about the notion of introspection?
Beck: Oh, that silence truly is golden, that anything said in haste is usually a mistake, that when you take time to really listen and assume the best of someone, not assume the worst of someone, that your entire countenance and your entire view of the situation may just change.
Tavis: So I agree with you and I try to live my life as such where, no matter who I’m dealing with, I try to find, try to look at, the best in that person. I believe that, if we could see our fellow citizens in that way, it might make the world a different place that we live in, if we could try to see the best in people, which raises this question for me.
When there is so much of Donald Trump and there’s so much to dislike, so much to disdain, so much at the very least to not understand, how do you look for the good in that guy? And have you seen any good in that guy?
Beck: I’d like to answer that question this way. I’m not looking to Washington to find good in people because it’s rarer than gold and uranium [laugh]. It’s just not commonly found there. So I’m looking for the good in the average person because that’s really who I think is being misled. We’re all being misled. We’re all caring about things that shouldn’t play any role in our life at all.
Tavis: Let me jump in, though. I hear your point, and if you’re right — let’s assume for the moment that you’re right about the fact that Washington is a cesspool and that finding good there is more rare than uranium and gold. Okay, fine, let’s take that.
What, then, does it say about the demos, that we are the ones who sent those persons there. They didn’t get there on their own. They didn’t get there magically. They got there somehow and we sent them there. So what’s it say about us?
Beck: Well, two things. One, we have foolishly bought into the lie that, if it’s not our side, the other side is the devil and we’re gonna go to hell. And it’s been a very carefully crafted game between these two parties, which I think are almost identical in many ways. It’s why nothing ever gets done.
But also, it does say we want the excuse for ourselves. I mean, when I see people excuse behavior that is just so far beneath public office, I wonder are they making that excuse because it makes it easier for them to behave that way?
Tavis: Back to the point that I promised I would go back to, the point you made earlier in this conversation, Glenn, and that is your inability at the moment at least to find someone on the left to join you, as it were, in this apology tour.
Not that this is going to be an apology tour, but I’m hearing rumors about some deal where you and Samantha Bee may hit the road together. I’ll ask you to comment on that in just a second whether or not there’s any truth to that rumor.
But to the question specifically, maybe it is the case that you can’t find a Glenn Beck on the left because there wasn’t a Glenn Beck on the left, maybe there’s nobody on the left who feels that he or she has the need to apologize because they didn’t go as far as you went in what they said or did over the same period of time. Your thoughts on both of those points?
Beck: That very well may be true. I will say that, if everybody feels — let me ask you this, Tavis. If Glenn Beck drops dead tomorrow or dropped dead in 2010, hit by a bus, would our country be saved today?
Tavis: The answer is no and I pray that you don’t get hit by a bus anytime soon, brother.
Beck: Right. I know. So the question is, I know at least in my family, we all play a role in wherever we’re getting and it may be a bigger role, a smaller role, but we all played a role. I’m not just asking the people in politics or the media to ask that.
I wonder how many of us have taken stock and said, “You know what? I may have played a role in that.” For instance, let me reverse things so you can understand them, anybody who is on the left. Right now there are people on the left who are really, really frightened about Donald Trump and there are a ton of people on the right that think that’s ridiculous.
I don’t happen to be one of them, but they think it’s ridiculous. I have said to them so many times, “Please don’t mock. Please don’t dismiss them. Their feelings are valid and real.” You may not see it that way, but that’s how they really feel.
Why don’t you reach out to them and say I understand how you feel. I don’t happen to feel this way about this guy, but this is the way I felt and I felt dismissed and ridiculed and mocked for it. I don’t want to be that person. How can I reach out and make you feel better? What can we do to come together?
Let’s talk because you might have some things that you’re concerned about that I might be able to say, no, have you looked at it this way? You might have some things you’re concerned about that you could say, hey, have you looked at it this way and maybe I haven’t?
What happened eight years ago is half of the country was freaked out of their mind and the press and the left just dismissed them and treated them like they were un-American, racist, or anti-government people. They were none of those things. I should say some of them probably were, but some of the people on the left are crazy too.
Why is it so unreasonable when we now both have the experience of being freaked out by a president to say, “Gosh, you know what? Maybe we have given the president in Washington too much power.” Because nobody — Donald Trump should not be able to make so many people afraid that, all of a sudden, we could have, I don’t know, internment camps for Muslims or whatever people are concerned about. This is a problem. No president should ever have that much power.
Tavis: You want to comment on the rumor that you and Samantha Bee are hitting the road together sometime soon?
Beck: I can only hope. We have been trying to match our schedules. I’m trying to go with Samantha because Samantha has been really kind and really gracious. She sat down in my studio to do an interview and it was starting off to be the typical interview. She was really trying to be a decent human being.
And I said, “Samantha, this is just going to be a comedy interview where you’re making fun of me and your audience laughs or whatever.” She says, “Well, so what do you want to talk about?” I said, “How about we talk about what we really care about.” So we started talking about the things that really motivate us.
One of the things that we agree on is slavery. There are more slaves today by far than there ever were in the western slave trade all of the hundreds of years combined, and yet we dismiss it. I started an organization called “O.U.R. Rescue.” It’s Operation Underground Railroad where we rescue kids that have been kidnapped, kids that have been sold into slavery all over the world.
We’re going to Uganda here soon and this is a particularly scary and frightening look at slavery where these kids are used as slaves and then they’re sacrificed to a mountain god. We are going to go try to build some shelters and build some rehabilitation centers for the slaves that are currently being held captive.
Tavis: I applaud you on that work, Glenn. It’s high-quality work and I’m glad that you are doing it because it is a legitimate issue. We’ve talked about it on this program before. Let me go back to the comment you made a moment ago about how that interview with Samantha Bee started.
I’m not raising this to cast aspersion on her. I want to ask a larger question here, which is how complicit, how much of the problem are those of us in the media, not just Glenn Beck, but I mean the media writ large?
I ask that because you had to counsel Samantha. You had to stop her at some point and say, “You know what? If we don’t get to a place of having a real earnest and honest conversation here, I’m going to take shots at you. You’re going to take shots at me.“
It’s going to be the typical sort of interview, to use your phrase. So how much of it is that we are not being as real as we ought to be, that we are not being as transparent as we ought to be, that we are choosing sides, that we have axes to grind? Pick your metaphor. How much are we the problem?
Beck: I think we all are, Tavis, in our own ways, some bigger than others. But I think that it’s not necessarily always that we have our own ax to grind. Some do, but it’s not always that. In some ways, I don’t know how to do my job any other way.
I don’t know how — you know, Samatha Bee. If you’re Samantha Bee, how do you do that job another way? It’s comedy, but it’s left comedy. So it’s mocking and ridiculing the right. Do you do it just by balancing it? Do you pull back? How do you do it? It’s what I wrestled with for a long time.
I mean, if I didn’t have, what, 260 employees, I would have been up in the mountains a long time ago. The last four or five years, I have really struggled with how do I do my job and keep people employed? How do I walk this line and move to a place to where I’m not throwing big buckets of raw meat out to a crowd?
And in one way or another, Tavis, we all do that. In some ways, your audience expects what you are and what you believe and you have your own style of raw meat. I don’t mean to put you in that category, but everybody does. What is it that we are doing and how do you change? It’s difficult. It takes an awful lot of courage, especially for somebody like Samantha Bee.
Tavis: It does take courage. I hope you didn’t ask that question rhetorically and, even if you did, I want to take a stab in answering it and see how you wear the garment of the response I want to offer. And I think the answer is…
Beck: I love your language.
Tavis: I think the answer is that we must always be in search of truth. It seems to me that life writ large and certainly for those of us in the media business ought to be about it, as I see it. I don’t want to preach or proselytize, but it seems to me that our job ought to be seeking the truth, speaking the truth, standing on the truth, and staying with the truth.
If you do that through an empowerment platform, but you’re still seeking the truth, then I’m okay with it. If you do that through an entertainment platform and you’re still seeking the truth, I’m okay with it. You can seek the truth and speak the truth in funny ways or empowering ways and still not demonize people. Yes or no?
Beck: Yes, you can, but that’s not necessarily what everybody is doing right now on both sides. Look at what’s happening to us. So I believe you can do it. Is it being done for the most part? No. Is it being done like The Simpsons do, which is if you’re going to pound one side, pound the other just as hard within the same episode? That’s very rare. It’s why The Simpsons is as good as it is.
But it also takes humility, Tavis. I mean, I think that one of the things that, with the best intentions and not really trying to soul-check and really not seeing it, when I was at Fox, I just really felt, “No, no, no. I’m right on this” and it takes a great deal of humility.
One of the phrases that really changed my life came from Thomas Jefferson and it is the mantra of my life. I read this a few years ago in a letter that he wrote to his nephew, Peter Carr, and he was talking about how to educate yourself on everything. And he got to the last one which was religion, but it applies to, I believe, every topic.
He said, “Peter, when it comes to religion, above all things, fix reason firmly in her seat and question with boldness even the very existence of God, for if there be a God, he must surely rather honest questioning over blindfolded fear.” That changed everything for me.
Honest questioning is some of the hardest to find. Go look. Go watch the news. Go watch any of the cable shows and there are very few that are asking honest questions. They’re asking the questions that they know the other person has the response to and then they have somebody to answer that. We’re not searching for truth.
Tavis: No, I agree. That’s what I was trying to intimate earlier was. I believe that there is the truth and there is the way to the truth. And to your point, we ought to be humble enough to acknowledge that none of us has a monopoly on the truth and all of us are on our way to it. So you can’t demonize folk who haven’t come into the truth as you see it, but I digress on that point.
I’ve got a minute to go with you. Let me close by asking — Time Magazine, as you mentioned earlier in this conversation, Glenn, put you on the cover as a madman years ago. Donald Trump has called you a whack job. So what do you think about what the president thinks of you?
Beck: Well, it’s pretty amazing when you start to center yourself the way you should be because he obviously thinks of me more than I think of him. I don’t think of him very often anymore. I’m trying to have perspective on what really matters.
Tavis: Do you have any regrets about the journey that you’re on now?
Beck: That I’m on now?
Beck: Not today, but check back with me in about three years. I’m sure I’ll have tons of them [laugh].
Tavis: I only ask that, Glenn, because in three years, I don’t want you to do a U-turn again [laugh].
Beck: I hope I am on the right path. I am trying to be quiet enough and listen to other points of view.
Tavis: Well, that is the answer always. I think generous listening, charitable listening. You’ve been kindly listening to my questions tonight as I listened to your answers. Thank you for coming on, sir. Good to have you on the program.
Beck: Thank you, Tavis. Thank you so much.
Tavis: My pleasure. That’s our show for tonight. Goodnight from Los Angeles. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.