My speech at the March for Truth in St Louis

Today I spoke at the March for Truth at St Louis. Thank you to everyone who came out to the Arch and heard me speak and a special thank you to the organizers! Below is a loose transcript of my talk:

It’s great to be talking to you all in St. Louis. Since the election, I’ve been flying around the world giving talks in other countries, but this is my home, this is my favorite place to be, so thank you for turning out.

I’m a journalist who covers US politics, but I also got my PhD at Wash U studying former Soviet authoritarian states. I studied countries like Uzbekistan, a country ruled by an egomaniac dictator who abused executive privilege to enhance his personal wealth, who persecuted anyone who opposed him, who deemed the media his enemy, and who had this fashion designer daughter who kept getting involved in state affairs despite her total lack of qualifications and total lack of interest in the well-being of her countrymen…

Yeah, it sounds familiar to me too. And when my knowledge of an authoritarian state like Uzbekistan becomes relevant to understanding the USA, you know we’ve got serious problems.

But that’s why I’m so glad to be talking to you today in St Louis. I actually think, as residents of St Louis, or other parts of Missouri, or Metro East, or wherever you came in from, that we may be better equipped than most to handle the threat to our rights that is Donald Trump’s administration.

And that, my friends, is because out here we know corruption. We are surrounded by corruption, we see it every day. We know corruption, we know injustice, we know pain, we know betrayal, and we know what it’s like to have to fight back.  We know to never take our rights for granted.

For years, I have been watching St Louis stand up and fight back – for civil rights, for voting rights, for a living wage, for all that we as citizens deserve yet are frequently denied. I watched you fight for justice in Ferguson, despite brutality and threats. I watched you fight against bigotry at the Peabody Opera House last year, when Donald Trump came in and pretended to speak for us, pretended to care about a region of the US he and his elite group of backers have always held in contempt. I watched him cower at our protesters, because Trump talks tough, but he can’t handle dissent – and he sure as hell can’t handle dissent St. Louis-style.

I have watched you fight back because you know standing up for your countrymen, your fellow citizens, is always the right thing to do. And here, today in St Louis, we are standing up not only for ourselves, but for all Americans, and for America itself — for the America we deserve, which is not the America we have. We are demanding justice, and in order to get justice, we need to know the truth.

Despite what politicians and pundits tell you, truth always matters. They say that truth is irrelevant now, that we live in a “post-truth world” of so-called “alternative facts”.

But here’s my question: if truth doesn’t matter, why is this administration trying so hard to suppress it?

If there is nothing to investigate, why does Trump keep firing the investigators?

You know the answer to that. Trump is a con man. He is a shakedown artist, a grifter, a hustler who is too weak to hustle on his own so he relies on a team of wealthy backers to thread legal loopholes and shield himself from prosecution. That is how Donald Trump has operated his whole life. You know his type in St Louis, because we see guys like Trump all the time. He is the slumlord letting your building rot, he is the paid-off politician disregarding the people he’s supposed to represent, he is the Stan Kroenke of politics, the kind of swindler who takes the money and runs – no loyalty, no honesty, no interest in the people beyond making a profit.

And now we’ve got this anti-American con artist as our president. We have a kleptocrat who is stripping America down for parts and abusing executive power to enhance his personal wealth. If you knew anything about Trump from the last forty years, none of this should surprise you.

It’s true that we have had major scandals in the White House before. We had Watergate under Nixon, we had George W Bush’s false pretext for the Iraq War.

But what Trump is doing is very different, and it is much worse.

For until now, the fundamental question about our president has never been: “To which country do his greatest loyalties lie?” Until Trump, sovereignty was something Americans could take for granted. This is no longer true in the United States.

And it appears, from all evidence, that Trump’s greatest loyalties lie not to the country he has been elected to serve, but to Russia.

I have been covering the Russian interference scandal since last year, when many dismissed it as fantastical, despite the mass of evidence that was already in the public domain. If I were to list all the evidence showing that Trump and his team have colluded with the Kremlin – and worse, that the executive branch may have been infiltrated – we would be here all week. I could talk about campaign manager turned foreign agent Paul Manafort who worked in the service of Russian oligarchs; about the illegal backchannel Jared Kushner tried to establish with Kremlin officials; about the many members of the Trump administration who lied about meeting Kremlin officials; about former national security advisor Michael Flynn who is a confirmed foreign agent not only for Russia but for Turkey. And there are dozens more implicated from there.

I could talk about how Trump himself: how has been obsessed with working with Russia for over thirty years, how he has never deviated from his praise of Putin, how he has numerous ties with Russian oligarchs and mobsters, how his businesses have been propped up with Russian money for decades.

Trump and Russian officials collude brazenly, and then they lie brazenly, and that audacity, paradoxically, is why I think a lot of Americans had trouble accepting that this is really happening.

But I have studied authoritarian regimes my whole life, and this is how they operate. Lies are a signal of power, and they want that lie big, because the purpose of a brazen lie is to say “We know that you know what we did, and we do not care, because there is nothing you can do about it.”

But there are things we can do about it. And we, as citizens, need to be the ones doing it, because some of our elected officials – I’m looking at you, Roy Blunt – are not doing their jobs. They are not serving the public. We need to apply pressure on our representatives, we need to make our concerns known, and we need to fight for our freedom and our sovereignty, or we may lose them even more than we already have.

We need a non-partisan, independent commission to investigate Russian interference not only in the 2016 election, but right now. Because if you think this ended in November, you’re kidding yourself. Just ask the Russian officials who Trump gave classified information to in the White House two weeks ago.

We need an objective, transparent and thorough look at what Trump and the Kremlin have done. Russian interference is not a partisan issue. National security is never a partisan issue. This is about the freedom and sovereignty of Americans. This is about all citizens, no matter their party affiliation or if they have a party affiliation at all, getting the answers they deserve.

It has been nearly a year since Democrat Harry Reid begged James Comey to release information about Russian interference because he feared it would, and I quote “falsify the election results”. It’s been seven months since Republicans John McCain and Lindsay Graham similarly demanded that information about Trump’s relationship with Russia be made public.

This is information you deserve to know.

But we cannot stop with merely demanding an honest investigation. We also need an unbiased and trustworthy justice system. The justice system in the US has always been flawed – I don’t need to convince people in St Louis of that. We’ve seen injustice at a local level, and now we see it at its absolute worst at a national level, particularly in individuals like Jeff Sessions – a long-time opponent of civil rights who also met with Russian officials and then lied about it, committing perjury in the process.

Jeff Sessions cannot be trusted to bring this administration to justice, because Jeff Sessions cannot be trusted, period.

And he is hardly alone in abusing his power to stop justice from being served. So we need not only investigators that we can trust to do their jobs honorably, but a justice system that can be trusted to act on the findings of the investigation, and if crimes are confirmed, to hold criminals accountable.

The administration likes to portray citizens, especially out here in the Midwest where we live, as passive, as compliant, as uninterested in justice and law. What they are really hoping for is that we will be complacent, that we not defend the honor of our country or the sanctity of our laws, that we’ll just stand by silently and let them get away with it.

But we are St. Louis! We have witnessed injustice so many times, and we do not always win, but Lord knows we let everyone know when justice has not been served. We correct the lies. We come for the liars, and the grifters, and the traitors. We come hard, and we will not quit.

Never let anyone tell you that you do not deserve the truth or that truth itself has no value. When they say that, what they’re really saying is that you, as a citizen, have no value, that you have no voice.

You deserve so much better than this.

You have value, and you have a voice, so use it.

Demand truth. Demand transparency. Demand accountability. Demand justice. Demand the government we deserve!

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