Interview with ​Matthew Rothschild

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: To begin, how did you become involved in progressive movements? What was your moment of political awakening?
Well, I come from a family of liberal democrats, who are Adlai Stevenson democrats in Illinois. They worked for Adlai Stevenson in his campaign for governor and then in his campaigns for president.
My mum was a local civil rights activist in the 1960s during the Fair Housing Movement. There were clauses in real estate contracts in the suburbs of Chicago that prevented you from selling your home to a black person.
It was the same for Jewish people too, in some areas. I grew up in Highland Park. There were these things on the real estate documents which said you could not sell to a black person. My mother and father were lawyers and helped to change that. I was a precocious political geek. I was passing around literature for George McGovern in our town when I was 14, in 1972.
Later on I eventually I went to college. I was active in the anti-apartheid movement. I worked for Ralph Nader. There wasn’t one eye-popping experience, but, certainly, when I went to college and studied political philosophy and got involved in the anti-apartheid movement I became a little more active.
For about 32 years, you were both the editor and publisher of the Progressive Magazine.
I was there for 32 years. For most of the last 25, I was the editor and publisher. I started there at 24 as an associate editor and worked myself up.
Who was running the magazine at that point in time?
A very interesting, intelligent, fascinating man name Erwin Knoll. He was a refugee from Austria. He and his father, mother and sister barely escaped the Nazis. He was extremely intelligent and gifted with language. So much so that when he was 15 in Brooklyn he was editing the high school paper in English. When he was in in 20s, he was working in the Washington Post. He was an amazing journalist and editor.
You have written some texts or books: You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression (New Press, 2007) as well as Democracy in Print: The Best of The Progressive, 1909-2009 (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009). For the first text, where does that phrase come from – “you have no rights”?
This was interesting. This was a phrase. It was after 9/11 in New York City. There were some police officers who had apprehended some Muslim-Americans and brutalized them behind bars, banging their bodies against the wall, etc. One of them said to the guards, “You’re violating my rights.” The guard retorted, “You have no rights.” That was such a stark statement in the United States, where we’re all supposed to have rights protected by the Bill of Rights. It stuck in my mind. We put it in the book.
Does this reflect the increase in hate crimes against Muslim-Americans as well?
The book chronicles the crimes against Muslim-Americans, Arab-Americans. People who look like a Muslim or Arab-Americans.
A lot of violence was going on, after 9/11. There were civil liberties infringement across the board. People being spied on. In the introduction to the first chapter, there is what I called the Edifice of Oppression, which George W. Bush helped assemble, when he was in power, through laws, through changes in policy, through executive orders.
I am worried that Donald Trump could seize upon, grab a couple fig leaves and destroy what we have left of our democracy.
Some of the picks for those that would be both powerful and in close workings with him. Many of them have not only anti-scientific views, but many deny substantiated enough things as to be basic truths such as climate change and evolutionary theory. For climate change, how does this concern you when it still is the most powerful nation on the planet? Also, with respect to education, how does the denial of evolutionary theory concern you?
Both concern me greatly. To have an EPA, an environmental protection agency, that’s run by climate deniers such as Scott Pruitt. Trump himself is a climate denier. It is not just scary. It’s criminal, and this is a huge setback for everyone around the world that has been working so hard in this battle against global climate change.
That’s a major setback. We’re at a real crisis point for the country and for the world right now with global warming and climate change. Trump is setting us way back, turning the block way back. We need to turn the block to fast forward. This is a major setback. As far as evolution, it is the reign of the know-nothings. You have people who deny evolution of all things. You have Right-wing ideologues throughout the Cabinet.

Also, you have people, high-up, who have said vile things about freedom of religion as it relates to Muslims. Mike Pompeo, the CIA nominee, said, “Jesus Christ is our saviour and the only real solution for our world, and make sure that we pray.”

This is Christian fundamentalism. You have the same thing with Michael Flynn, who has been nominated for national security advisor. He says not all cultures are morally equivalent and that the West is more civilized. This is the clash of civilisations, which even George W. Bush – for all of his faults – didn’t dabble in.
He defended Muslim-Americans rights, at least rhetorically. This is a very alarming turn for the worse here.
What about the Supreme Court picks, which will influence American court decisions for decades?
That is another frightening prospect in the reign of Trump. That he will be able to put on 1, 2, or 3 new justices. He has vowed to have them in the mould of the most Right-wing justices that there were and have been. So, it is one reason a lot of people didn’t like Hillary at all, from the Left, voted her anyway because they were worried about Donald Trump’s influence on the Supreme Court bench. It looks like the imprint is going to be large there.
What about reproductive health? That is, what about reproductive health rights for women? As noted by Human Rights Watch, “…equitable access to safe abortion services is first and foremost a human right.” So, within that perspective, positions against provision of safe abortions for women, especially in developed nations where the funding is readily available, it would be a violation of reproductive health rights, and so women’s rights.
Women’s rights are on the chopping block as well. The nominee to be secretary of health, Tom Price, has called Planned Parenthood’s practices ‘barbaric’. Everywhere you look across the board, the people Donald Trump has appointed to the Cabinet are appalling and Neanderthal. So, every day there is a new headline about another horrible story about Trump taking the country.
Women, since 1973, thought they had the right to an abortion in the United States. They may wake up one day and may not have that. Donald Trump has been pretty blasé about that. He says it will return to the states. But is it a right or not a right? The US Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade said it was a constitutional right. For the health department secretary to say Planned Parenthood practices are barbaric shows a level of ignorance that is astonishing since it gives reproductive health information to women and cancer screenings for women.
It’s not like all they do is give abortions. It is hardly the majority of what they do. Millions of women have benefitted from Planned Parenthood. I hope they still will. But if these Right-wing ideologues have their way, and it seems they’re having a heyday now, it is going to be a hard time for women, especially poor women.

Who are, of course, disproportionately minority women.

Absolutely. Trump went to Minnesota and Michigan at the end. He tried to rile up white voters about the refugees in their midst. He started a campaign, of course, against Mexicans and Muslims. It is all of a piece right now.
Also, I believe women got the right in 1918 in the UK, 1919 depending on the province in Canada, and 1920 in America. So, this pullback, this semi-repeal, somewhat already in culture, not necessarily in law or in funding at the moment, are deep concerns. At the same time, those would be coming from, as you noted, Right-wing ideologues. What about concerns in terms of reaction from those on the political center-Left, Left, and far-Left?
What I am hearing from people is a lot of fear, a lot of despondency almost, but then there are those who are being really wise about the need to get out there, act together, regroup, and resist, because that’s really important. The idea that we need to give Donald Trump a chance and wait until he does something really atrocious is foolish because, number one, we know who he is, he’s told us who he is, and he’s telling us who he is by telling us who he’s appointing in his Cabinet.
It might be too late before he does something really disastrous. Frankly, I am worried about fascism in the United States. Democracies can go down really fast. Chile had democracy for over a century, and it went down virtually overnight. So, the idea that we need to wait is foolhardy. The first thing we need to do is prepare to protect people today who are going to be in his crosshairs on the day he gets inaugurated. That means we should prepare for sanctuary, for immigrants, for Latinos, for African-Americans, for Muslim-Americans, and for people who would be tops on his list.
Sanctuary cities, places of worships say they are sanctuaries as well, individuals should consider a possible new underground railroad. If police come to break up Latino families in the United States, 11,000,000 people he wants to deport, people of good will should make an effort to get to know their neighbours and to offer shelter.
That’s what it is going to take. There is an effort in Madison, Wisconsin, here where I live, by one of the leaders in the Muslim Madison community, to set up an anti-hate registry to respond to the Muslim registry that Trump is proposing to have. If that doesn’t wake people up to the fact that this guy’s a fascist, I don’t know what will.
What about reactions from one population that you did not note? You noted African-Americans, Mexicans, immigrants, Muslim-Americans, and so on. What about Native Americans and supporting them in various protests and various occupations against, one recent mild success, the North Dakota Access Pipeline?
Native Americans, and Indigenous peoples, are leading the fight in the world against climate change. It is important to support them in those efforts and link arms with them in those efforts. At some point, there is going to be a collision between Trump and oil people in his Cabinet (it is filled with oil people) and people who are protecting the Earth – chief among them the Native Americans – and others in the environmental movement.
That is going to be a confrontation that we need to be planning for and be aware of, and non-violently help our Native American friends and everybody in the environmental movement to prepare for this and to keep protesting non-violently to make sure Trump just doesn’t roll over us.
There are similar pushbacks from Indigenous peoples in Canada (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit). Also, I think, some of the main things people can argue from, through simply writing articles and talking, is the UNDRIP and the ILO C-169, which are the two major ones that I know of that argue for and instantiate Indigenous rights. Those might be two things people can look into.
The other thing is, Native Americans have good law on their side. There is good federal law that should be protecting Native law and land, and for clean air and water.
So, any thoughts or feelings in conclusion?
The rise of Trump corresponds to the decay of democracy that we’ve been seeing in the United States for a long time, and I think it was a contributing cause. We see capitalism devouring our democracy, where it doesn’t deliver the goods to the people anymore – so they’re resentful economically.
Thank you for your time, Matthew.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.

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