“We got to rise up, everyone”: Rep. Jamaal Bowman battles the normalization of Trump

Second Amendment

Rep. Jamal Bowman, D-N.Y., may only be in his second term in the House of Representatives, but he is not wasting any time trying to shake up the system. He has recently and very publicly challenged GOP members of Congress, from Marjorie Taylor Greene to Thomas Massie on issues from saving lives from gun violence to the need to expel indicted serial liar Rep. George Santos from Congress. He has even broken ranks with many Democrats on certain issues, such as standing up for Palestinian rights, and opposing government bans of TikTok. We discussed that and more on “Salon Talks,” where Bowman did not hold back.

Bowman shared his view that some GOP members of Congress oppose laws to reduce deaths by gun violence because they are motivated by the racist “great replacement theory,” which falsely claims that white people are being systematically replaced by people of color. Bowman explained why this fear makes Republicans OK about more “illegal guns being trafficked into poor Black and brown communities, which leads to more Black and brown people being killed.” On the danger posed by white supremacist terrorism, an issue recently amplified by President Biden, Bowman wants to see the federal government use “any means necessary we have to address this threat.”

The former educator has also made it his mission to oppose the “normalization” of Donald Trump, slamming Elon Musk’s MAGA rhetoric, calling out Trump-loving members of Congress like Rep. Byron Donalds on cable TV, and blasting CNN itself for giving a known liar and sexual offender a platform at the Trump’s recent town hall.

Breaking with some members of his own party, Bowman spoke passionately in opposition to a federal ban on TikTok, something Republican-controlled state legislature in Montana accomplished last week. Bowman noted that the real reason for a ban is not about possible Chinese government data harvesting. Instead, he argued, Republicans want to shut down this wildly popular social media app because its content is shared by younger people who “lean left,” and often addresses issues “like gun rights, trans rights, women’s reproductive rights, climate change, Black history, multicultural history.” With that said, Bowman does favor “a comprehensive federal piece of legislation that looks at safety, security, privacy, mental health on social media.” Watch my entire wide-ranging video interview with Bowman here, or read below for more.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

You’ve been very outspoken on the need to address gun violence. You challenged Congressman Thomas Massie in the halls of the Capitol. If you could do whatever you want to save lives from gun violence, what would it look like?

So first, we have to vote the right people into office and vote the wrong people out of office. That not only includes the House of Representatives, that includes the Senate as well. There are 33 Senate seats up for grabs. If we can increase voter turnout in those states and certain counties, we can win big in the Senate and we can do some big things; not just on gun violence, but on everything else. 

As you know, local communities, particularly low-income communities of color, are disproportionately impacted by gun violence, particularly gun trafficking. What we need to do is a few things. One, we need a ban on assault rifles outright. Two, we need universal background checks. Three, we need universal red flag laws. Four, we need universal safe storage. Five, we need to hold gun traffickers accountable and have more collaboration with law enforcement across states and the federal government as well as local government. And then, six, we need to close loopholes at gun shows and online purchasing.

There’s a lot that needs to be done. Obviously, it’s an uphill battle. That’s why I started with the fact that the people we have in office are the wrong people. They do not want to move on this issue, and they have to go as quickly as possible.

The right loves to talk about being pro-police. But when you speak to police officers as a member of Congress, do they want laws that might make it less lethal for both civilians and themselves in terms of guns? 

“We can win big in the Senate and we can do some big things; not just on gun violence, but on everything else.”

Yes, that’s exactly right. Because guns, particularly legal guns, kill police officers as well. Mass shootings kill and threaten police officers as well. They support common sense gun laws. There are many who support the Second Amendment, who hunt and other things, want common sense gun laws. The majority of Americans want common sense gun laws. It’s asinine that my colleagues in Congress continue to side with the NRA in support of more guns.

But it fits their agenda, right? They have an agenda that is focused on something called a great replacement theory, which is a white supremacist theory. The more illegal guns continue to be trafficked into poor Black and brown communities, which leads to more Black and brown people being killed, Republicans are OK with that. Unfortunately, they seem to also be fine with our kids — regardless of background, race or class or religion — being killed by assault rifle. So they’re a party of death, not of life, as they like to call themselves. This is why we got to make sure we get them out of office. That’s the key.

President Biden recently spoke about white supremacy being the greatest threat to our nation. We just saw a gunman in Dallas wearing “right wing death squad, a phrase attached to right wingers. The FBI says the greatest terrorist threat on our soil are white supremacists. What would you like to see done? I mean, is it about treating it like al-Qaida or ISIS? Surveillance and neutralizing the threat? What can be done legally?

By any means necessary we have to address this threat, whatever that may look like. I think the bigger part of it is we need more people raising their voices and recognizing and acknowledging that this threat actually exists, and more people speaking truth to power to condemn it and suppress it and get rid of it. Because it doesn’t just manifest in mass shootings; it manifests in policy, it manifests in hiring practices. It manifests in how we talk about particular groups, whether it’s the trans community, women, people of color, the Jewish community, the Muslim community, etc.

We need a mass movement against this to make sure there’s not a corner of this country that accepts this, and if there is a corner, it’s in the far corners where we never deal with it or see it again.

Absolutely law enforcement has a role here. Law enforcement has a long history of surveilling poor communities and communities of color. Absolutely we need to know who’s a danger to our American way of life, like the insurrectionists. They’re still out there, and they’re still coordinating and organizing on social media and other spaces. So absolutely, by any means necessary.

A few weeks ago you were on CNN with Republican Congressman Byron Donalds, a big Trump supporter. You said to him about his endorsement of Trump, “You’re endorsing an insurrectionist.” I can’t applaud that enough, because that’s how we stop the normalization of a man who attempted a coup and incited an insurrection on our Capitol. Do you hope other Democrats start using this language? 

That’s a key word there: “normalizing.” I’m very concerned with the normalizing of Trump, the normalizing of Elon Musk and some of the things he says and does. Bill Maher seems to be a part of this normalizing, and so many others, with Ron DeSantis and others attacking the “woke mind virus.” They coined this term. When I ask people, “What does it mean to be woke?” Young people say, “Socially aware,” that’s it. That’s what being woke is, it’s about being socially aware.

“[Republicans] seem to be fine with our kids — regardless of background, race or class or religion — being killed by assault rifle. They’re a party of death, not of life, as they claim to be.”

So yes, I hope my colleagues do use that language because Trump is an insurrectionist. He confirmed it in his CNN town hall the way he celebrated many of the insurrectionists and what he said, talking about how much they love America and they have big hearts. Many of his talking points that night were talking points rooted in white supremacy and great replacement theory

We cannot allow this to be normalized because I see a rise in conservative voices, not just on social media, but in mainstream media. What I’m concerned about also is mainstream media, local media and national, leaning to the right on certain issues in certain ways that are very, very dangerous. Like CNN choosing to broadcast this town hall with a known liar, a known sexual offender and someone who almost destroyed our entire country. I couldn’t believe CNN did that.

Donald Trump made a big part of his 2016 campaign demonizing Muslims and calling them terrorists. Meanwhile, he literally incited a terrorist attack on Jan. 6, an act of domestic terrorism. And he’s defending the terrorists. It is surreal to see this play out in real time after he incited hate crimes against the Muslim community, and now he’s going to pardon the terrorists. That’s what he said on CNN.

That’s right. He said he’s going to look at it and probably pardon most of them. What’s even scarier is there are tens of millions of people who still support him. It’s a reality check, I think, for the rest of us. It’s a reality check for the country. This cannot be an election where we stay home, where we don’t get involved, when we don’t turn out. It’s not just about our individual votes. We got to knock on the doors next to us and around our community.

And in New York, we can say, “In New York, we’re going to be fine.” We can’t take anything for granted. We got to do it in New York too. But we got to do it everywhere. We got to do it in Iowa, we got to do it in Florida, we got to do it in Georgia. We got to do it across the country because low voter turnout is the biggest threat to our democracy, and Republicans are trying to suppress the vote in many of those states. This is an “all hands on deck” situation. We cannot let him get back into office. We got to move heaven and earth to stop that from happening.

Their second in line is Ron DeSantis. You and I have talked about his book bans in the past and his ban on Black history. This is a guy who chimed in on the killer of Jordan Neely being charged with manslaughter. Here’s DeSantis, thousands of miles away in Florida, saying, “The guy’s a good Samaritan. We have to have his back,” about a guy who put an unarmed man in a chokehold, a man who didn’t threaten anyone or touch anyone, and killed him on the subway. 

“It’s a reality check for the country. This cannot be an election where we stay home, where we don’t get involved, when we don’t turn out.”

It’s really, like you said, surreal. It’s heartbreakingly devastating, the response from many on the right. So first of all, he’s able to raise $2 million for his defense, at least, and it’s probably going to go up. What that indicates to me as a Black man, as someone who’s from New York, is that those people who donated to this person’s defense are OK with Black people being killed in public in broad daylight without being a physical threat to anyone. This person was apparently yelling on the train, but witnesses have said he did not hit anyone and he did not seem to pose a threat. And this ex-Marine apparently just put him in a chokehold and killed him. There’s so many other ways he could have responded to that to contain him, to hold him, to stop him. There were two other people there helping him to contain Mr. Neely, and yet he still had to die.

This is why we screamed years ago, I believe it after Trayvon Martin, that Black Lives Matter emerged, because it’s like, what the hell? You’re just going to kill us indiscriminately and it’s OK? Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, on and on and on. So yeah, man, it’s a really scary time, and that’s why we got to all get in the game because it could get way, way worse when you have influential, powerful people — not just DeSantis, I go back to Elon Musk using not just right-wing rhetoric, but MAGA Republican rhetoric. He’s a very influential, powerful person. Who knows who’s going to be influenced by his voice and his power because of who he is? That’s why we got to rise up, everyone.

I agree. Do you think DeSantis would weigh in if it was a Black man who killed a white man on that subway?

No. Well, not in favor of that. It would be a Kyle Rittenhouse situation. No, he would not. He would not weigh in at all.

Another big issue that came up in the town hall is reproductive freedom. Donald Trump said in the town hall, “I terminated Roe v. Wade and I’m honored to do it.” How do you think that might play out in 2024?

I hope he will be crushed for that. I say hope, because you remember, even though he was accused of sexual assault throughout his first campaign, he still got a very large percentage of white women voting for him. So my hope is he is crucified for that comment, but who the hell knows? I mean, again, there are tens of millions of people who support him. He said all kinds of crazy things in that town hall. It’s defending the Second Amendment to the hilt. Are you kidding me? Gun violence is the No. 1 issue right now. A majority of American people support doing something. He doesn’t want to do anything, and he doesn’t even speak about it with any empathy.

To your point, I’m with you. I wish CNN didn’t do it, but I’m OK with it just to show us again how crazy he is. However, people are very vulnerable and they like the way he feigns strength and leadership. They like that. He’s a patriarch, he’s macho. People like that and they are drawn to that, even though he’s out of his mind, in my opinion. So we’ll see. He should get crushed, but he’s going to do well because, again, America is what America is.

Donald Trump is the defender of white nationalism and white supremacy, and there’s a very strong bond there. It’s different from politicians you like because of their policies. He’s viewed as their savior because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of demographic change. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me, because nothing explains the devotion to him. His policies were nothing; it’s not about that.

Yeah, no, I agree with that. He says something that’s true. He says, “The system is rigged and broken.” That is true. But he blames progressives and liberals and Democrats and people of color for it. He doesn’t blame the people he also gets a lot of support from, the wealthy elite. He doesn’t blame them for it, and they should be blamed for it.

“This is an all hands on deck situation. We cannot let him get back into office.”

The idea of white supremacy that lives in politics as well, not as the Ku Klux Klan, but as deference to the white patriarchy. So yes, those aspects of the system are broken, but he blames the wrong people. He blames who the working class and working poor whites blame for their lot in life, and that’s how he gets them. So he has the wealthy elite, and he has a whole base of working-class white supporters, and he also has evangelical supporters as well. So he has three very strong bases. He has a coalition to help him. That’s why we can’t take him for granted. That’s why we have to push back on everything he does and says right now.

How do you think President Biden has done? Where we are now in the midst of the re-election campaign?

I have some concerns about him moving a little bit to the right on certain issues, particularly as it relates to how we support asylum seekers who need support at our border. Yes, there’s a crisis at the border. It’s a humanitarian crisis. We’re not doing enough to provide humanitarian aid in a post-Title 42 world, and so I would love for him to be stronger and more aggressive there. I wish he did not approve the Willow drilling project in Alaska. I think that was a mistake.

I just want him to lean in on his record. He has a good record to run on, the CHIPS and Science Act, the infrastructure bill, the IRA, the Safer Communities Act, the appointment of Black judges, the appointment of Ketanji Brown Jackson. He’s done some very strong things. Run on those things, but also continue to engage young people, continue to engage people of color, continue to engage progressives and I think he wins in a landslide. Don’t start waffling, trying to go back to the right or center just because you think you need independent white moderate men. Yes, you need everyone, but the energy and the passion and excitement is with young people and progressives, so you got to lean into them. I hope he continues to do that.

Young people came out in big numbers in 2022 and they’re getting more engaged. When I was younger, if you got engaged in the politics, it was more, “Well, I like these policies or I don’t, maybe they affect me.” Now gun violence is in their faces. The loss of reproductive freedom is there. Climate change, they understand they’re going to be on this planet longer than you and I, and it is real. How much do you think young people play a role in 2024?


What more can Democrats do to engage them, bring them out and get them involved?

Well first of all, stop talking about banning TikTok where there’s no evidence that you should ban it. Do not do that. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I’ve been talking to my colleagues about this. We have the data. There are states with low voter turnout, there are counties with low voter turnout. We have to invest money there and money in the people there to turn out the vote in those areas. That’s one. 

“The energy and the passion and excitement is with young people and progressives, so you got to lean into them.”

Along with that is engaging young people and engaging the young groups out there. There’s Gen Z for Change, an amazing group. There’s Voters of Tomorrow. Sunrise Movement is another group. Obviously the Justice Democrats and Working Families Party do a good job of engaging young people. What I hope to see is the party come together, progressives with more moderate, conservative Dems.

What I have seen since I got into Congress, which troubles me, is you have moderate and conservative Dems demonizing progressives and blaming progressives when things go wrong. First of all, that’s not an electoral strategy that will get us to victory. But even more importantly, that’s not leadership. We need leadership that knows how to bring people together to get the wins that we need. Progressives are a voice with and for young people. Young people love the Squad. Young people love the work that Delia Ramirez and Summer Lee and Maxwell Frost are doing. Lean into that as much as possible, and that’s how we get them all out to help us win in 2024.

You mentioned TikTok, and you’re one of the few members of Congress who stood up and said, “Don’t ban this.” I don’t know if it’s ever going to get banned on the federal level, but do you see any concern with China? Or do you think there’s an effort by the right to ban TikTok because young people are using it to organize, and they tend to be voting Democrat? What’s your take?

Yeah, so that’s correct, the latter. Like, 150 million Americans are on TikTok. They seem to lean left when you look at a lot of the content that’s on there, and they’re more likely to vote Democrat and talk about the issues and organize around the issues that young people care about, like gun rights, trans rights, women’s reproductive rights, climate change, Black history, multicultural history. That’s what’s on my TikTok feed. So that’s very exciting, and that’s why the right and others were going so hard. Too many Democrats were going with them to attack it and ban it. I do not see and have not seen and have not received any congressional briefing, bipartisan briefing, confidential briefing on Chinese espionage as it relates to TikTok. I have not seen any. 

“I hate that we, meaning Democrats, often cave to Republican talking points without educating the American people and pulling them in so that they understand exactly what the hell is happening.”

Having said that, the Chinese and everyone is monitoring everything we do on all social media, not just TikTok. That was my point. We need a comprehensive federal piece of legislation that looks at safety, security, privacy, mental health on social media, and do something about it. Facebook allowed Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. There are kids who have mental health struggles based on their usage of Instagram. Do not marginalize TikTok because you’re scapegoating them and not dealing with the real problem. Let’s deal with the real problem if that’s what we want to do.

Thankfully, for the moment there’s a pause in all that nonsense. Hopefully we can get to a point of comprehensive social media legislation, but we won’t because the American companies have the second biggest lobbying outfit in all of Washington, second, I think, to either fossil fuel or the pharmaceutical companies.

The debt ceiling negotiations are going on right now. We all hope there’ll be a deal. I can’t tell if there will be or not. In your point of view, are Republicans and the House negotiating in good faith? Do you think some of them want to cause a default because they think it hurts President Biden and can help Donald Trump next year?

No, they aren’t negotiating in good faith. Yes, they want to do everything in their power to hurt President Biden and the Democrats. If that’s with rhetoric, they’ll use that. If that’s with a default, they’ll use that. If we default, it’s going to ultimately be on Republicans if that happens, but we have to communicate that effectively.

There’s going to be a deal. I don’t know what it’s going to look like. Again, I’m concerned that we’re even negotiating because at the end of the day, we always raised the debt limit. We did it three times under Trump. There’s questions about the 14th Amendment and if it’s even constitutional. 

But the bigger question is, in my opinion, educate the American people on what we’re talking about. They’re throwing out this number, $34 trillion. Well, whoa, whoa. That’s the debt. That’s not the deficit. The deficit is different. The deficit relates to our GDP, how much we spend and how much we take in. And then when we talk about the debt, we’re talking about debt to GDP, which is something that we have to talk about and look at that percentage and talk about where we make adjustments.

Lastly, Republicans don’t want to tax the wealthy and don’t want to tax large corporations. If we do that, that will be tremendously helpful with our debt. So let’s have the full conversation. I hate that we, meaning Democrats, often cave to Republican talking points without educating the American people and pulling them in so they understand exactly what the hell is happening, and so we can get their support.

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from “Salon Talks” on the 2024 election

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