The Current

The 'whitelash' of Trump politics: CNN commentator Van Jones

"If you pretend it's not happening then you actually open the door for the [Steve] Bannons and neo-Nazis and other people to kind of prey on that and make it worse."
CNN commentator Van Jones wants to find common ground in his divided country. He offers his solution in his new book, Beyond the Messy Truth, How We Came Apart, How We Come Together. (Kimberly White/Getty Images for GLAAD)
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On the night Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, political commentator Van Jones called it a "whitelash."

During CNN coverage of the election, Jones said, "This was a whitelash against a changing country. It was a whitelash against a black president, in part, and that's the part where the pain comes from."

He tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti how friends who are Muslim refugees texted him asking, "Should we leave the country tonight?"

Jones says the moment was surreal and as it was all unfolding, he wanted to be with his family in California, not in Washington.

"My body was there on the set at CNN but my mind and my heart, my soul was with a lot of other people who were really going through stuff." 

When it came time to speak, Jones says he couldn't just talk about numbers and the variation between the polling. He needed to speak to the people who were hurting that night.

"Somehow I found the words, and I remember I'd written on a piece of paper: 'parents' and I'd written 'whitelash,' and I just spoke from my heart," he tells Tremonti.

Political commentator warns that 'hate wave' that CAN hit Canada 0:37

Now the word "whitelash" is recognized in the dictionary, Jones says.

He says the term is to "identify a particular phenomenon in the West where parts of the white, working class rebels against neo liberal policy — both in terms of the jobs that leave and the people that come."

Jones explains it's a reaction against the economics of neoliberalism but also against the cultural implications that impact people who come from other countries — "those two things are together."

"You can't say, well industrial workers are supporting Trump. No. It's a white industrial working class that has this particular pattern," Jones tells Tremonti.
Electing U.S. President Donald Trump "was a whitelash against a black president," Van Jones said during the CNN coverage of election night. (Jim Young/Reuters)

"And so you've got to deal with it. If you pretend it's not happening then you actually open the door for the [Steve] Bannons and neo-Nazis and other people to kind of prey on that and make it worse."

Jones believes Democrats and Republicans need to find a way to work together. His new book, Beyond the Messy Truth, How We Came Apart, How We Come Together, looks at the common ground shared in a divided America.

"I don't like Donald Trump. I'm against Donald Trump but I understand that hurt people holler," he says.

"That's where you get Black Lives Matter because hurt people holler. That's where you get the [Bernie] Sanders voters because hurt people holler."

There's no excuse, Jones says, for Trump's toxic bigotry, but he says it's understandable why America is in this situation — "where people are so just desperate and fed up that they might just roll the dice."

"If [Trump] can't understand that, you don't understand human beings."

Listen to the full conversation above.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese.