Why you should care
Because the robots are coming.
On Election Night 2016, CNN commentator Van Jones went viral with his emotional “How do I explain this to my children?” monologue about Donald Trump. The activist and social entrepreneur — who has his own share of political scars — says the 45th U.S. commander-in-chief represents a new threat to the values he holds dear. He also maintains that “both parties suck” in dealing with modern challenges.
After participating in a panel discussion at OZY Fest in Central Park on July 22, Jones sat down with OZY to talk about the future of politics, media and artificial intelligence. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
I think both parties suck. I’ve said that repeatedly.
What political trend do you think is about to blow up?
It’s the robots. I’m telling you, automation is coming. Artificial intelligence — drones, smart screens, all these different things are going to be taking jobs away from humans for a long time. In the long run, will humans come up with something else to do with ourselves? Yes! But right now we’re talking about massive disruption. So [we have had] Occupy Wall Street. We don’t have Occupy Silicon Valley. Everybody’s saying how D.C. is terrible. But nobody’s challenging what Silicon Valley is doing or, more importantly, partnering with Silicon Valley to make sure that, as we make this transition into the digital age, we don’t leave billions of people behind.
What can the government do to tackle that?
We should be doing some of the basic stuff on infrastructure, education. The criminal justice system is a disaster. But talking about what’s coming down the road with a billion — that’s billion with a B — jobs getting wiped out by new technologies, you’ve got to really start training people to understand coding, to understand robotics. I work with the Dream Corps. We have a program called #YesWeCode, trying to teach coding in urban areas, especially to youths.
You’re also probably going to have to do something on the social safety net side. There are going to be a lot of people knocked out of work — not because they are lazy, not because they aren’t hardworking, not because they aren’t educated, but because a robot can do it better, or a piece of artificial intelligence can do it faster. So what do you do with those people? Do those people become homeless and live under bridges? Or do we figure out some way to have a more generous social safety net — tax the people who are becoming gazillionaires — and use that money to cushion the blow?
Does CNN bear any blame for the feud between the president and the network?
No, CNN is doing what CNN has always done. [It] asks questions and reports the news. If you don’t like questions and you don’t like the real news, you may not like CNN. Apparently, Donald Trump doesn’t like questions and doesn’t like real news. But what president has ever been investigated by the FBI and that wasn’t news?
In this climate, do you have concerns for your safety?
No. Anything can happen to anybody at any time, but I think most people see me as as straight a shooter as possible. I think both parties suck. I’ve said that repeatedly. I think the Republicans need to deal with some of the bigotry they’ve allowed to accumulate in their party. There’s no way the party of Lincoln should be the party of [White House chief strategist] Steve Bannon. That’s a problem in their party. The Democrats need to deal with some of the elitism that’s built up in our party. If you don’t listen to NPR and eat kale, we don’t want you. There’s something wrong with that. Both parties have to look in the mirror.
You’ve talked about countering Trump with a “Love Army.” Is the resistance living up to that?
I don’t think we have enough love. I keep hearing people say, “Love trumps hate.” You don’t look too loving. I don’t hear too much love in there. So I think Trump is worse than the most hysterical liberals think he is. I think if we have a major terrorist attack in the United States, Trump would go for full-on autocratic [rule]. I don’t see anything in him that would stop him from going for a full power grab if he had the opportunity. And I think Trump’s voters — a lot of them — are much better than people know. People who voted for Trump don’t agree with him on everything, just like people who voted for Hillary Clinton don’t agree with her on everything. So I think we’ve got to get back to a place where we recognize, yeah, be tough on the politician, but don’t be tough on the people.
Video by Kevin O’Dowd.