Eric Holder, former US president Barack Obama’s first attorney general, sat down for an interview on ‘Face the Nation’ that aired on 8th May 2022. He was the country’s first African American to hold that position, and he now serves as chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. “Our Unfinished March: The Violent Past and Imperiled Future of the Vote — A History, a Crisis, a Plan,” is his new book (co-written with Sam Koppelman).
Holder expresses his deep concerns about American democracy in this time of so-called crisis in this wide-ranging interview. Holder also discusses the events of January 6, 2021, which, according to Holder, were a white supremacist assault on multiracial democracy – as well as Obama’s legacy and the concept of Black and brown people holding positions of leadership in American society.
This article contains parts of Eric Holder’s interview, where he talks about his views on the challenges faced by American democracy.
Holder says he has trouble sleeping because “our democracy under attack has had an impact” on him
The interviewer asked Holder how he feels these days, given the challenges faced by America, to which he replies that he has trouble shutting off his thoughts at night, so he resolves it by watching a movie or a TV series on his iPad till he falls asleep.
“Our democracy under attack has had an impact on me. I’ll feel tired. I’ll lay my head on the bed and say, “Boy, I’m really tired.” And then my head starts spinning. I start thinking about, well, what’s going on in Wisconsin? What’s happening in Texas? What’s going on in Georgia? Have we filed the appropriate lawsuits? What is happening with the Supreme Court? So many things.” -said Holder.
“What I’ve had to do, which I’ve never done before, is that I take out an iPad and watch a movie or an HBO series or something, just to stop thinking obsessively about these challenges to our democracy. At some point, I just can’t stay awake any longer and I go to sleep. The attacks on our democracy have really gotten to me. It really worries me.” -he added.
Eric Holder says America has come a long way with respect to racism and compares his life to his father’s
During this part of the interview, Eric Holder highlights how things have gotten better for the Black community in America in the past decades. He says that the consequences of this struggle with racism are now not really as personal as they were during his father’s time.
“The consequences perhaps are not as great on a personal level. But we’re part of a continuing struggle. My father’s generation that went to war in World War II came back to the United States and faced discrimination. Those Black men were fighting and struggling for democracy on foreign soil and then came back and got mistreated.” -he said, adding that his father, an immigrant from Barbados who served the US Army and faced constant discrimination during his tenure, even at times of war. But things have gotten much better and more people from minority communities are now holding positions of power.
“My father was told to go to the back of the bus in North Carolina. In his Army uniform, during a war. In Oklahoma, he had to go to the back of the lunch stand. Well, his son grew up to be attorney general of the United States.”
“I stand on the shoulders of people who sacrificed and gave their lives”
When asked how he is able to reconcile the two aspects of progress and backlash, Holder says he relies on the beliefs and the love for the country of his father. He says that that connection gives him the strength to carry on with his ideals.
“It has been in some ways, the history of people of colour, and certainly African Americans, in this nation. They loved this country when this country didn’t love them back. We have demonstrated a love for this country and a devotion to the ideals of this country and have not always gotten back the kind of respect and love from this country that we deserve, given the seminal role that we played in the literal building of this country. We were asked to fight in wars, which we did, and were then denied the benefits of the sacrifices that we were asked to make and that we willingly gave.” -Holder explains.
“I’m lucky. I’m privileged. I stand on the shoulders of people who sacrificed and gave their lives. Who, on a day to day basis, suffered indignities with a hope to achieve things unseen and in the future. So that people like me and Barack, and so many others obviously, would have opportunities that they never had. I feel really connected to them. I always have.” -he adds.
The shooting in Buffalo was “an act of domestic terrorism”
Further in the interview, Holder was asked about the recent shooting in Buffalo, that killed 10 people.
Holder says, “we have to call this event what it was: an act of domestic terrorism. Even during the previous administration, the FBI stated that white supremacist domestic terrorism posed the greatest domestic threat, and the FBI has continued to state this is the case today. So we have to equip federal agencies, state governments and local police departments with the tools they need to prevent future attacks. We also need to explore legislation on this issue.”
“It is also incumbent upon the people to stay involved. We must hold anyone who spreads racist conspiracy theories to account. If they hold elected office, we can and should organize to vote them out of office. Social media companies must do more to not allow this kind of speech to be spread and promoted. We will not be able to completely erase hate speech, but we can and must take action to hinder its ability to spread as much as possible.” -he says further.
Holder had a “powerful experience of cognitive dissonance” during the Jan 6 riot
Eric Holder said that it was unbelievable for him and that he had a “powerful experience of cognitive dissonance” with regards to the events of January 6th last year.
“I didn’t believe it. I had this powerful experience of cognitive dissonance. I’m watching something and my eyes are conveying images to me that my mind is processing, but on some basic level I didn’t think that what I was seeing could actually be happening. I’ve been in and out of that building any number of times. To get confirmed. To get yelled at in hearings with Republicans. To meet with members of Congress to lobby for legislation. I have been there for inaugurations. To see people climbing the walls of Congress, wearing Camp Auschwitz T-shirts, hitting police officers, using pepper spray on law enforcement. It was hard to believe.” -he said.
“But on another level what happened that day was the manifestation of all my fears. There was this reaction to Barack’s election. There were things released by the Trump election. And now it all came together on Jan. 6. All these people with these so-called grievances and this sense of mistreatment were there attacking the greatest symbol of our democracy.”
“America is at its best when it confronts the problems that bedevil it”
Towards the end of the interview, Holder explains how he manages to remain optimistic with all the challenges in front of him. He says that he relies on the internal capacity that every one of us holds, of confronting challenges. He does not let himself give in to the negativity, in order to remain active and keep moving forward.
“If you look at the history of the United States and you reflect on from where we have come from and where we are, you understand that we have dealt with tough issues in the past and surmounted those challenges. People before me ended a system of American apartheid. We ripped down that system. America is at its best when it confronts the problems that bedevil it. We still have that capacity within ourselves.” -Holder explains.
“There has been a long arc of progress in this country. It’s not always a consistent arc, but overall it is an arc of progress, of involvement, of advancement. That is what I hold onto. My optimism propels me to the work. Pessimism would keep me in a sedentary state, and I’m by nature an active guy. I’m looking for solutions. I draw strength and optimism from those who came before me. I feel an obligation to them. If they sacrificed and they gave their lives, who am I not to be optimistic and keep doing the work in the present?” -he further adds.