John ReidMr. John Reid is a star of AM talk radio in Virginia as host of Richmond’s Morning News with John Reid on Newsradio 1140 WRVA. Praxis Circle interviewed Mr. Reid because of his vast personal experience and immersion in media, journalism, entertainment, politics, and current events, as well as his travel throughout the world to all seven continents. His fascination with people and global culture is unparalleled. It has brought him direct and extensive contact with the famous, powerful, learned, creative, successful, wealthy, charitable, ordinary, troubled, and underprivileged. John gets along with everyone while sponsoring candid and lively exchange benefiting all listening in. As his dedicated audience knows, his conversations are always fun, insightful, and engaging.
Okay. John, I’m going to start off with an easy question. How did you get into the radio business? You seem to be a total natural to me. I’m wondering given what I know about your worldview and I’ve done some research whether you think it’s a calling or how does it fit into your life plan?
It’s an odd arrival at a talk radio station because when I was younger, I wanted to be in television, the creative side of television, to be honest with you. Being on the East Coast especially at that time before everybody could produce a movie with their iPhone, there was really no option for me to be in the creative process of any product that would wind up on television unless you went to a local TV station. Most of the opportunities there were in TV news.
I started when I was a teenager, it’s probably against the law now, but I was an intern at the CBS station here working in the newsroom and tried to build some sort of reputation, then when I went to Baylor University for college, I started studying in journalism, switched to political science because I looked, no offense to my friends in Baylor who played on the football team, some of them were good friends of mine, but I looked and I was like, “This is not the place for me to be in. I need to be in a poli-sci class.”
For about 10-12 years being in local television was a great opportunity for me to present material. At that point, I started to be more interested not just on the creative side but influencing public perception of issues and making sure that what I thought and what people like me believed isn’t obscured and eclipsed in the public debate. Then it all went off the rails. I went to go work in the US Senate. It felt to me like I was wandering around the desert. I was making good money as a PR person, as a partner in a big public relations firm, traveling around the world.
There was a lot of, in some ways, glamor to it that you don’t get when you’re working at a local television station, but what was missing was the opportunity to speak to people and try to articulate my position as a PR person. As a communications person for a politician, you’re always trying to explain somebody else’s position. I think I was pretty good at it, but I didn’t feel the same passion about it that I do about coming in here every day and speaking to thousands of people about political issues.
I think hitting the age of 50 at this stage, I think I’ve got a whole lifetime of reference points that I hope illuminate the conversation and maybe nudge it in the right direction, and I hope I’m able to add to the conversation not poison the well.
I loved growing up in Richmond. I look back on that period of time and it was a great place to be. I was in the county, so outside of the urban core of Richmond in the county. I had pretty good teachers who cared about me. I mean, I look back, I still stay in touch with some of them in the public school system here in Henrico County. Then I went to a school called St. Christopher’s, which is an Episcopal church school. It’s been around for over a century. I was the third generation to go to that school. My grandfather, my dad, me.
I don’t know. The combination of the two school systems, I think it’s been interesting especially with the debate over public education today. It’s interesting to have spent, what, nine years in public school and then four years at one of the premier private schools here and have those touchpoints in my life to reference as we discuss the future.
My parents stayed together, good parents. Especially today when there’s this discussion about where we seem to be almost anxious or embarrassed by the history of the country. I was an Eagle Scout. I was in boy scout, cub scouts, boy scouts. We went to church. I don’t feel like I was indoctrinated as much as I was exposed to things that made me appreciate what we had and have, knock on wood, in this culture and in this society.
As an adult, when I started traveling pretty extensively both for pleasure and for work, I started to realize that the things that I had been told as a child about how special this little environment, this little ecosystem we have here is, that that was all true. There are places in the world where people don’t wake up every morning free to choose where they go to work, how they live, how they pray, in my case, who you fall in love with and who you’re in a relationship with. Of course, that’s occurred during my lifetime.
I started at the TV station here in Richmond in my early 20s, one of the youngest anchors in the history of this size market. I wouldn’t say I was a closet case because everybody in my family I had told them that I thought I was gay. I was having a real personal struggle with that, but I wasn’t open with the public about it. It wasn’t their business. It was the news. Why do you care about that? I was terrified that the local not tabloid newspaper but alternative newspaper would find it quite enticing to do a story on a Republican news guy whose family was active in the Republican party, and I was terrified of that more that I would embarrass my family, and that I would become the butt of a joke or a scandalous figure in Richmond.
I went through about a decade where that was slowly I became more and more honest with the audience where appropriate, I hope. I hope not forcing it into the conversation but where appropriate to bring it up. I also began to see the culture change in a positive way, more accepting, at least more tolerant maybe. I can’t worry about what somebody personally feels as long as they let me live my life as I see fit because I think I’m a decent person. I think I’m a moral person. I think I’m a good person. If you’ll just leave me alone and let me live my life, that’s all I can ask from you.
I feel very good now decades later that I’m in a better place and that the country is in a better place. You start to draw the connection between age 50 and age 10 and see how things have changed. I think we’re in a better place on those issues.
Yeah. My dad, he served 18 years in the Virginia House of Delegates representing the county we lived in, which is a pretty conservative county. It’s weird. I look at my two parents. My mother always I think taught me about the idealistic way to live, and then my father was really brutally honest and just said, “Hey, I know this is what you wish was the case, but it’s not the case. Maybe it will be one day, but you got to deal with the reality in front of you and tackle that. In 10 years, maybe things will be different. Maybe you’ll have money. Maybe the world will have changed, but let’s deal with reality.”
So growing up with the two of them I almost feel like it’s a miracle that I had both of those perspectives. I don’t know whether I’ve done a good job of straddling the two, but I think it is one of the things that helps me in the presentation that I’ve got in public on the radio today is I don’t want to ever lose the idealism of striving for something better, believing in a dream, hoping that the society is going to be the place you wish it was. I don’t want to lose that, but I also can’t be stupid and make bad decisions when reality is staring me in the face.
I think this culture, this society today is confused about that. Hold on to your ideals, but you got to face what’s in front of you and you can’t deluge yourself into ignoring that. Mom and dad were pretty good about odd balancing act there.
I also learned a lot about politics. My father was fortunate that he represented a pretty conservative county so he could say what he wanted to say and he’d still win with 50 plus, 55, I mean, in some case I’d guess 60% of the vote. That’s not common in American politics today. Normally, you’ve got to thread the needle if you want to stay elected.
I’m not running for office, which is great because I have the same ability on the radio today to come in and tell people what I really think, hopefully have smart reasons for articulating my position. I feel like I have the same latitude that my dad did in the legislature when he was there because I’m not having to beg for your vote. I’m able to be candid. Then you can decide whether I’m right or wrong.
Well, you’d make a great political candidate at some point if you ever wanted to do that. Here’s my last question about background and an intro. We really do our best at Praxis Circle to talk about worldviews that are different than ours with love and objectivity. We are about certain things, though, and one of them is truth. It’s not that we think people are bad that are relativists or whatever you want to call them. It’s just that this is what we’re about. We’re going to keep it in the eye and talk about an objective space with you.
So here’s a proposition. You’ve given me a lead in. Praxis Circle is dedicated in part to the proposition that people should be considered as individual persons, not as categories, not as race, not as sex, not that these things aren’t important, not as sexual orientation, not as religion, not as class. Whatever category that puts a lot of people into one thing, you always have to look at the individual to determine who they are and what they’re about.
So I see the world seeing John Reid as Sasquatch, very rare sighting, a gay conservative.
I like to say unicorn, but I’ll go with Sasquatch. Unicorn seems more majestic to me, but it’s okay.
A unicorn. Well, it’s more, but Sasquatch likes beer. He will drink a beer. He’ll pop in and out, but I know a lot of conservative gays. So I know that that’s just a joke. It’s like saying all Blacks vote the same way. Please comment.
It is weird that this seems to be such an outlier or it’s perceived as such an outlier. I don’t think that’s the case, but we do get caught in this mindset that there’s an immediate default political agenda that goes along with identifying yourself as gay. I hope I’ve done a pretty job in this job at least of not exploiting in this issue. The last thing I want to do is be introduced to somebody at the grocery store or at a conference as the gay Republican. It’s not that I’m embarrassed by it at all. I mean, it is who I am. It’s a part of who I am, but I’ve had several people like coaches who said, “Oh, if you really want to get career off the ground and you want to go national, you need to be the gay Republican.” I don’t know. That turns me off. It’s just a part of who I am.
It’s not small. It has been traumatic. So it’s actually an important part of who I am, I guess, and my history, but that’s not how I want to be identified necessarily. I think that maybe one of the problems with the country today is that we’ve gone from an era where people identified as, “Are you Catholic or are you Protestant?” Then we categorize you based on that, “Are you white? Are you black? Are you a Southerner? Are you a Yankee?” those types of categories. Now we got a thousand subcategories that are equally divisive.
If we continue to focus on that, how do you ever build a coalition where you row in the same direction? That’s one of the topics that I try to get in to on my program is where are the points of commonality? I don’t think they’ve dissolved, but they’ve been obscured.
One of the big lies that I’ve been told in my adult life back to college time, and I used to repeat this was our strength is our diversity. I don’t believe that’s true. What our strength is is common purpose amongst diverse people. What can we all agree on? What is perceived as the common good that a gay man or a lesbian woman or a right-wing Christian conservative, white or black, that we can all say, “Yes. This is where we want to go. This is what we want to achieve.” I think there are those points of commonality, but there are very few people talking about it.
I am a person of faith. I have been an Episcopalian. I’ve attended episcopal church school. I was baptized in the episcopal church, confirmed in the episcopal church. Still attend when I attend an Episcopal church, which is a little problematic because some of the things they’ve done in the last year have been real turn offs to me.
I’ll tell you why I have stayed with the Episcopal church, and it goes, again, back to my travels. I like the idea of being a part of a continuum, something that’s been around for a long time influencing it, I hope, hopefully in a positive way in my lifetime, but being a part of something that was started before me and that will continue long after I’m gone.
I remember being in Egypt and looking at thousands of years of history and the way the past was reflected in the present, the present at that time and then honored even today. There’s something about standing in a place where other human beings stood 5,000 years ago that if you’re a thoughtful person I think should move you on some level. I have this one little window of time to do and say and influence my family, other people, my culture, my country, what am I going to do with it? Am I going to get drunk every night? Am I going to snort coke and act crazy? Am I going to fritter it away? Am I going to be distracted by anger and hostility or am I going to try to do something that will on the day of my passing even if I haven’t written a book that someone will hold in their hand a thousand years from now, will I have done something that will have a lingering impact in a positive way?
Doing a talk radio show I’m not trying to overstate it, but I’m hoping that I can help influence this little microcosm, this little society in a positive way, and that’s one reason I’ve stayed in the Episcopal church is I’m pretty confident in my beliefs, but I do appreciate the accumulated wisdom of hundreds of years back doing to England and the Church of England and the previous trauma and wars and conflicts and what can we learn from that. So that’s one of the main reasons I’ve stayed as a part of the Episcopal church because I was exposed to the Baptists at Baylor University, largest Baptist school in the world. There was a lot about the Baptist faith that I embraced then and embrace now, but I’ve stayed with the Episcopal church.
As far as being a person of faith and how it informs my day to day interaction, there’s a prayer if you go in my office that asks God to influence in a good way what I say today and how I behave today because if you listened to my show this morning, I was pretty hot about some issues and I want to always have that in the back of my mind, “Please, God. Soften me when I’m about to blow up, when I’m about to show that human hostility. Help me throttle it back and try to get us to a better place, get myself to a better place and maybe the people who are listening to a better place.”
I think if you’re not very seriously seeking that type of spiritual intervention in the human soul, you could very easily find yourself hostile, angry, harmful to other people, harmful to yourself, and at the age of 50, I’m very thankful that I’ve held on to that because it could have gone away. I mean, I’ve got a lot of gay friends. I hate bringing up the gay thing, but it’s true. I got a lot of gay friends who have totally walked from organized religion. I don’t even think that in the moment of crisis they would pause to say, “Come on, God. Please help me figure this out.” This is not a part of who they are anymore.
I think that’s a real loss, that it’s certainly been a challenge, and I have had moments where I thought, “Why, God? This is not the life that I was supposed to have. I was supposed to be married with two kids and running for lieutenant governor, in a big house, hopefully making a million dollars.” It hadn’t worked that way for me. Instead of someone cussing me out for being gay, they should have embraced me.
So who do I get mad? Do I get mad at God about that or do I hold on to my faith even when the institutions have felt like they’ve turned against me? I really feel like I’m walking with God on some level. We’ll put this out in public and someone will say, “I saw that guy drunk six months ago.” Okay. Maybe that’s true, but in general, I’m really trying to hold on to a walk with God, me and him going through this because I think it’s important. If you don’t keep that kind of focus, you can go off the rails and do a lot of harm to yourself or other people.
Well, just as a comment there. I have my own little term for theoqualia, which is if there is a God, we can conclude after 5,000 years of recorded history that God must have designed the world a certain way. I would say that God must have designed the world in nature to give us all kinds of choices that make us crazy. Okay. That’s just the fact. It’s a challenge. We can agree on that, right? We can agree on that.
All right. Let’s go to the next question. Now, this is one that is I don’t, I’ve never asked anybody this question exactly this way. It’s one you’d see at the end of your philosophy class at Baylor, probably even your junior or senior year, not your freshman year, and I think it’s why we’re much at war today. Okay?
So do you believe in capital T Truth, capital G Goodness, capital B Beauty? In other words, do you know what I mean by that?
Not little T I’m talking about. Boom.
Well. I’m familiar with it from classes at Baylor and Hillsdale College mentions that even in their ad that you see on television these days, which I find interesting, but that is elevated to one of the discussion points. They’ve got 60 seconds to sell themselves and that’s one of the things, one of the discussion points that they would bring up.
I do think that there’s commonality, especially if you step back and look at the long trajectory of human existence that you can begin to discern capital T Truth and capital G Goodness, and Beauty that’s common from culture to culture, from era to era, from human to human. I’ve got to believe that there are common points that will do that when you look at family. We’re never going to agree on arts, so maybe I shouldn’t go down that road, but there are elements that I think you’ll find that almost throughout the continuum of time you’ll see that people are reaching out and embracing.
Maybe a longer conversation and a more in-depth conversation we need to spend some time on if you wanted more specifics, but I think, again, you got to step back from who you are and where you are in 2021 and try to study what it is that motivates people to do good, to help other people, to be a part of a strong, vibrant, prosperous, happy community, and then you might be able to, like panning for gold, find those little nuggets that would be true from generation to generation.
Yeah. Most people find that commonalities in human nature across the globe or commonalities in God, the concept of God, there are commonalities.
Well, I don’t think the average person spends much time thinking about it. I think it is the realm of the philosopher and the public policy advocate. Having spent a lot of time in Washington, I find it interesting that so much of the public policy that’s being driven in the United States today is driven by people who have very clear worldviews.
I’ve been fortunate that in addition to working in the United States Senate, I was communications rep with the US Chamber of Commerce, very business-centric, very money-oriented, how do we make money. Then going over and working for a veterans group. That’s a different mindset. It’s a different set of concerns that they have. It exposed me on the right to a group of people who in many ways are very rude in a biblical understanding of humanity. I think they believe in manifest destiny in the United States, and they’re pushing public policy that will advance that mindset.
Then in contrast, I mean, I was shocked, I was exposed to some real left-wing groups that totally, many of the members, many of the people I’ve sat across from the table, sat across from them at the table and I thought, “What am I doing talking to these guys?” They completely reject faith. It is all about the class warfare element, the struggle between those who have and those who don’t, and inevitably, those who have are oppressing those who don’t and don’t want to give up anything.
In my conversations with them on different public policy issues that I had advocated on, that was very revealing. So does the average person think about it? Probably not, not unless something happens to them and they feel wronged, but I think it’s wise to say, “How do you see yourself in a society? Do you feel like you’re immobile like at the age of 40, it’s done, you’re never going anywhere else, you’re never going to advance, I give up or I don’t feel like I have the opportunity to provide for my family and leave them in a better place in another 20 years or do you still feel mobile?
I think the worldview in maybe, I went live in 1950, but my reading tells me that a lot of Americans saw the world in a very different way than they do today. There’s good and bad to that. Now we feel like we’re global citizens. That event that just happened in New York. I remember being in New York and they were talking about the global citizen concert. There was a book. Oh, my gosh! I’ve got it in a box someplace. They talked about I’m a citizen of the world by one of the great novelists of modern era. Well, anyway, I’m a citizen of the world.
I remember being in my late teens, early 20s gravitating to that idea because I wanted to see the world. So surely, I wanted to be a citizen of the world. Then I started traveling the world and I thought, “Ooh, man! I’m glad I’m a citizen of the United States because there are a lot of problems that I’m not willing to take on that you guys got to figure out on the other continent, you’ve got to figure out on the other side of the planet.”
I got to try to perfect my circumstance. It almost maybe it makes me throwback to that 1940s-1950s mentality of let’s capitalize on the great things we have here and not worry about everything else that’s happening in the world. I can’t change that. I can try to take control of what’s happening around me and hopefully leave a better society for those that come after me. I wish I had some kids that I could be doing that for them.
So I feel good about going to globalization, which is you’ve been to seven continents, which is unbelievable and obviously is a goal. Two part question. Which countries do you see being the most prosperous, safe, and happy and why and how does the US fit in to that that you see both from the way we look at it and the way other people look at us?
That’s an interesting question because some of the happiest people I have known, I think, I think they’re happy, my interaction with them would lead me to believe that they’re at peace and happy with who they are, have been very poor people. I mean, I remember one of the first trips I took. Maybe I was a freshman in college, was to Guatemala. I loved being there. I mean, it was new to me. So maybe my perception of it, if I did the same trip today would be different than it was when I was brand new and everything was so exciting.
I remember it was a church trip. It was a missions trip. We were helping over the couple of weeks we were there to help build one of the outbuildings for a community center for the local church. It was very clear, this is not negative, the people in the village didn’t have much money. I don’t know that they ever would. The way things were set up at the time, I don’t know if Guatemala is in a better place now or not, but they weren’t going to be rich the way an American would value riches.
I still think of the families that I interacted with how happy they were, how happy the little kids were. I remember thinking we argue at our house about whether we’re going to spend money on this and do we want to get the new car. They didn’t have a car. They didn’t have a new table. Everything looked like it had been passed down for decades, but they were super happy people.
I thought of them a lot. I’d almost like to go back and find out where those families are today. You know what? If I had Facebook back then maybe I would have stayed in touch with them, but just see where they are. I would guess, I’m just guessing, and maybe I’m imposing my desire on it rather than reality that those folks who weren’t so obsessed about the material riches and the rat race that we have would find themselves much happier than we are.
I do wonder sometimes in modern America whether we should return to some concept of simplicity that would give us more emotional piece on a day-to-day basis, and a generational basis in a decade. Maybe I’m not going to live in a mansion. I mean, I’ve struggled with that because I swear to you when I was a teenager I thought, “I’m going to be the anchor of the NBC Nightly News. I’m going to have a million dollars a year. I’m going to be rich,” and that’s what I want.
Now, all these decades later, it hadn’t happened. It hurt. The realization that that probably wasn’t going to happen to me hurt. I felt betrayed on some level. I felt like I hadn’t achieved, but there’s a certain peace that comes with not accepting a lower place in life, but that maybe things aren’t going to unfold as you were told or as you believe that you would.
Traveling around the world, I’ve seen that over and over again, the people who appear to me to be the most at peace, maybe not the healthiest or the wealthiest, are people who are just happy with where they are, not always fighting for something.
Follow up question. I listened to you last week from Abu Dhabi, I believe. You talked about a bathroom you went in to that was solid gold. Maybe it’s jealousy on my part that they’re so much richer than we are, but could you talk about the materialism there. You also bring up China a lot lately and the Chinese Communist Party with their buildings. I mean, clearly, they bought into materialism, which, of course, they would as scientific materialists. That’s what communism is based on. Comment on your most recent experience going over there and what you saw in the material.
It’s interesting you bring that up because I did go to the presidential palace in Abu Dhabi. It’s amazing. It’s a stunning building. It is, I would guess in a couple of hundred years that building will still stand regardless of what else happens in the region or if it’s the same country in 300 years. That building will still be there.
I love the idea that they are still into the idea of creating something that will last for generations, going back to what I said about being a part of a continuum. One of the things I like about going to the US Capitol Building is that the building has changed. It’s grown. The dome that’s on it now wasn’t that way when the Capitol first built, but I like the idea of being in the same rooms, and the same chairs with people who had preceded me.
So I think that that’s interesting for a society that previously had been a better one, that they weren’t creating buildings that lasted. It was constantly moving with the agricultural cycle and the agrarian world that they were a part of. I like the idea that they’re doing that, but, man, it is ostentatious. It’s over the top. It’s almost too much in some ways, but that’s … I don’t know. Is it right to say nouveau riche, people who are newly wealthy what’s the first thing they do? Buy the big house, buy the fancy car because they want to show that they’ve arrived. I can’t really blame them for doing that.
I mean, we could get into a longer conversation about whether the money is well-spent, especially with some of the other stories I can tell you about people who are suffering and struggling and whether there’s a way to fix some of the elements of society to make it easier for those people to also succeed, but it’s pretty dramatic.
I said when I was in Dubai that I imagine my reaction to modern day Dubai is very similar to what my great-great grandfather must have felt when he came out of Ellis Island, when the ferry brought him to Manhattan and he looked up in the late 1800s and saw New York City coming from Ireland that it must have just blown his mind. I got to tell you, I’ve been to Dubai four or five times now. With this latest trip, I still felt the same way like, “Wow! There’s a lot that’s messed up here, but this is amazing to see.”
There are also cultural reasons you can get in to that make it not a bad thing as much. There are reasons why people do things. Another thing we’re about is most people aren’t fundamentally bad, I mean, across the world, but badness, it doesn’t take many apples to ruin the bunch. That’s the problem about badness. It doesn’t take much. So, there are good reasons why they are the way they are, for sure.
Well, I think we delude ourselves into thinking that there’s no trouble with it. When I worked at the Chamber of Commerce, of course, American business people wanted to open up the market in India with a billion people. They wanted to open up their customer base to China. The question is, do you betray your values and principles, your fundamental values and principles in order to achieve that? I got to sound the warning that I think some of us are doing that in this country.
We’re so desirous to have our movie shown to a society that loves going to the movies and will plug down money to do it that we’re willing to ignore some things we shouldn’t ignore and maybe engage in some practices that we wouldn’t allow ourselves to engage in here. I think that’s a problem and it deserves to be flagged.
I don’t know that it means that you’ve got to walk away and set fire to what you’ve done, but you got to pay attention to that. Are you betraying your values? The supply chain issue that we’re having right now, I think this is revealing that maybe America and American business and American manufacturers and American politicians, we love to believe that there’s always somebody over in Vietnam and Cambodia and China and the East who will make everything that we need and it’s all going to be okay.
I think we’re getting a warning here that we need to reflect on whether that’s the case because let’s say, God forbid, there’s another world war and it breaks along some of these geographic lines that prevent the supply chain from continuing as it is now. Do we honestly think the United States would be in a position to continue to feed and take care of its people? The answer, I think, is being revealed right now. No. We’ve got to reevaluate that.
However, having said that, I’m so thankful that I get on a plane in Richmond, Virginia and 14 hours later be in Dubai for the opening of the World Expo. I mean, how amazing is it to live in a time where someone who’s not a millionaire can plunk down 1,000 bucks and be on an airline and show up for a global event? Think of all the people who’ve lived here before our time who would never have dreamed that they’d be able to do that or they’d get the chance to do it once like get on a boat, go spend a year overseas and then they’d come back and that’s it. It blows my mind that we live in a time where we can do that.
Again, that’s why I think it’s important to listen to people and I want to be one of them who keeps that time continuum in perspective, that’s it’s not all about right now. You have to have an appreciation for those who lived before you and be aware of those who are coming after you.
Hm. I don’t know how I would address that. I think there’s some Americans who really believe the world is it’s small world right at Disneyland, that the difference between people is basically costumes and hats, and skin color or maybe the shape of your eyes or the shape of your nose, that it’s cosmetic. I’ve taken plenty of tours where I visited temples from a thousand years ago.
One of the things I’ve tried to do is not just limit myself to that, but to go to the way modern people live, too. It isn’t just about the old building. There’s some real significant cultural differences, and not to get into an ugly situation, but we’re going to see that here in Virginia because we have Afghan refugees who are now here in Virginia.
I feel terrible. I’m angry about what we have done in Afghanistan and the fact that these refugees needed to come here, but as sympathetic as I am to their plight, I’ve also been in the Middle East. I haven’t been in Afghanistan, but I was in Iraq. I’ve been in a lot of these countries. There’s some real significant cultural differences between the way we live in the West and the way people have lived for a thousand years and probably will continue to live in decades to come, centuries to come.
I don’t think Americans fully appreciate that. We’re told, it’s a mixed message we get here. I mean, try doing a Halloween costume and saying, “Hey, I’m from Africa.” Ooh, that’s dangerous. How are you presenting modern day Africa? The truth is if you go to Nairobi today, most of the people you’ll interact with are in Western clothes. So are they culturally appropriating the West or are we culturally appropriating their tribal costume or their tribal outfit that they would wear? Who’s cannibalizing whose lifestyle? I think Americans are very confused about that.
I remember when I was at the TV station one of my colleagues was really bent out of shape about a map of the world that was being sold at the bookstore next to the TV station and it had the caricatures of the people in the different countries. Of course, she was African-American. She was very offended that there was a tribal person with a bone in their hair.
I said, “Do you think that it’s worth getting this upset? Do you find that depiction to be so offensive that you would blow it up on the TV and make a big deal out of it?”
She did. She was really angry about it. So we’ve got this mixed message of appreciate different cultures, recognize different cultures, but we also don’t want to, in certain cases, we don’t want to depict to them or show them or only certain people are allowed to depict them. I think that’s a problem.
I think it’s possible. I think it’s very possible that we could be led down a road that would embrace a bankrupting, financially and maybe culturally bankrupting socialist idea. One of the things that most bothers me about modern America is I think good people, responsible, solid people are having their best instincts and their best intentions used against them.
The desire by Americans to not have other Americans in poverty I think is a noble instinct because there are other parts of the world where culturally, “Yeah, that’s not my problem.” The attitude is, “I’m not going to look at the person on the street. It’s not my issue.” Maybe a percentage of the population worries about it. I think rank and file Americans, old, young, white, black don’t like seeing people suffering in their culture. Maybe it is the Judeo-Christian that you got to reach out and try to help people. The question is how do you help them.
I think a lot of people are being led astray into believing that the government through social programs, very expensive social programs are going to solve these problems. Again, objectively, I have an emotional reaction to it, but one of the things I try to do when I was at Baylor, and I’m so thankful to go through some of the sociology programs at Baylor was, objectively, have we, after what, since President Johnson and the Great Society, have we subsidized the problems with this money and this effort and the government programs and institutions or have we solved them, which is I hate to reach the conclusion that we’ve subsidized the problems.
In many ways I think, especially with the dissolution of the nuclear family especially in the minority community, we’ve made it worse. I think sober, responsible people need to put aside political affiliations and reflexive answers and look objectively at the numbers and the anecdotal stories and recalibrate fast. I think we’re recalibrating the wrong direction. I do think that it’s possible for us to go down a road that will be unrecoverable in the short-term.
It worries me because I figure if I’m lucky I got another 20-30 years to be alive. What will the country look like when I’m 70 or 80? I think it can look really, really bad, especially if the economy collapses under the stat. I think it can look really, really bad. I’ve been in Greece. I’ve been in Italy. I’ve been in countries, some of the South American countries that were so wealthy just 50, 60, 100 years ago, beautiful buildings, antiques everywhere. I mean, there were impoverish people, but it was a rich country. It isn’t that way now. They made the same calculated decisions that it seems to me we’re making now and they’re in a much worse place, I think, than they were 50 years ago, 60 years ago.
Follow up question to that is, and I’m going to keep this question short, I hinted to you if you read it. I’m reading Whittaker Chambers’ thick biography from 1952.
I saw that.
If you read that, it’s a fabulous book, but you know it’s got to be five times worse now because a lot of the things that were taboo then are not taboo at all. As a matter of fact, they’re celebrated. The welfare state is so much bigger. It’s going to be … Is there a conspiracy? Do you think there’s a conspiracy that to produce the result that you’re talking about?
I used to not be a conspiracy theorist, but I’m becoming more and more. I see it.
I think there are groups that are motivated by the socialist mindset and, quite frankly, the socialist power struggle who would be delighted to see a collapsed American economy on some level because it gives them authority over the population, and it allows them to take over. Independent free people don’t need to bag for things. Poor people need to bag for things. I think there are some people who are happy about it.
I used this example on the show the other day that every half hour we did a story about how gasoline in Virginia is right at $3, $2.99, $3.01, $3.02, and that it’s the highest gas prices we’ve seen in seven years. Well, I hear that and I lament it. Oh, this is terrible. It’s terrible for me, it’s terrible for you. It’s terrible for the guys who are going to put gas on the truck to move something from one side of rural Richmond to urban Richmond to sell the product. Uh-uh.
There are people in Washington right now who are applauding that. That is what they want. They want a high gas price because their goal is for you to get off the road. Now, they may be motivated by a power structure that says the more I limit your ability to move around, the better off I am, but I think a lot of them are driven by this climate change concept that even if it harms you right now, it’s worth it because in the end, we’re going to get more cars off the road. I don’t buy into that.
Yeah. I think there’s a large group of people and they’ve really established think tanks and activist groups all across the country based in Washington but all across the country who are doing everything they can to pull the underpinnings of the society out so that if there’s a collapse, they’re doing a pretty good job even without the collapse, but if there’s a collapse, they will be able to swoop in and recreate the American society, probably the same flag, I guess, probably the same name of the country, but it won’t be the same country.
I think we’ve completely given up on having a southern border and it’s terrible. People call into the radio station and say, “Oh, you xenophobe,” and then I tell them, “I’ve spent a lot of time in Central and South America. In fact, I’ve dated.” My hostility is not at brown people. I have dated and loved emotionally people from other countries. In fact, I find them more interest Instagram than someone who looks like me and grew up in the same town that I did.
So it’s not a xenophobic negative reaction, but I’m puzzled to have to explain it to people that if you have a limited amount of resources, and we do even though we’re wealthy, we have a limited number of resources, that if you don’t check the number of people who are accessing those resources eventually you’ll kill yourself. You will run out of water. You will run out of food. I mean, those are the basics, but you can flood the country and it won’t be productive anymore.
Then I do think I value Western culture. I value the American culture. It’s changed some, and I’ve been the beneficiary of some of those changes. I acknowledge that, but I also think it’s important for us to say, “Now, wait a minute. If we allow people from a completely different culture to overrun entire cities and states, it’s not going to be the same country.”
I actually think we’re at pretty special place. I don’t mind sharing that with a group of people who come in a planned, in reasonable numbers so that they can assimilate to us instead of assimilating to them. I think we’ve got that proportion all off now.
I think there’s been a fundamental change in the way journalists approach their jobs. I feel a certain sense of guilt about this, not that anybody is really paying attention to me, but I will tell you when I started at the local TV station, the numbers weren’t great on the morning new. Richmond is not New York. I’m not crazy. It’s not like we’re changing the entire country, but the new director at the time said, “How could it possibly be worse? We’ll put you on the morning show and we’ll give you the latitude to offer commentary on the news,” which isn’t totally new, but it was the breakout for local TV for the anchor to offer quips and comments about the news.
Some people hated it, “How dare you? That’s not your job. Your job is to just give me the facts, not offer opinion.” We had internal conflicts over it. It was a ratings hit. I mean, we saw our number and people liked it. Even if they hated me and what I was saying, they wanted to watch and hear what I had to say. It was very successful. Of course, for me, it was great because I have a lot to say and I was a loud mouth young person. Now, I’m a loud mouth middle-aged guy, but I do look back at that and I know that the consultants took the tapes and showed them to other stations and other stations started to emulate it.
I do wonder, “Oh, man! Was I a part of the decline of American journalism where that line was crossed and now if that was a step across the line situation, now we’re 10 miles down the road.” I was an adjunct professor in VCU, Virginia Commonwealth University in the journalism program. I taught media ethics, which people generally laugh when I bring that up, but I talk about some of those debates over how you cover a story, and if you feel very strongly, I’m very anti-abortion, but let’s say I was reporter today. If I were to cover a pro-choice march using their language that they would embrace, how would I cover that and be objective? How would I effectively communicate to the audience what those people wanted to say, not what I believe personally very strongly, but what they wanted to say by taking to the streets to offer an opinion?
I don’t know. I feel like a lot of that’s been lost, and that reporters began their story with let me tell you how I react to it, and especially when you got newsrooms that I don’t think actively seek out, “Hey, do I have any conservatives in the room here? Is there anybody from a conservative perspective who’s going to offer what they think the top story of the day is?” I don’t think that’s a part of today’s newsroom.
They’re very worried about whether it’s man, woman, Black, White, Asian, Latino, what’s your last name is. I even had a news director actually tell me up in D. C., “Do you think you could go by Juan? I’d like to hire you. Do you think you could go by Juan?” I was like, “No. I think the Irish background is going to eclipse my ability to go with Juan, but thanks.”
They’re so interested in those characteristics that are superficial and then the philosophical balance I don’t think exists in the modern newsroom. I think it’s actually become more than that. It’s an aggressive push, propagandistic push that’s troubling to me. That’s another reason I’m so thankful to be in the talk show business. Honestly, I feel like I’m more honest and open to other people coming on the show who disagree with me than perhaps the objective journalists are in the way they present their material, at least I’m trying to keep that in mind as I prepare my programs.
There are a couple of different issues here. One is Monument Avenue, which had been around for, what, over a century. In some case, 130 years with the big Robert E. Lee statue. Look, if somebody says to me, “I abhor the Confederacy and I don’t admire Robert E. Lee,” I would ask, “Have you read about Robert E. Lee? Do you think objectively you know anything about this person or are you snap judgment, good, bad, Confederacy versus the United States of America and that’s how I’m judging this person?”
If the answer is, “No, I haven’t really read anything, but I’m just going to make a black or white discernment on this literally and figuratively,” okay.
We destroyed Monument Avenue, deliberately. I think that is a cultural loss for us, and I do think intellectually it’s a loss because I can personally tell you that people have visited me in Richmond and Monument Avenue has served on my little tour of the city, “Here’s where we go drink beer, but before we do that, let me show you Monument Avenue.” It has sparked very lively conversation about both the founding of the country, the Civil War era, which like it or not, Richmond, that’s just a part of the history. It’s not made up. It’s not like somebody’s hanging a picture on the wall that doesn’t belong there. I mean, it’s a part of the history of this area.
We’ve wiped that away. I think that’s a big mistake. I look at other parts of the world where the heads of the kings are chopped off and today, you go to the museum and they say, “Well, this is this king, but he doesn’t have his head because they chopped the head off.” It’s such a shame because based on the descriptions, it was a wonderful depiction of that king. Now, we don’t know what the king looks like.
I was so shocked in Richmond that the same people who would have given me that tour in the museum and lamented that loss from 500 years ago were silent as that type of behavior was occurring in their own time in the city.
So I love monuments. We just unveiled the Freedom Monument here in Richmond. I think that’s a part of the story that should be told. I think the emancipation of African slaves in the society is one that should be told and celebrated. I’m all for it. I just wish that we hadn’t indulged, I think, the ugly side of cleansing our public square because I think there is a story to be told.
I think if you’re intellectually honest, the story of Robert E. Lee, the story of Matthew Fontaine Maury, the story of some of the second tier citizens in Richmond who were very successful in life, who for whatever reason they were a doctor on the civil war battlefield but then after the war, they helped rebuild the city. I think those stories should be told, too. I’m distressed that we’ve indulged that ugly side.
Now, if it were up to me, if it were up to me, I’d bring the statues back and I’d be happy to contextualize them. That was the original proposal in Richmond if you remember. The citizen group said, “Let’s put more context.” Yet, it looks like we’re idolizing Lee. Maybe we have something that will help tell the whole story of Robert E. Lee, good or bad. I think that would have been smart. That’s what we agreed on, and then it all went out the window during the summer violence.
So to me, I would take it and you know what I’d say? Let’s take a decade or two and let it sit. I don’t think these people who did this destruction should be the ones who pick what goes up next. I don’t trust their judgment to be honest with you. I don’t think that what they pick now is going to stand for 130 years going forward. So I’d be happy to see it just-
Well, it would be interesting for you in your show to start a discussion of that and lead it. I think you’d be a perfect person to do it.
Well, it’s interesting. I wanted to put up a statue of Doug Wilder, but no one wanted to join me.
Yeah. He’ll be up there one day.
Based on my knowledge, which I think is fairly studied, Lee Stewart Jackson, I don’t Maury’s political views, but they’re all to the left of Sherman and McClellan on the African-American issue. They’re definitely. They were over here. They were just saying, “Let us do it. Don’t take over our government.” That’s what was going on.
Well, it’s odd to me that the people who were so angry at the traitors, the people who would destroy America are the same people who are in the streets saying they hate America and they’re willing to burn things. Talk about being someone who likes to call out hypocrisy. I find that pretty incredible.
Yeah. Well, the abolitionists, all of them, to the man were racists compared to today. They were. We really see what they say that fits. We don’t see what they say down here that doesn’t fit.
Well, my estimation of this, it hadn’t fundamentally changed, but I’ve been in parts of the world where women had no freedom at all. Whatever the husband said or whatever the father said, you better do it or you will be physically punished. I mean, in some cases, you might be killed. So I look at that and I think, “Yeah, that young woman in that country gets impregnated. She has no choice. She has no choice about whether she’s impregnated probably. She has no choice about whether she gives birth to the baby. She better give birth to the baby because the family wants that baby, and she’s silenced. Her opinion is irrelevant.”
Why are we pretending in any way that women in America are not fully emancipated? I mean, it’s 2021. With very few exceptions, I mean, they’re bound to be. I’m sure somebody could point out a story from last month about someone who was either raped or who had been psychologically abused by someone in their family and was subjugated and impregnated. I think women in America are emancipated. I do think they have full control over their bodies.
I think responsible conservatives who are concerned about abortion have expressed for decades that at the moment that an American woman is not free to make her own choice about whether she had sex, whether she becomes impregnated, when she loses that right, when she loses that choice, then we’re with you. We’ve got to restore your freedom at that point, but please don’t act like you don’t have that freedom on the front end to discern.
Listen, I understand in the heat of the moment things happen and you regret it and then the next thing you know, but I don’t think we can make public policy that indulges bad decisions and bad behavior, especially when it comes down to exterminating someone else’s life. Sure, maybe we’ll wipe your credit card debt. Okay. You were 25. You spent 40 grand. You can’t pay it off. Rather than sink you, let’s just wipe it clear. We’ll dump your credit rating, but no one’s dying because of that.
Again, the hypocrisy thing really bothers me when people act like this is simply a clump of cells because it’s not true. We know that’s not true. Scientifically, we know that’s not true. So if you start out your conversation with me about this where you don’t acknowledge that we’re really talking about human life, then it’s hard for me to engage because I think that’s intellectually dishonest. I sure understand the other perspective and the trauma, but that doesn’t give you a pass.
Talk to me a little bit about marriage. It’s personally an issue I struggle with simply because on the one hand, I believe in any two people that want to commit their lives to each other on virtually any way they want to do it is fine with me, and I would celebrate that in any way they wanted or whatever. Certainly, it has nothing to do with friendship. How do you think about, but that gets to my next question about trans-human, which you know what I’m talking about there where you’re manufacturing babies eventually in the scientific lab. Tell me, how do you think about marriage as an individual?
Well, I admire it. I think it is the building block of a stable society. As I get older, I also recognize how difficult it is, and especially when there’s so many distractions in modern America. I had talked about the folks in Central and South America who seemed so happy. They weren’t distracted in the same way that we are, and the culture still puts an emphasis on honoring that, with exceptions I’m sure, but honoring the sanctity of that relationship.
It’s something that I would like to emulate. I mean, it’s not going to be the same in a gay relationship as a heterosexual relationship, but to me, that’s important. I do believe that that team, usually male and female, provides you with a certain stability, with the ability, especially if you add the family component to it, when someone loses their job you’re not immediately in the street, when there’s an extra child that needs to be taken care of so that they don’t get into trouble, whether they’re two years old or they’re 16 years old. There’s someone else in the family to keep them in line.
I just think it’s so obviously the fundamentals of creating a stable society that it troubles me that we are contemplating and in many ways not even contemplating, but we’re jettisoning that idea. Is it perfect? Are people perfect? No, but I do think that it should be the ideal that we pursue, and it’s one reason as a gay guy. I was supportive of gay marriage because I felt like having two men or two women if that is your orientation and we could debate this all day, but I think it probably is some sort of orientation rather than choice based on my own feelings and observations.
I think that is something that would be positive for the gay community to emulate. I’m very distressed to be honest with you that many in the gay community fought so hard for gay marriage. Now, gay marriage is open marriage, and it’s a gay marriage for two years so you can have your big fancy wedding and take pictures, but then it doesn’t work out and you didn’t even really try at it. I don’t want to prejudge everybody, but I’ve observed that. We fought so hard to earn this right in the society or affirm this right in the society, and now we’re treating it frivolously and that’s troubling to me. I think it’s really important. Marriage is very important.
I’m not sold on that at all about being the way of the future. Quite frankly, in my relationship, we’ve talked about if we want to have children, what do we do. Clearly, we’re not going to have one ourselves. So do we have a surrogate? Do we do in vitro with somebody? I mean, how? Do we … My instinct is to adopt because I think that would be something that I could do to help someone who might not have been on the right track and give them some stability that they wouldn’t have had. That’s my instinct. We haven’t done that. We’re having a conversation about it.
It worries me, take the gay thing out of it, it worries me to think that we would create human life in a Petri dish. One of the fundamental reasons goes back to my explanation of family is that I think a human being needs to have the influence of other human beings that are theirs, connected to them. You are mine. We are together. There are a million other people out there, but for the rest of this ride, it’s us. I think that’s important to develop strong people who are respectful of the rest of the community is that you feel you have that intimate relationship. The idea that in another decade or two we could create an entire segment of society that doesn’t have an anchor culturally, emotionally, physically, that’s a problem, I think.
I want to be optimistic. Ronald Reagan, my first job out of college was interning for President Reagan. That was 1993. He’d been out of the White House for four years. I was privileged to be able to work with him to take down his thoughts and help draft remarks for the speeches he was giving then. The man just had all the faith in God and all the faith in America. There are some moments I finished the show after four hours on air here in the morning and I go, “I need to be more like Ronald Reagan. I need to be talking about solutions and how great America is and hold on to the dream instead of indulging the hostility about what I see in front of me.”
I struggle with that because I think things are in a tough place right now. We’ve been in tough places before, but I think it’s pretty tough at the moment. I feel like I’m standing on the beach and the tidal wave is coming in and I’m about to get wiped out. So what do you do? Do you lay down and let it roll over you? Do you run towards it and die? How do you respond to that? Do you pray and hope that it will go over you and you’ll still be standing and when it comes back, you can survive?
I’ve got to believe that free people can make good decisions and they can respond to the environment around them and they will fix this, but they got to be free people. That’s one of the things that I’m fighting for is even if I’m totally wrong, even if John Reid’s personal political philosophy is bogus and turns into, “You’re just wrong, John,” as long as the American public is free to make their own choices and not obligated for a century to those choices but free to adjust as individuals and families, then I think we can survive it. It’s where we start to take that personal autonomy away and we entrust a bureaucrat in D. C. or the governor of Virginia, whoever that may be, Republican or Democrat, or the president of the United States or the head of the CDC or someone who’s supposed to be so wise, when we give them the authority over the average citizen, then I don’t think we’d recover.
As long as I can say what I think and then the average Virginian, the average American can decide you’re full of it or I love it and do it and then adjust based on their own feelings and beliefs, then I think we can survive. So I’m committed to making sure that the average American can still do that whether they buy into what I’m selling or not.
It has been such a pleasure and an honor, an honor to have met you and seen you do your thing here.
It’s great to be in your place. I just hope you stay at it because there are waves that I don’t think have shown themselves yet that create hope, and it’s good to hear that you’re talking about optimism. So thank you.
Richmond’s Morning News with John Reid:
Praxis Circle Contributor Stephen Meyer is the Director and Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Praxis Circle interviewed Dr. Meyer because he is among America’s leaders in presenting the extensive evidence for God or Intelligent Design (ID) that exists in all fields of science everywhere scientists do their work.
Mike Gonzalez is a Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, where he specializes in immigration and foreign policy issues. With a career spanning journalism and public policy, Gonzalez has made significant contributions to the conservative movement and American public discourse. He is author of "The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics is Dividing the Land of the Free" (2020) and "BLM: The Making of a New Marxist Revolution" (2021).
Praxis Circle Contributor George Weigel is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, New York Times bestselling author, and world-leading Catholic theologian. Mr. Weigel because he is among the most influential spokespersons for Christian orthodoxy and Western freedom in the world.
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