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Interview With Donald Trump; Interview With Tavis Smiley, Cornel West

Aired July 20, 2011 - 21:00   ET


PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Tonight Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, ENTREPRENEUR: America is doing so poorly. And it soon will not be a great country the way it's going. The leadership is very poor. We're doing very poorly.

MORGAN: Donald Trump, how he would solve the country's debt crisis and what he would do to keep America great.

And remember that uproar over President Obama's birth certificate?

TRUMP: Honestly I'm very proud that I was able to bring this to a point. Nobody else was.

MORGAN: Tavis Smiley says that was race baiting. I'll ask him why he said the 2012 race for the White House will be nastiest in history. And why he says the White House itself pays too much attention to Wall Street.

Tonight race in the age of Obama.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're looking for the safe choice, you shouldn't be supporting a black guy named Barack Obama.


OBAMA: To be the next leader of the free world.

MORGAN: Candid conversation with Tavis Smiley.


Donald Trump says that America's economy could be going from bad to worse. And he joins me now on the phone with his prescription for recovery.

Donald, how are you?

TRUMP (via phone): Hello, Piers.

MORGAN: First of all, congratulations on becoming a grandfather again. Your lovely daughter Ivanka had a beautiful baby girl Arabella Rose, I understand.

TRUMP: That is true. And I'm very happy about that. We all are.

MORGAN: Now tell me, if we were trying to prescribe an economic future for young Arabella that you would feel comfortable about, what would you do right now?

TRUMP: Well, first you have to get the debt down. The debt limits have to come down. The whole world of debt has to be changed as far as this country is concerned. We have to create jobs and we have to create them rapidly because if we don't things are just going to head in a direction that's going to be almost impossible to recover from.

So we really need jobs now. We have to take jobs away from other countries because other countries are taking our jobs. There is practically not a country that does business with the United States that isn't making -- let's call it a very big profit. I mean China is going to make $300 billion on us at least this year. And they just revised that recently, I don't know if you saw. But they just said those numbers are going to be low. So we have to take our country back.

MORGAN: And what do you think of this Gang of Six plan? Do you think it's workable from what you've seen?

TRUMP: Well, from what I've seen, nobody really knows exactly what it represents and what it is yet. But at least they're in there pitching and at least they're trying to make the big deal. The big deal is really the deal they should make. I don't like the punt. I don't like the deal where we kick it down the road for six months.

This is the time to make the deal. And I have to tell you, the Republicans have the cards. People might not think that, but the Republicans have all of the cards. And this is the time to get rid of Obamacare. This is the time to make the great deal.

MORGAN: I've been following you on Twitter and you've been pretty aggressive about Obama on the economy. You believe that he can't stop spending and that America has to stop spending. One of his beliefs, of course, is that he's got to get rid of these tax incentives for the rich. And look after the guys with no money.

Why would you oppose that as an ideology?

TRUMP: Well, you know, it's a different world today, Piers, where people in this world can form companies in foreign countries where they pay very little tax, much less tax. And once you start taxing -- and I'm not talking about me. But once you start taxing people that do create jobs and do create businesses, you take the incentive away and then you're really going to have an unemployment problem.

So he's treading on very dangerous waters. MORGAN: Tell me this, Donald. I had Grover Norquist on here the other day, and I've put to him a question which he found quite hard to answer. And in the end gave me what I thought was a ridiculous response.

I said to him, given where we are right now in America economically, how much of the blame should be attached to Barack Obama and how much should be attached to the previous eight years of Republican administration?

If you were choosing a percentage, apportioning blame to each party there, what would you say?

TRUMP: Well, look. You know as well as anybody and you know me probably better than most because of our wonderful relationship with "Celebrity Apprentice" where you won and did great. And I'm proud of you and I'm proud of how well you're doing.

MORGAN: Thank you.

TRUMP: But you understand I was never a big fan of George Bush, OK? So it wasn't like, oh gee, I'm a rah-rah guy for Bush. But Obama took over a situation and has made it not better but probably worse. I think the economy is getting worse. I see things getting worse. Employment has gone up, not down.

So Bush certainly wasn't the greatest, and Obama has not done the job. And he's created a lot of disincentive. He's created a lot of great dissatisfaction. Regulations and regulatory is going through the roof. It's almost impossible to get anything done in the country.

Environmentally speaking, I want to tell you, I see jobs that are stopped all the time because of absolutely insane and ridiculous environmental rules. And these are jobs that could be employing a lot of people. So nothing's been made better, it's only been made worse.

So in terms of percentages, you know, I would just -- not really like to say that. I would say I wasn't a fan of the first and I'm certainly not a fan of the second. Because the second has made things worse, not better.

MORGAN: And in terms of America PLC, that the business model, if you like, America Incorporated, as it is here, if you were analyzing the old model and the way it ought to go, what are the fundamental changes? Because it seems to me -- you're right about bureaucracy.

China doesn't bog itself down with bureaucracy. It just gets stuff done and that is why they're roaring ahead. That's one of the things.

Secondly, America doesn't really build anything anymore. It doesn't make anything. It doesn't export enough stuff abroad to these countries.

TRUMP: Right.

MORGAN: Which have now all this money.

TRUMP: Right.

MORGAN: But what other things have you identified? I mean what should America be doing to revise this business plan? To get itself going again?

TRUMP: Well, you're really right about that. The system and the model is broken. It didn't used to be broken years ago. Everybody went out and they worked. And they -- you look at 50 percent of the people aren't paying taxes. And it's an amazing statistics. But tremendous number of people aren't paying any taxes.

And we have a lot of people that just don't want to work. They don't have the incentive to work, or they haven't been brought up to work. And it's a big problem for this country.

In China, everybody is running around working like mad. And I give them great credit for that. But I also give them credit for being much smarter than our leaders. And they've taken our jobs away. They manufacture our products. As do other countries.

And the first thing that has to be done is we have to get back on track with respect to OPEC which is a tremendous abuser of this country. And we don't even talk about it. And with respect to China and others who abuse our country because their leaders have made much better deals than our leaders. Because our leaders are either not as smart or there's some other reason. But it's conceivable some of the deals they make.

You look at Columbia, a country not that large, they had a $4 billion surplus on us this year. They made $4 billion. We never make a deal. We never make a deal where we come out on top. So we've lost our jobs, we've lost our incentive. And I will tell you that -- and Piers, I've discussed this with you before.

Getting things done in this country, if you want to build something, if you want to start a company, it's getting to be virtually impossible with all of the bureaucracy and all of the approvals.

MORGAN: Do you think -- do you think --

TRUMP: It's horrible.

MORGAN: Yes, I do think America is just so wrapped down in red tape. I mean getting all the basic things done involves sheets of paperwork. I mean I'm quite surprised having come here to live now just how the most basic stuff you want done in your life requires 100 pages of documents.

This is one of the reasons why countries like China are storming ahead because they simply don't have that kind of bureaucracy.

TRUMP: Well, you know, it's interesting in China, because I've been to China and I've been all over the world, and they want to build a city and they fill in a piece of the ocean. And in this -- and you know how long it takes them? Like how about two days? They say let's fill this in, we're going to build a city and create thousands of jobs. If you ever even suggested it in this country, they'd say you're certifiably insane because you can't do it.

I've seen recently where a certain type of grass -- grass, I won't go into the level of detail that I should, but a certain type, a little piece of grass has held up a major job from being built. Major. Supplying jobs to everybody and everybody wants it to happen. But because it's got a little piece of grass, a certain type of rather rare grass, the environmentalists hold up the job. And now this job will never --

MORGAN: It is ridiculous.

TRUMP: No, no --


TRUMP: And yet China will fill up the ocean. And I say to a friend of mine --

MORGAN: Yes. I've seen that.

TRUMP: -- in China how long did it take you to get your permits? He doesn't even know what I'm talking about, it went so fast. So this country is in serious trouble. And we have to get back on track.

MORGAN: It is in serious -- yes, it is in serious trouble. And what I want to talk to you about now is who you would trust. Given you're no longer in the presidential race. Which of the Republican candidates so far and, you know, Michele Bachmann, I guess, is emerging as one of the favorites from the Tea Party side of things. Mitt Romney appears to be the best at fund raising at the moment and so on.

Which one have you identified as potentially the one that could beat Barack Obama?

TRUMP: Well, it's too early for me to say. I -- everybody is asking me for support and all of that. It's just too early for me to say. But I will say this, that I think the Republicans are so misplaying their hand. They have the cards. And it started back in December when you had the lame-duck session. And Obama rose like a phoenix.

He was gone. It was over for Obama. And they brought him back with the deal they made which was a horrible deal.

Paul Ryan's plan where he attacks Medicare is one of the dumbest things I've ever seen especially if you happen to be running for reelection because you're going to see the only one happy is Nancy Pelosi and her group because you're going to see some tremendous reversals.

I've seen it already with Congressman West where he's being beaten up now by -- you know by the Democrats over Medicare.

MORGAN: And what do you -- what do you think of Michele Bachmann?

TRUMP: Well, I think she's a very underrated person. She actually came to see me in New York a few weeks ago, and I was very impressed with her. And I think she's highly underrated. I think she's very good.

MORGAN: And Sarah Palin obviously has not committed yet. She's another good friend of yours.

TRUMP: No, and I think she's terrific. I think she's a terrific person. She came to see me a little while before. You know we have the famous --

MORGAN: They're all coming to see you, Donald.

TRUMP: Yes. They're all coming to see me but Sarah Palin has also been -- you know, they're highly underrated people. They're smart. They know what they're doing. They know every move. And they don't get proper credit.

So I don't know that Sarah is going to run. I don't think she's going to run. I'm not sure she knows whether or not she's going to run, but I think she's a terrific person. I think Michele is a terrific person.

MORGAN: And talking of people who are coming to see me, in this case me, I've got an old friend of yours, Tavis Smiley, coming in in a moment for an interview, who said during the birther controversy that your involvement in any election would make it the ugliest, nastiest, most divisive and most racist in the history of this republic.

TRUMP: Well, that's just --


MORGAN: Anything you'd like to say to Tavis?

TRUMP: The word racist has not been applied to me, I will tell you that. But I was very proud of the job I did with respect to the birther issue, because I got Obama to do something which nobody else was able to get him to do. And there's a real question as to why he took so long to do it. Maybe one of these days you'll have to ask him why. And you have to check out that document very carefully.

But I got him to do something that nobody else was able to do. And I'm very proud of it. But I have to tell you, the Republicans have a chance, but the way they're going about it, they are not going to get him out of office. They are making mistake after mistake. And I can see them already making another mistake when it comes to what they're discussing right now in terms of debt limits.

MORGAN: Donald Trump, a provocative and entertaining as ever. Thank you very much for joining me. TRUMP: Thank you very much, Piers.

MORGAN: Coming up, Tavis Smiley's response, his take on Donald Trump, politics and President Obama.


MORGAN: Tavis Smiley is the host of his own PBS talk show and the author of "Fail Up." And he joins me now.

Welcome, Tavis.

TAVIS SMILEY, HOST, PBS'S "TAVIS SMILEY": Piers, good to see. And congratulations on your show.

MORGAN: Thank you very much. And indeed on yours. So you heard Donald Trump there. What was your reaction to what he said?

SMILEY: Just want to clarify one thing. I did not call Donald Trump racist. What I suggested was that the way he was handling this birther issue was indicative of how ugly, how nasty, how divisive, how racist perhaps this campaign for the White House was going to be. I still stand by that. There are all kinds of signs that suggest to me this is going to be an ugly, nasty, racist, divisive campaign for the White House.

MORGAN: I know Donald Trump well. Obviously I did "Celebrity Apprentice" with him.


MORGAN: I don't think he's got a racist bone in his body. I know that for a fact. I think he felt that with Obama and the birther thing, however ludicrous it seemed to other people, he couldn't understand why the president didn't just release his birth certificate straight away. It was a bit odd that it took him so long. Why do you think it took him so long?

SMILEY: I can't speak for the Obama White House. God knows given the critique I've leveled against this White House, I'm the last person they would ask to speak for them on PIERS MORGAN or anywhere else.

What I do know is that Barack Obama has been maltreated, has been treated in such a way that there is no comparison historically to any other president being asked to render that kind of document. That issue had been settled long ago. And for whatever reason, call it racist, call it hate, call it whatever you want -- call it. Whatever reason there are many in this country, in the Tea Party and beyond, who will not let this issue go.

And I thought then and think now that with all respect to Donald Trump that it was beneath him to try to build his campaign on that issue. Beyond that, I thought Donald Trump, quite frankly, was pimping the media. And I thought many in the media went for that. He was laughing all the way to the bank. I said from day one Donald Trump is not going to run for president. He's making too much money.


MORGAN: I would take issue with that because I spoke to him privately through that period. There was a moment when he went about 10 points clear in the polls for Republican potential nominees. And he was deadly serious. He was looking at this and he was getting an amazing reaction from the public.

And then he had the triple whammy really. He had the White House Correspondents Dinner where he went to, Osama bin Laden got killed, the birther issue resolved. And suddenly the oxygen went out of his tent a bit. But I think he was genuinely thinking about it. I don't think it was a feeble thought to some game.

SMILEY: You have insights I don't have, obviously. What I do know is that he has done this before. This is not the first time he's flirted with running for the White House. And again, if you're going to run, run. But run on some legitimate and some serious issues. And this notion of this birther attack on the president, I just thought that was beyond the pail.

My friend (INAUDIBLE) who you will talk to later --


SMILEY: Put it very simply this way. When it comes to the president, we have to respect him, we have to protect him, and we have to correct him. And in my career, since he'd been on the national stage at least, I've had -- I've always respected the president. There have been times I've had to protect him against birther attacks. But just as often I will correct him when I think he's wrong.

So this was one of those incidents where I thought the president need to be protected against from pretty vicious and quite frankly vulgar attacks.

MORGAN: Tell me this. I mean after our last guest is, it's an interesting question, I think. Is America more or less racist since Barack Obama became the first African-American president?

SMILEY: More or less. That's a good question. I'm not sure that it is more or less. I think that what see are (INAUDIBLE) that have always been there but they've been exploited as a result of his ascendancy to the White House. This whole notion of a post racial America was nonsense from the very beginning. It was a bad idea, a bad notion, a bad formulation when it was first raised.

I think what his election signifies, Piers, is that America may be less racist. Less racist. But in no way are we post racial.

MORGAN: You know I mean -- you know in a funny way, it was a fantastic day for African-Americans when he got into the White House. But at the same time it raised the whole issue, put it out there, exposed people. And I share your concern that the next election campaign, there will be subtle racism. A play here, I'm sure.

SMILEY: Why just subtle? Why not outright and overt?

MORGAN: Did you see that, though, in one of the --

SMILEY: Well, I think that --


SMILEY: That's my point. I think that birther attack was indicative --

MORGAN: But we're moving on from that which has now been resolved.


MORGAN: Do you still see residual issues there where you'll see what you perceived to racist views?

SMILEY: I think the deck is stacked against this president in ways that it hasn't been stacked against other presidents. I'm not going to suggest that that's racist through and through. I've made the point many times to African-Americans for all the black folk -- for all the love and adoration there is for Barack Obama in the black community.

Obviously he could not have been elected president without a whole bunch of white folk. So black folk could not have done it by ourselves. So I don't want to cast dispersion and have a blanket approach to calling all Americans racist who disagree with Barack Obama. And I hated that kind of critique against me when I made the comments about Donald Trump and others.

My point was not to try to stack the deck in such a way that any critique of the president would be considered racist. That didn't make any sense because I critique the president sometimes --


MORGAN: What is your main critique of President Obama right now?

SMILEY: It's really a question of whether you're going to side with the weak or are you going to side with the strong? And the evidence suggest to date respectfully that this president too often has sided with the strong over the weak.

MORGAN: In what way?

SMILEY: In many ways. Wall Street. When Wall Street came a calling, he responded. In ways that Larry Summers and Geithner and others in the administration wanted him to respond.

I think Wall Street is exhibit A. But in so many instances, we see this president either siding with the strong over the weak, or too often compromising and quite frankly capitulating on issues that do not serve the best interest of the base that got him elected.

MORGAN: I mean part of his charm of why he got elected is he's not reactionary. He's calm. He's no drama Obama. What is actually wrong with a president taking his time listening to the arguments making decisions? Are we in too much of a rapid fire society these days where everything has to be boom, boom, boom.

You know I quite like his more measure style. I'm not saying he's perfect. But I quite like that style of presidency.

SMILEY: Two responses to that. Number one, I laugh at my friends in the media particularly those who are progressives or liberals who celebrated the fact that he was calm and deliberate and methodical, and he listened well when he was running. Those same progressives are now giving the president hell for taking too long, for being too cautious, but not moving swiftly enough, et cetera, et cetera.

It's been amazing to me to watch that 180 shift in the progressive critique, critique that is against this president. Number one. Number two, there is nothing wrong to your questioning especially, Piers. There's nothing with the president taking his time to consider all sides. But at some point, at some point people want to see the president fighting for them.

That's what there the proof is now suggesting that their polling suggested to them, that people want to know whether or not the president is fighting for them. My grand dad put it this way all the way.

Tavis, there's some fights that ain't worth fighting even if you win. There are other fights you have to fight even if you lose. I think Americans want to see the president fight for them.

MORGAN: Hold that thought. We'll come back and find out what you think he should be fighting on and why.



OBAMA: The day I'm inaugurated, this country looks at itself differently and the world looks at America differently. And if you believe that we've got to heal America and we've got to repair our standing in the world, then I think my supporters believe that I am a messenger who can deliver that message around the world in a way that no other candidate can do.


MORGAN: That was then candidate Barack Obama with Tavis Smiley in 2007.

I mean he promised a lot. It was the audacity of hope, and perhaps hope was a bit outrageous in the case of Barack Obama. Nobody could live up to the kind of expectation we had.

We were talking before the break about where he's got things wrong the way you'd like him to be more forceful. America is in a massive financial meltdown at the moment. A real crisis.

What's the way out? How do we revive America Incorporated? How do we get it back on its feet?

SMILEY: I recognize that campaigning and governing as you well recognize, Piers, campaign and governing are two different things. And so often presidencies are judged by not what they promised by, but rather by how they handle the crises that came up on their watch.

Here's the bottom line. When Obama was running for president during that interview, he and John McCain go on to have three presidential debates. The word poverty does not come up one time in three presidential debates. Obama doesn't raise it. McCain doesn't raise it. The moderators in those debates respectfully don't raise it.

No conversation about the poor, about poverty during that campaign. Who are the new poor these days? The new poor are the former middle class. So what's my answer to your question? It's simple. Three things, jobs, jobs, jobs.

That's the message they've been missing. And it troubles me that a campaign that was so good at staying on message, that was so good at delivering the right message that resonate with the voters somehow got off track and they've not focused on jobs.

I've been for peace that we both right, I'm sure, about Frank Rich, in the "New Yorker" recently. Lays out the case brilliantly.

Now my friend Professor West and I have made the same critique for three years now. And this is something that I want to say that's fascinating for me. If Piers Morgan says the same thing I say, it's OK. If Frank Rich says the same thing I say, it's OK. If Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd makes the same arguments that I make or Dr. West makes, it's OK.

But somehow if we make those same arguments in love and out of respect, somehow we're haters. Somehow we're being too hard on the president. Somehow inside of our own community you end up being a sort of pariah. But all you're trying to do is to speak truth to power, to be consistent to the truth. And why is what I say, versus what my white progressive friends say, any different?

MORGAN: You say in your book your favorite quote is Samuel Beckett. Ever tried, ever failed, no matter, try again, fail again, fail better.

Is part of your problem with President Obama that he doesn't take enough dramatic action to risk potential failure? He's not doing the things fast enough. I mean, interestingly, just when everyone was saying this, he went and killed bin Laden. Boom, bang. Took him out. Incredibly audacious raid. So he has it in him to do that kind of thing. And yet on the debt crisis, on the economy, he seems to have been quite diffident.

SMILEY: I'm not so sure that the debate or that the question is whether it's a question of pace. Whether or not he's fast or slow. I think it's about principles and priorities.

MORGAN: How do we get people back to work? If you were in charge now, what do we do?

SMILEY: First of all there's got to be a laser focus on jobs, number one. Number two, the president can no longer be afraid to say the word poverty. He won't even say the word poverty. He won't say the word poor.

You can't be afraid to address it, number one. There's got to be a laser focus on jobs. Number two. Number three, let's talk about deficit reduction. That's the quickest way we're going to increase unemployment. History is replete with examples of moments in time when we talk about deficit reduction and try to advance on it around the world, that is, where it leads to job losses, not job creation. So this deficit reduction --

MORGAN: You'd be spending more now to get out of this?

SMILEY: This deficit reduction conversation right now is ill timed. This is not the -- back to my point about too much compromise, too much capitulation. This is not the point to be talking about deficit reduction. Again, I'm not the only person to say that. But show me examples in history -- a litany of examples, if you can find them, where deficit reduction leads to more job. Nobody is leveling with the American people about that.

MORGAN: Would you raise taxes right now to increase revenue?

SMILEY: I think raising taxes is an option, number one.

MORGAN: Would you cut spending at the same time?

SMILEY: I think there are places to cut spending, but we're not cutting it in the right places, number one. I think, number two, you can raise taxes on the right group of Americans.

And number three, I think you can close a whole lot of corporate loopholes on the right Americans. It's tragic for me, respectfully, again, that Mr. Immelt is the head of the president's economic commission and he heads a company that paid not a cent -- I paid more taxes than GE paid.


MORGAN: What you're really saying is that President Obama has not looked after the poor in the way that perhaps he promised to. And he has kind of back scratched the rich and hasn't done nearly enough perhaps to be more punitive with them, ironically, given so many of these people, the bankers and so on, were the ones who got us in the mess.

Would you like him now to revise that, to go after the richer Americans?

SMILEY: Yes. But I -- with one exception. I respect your word choice. I don't call it punitive or pejorative. I call it fairness. What you call punitive, I call fair. I think the president --

MORGAN: They would say it's punitive. Donald Trump said earlier to me, you start taxing the rich, what you're taxes is success and achievement and hard work. It's the American dream in many ways. Why should they be punished, the ones who weren't in the banking community?

SMILEY: The rich always say that. The rich have never seen a tax that they like. I've been rich and I've been poor in my own life. Obviously rich is better. But I also believe that I am not unlike many other Americans who have been blessed with means, that we're not unwilling to pay our fair share.

Back to your question you raised a moment ago and I can tie this in. I have said consistently, Piers, that great presidents aren't born. They're made. There is no Abraham Lincoln with Frederick Douglass pushing him into his greatness. There is no FDR without A. Phillip Randolph pushing him.

There is no LBJ without MLK pushing him.

So you got to push these guys.

MORGAN: They had big plans, these guys.

SMILEY: And they took risk.

MORGAN: When you say laser focus on jobs, what's the big plan? What's the big idea he's not doing to get Americans back to work?

SMILEY: First of all, again, this conversation about deficit reduction is ill timed, number one. Number two, those same guys on Wall Street who we took care of, we've got to find a way to have them get off that trillion dollar plus money that they're sitting on and not reinvesting it in the community.

We could do this all night in terms of what ought to be done about jobs. But there just hasn't been the kind of focus.

See, I'm not an elected official. And I respect the question. And we've answered it and could continue to answer it. The problem is that the folk who we elect to deal with these issues know exactly what to do. When they bailed Wall Street out, they did it with no strings attached. But nobody's talking about jobs in Washington.

MORGAN: Hold that thought, because when I come back, I want to talk to you about which of the Republican candidates, if you were President Obama, you would now be fearing most as an opponent.


MORGAN: Back with my guest Tavis Smiley. Tavis, when you see the Republican potential nominee lineup, if you're Barack Obama, right now, given it's bound to be about the economy, this election, which one do you fear the most?

SMILEY: At this point, I'm not sure I'm scared. And I don't mean that to sound arrogant, in the Obama voice.

MORGAN: Let me rephrase, who would you least like to be facing, of all the names you see?

SMILEY: To answer your question, I'm really not sure. And here's why: I've said consistently, Piers, I don't think you can beat somebody with nobody. And I don't see that somebody yet, at the moment, that can take the president out. I still believe, my critique notwithstanding, which is why I'm pushing the president to be more aggressive about the poor, to be more aggressive about jobs.

But I don't see anybody at the moment that I'm looking at who I think can beat the president head up, number one. I could be wrong about that. We'll see. Secondly though, it is interesting to me, though, that all this talk now about Rick Perry, which has everybody excited on the right, is fascinating. Here's a guy who just a few years ago as governor was talking about seceding from the union.

He's talking about seceding a few years ago and now he's considering the idea of running for president, and that excites the Republican party, this party that is always rah-rah, yay-yay, America, red, white and blue?

MORGAN: Does the GOP really know what it is at the moment. This is the thing that fascinates me with the Tea Party, with the moderates, with Rick Perry and so on. Given all their backgrounds, there's no consistency here. There's a really disparate, wide gulf between a number of these people.

They've got to work out as a party which way they go, haven't they?

SMILEY: So they're acting like Democrats, in other words. For many years, Democrats haven't been able to figure that out either. I think they do have to have a way to figure out what they want to be when they grow up, what kind of party they really want to be.

But, again, it's fascinating to me that the talk that seems to excite the base of the party most is not talk about the folk who are already in the race, but by any other name, Rick Perry, Haley Barbour, et cetera.

MORGAN: What do you think of Herman Cain?

SMILEY: I've never met him before. He certainly is the kind of persuasion that can deliver a good speech. Of course, we have a president already who can deliver a good a speech. Beyond delivering a good speech, I don't know much about him. I'm sure in the coming days and months, we'll learn more about Mr. Cain.

MORGAN: Your story is fascinating. You came from a very humble beginning, ten kids living in a three bedroom trailer. I read a quote here on the back of your book from Charlie Rose, "Tavis needs to go no further than his life to find a good story. It's a story of rising out of poverty with a purpose, of hearing the music of a dream. His hopes not to be just a broadcaster or a businessman, but also a leader and a builder."

Pretty high praise there from a guy who's interviewed most of the top people in business and politics and so on.

SMILEY: Those were kind words from Charlie, yes.

MORGAN: When you hear that about yourself -- I mean, you have come from a poor background. You have driven yourself to where you got to. You're clearly very passionate about poverty now and people who have nothing. Is there more of them and us now in America, do you think? Is the gap getting bigger?

SMILEY: Yes. To be clear, the gap between the have gots and the have nots is widening. In this most multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic America ever, that concerns me.

My read of history, Piers, suggests to me that there is no empire in the history of the world -- in the world, that has not at some point failed or faltered or just flattened.

I don't know if it's our arrogance, our hubris, our patriotism now morphing into nationalism. I don't know what it is that makes us not even want to consider the fact that one day this experiment in democracy, that this country could one day fail as well.

And I suggest to you that if it is going to fail one day -- and I pray not -- it will fail under the weight of poverty. This country is going to implode, or put another way, it's going to get crushed under the weight of poverty. You can't have one percent of the people who own and control more wealth than the other 90 percent of the population.

Those numbers just don't add up in the long run.

MORGAN: What is the trick to recovering from failure?

SMILEY: I think acknowledging, as Beckett said -- or suggested, that failure is as much a part of life as success is. Anyone who I know -- I suspect if I were to ask you this question, including Piers Morgan -- anyone I know who is successful in any field of human endeavor, if they're being honest, they will admit to you they've learned much more from their failure than they ever learned from their success.

MORGAN: What was s your biggest failure, do you think?

SMILEY: This book lays out 20 of them. I went to jail early for writing bad checks when I was a college student. Speaking of college, my parents thought I'd graduated after four years. It took me 16 years of hiding the fact that I really hadn't graduated to get my degree.

In my career on television and radio, I've made major mistakes. I've been caught on tape saying things I wish I hadn't been caught saying, and had to ask for forgiveness from other people.

MORGAN: Of all these things, what have you learned about yourself?

SMILEY: That I'm human, that I'm not human and divine, that I'm just human, that failure, again, is as much a part of life as success is, and that Beckett is right. If you've ever tried, you're going to fail. The message is --

MORGAN: Should politicians be more open about failure, about making mistakes?

SMILEY: Not just politicians, all of us. The game in this town, especially in L.A., for that matter, at any level of elite activity -- the game is to act like once you arrived at the level elitism, that you've always been fabulous, that you've never made mistakes, that you've never screwed up.

I want to push back on that with this book.

MORGAN: I'm going to bring in a friend of yours now , a very outspoken critic of President, a man who has called you, in fact, a puppet. It's your co-host, Cornel West.


MORGAN: Back now is Tavis Smiley. And Joining us, his co-host on the radio show "Smiley and West," Cornel West.

Cornell, welcome.

CORNEL WEST, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Blessed to be here. Always a blessing to be on with brother Tavis.

MORGAN: You were a big supporter of President Obama. But you also said this recently -- you described him as the black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs, and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and he's proud of it.

Pretty strong words. You stand by those words?

WEST: Oh, I believe it. I believe it. I supported my dear brother Barack Obama because I wanted to bring an end to the age of Reagan, greed running amuck at the top, indifference to poor people, and highly polarized body politic.

When he moves into office, who do we get? We get his economic team coming around out of Wall Street, in the shadow of Wall Street. America had a nervous background in 2008 only to what? Wall Street greed.

All of us agree. Tavis and I are Christian. We know we all have gangster proclivities. But gangster actions, fraudulent behavior, insider trading, all the various criminal activities, none of it investigated or prosecuted as of now, that's what led to our breakdown.

Now we're having convulsions, a debate over cutting? Cutting when it comes to poor people? There is a state of emergency in America. It is a matter of national security, the condition of poor and working people, as much as Iraq and as much as Afghanistan.

Barack Obama does not make that a priority.

MORGAN: Why is he not prioritizing this?

WEST: He's got the wrong team. He's got the wrong people around him. It's very clear. You say -- for example, I heard you say he's very calm and serene. I love calmness and serenity. But, you know what, when people I'm concerned about are catching hail, which is working people of all colors, poor people of all colors, then you ought to have a state of emergency.

FDR had a state of emergency. Abraham Lincoln, state of emergency. LBJ, our white brother from Jim Crow Texas, has a state of emergency in regard to black America. He had conscience.

MORGAN: Let me ask you a difficult question. Does the African- American community in American, generally, do you think -- does it feel particularly let down because he's African-American, that you feel he's not doing enough for other African-Americans, many of whom are poor?

WEST: I think brother Tavis said it well. I think there's an ambivalence I think in America. Black people, for the most part, have a deep sense of protection of Barack Obama. Right? He's visually attacked by right wing and Fox News and others all the time. He lives under the threat of death.

We all pray for him daily.

MORGAN: I haven't heard Fox News quite say what you said about him.

WEST: You know what the reason is? I tell the truth. Fox News doesn't.

MORGAN: So when you abuse him, it's the truth. When they abuse him --

WEST: I love mascots. I love puppets. People choose to be mascots and puppets. They're still human beings. But when Fox News accused him of being a socialist -- socialist -- and he's very much an extension of the very corporate state that has been squeezing out the juices of our democracy, making it difficult for poor children, precious children of all colors, to live lives of decency? MORGAN: Tavis says the main focus now must be jobs, jobs, jobs. Most people are now in a consensus about this.

WEST: Absolutely, by focusing on poverty.

MORGAN: How do you get people who are out of work back to work quickly? How do we fix this crisis?

WEST: One thing is that America has tremendous creativity when America has a priority. When you make jobs, jobs, jobs the priority, the kind of thing Tavis talks about, Paul Krugman talks about, Frank Rich talked about, Bob Herbert talked about -- we can go on and on and on. Robert Cutner talks about. We come up with ways in which job programs --

MORGAN: I totally agree with that. I think that is the American -- the American philosophy is choose a problem and then attack it with everything you've got. . If you're sick with cancer, you want to be in somewhere like Los Angeles, because the doctors will go baboom.

And I feel that until America collectively with this job situation does this and comes together and says, we are going to fix this, until that happens -- and it's not being driven yet by the top.

SMILEY: Some of this has to do, to your question , Piers, with retraining those persons. As industries change, as we see where the future is headed, retraining those persons who are out of work now. Dr. West and I are honored to be on this program in large measure to announce this poverty tour.

Starting August the 6th, we are getting on a bus. It's called The Poverty Tour, A Call to Conscience.

MORGAN: And what's the idea?

SMILEY: The idea to get on this bus and to go to big cities and small towns, starting with Native Americans and African-Americans and Hispanics and white males and white women, children and seniors and homeless veterans, all across this country, in 15 different cities. We're going to raise the issue of poverty.

We're going to talk to those persons who are battling it, who are struggling, those who have lost their homes, those who don't have jobs, those who are struggling to get an education.

We want to use this week of August 6th through the 12th to put as much attention, as much focus, as much spotlight as we can on raising the issue of poverty in America higher on the agenda. In this presidential race that we're about to embark upon, somebody has to stand up and defend and fight for and not be afraid to talk about the plight of the poor in this country.

This issue is starting to get a lot more traction in this country. We're delighted that this tour is bringing in other persons who believe as we believe that this issue has to be higher on the agenda. The NEA is supporting us on this, the AARP Foundation is supporting us on this.

And every day, more and more institutions are deciding to support this.

MORGAN: You're both very passionate about it. I think what you're doing is great with this bus. Great. Why is there not more anger amongst the average American at the moment? It seems to me there is a kind of tacit acceptance of their loss.

In other words, we know there are big problems. These people are going to have to suck it up.

WEST: People are feeling helpless.

MORGAN: Why don't they get out and show a bit of passion and anger?

WEST: We have seen it in Madison, Wisconsin. We've seen it in Indiana. It's beginning to surface, but not much. But not much. Part of it is because we've been dealing with a culture of greed is good. We've been dealing with a culture of don't tax -- what Donald Trump said, don't tax our success, when we've got the lowest tax rates in the last 30 years, when you've got trillions of dollars in tax havens offshore, offshore subsidiaries, corporations.

One out of four corporations didn't pay a penny of taxes whatsoever.

MORGAN: Let me be the Devil's Advocate here.

WEST: Sure.

MORGAN: Is it really the big problem that rich aren't paying enough tax, or is the real problem that the poor are not being looked after properly?

WEST: It goes hand in hand. It goes hand in hand.

MORGAN: Donald Trump has a point, in that there are people self- made in this country, who have worked incredibly hard to get where they are. Why should they have to pay exorbitant taxation?

WEST: It's not exorbitant taxes to a brother, Piers, at all. The level of taxes now compared to where they were in the 1960s and 70s? It's very, very low.

But the issue is this, when you give a priority to the interest of corporate plutocrats and Wall Street oligarchs, then you don't give a priority to jobs. Nor do you give a priority to the kind of issues of poverty that we're talking about.

SMILEY: And it doesn't have -- to agree with your question, Piers, it doesn't have to be either/or. It can be and should be both/and. We have to look -- the rich have to pay their fair share. I know a lot of rich people who are willing to pay fair share.

WEST: Absolutely.

SMILEY: The poor have to be looked after. One is happening. The other is not. That's what we're saying. This gap between the have gots and the have-nots cannot continue to grow without us seeing some signs of that anger in the streets.

MORGAN: We'll take a final break. When we come back, I want to hold a gun to both your heads metaphorically, and say which of the Republican candidates, if you had to, would you vote for at the next election, as we stand.

WEST: Ouch.


MORGAN: Guys, the metaphorical gun is at your head. You've got to vote for one Republican nominee as things stand.

SMILEY: Sings I don't see anybody yet on the Republican side who cares enough about poor and working people, I literally would just put the names on the wall and throw a dart. And whoever it hit, I don't see a difference honestly.

MORGAN: Cornel, be more specific. There must be one who is less threatening.

WEST: There's not one. Use the legacy of Martin King. He said "we need a qualitative shift in our souls and a quantitative shift in our circumstance," put the stress on poor and working people. I don't see one Republican anywhere near that.

The problem is the Democrats hardly have anybody either. I'm critical of both parties. That's why we're talking seriously --

MORGAN: Does the Tea Party care more, do you think, about the rights of ordinary people than the more moderate part of the GOP?

WEST: I think there's elements in their message that do. The problem is they misconstrue it and end up in the pockets of the oligarchs and against the government, per se, rather than government being a force for good.

MORGAN: Final question, will you both be voting for Obama this time?

WEST: Pray for me.

SMILEY: I'm a talk show host. I don't have to answer that question.

MORGAN: Can't believe you both choked on that. That's unbelievable. Tavis Smiley, Cornel West, thank you both very much. Been a real pleasure.

That's it for tonight. Tomorrow, an exclusive interview with the single largest foreign investor in some of this country's biggest corporations. Some say he's the man who really owns America. Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. Now here's "AC 360."