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Author Attica Locke Weighs In On The Results Of Midterm Elections


All right. All morning, we're hearing from different voices reacting to the midterms. We have spoken to a lot of people in politics, but we're also interested in what cultural figures are thinking. Attica Locke is a novelist and writer for the television show "Empire." She came on MORNING EDITION in 2016, the day after President Trump's victory speech. And back then, she said the optimism of the Obama presidency of the post-racial era was over. Attica Locke, good morning.

ATTICA LOCKE: Good morning.

KING: So how are you feeling today?

LOCKE: I feel pretty good.

KING: Yeah?

LOCKE: I feel like, what is the least amount of progress that will now get me out of bed every morning? Well, this is it. I mean, I wanted more. I wanted more in terms of the more statewide races, in terms of what was happening in Texas in the Senate race, in terms of the governorships in Georgia and in Florida. I wanted more. I wanted more of a sense that there were more people who were dismayed by this current administration, but I will heartily take this. The takeover of the House and how many women and women of color were elected yesterday just warms my heart and is a feeling of the beginning of the end of something. It is my hope that that we will look back, and Trump will have been just a little speed bump on Dr. King's, you know, arc of moral justice.

KING: Let's talk about some of those women of color - Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York. These are women who came out during campaigning and said explicitly, it's important to have elected officials who look and sound like the people they represent. They could not have been clearer. This is a really interesting shift in how candidates are talking about identity and representation, isn't it?

LOCKE: It is, and it's so necessary because the counternarrative is one of the leader of the United States, who theoretically represents all of us, calling himself a nationalist, which is barely a dog whistle for white nationalists. What Trump's presidency has taught me, what I've seen over the last two years, is the willingness of a certain segment of the population to literally take a match to the Constitution if it means sharing some of what Americans' freedoms - if it means sharing them with anybody that's different from them. And that's been profoundly disheartening. And that is the thing that emotionally has been very challenging for me because I know that Trump will be gone. Trump will age out - you know, to be diplomatic, he will age out of existence. He will not be re-elected or he'll be indicted.

But we all as Americans have to live together when this is done. And so I'm definitely looking for any sign that my country respects people that look like me and can respect people that don't look like me but look different from them, pray differently than them, love differently than them. I need to feel that we are capable of that still.

KING: Well, let me ask you something. In the run-up to this election, we saw an anti-Semitic mass shooting, apparent pipe bombs mailed to the president's political opponents and a lot of racialized rhetoric on immigration from the president. Where - how does that jibe or mesh with your optimism?

LOCKE: Well, I mean, honestly, I've been a - I mean, it's been hard. And I'm a pretty optimistic person, but this has been terribly hard. But as awful as what Trump is doing, as awful as I'm upset that my hair got wet because I had to talk to reporters about the death of 11 Jewish people, as awful as he is, I don't understand why he's getting away with that with my fellow Americans. Those are the people I'm going to be at church with. My kids go to school with these people, we have to stand in line next to each other at the grocery store. Going forward, I'm much more concerned at why this - why aren't more people like, this man does not represent our values? Why is a steel plant and an economy more important than moral decency?

KING: I mean, this is a very interesting question. You know, some people do vote strictly on the economy. Many people do vote strictly on the economy. They vote on health care. But your thoughts about inclusiveness, I think, are really important. And you're obviously interested in how individuals start to get along. Now, look. We've hit a very divisive point here. In the last minute or so we have left, give me your thoughts on how we move forward and repair some of this.

LOCKE: I have said jokingly before, but I do think that it's somewhat true, that some of this rests inside the hearts of white people. It rests in white folks, who were the most ones who voted for Trump, to talk amongst their family members about, what country do you want to be in? Do you want this? Do you want what's in the Constitution or do you not want it if you have to share it with brown folks? You have to answer that question for yourself. I'm working on a show right now and have a boss who took her time to reach out to her cousins in other states in order to get them to open up and start talking. We need more dialogue like that. But I think that actually there's a certain degree to which there are white folks who have to decide for themselves what they want this country to be.

KING: Dialogue sounds like good advice from a writer. Attica Locke is a novelist, and she writes for the TV show "Empire." Thank you so much for your time.

LOCKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.