Virg Bernero, the 50th mayor of Lansing, has settled into private life as a consultant, which he said is going well and is less stressful than were his 12 years running Lansing that ended in 2017. “But I miss public service,” he said. So he has accepted an offer from NRM Streamcast, in Farmington Hills, to air a weekly, hour-long podcast, “The Virg Bernero Show,” beginning Oct. 17, that will stream live noon to 1 p.m. Thursdays. Here are edited and condensed excerpts from an interview in the house that BerneroHannan (Randy Hannan was his chief of staff) rents on Seymour Avenue from businessman Chris Holman.
Why are you doing this podcast?
In the era of Trumpism, all decent Americans concerned about democracy need to ask themselves, “Are they doing enough to stand up for what we know is right, to stand up for the America that we love?" Not giving like I was all day, every day, I feel that I can do more and I need to do more. This is a time when more than ever we’re reminded that the U.S. is actually us, and democracy is not a spectator sport. It’s an age of polarization. It’s not that I want to contribute to polarization. I want to contribute to the conversation. When future generations say, “Where were you? What did you do when democracy was under attack? — at least I’m going to do this. A big part of the podcast, a big part of my message, it will be hard-hitting, it will be fact-based, and it’s going to be standing up for democracy.
What’s the show about?
Democracy and citizenship in America. There’s a lot to talk about. I mean, healthcare, the environment. I hear people castigate the Green New Deal. They have no idea what’s in it. We’re in an era of talking points, slogans, factless statements and advocacy. You can’t care about democracy without caring about truth. When I heard Kellyanne Conway say there are alternative facts ... yeah, there always have been. That’s called lies. We can all remember the time when there were three or four news channels. And if Walter Cronkite said that’s the way it is, that’s the way it was on that date then you knew it. And you could start the debate based on a common set of facts. We’ve got to get back to that.
You understand voters pretty well. How do you account for 40% of the electorate still standing by Trump?
It is difficult to fathom. I intend to delve into that on the show. It’s not going to be liberals only, progressives only. We will bring on folks from every side of the political spectrum. But I will demand an honest debate. There will be facts. And so I will tell people, “Bring your 'A' game.”
To preserve democracy, we have to have good dialogue. Uncomfortable as it might be at times, we have to communicate with one another on even where we have strongly held opposite beliefs.
And that’s despite the fact that my wife has banned me from talking politics at the holiday family gatherings, and I know a lot of people are in that position. But I don’t believe that’s sustainable in a democracy.
When people talk about an existential threat, I believe this polarization, which Trump has hugely contributed to, if not created is an existential threat to democracy. We cannot be a house divided so strongly where we don’t even communicate with each other. I grew up in an Italian household where every Sunday at a minimum, every Sunday, the family all got together, there was great food, great conversation … and some yelling and screaming.
I remember there being always a debate, and everybody was encouraged to participate. The TV wasn’t on, the radio wasn’t on, nobody had a cell phone, obviously. That was the thing. After dinner when the dessert came out, that’s when the discussion started, and it was about everything. And of course, there were comparisons to Mussolini, and what happened in the old country, and what was happening today. It was a healthy, robust discussion. Nobody ever got hurt.
I’m not saying nobody ever got grabbed by the lapels. But I think we have to get back to where it’s OK to have that. I intend to show some of that disagreement. The truth is my best friend in the world is a Trump supporter. So I can’t hate. If I’m accused of hating Trump supporters, that just is not true, because my best friend is a Trump supporter. And so we will talk about it.