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Jeh Johnson, 4th U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security

January 16, 2023 1:27:18
Kaltura Video

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day, the Ford School welcomes former US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. January, 2023.    


0:00:00.0 Celeste Watkins-Hayes: Good afternoon. It is wonderful to be with you today, and I wanna welcome you to the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. I am interim dean of the school and founding director of our Center for Racial Justice, Celeste Watkins-Hayes. I'm delighted to welcome you all here this afternoon for today's Policy Talks event, the Ford School's annual event in honor of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Featuring the former US Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson.


0:00:42.2 CW: It's exciting to see so many members of our Ford School community gathered here, and to welcome many of you from across the campus and beyond who I know are tuning in virtually. This event is part of the University of Michigan's annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Symposium, one of the largest university celebrations honoring the life and work of Dr. King. This year's symposium theme, the revolution of MLK, from segregation to elevation, explores Dr. King's activism after 1964, highlighting the evolution of King's primary focus on segregation to a broader, more radical and revolutionary platform that included health, economics and education. Like Dr. King, our guest speaker today is a graduate of Morehouse College, an HBCU in Atlanta, as we know, and Columbia University where he earned his law degree.

0:01:37.1 CW: Now in private practice in New York City, Jeh Johnson served as US Secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama and earlier as general counsel of the Department of Defense in the administration. He remains a regular commentator on NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, Fox and Bloomberg TV. Secretary Johnson will kick off today's event by reflecting on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr, and what that means to him as a fellow Morehouse alumnus. Following his remarks we'll sit down for a conversation alongside some of our faculty experts here in the front row, John Ciorciari, Ann Chih Lin and Javed Ali, to reflect on questions submitted by the Ford School community. With that, I ask you to please join me in welcoming today's special guest, secretary Jeh Johnson.


0:02:40.7 Jeh Johnson: Thank you dean, very much. It's nice to be back here in Ann Arbor. One day I will visit Michigan when it is not cold. I had a chance to visit with Debbie Dingle a moment ago. She was here, she left. I'll see her tonight for dinner. Last time I was in Ann Arbor, I was in office, it was 2015, and I was with her, her husband and John Conyers. And I noted then, that before me represented 110 years of service as Michigan's representative in congress. And Debbie was quick to point out, she was only one of those 110 years. It's an honor for me to be here in Ann Arbor to deliver this address at the school named for Gerald Ford. I was in high school, then college when Gerald Ford was president. In my view, Gerald Ford sets a standard for public service as a modest, honorable and decent American.

0:03:50.2 JJ: He left office as a defeated incumbent, but in the day sense, history has been kind to his legacy as it should be. I served as your Secretary of Homeland Security for 1124 days. I was counting, I had an app on my phone, they counted down the days, hours, minutes until January 20, 2017 at noon, when I was gonna leave office. And I had a fantasy about I was gonna leave office. I was gonna... At the moment, the new president, no matter who he or she was, at the moment that person took the oath of office, I was gonna... And succeed Barack Obama, I was gonna stand up, push back from my desk at DHS headquarters, walk out, wave goodbye to secret service detail, get behind the wheel of my own car, and drive home to our permanent home in Montclair, New Jersey, and wake up the next day, a normal person with no bodyguards surrounding my house. It didn't happen that way.

0:05:07.0 JJ: For the second time, I was selected to be the designated survivor, a lot of people are fascinated with designated survivor, there's a TV show called Designated Survivor. I was in the presidential line of succession, president... You public policy students all know this, president, vice president, speaker of the House, President pro tem of the Senate, and then the cabinet, in the order of the seniority of the cabinet department. And since DHS is the newest cabinet level department, I was last in the presidential line of succession, but I got called to this duty twice, you can not have all those people in one place at one time in case disaster strikes. So, one person has to absent themselves from the situation, whether it's an inauguration or a State of the Union and go off to an undisclosed location.

0:06:02.8 JJ: And I got that duty twice, and the first time I went to the undisclosed location and I can't disclose it because it's undisclosed, and the last time they just said, "Just leave Washington and go home a day early," which I did. And it's not as exciting as you think it is. When you go to the undisclosed location, you sit there and you watch the President's remarks on TV, and then when the president is back in the residence, you get to go home and you get to bring the White House chef with you, which is the nicest part of it, and a nice glass of wine. So, interestingly, interestingly, you heard from the dean that I'm on TV in my post-government life a fair amount. I get recognized more now than I did when I was in office. When I was in office, I was determined to raise morale within the Department of Homeland Security, which is at the bottom of the list. And I was gonna raise morale if it killed me.

0:07:07.8 JJ: In 2016, my last year of office, I even went to BWI Airport and I literally put on a TSA uniform and worked the line with the TSA officers at BWI, pass the bins, the grumpy passengers, have a nice flight, "Yeah, yeah yeah." And no one recognized me, no one, not even most of the TSOs recognized me. I thought by working with them, passing the bins with them, I would raise morale. I had to tell people, "Do you know who I am?" And there was this one elderly couple on their way to their grand daughter's wedding in North Carolina, the wife was in a wheelchair, I helped them through the magnetometers and then I decided to escort them down to their gate, and I finally said to them, "I'm Jeh Johnson. Do you know who I am?" And the husband said, "Yes, you're Jeh Johnson, you just told me."

0:08:13.7 JJ: I said, "No, no, no. Do you see this patch on the side of my uniform here that says Department of Homeland Security, I'm the head of this whole department." And the wife said, "Well, thank you very much. Congratulations on your promotion young man." I get recognized a lot more now. A couple of years ago, I was in Martha's Vineyard and an HSI agent recognized me in a restaurant, and we started talking, "Mr. Secretary, Good to see you again." And I said, "Good to see you too. I don't remember meeting you." "Yeah, but I know who you are. Good to see you, Mr. Chertoff." Then the weirdest things happened to me around trains and airplanes. One day at a train station, somebody said a couple of years ago, "Did anybody ever tell you you look just like that guy Jeh Johnson?" I said, "No, as a matter of fact, no one's ever told me that."

0:09:18.4 JJ: And on the Acela, I had testified before Congress in 2017, the year after I left office, about Russian interference into our 2016 election. I testified before the House Intel Committee, must have been on a lot of news, shows that night, because the next day on the Acela going back home from Washington to Northern New Jersey, it seemed like everybody was recognizing me. Everyone recognized me, the guy next to me, the two people across to me, the ladies in the other end of the car, and I went to the cafe car to get my usual cheese and crackers plate on the Acela. And the line was very long. And this lady too in front of me in the line, looked at me like that, and she takes out her iPhone, and I could see she was cueing up the camera function on the iPhone, and she approached me and she said...

0:10:21.8 JJ: And I was wearing short sleeves, and I was wearing these cufflinks that I got from the White House, and this lady said, "Sir, I'm from the United Kingdom. And my son, back in the United Kingdom, admires you greatly and admired all the wonderful things that you did in office." You know where this is going, right? "And it would be a great honor to me if I could have a selfie with you that I can show my son." And I was so touched, I was so flattered. I said, "Of course, we can have a selfie." She took the selfie. She turned around and she said, "Thank you, Mr. President." And then my absolute favorite, I was at Reagan National, in October 2021, and I was going... I was flying from Reagan National to a family reunion in Bristol, Virginia. Do you know to get from one place in Virginia to another place in Virginia on an airplane, you gotta go through Atlanta and change.

0:11:33.9 JJ: But anyway, I was in the TSA line and I had my boarding pass and I have taken out my driver's license, and you know in some airports, they have that video of the Secretary of Homeland Security saying, "If you see something, say something." And I'm standing there minding my own business, and all of a sudden I hear my voice. This is five years after I left office. "Hi, I'm Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland... " And it was my video on the tape. Five years, I'm a private citizen waiting in the line, and everybody else in the line was like, and I got up to the front and the TSA officer said to me, "Lower your mask, please." I couldn't help it, I said, "Look behind you." Anyway, I am pleased to be here to reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr is a 1948 graduate of Morehouse College.

0:12:45.2 JJ: Three of the biggest influences in Dr. King's life, were his father, who also graduated from Morehouse, the theologian Howard Thurman, who graduated from Morehouse the same year as Dr. King's father and Benjamin Mayes, the revered President of Morehouse, who was Dr. King's mentor and delivered his eulogy on the Morehouse campus. I see another Morehouse man back there too. Okay. I am a 1979 graduate of Morehouse College. I had been inspired and influenced by many of the same people and things that inspired and influenced Dr. King. When I arrived at Morehouse in August 1975, Dr. King had been dead for seven years, but I could still feel his presence on campus, in the city of Atlanta. Some of the faculty at Morehouse in the 1970s were faculty in the 1940s when Dr. King was a student. I lived in Howard Thurman Hall for three years.

0:13:50.7 JJ: Dr. Mayes was our president emeritus, but he still had a large presence on campus. Martin Luther King Senior came by campus once in a while to preach a sermon about how he didn't hate anybody despite the murder of his son and his wife. I am a classmate of Martin Luther King The 3rd, my study partner and friend of 45 years. As such, I consider myself a student and disciple of Martin Luther King, though a flawed and imperfect one, the moment I became involved in national security. We are here today to celebrate Dr. King's birthday. He would have been 94 yesterday. The very first effort to make Dr. King's birthday, a national holiday, was just four days after Dr. King was assassinated when Congressman Conyers of Michigan offered a bill to make it so. The movement to make Dr. King's birthday gain momentum at Atlanta in the 1970s.

0:14:55.0 JJ: I believe I was an eyewitness to history. In 1977, Martin the 3rd invited me to attend a strategy meeting, hosted by his mother at their home. It was my first visit to 234 Sunset Avenue in Southwest Atlanta. I sat in Mrs. King's living room in the place where Martin Luther King had lived and felt as if I was in the presence of royalty in a shrine. Mrs. King was a commanding and regal presence, but the unforgettable image I still have of Mrs. Martin Luther King was going into her own kitchen, bringing out a tray and serving cookies to her assembled guests of Atlanta university students and local leaders. The other vivid recollection I have of that evening was a less than pleasant one. I and other students had the bright idea to bring to the meeting, our political science professor, an African who was in exile in the United States, from Sierra Leone.

0:16:02.3 JJ: At the meeting, Mrs. King explained with great passion and conviction, her dream to see her husband's birthday, an official government holiday. I admit thinking then that the prospect of a national holiday for Martin Luther King, alongside George Washington and Abraham Lincoln was a long shot. But no one in the room dared disagree with Mrs. King, except my political science professor, "Mrs. King, I do not think that your husband's birthday should be a national holiday. What are black people going to do that day? They will simply barbecue." The mood in the room suddenly turned awkward and tense, and Mrs. King's commanding presence went on full display, "First of all, I do not need a professor from Sierra Leone to come to my home and lecture me. Second, who invited you?"

0:17:00.7 JJ: At that moment, several of us wanted to crawl under the living room couch. Marty walked over to his mother, whispered something in her ear, probably, "Mom, that's my political science professor." The confrontation ended and the meeting continued. That year, we organized a march to the Georgia State Capitol in downtown Atlanta for Georgia State holiday, for Dr. King's birthday. And on November 2, 1983, President Reagan with Mrs. King at his side signed a bill that made Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday, effective for the first time on the third Monday in January, 1986, 37 years ago today. Thanks to the national holiday, we observe today, and every third Monday of January, the name Martin Luther King is one of the most recognizable in America.

0:17:54.6 JJ: Almost every major city in America, including Detroit and Ann Arbor, has a street or a school named after him. Almost every public school in America has his picture hanging in a classroom. The good news is that many observed the day, not with a barbecue, but with the day committed to performing a public or community service. However, the reality is that much of our country has forgotten what Martin Luther King actually challenged us to do, particularly in the last two years of his life. In this year of 2023, Dr. King has now been dead far longer than he was ever alive, and the great majority of Americans alive today were born after April 4th, 1968. For some of us, now well into our '60s and older, Dr. King is still a contemporary figure. For most of us, Dr. King is a figure consigned to history, like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.

0:18:57.6 JJ: In the 55 years since Dr. King was assassinated, his legacy has been airbrushed and morphed into one with which almost no one would disagree. Ask Americans, young or old what words we most associate with Martin Luther King, and they cite the four words, "I have a dream." But how many Americans know the essence of the rest of that speech or any other speech, Dr. King delivered? Moreover, the notion of a dream is not threatening to people, it's something that lives within my space and does not encroach on yours. It's an aspiration, not action. As Dr. King is consigned further and further into the archives of history, we must not allow the sum total of his life to be about a dream he once had. The reality is that Dr. King was a man of action. He did more than dream, he was divisive.

0:19:57.0 JJ: To many, he was a troublemaker or as John Lewis would put it, good trouble, to force the social change we now all celebrate today. He challenged the social order of things and pushed people out of their comfort zones. When Dr. King arrived in many of the same cities north or south, for which major street is now named for him, the mayor and police commissioner viewed his arrival with dread and could not wait for him to leave. I've read that there was a poll taken in 1967 that revealed that Martin Luther King was then one of the most hated men in America. For his efforts, the man we honor today across this country alongside George Washington and Abraham Lincoln was the target of government surveillance and harassment. He was jailed numerous times, and the target of racist insults, bricks, bottles, numerous death threats, a knife attack in Harlem, 1958 and finally, he was murdered in Memphis in 1968.

0:21:01.4 JJ: One of the most remarkable things about this man who had such a huge impact on our country is that he lived just 39 years, and his career as a civil rights activist lasted for just over 12 years from a point at which he was just 26 years old, younger than my own kids are today. I believe that those 12 years can be divided into two chapters: The first chapter began with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-56 and basically ended with the Selma to Montgomery march in March 1965. Now, take a brief detour with me for some trivia about Martin Luther King Jr from the early part of the first phase of his career that almost no one knows. The story begins with a man named Charles S. Johnson, a sociologist, in the middle part of the last century. He studied the Chicago race riots of 1919, was active in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, joined the faculty of Fisk University in Nashville in the 1930s, and in 1947 became the Fisk president.

0:22:17.3 JJ: By the mid-1950s, Dr. Johnson was considered one of the intellectual engines of the Civil Rights Movement that was about to take off. In September 1956, Dr. Johnson wrote an article in The New York Times magazine section, entitled 'A Southern Negro's View of the South', which was a call for a national effort to rescue a race of people living as second-class citizens under a system of legalized segregation in the Jim Crow South. For his essay, my grandfather received many letters of congratulations from around the country. One was from Langston Hughes, who wrote, "Charles, that was certainly a fine piece you had in the Sunday Times. I've been thinking about it's about time the Negro viewpoint be expressed therein since about every white man who can write a line has had his say in the national media, but little has been heard from us."

0:23:17.3 JJ: Another was from the 27-year-old pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, the original of which I found in my late father's papers. "Dear Dr. Johnson, this is just a note to say I have read your article, which recently appeared in the New York Times. It is the best statement that I've read in this whole area. You evince a profound grasp of the whole subject. I am sure that the more this article is read, it will bring about a greater understanding of the Negro's point of view as he struggles for first-class citizenship." And then here's my favorite line. "You combine, in this article, the fact-finding mind of the social scientist with the moral insights of a religious prophet. Sincerely yours, M. L. King Jr. Minister." This letter is dated October 11th, 1956, in the 11th month of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that minister King was leading at the time.

0:24:18.3 JJ: During this first phase of his career, from 1955 to 1965, King focused the nation's attention on racial discrimination that could be ended by changes in law. The Montgomery bus boycott ended with a Supreme Court decision. The demonstration in Birmingham and the March on Washington in 1963 led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Selma to Montgomery march led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Equal access to buses, pools, lunch counters, movie theaters, jobs and the ballot box. But after Selma, Dr. King did not stop. He began the second phase of his career to take on the challenges that could not be remedied by simple changes in law. From about 1966 to the day he died in April 1968, Dr. King devoted himself principally to two very ambitious agendas: Fighting poverty and promoting world peace.

0:25:25.7 JJ: In 1966, King and his wife and four kids literally moved to Chicago and rented an apartment there. While there, he shoveled garbage to demonstrate the need for better living conditions in urban America. In the final months of his life, Dr. King devoted himself to the grand plan for Poor People's March on Washington. On January 15th, 1968, his last birthday alive, he presided over a meeting in the basement of his church in Atlanta and talked about a grand assembly of Black Americans, Native Americans organized labor and Appalachian whites that will converge on Washington later that year to demand that the richest nation on Earth addressed the poverty in its midst. On the final weekend of his life, Dr. King delivered a sermon, in which he reminded us that, "Every American is endowed by his creator with certain inalienable rights, among those the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

0:26:30.4 JJ: "But if a man does not have a job or an income, he has neither life, liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists." On the final day of his life, Dr. King was in Memphis, Tennessee, not to lead a civil rights march, but to support a garbage worker's strike. On the final night of his life in Memphis, Dr. King delivered one of the best known speeches in which he predicted his own death, the famous I've been to the mountain top speech. What is less known about that speech is that it was largely an address about economic power and the effectiveness of an economic boycott. The most controversial and difficult stance Dr. King took during the final year of his life was against the war in Vietnam.

0:27:21.6 JJ: Other civil rights leaders turned on him, urged him to remain silent on the issue and not to alienate President Lyndon Johnson, their best and most powerful friend on civil rights but Dr. King said that he had been fighting segregation too long to segregate his moral concerns. Martin Luther King hated violence. He preached the inherent insanity of all wars. He believed that violence is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, and that returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. "An eye for an eye leaves everybody blind," he said. So beginning in April 1967, in his speech in Riverside Church in New York City, exactly one year before he died, Dr. Martin Luther King, the Noble Peace Prize winner, made impassioned pleas for ending the war in Vietnam.

0:28:21.9 JJ: From the gospel song, Down by the Riverside, Dr. King repeated the line, "I ain't gonna study war no more." In the final days of his life, his friends reported Dr. King had become disillusioned and depressed. I've heard that a day or two before he was assassinated, Dr. King telephoned his church secretary and told her that he intended to deliver a sermon next Sunday entitled, Why America may go to hell. The great irony of today is that Mrs. King's dream of a national holiday for her husband has become reality. Meanwhile, Dr. King's dream of a world at peace with itself has not. War goes on, poverty persist, racism persist, but America has not gone to hell. Some of our finest moments as a nation occurred after Dr. King's death on April 4th, 1968.

0:29:22.4 JJ: A year later, a man landed on the Moon, American innovations in technology have taken the world to new and then unimaginable heights. With an iPhone, you can hold the entire world in the palm of your hand. A black man with the first name Barack was twice elected President of the United States. Today, a black woman is Vice President of the United States. Ten days ago, a black man was named CEO of the Southern Company, one of the largest public utilities in America. And today's pastor of Dr. King's Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta is also the twice elected United States Senator from the state of Georgia. Much of this is due to the service and sacrifice of the remarkable human being we honor today.

0:30:11.4 JJ: I close on a note of optimism. What was it that Martin Luther King found so compelling in my grandfather's essay from 1956? I suspect it was this one passage, which I quote all the time. "It is variously expected that negro Southerners as a result of their limited status in the racial system, would be bitter or hostile, or impatient or indifferent. They are typically none of these. Bitterness grows out of hopelessness, and there is no sense of hopelessness in this situation, however uncomfortable and menacing and humiliating it may be at the time. Faith in the ultimate strength of the democratic philosophy and code of the nation as a whole has always been stronger than the impulse to despair. Thank you for listening.


0:31:25.9 CW: Thank you so much for those remarks, thank you for being here.

0:31:32.1 JJ: Thank you. Cross-examination.

0:31:33.4 CW: Cross-examination. A couple of questions for me, and then I'll turn it over to my colleagues. And my first one is this. So King's words are often used in policy conversations, so quotations from him are often used to justify policy decisions and positions or...

0:31:54.0 JJ: On both sides of the political debate.

0:31:54.9 CW: On both sides of the political debate or to offer policy critique, people often invoke King. So I wonder if you can comment on the rhetorical aspect of our policy debates in which king is frequently invoked and deployed.

0:32:15.8 JJ: It goes back to what I said in my remarks. I think his legacy has been airbrushed. And I think that history and those who quote him today have strategically selected things that he has said for their own purposes without appreciating the sacrifice and the danger that he went through to push us to a better place, to redeem the soul of America, as he liked to say. And as I said for that, he was jailed, the subject of numerous death threats, he was attacked, bricks, bottles, a knife, and then ultimately murdered. He's been dead 55 years, he lived only 39.

0:33:15.4 JJ: People are able to pull out of his speeches from just 12 years to cite in support of almost anything. And I think... One of the reasons that I delivered this, and I've given a version of this before, about 10 years ago, and I know others do this to point out that Dr. King was about more than just words, and more than just a dream. He pushed us out of our comfort zones and very often, as I said, mayors and police commissioner didn't want him in their city because he knew he would stir action and make things uncomfortable. So you're right. He's quoted all over the place. He's quoted on the right, he's quoted on the left, sometimes for things that he could not have possibly fathomed.

0:34:23.8 CW: And central to all of his work was this critique of power and the ways in which power gets deployed in a variety of different ways. And that's, I think, one of the critical things to remember, right? So I wonder, I was so struck by your comment.

0:34:39.4 JJ: But even I think his own view of power evolved, early on in his career it was a plea. Simply like, "Give us the Ballot." And toward the latter part of his career, I think he recognized that really difficult change comes about through not just a plea, but an insistence, like economic boycotts. And in the last speech of his life, the night before he was killed, I talked about how he talked about the importance and the power of an economic boycott. He literally listed companies that people in Memphis should boycott because they were not doing what they needed to do.

0:35:25.8 CW: Wow. So one of the things that I think is so impressive about what you had to say is the nuance that I heard in your words and your own kind of grappling with power. And I was so struck by the comment, "I consider myself a student and disciple of Martin Luther King, though a flawed and imperfect one, at the moment I became involved in national security." So can you unpack that for us further, especially given the obvious and more subtle tensions between institutions like the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, and King's critique of state power both here and overseas and then your own kind of biographical intersections with King. Can you unpack that for us? 


0:36:18.4 JJ: Yes. [laughter] So, by the way, one of the things I do in private life is law is my day job, and I have hobbies. One of my hobbies is I have a radio show. There's a local jazz station in Newark, New Jersey called WBGO. It's public radio, and on weekends it's classic R&B. And a couple of years ago, they gave me my own show on Saturday mornings from 8:00-10:00, once a month, 88.3 FM or, and they said, "I don't care what you call it, just long as it ends with the words with Jeh Johnson." This past Saturday, and I have an interview every show. This past Saturday was Andrew Young. I got Andrew, 91-year-old Andrew Young, to give an interview. And he said something very interesting. See, Dr. King was an activist for a cause, but he said even in charting a course for your activism, sometimes you have to consider multiple different things and steer a middle course.

0:37:32.4 JJ: And he said that in the debates internal at the SELC, and he's probably one of the last people alive who can talk about this. If he would have the younger, more radical people, and he referred to those, sometimes you'd get freedom high, who wanted to change the world in 15 minutes. And Andy Young was the conservative in that discussion. And one time he said they were talking about a march some place in Mississippi, and the younger radical said, "Let's go, let's go, let's go, we gotta do this." And Andy Young said, "Yeah, I agree. Let's do it." And he said Martin got really mad at me. He said, let's take a break. Andy meet me in my office. And he yelled at him, he said, "You can't do that, you have to be on the other side so I can come down the middle." [laughter] And so even in activism, there's a range of considerations.

0:38:28.1 JJ: We all remember the Bloody Sunday, and we all remember that a couple of Sundays later, the Civil Rights marchers came back with Dr. King and marched all the way to Montgomery. What we don't always remember is that there was a middle march where they walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And the federal judge hearing the case about the march had not ruled yet, so King literally turned the marches around and walked back across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and did not have the great confrontation that so many of the marches are ready to have. We're here to fight, we're here to resist. And they were ready to put their bodies on the line and he turned them around, and a lot of people were angry and him for doing that. But his thinking was, I cannot defy a federal court order. I'm gonna wait for this court to rule, I'm gonna wait for Judge Johnson to rule. And so there are a range of considerations of going to that, which brings me to the answer to your question.

0:39:34.6 JJ: So particularly in an area like national security, decision-making, policy-making involves not just acting in alignment with your personal convictions and personal preferences. There are a range of considerations that go into national security and Homeland Security, enforcing our laws, public safety, counterterrorism, getting the bad guys in Afghanistan and in places like Yemen and Pakistan, and trying to do the best, consistent with your own personal convictions. There were several times when based solely on my personal convictions, I said no to something, or based solely on what I believed to be not consistent with the law where I said no to something, even though it was a really important thing that we wanted to do, but I didn't think it was legal. But most of the time, there's a range of factors that go into policy-making at the highest levels of our government.

0:40:56.5 JJ: I gave a commencement address at Georgetown on this in 2016 about the factors that go into national security and government decision-making. And so the reason I say I'm an imperfect disciple, Dr. King believed in the inherent insanity of all wars. And when I was the senior legal official for the Department of Defense, we were fighting two wars. And part of my job was to opine on the legality of specific counterterrorism actions, I.e., is it okay to go kill this terrorist? Is it legal? And that was part of my job to sanction counterterrorism. That would be inconsistent with the belief that war is inherently insane. So that's why I say I'm an imperfect disciple, but I accepted that the moment I got involved.

0:41:54.6 CW: Yeah, and the ways in which you navigated that and the complexities around that, really fascinating. Morehouse College figures prominently in your biography and in your remarks today. And you talked about your grandfather, renowned sociologist, Charles S. Johnson who was president of Fisk, another HBCU, Vice President Kamala Harris, graduate of Howard. Senator Raphael Warnock...

0:42:19.5 JJ: By the way...

0:42:20.5 CW: Yeah.

0:42:21.7 JJ: For the Howard graduates in this room, the Vice President likes to refer to Howard as the Mecca. I'm sorry. [laughter] Morehouse, Spelman is the Mecca.

0:42:31.6 CW: Are the Mecca.

0:42:32.5 JJ: Okay? [laughter] Let's clarify that.

0:42:34.9 CW: And we have so Spelman and Morehouse people in the room.

0:42:37.5 JJ: Okay. Alright.

0:42:37.5 CW: Spelman alum as well.

0:42:39.2 JJ: The gate between Morehouse and Spelman is the Mecca, alright? [laughter]

0:42:45.0 CW: But yeah, Senator Raphael Warnock, Morehouse alum. Stacey Abrams, Spelman alum. She was a year ahead of me at Spelman. So I wonder if you can comment on the relevance of HBCUs in political life and what people need to know about them to understand some of our most visible public figures in politics today.

0:43:12.0 JJ: Well, Morehouse for me, I'll speak for myself, made me who I am today. I came into Morehouse a D student and I left an A student. Just the energy and the ambition and the dedication was contagious. I could not help but become an A student at Morehouse. And going to an HBCU, an all male HBCU with the all female HBCU across the street over there really, during my formative years really made me who I am today. Helped me get my head together about a lot of things. And then I remember at graduation, maybe it wasn't mine, it was somebody else's, but it was a Morehouse graduation, maybe you heard it too.

0:44:14.9 JJ: The speaker said, "For the rest of your life, you're going to look for situations to replicate the brotherhood that you experienced here at Morehouse, whether it's the barber shop, the church." You probably know... You understand what I'm talking about. And that's true. My fraternity meetings, hosting a radio show, classic R&B, whatever, and that stays with you for your entire life. But interestingly enough, my experience at Morehouse College has better enabled me to navigate the white world because it was a four-year opportunity to find out who I was, separate and apart from being the minority in the room all the time.

0:45:03.9 CW: And people often say HBCUs aren't the real world, but they prepare you for the real world, and they are the real world. Yeah. I wonder if we can take some questions from our faculty. Javed, let's start with you.

0:45:18.4 Javed Ali: Secretary Johnson, thank you so much for being here.

0:45:20.6 JJ: By the way, the worst thing I ever did, Morehouse College.


0:45:22.7 CW: What was it? 

0:45:29.2 JJ: The food at Morehouse College in the 1970s was terrible. We had these little trays with compartments and somebody with a glove would reach into a vat of food and put it, stuff it in the little compartments, and there was no seconds, [laughter] there was no seconds. And one Sunday, the kitchen staff, when it snows a half inch in Georgia, the entire state shuts down. So it snowed a half inch, the kitchen crew didn't come in. So a group of us who shall remain nameless except me, obviously, commandeered the kitchen and took over and cooked all the food in one day. There was a 10-minute break between brunch and dinner. [laughter] And we cooked all the food. That was 45 years ago, so I think I'm in the clear.

0:46:21.8 CW: Wow. Yeah. I think they... What'd you learn from that experience though? 

0:46:26.3 JJ: I learned that... To be blunt, I learned that 1000 black men could eat a lot of food. [laughter]

0:46:35.3 CW: And Morehouse was feeding them on a shoestring.

0:46:38.0 JJ: Right. Right. But if you unleash us, we could eat a lot of food.

0:46:40.6 CW: Yeah, yeah.

0:46:42.5 JA: Secretary Johnson, thank you again for being here. I know we spoke a little bit this morning, but just for the benefit of the rest of the room, my name's Javed Ali. I'm an associate professor of practice here, I've been teaching here...

0:46:53.2 JJ: And DHS alum.

0:46:54.0 JA: Yes. Teaching here since 2018, but prior to that, I served in a number of different roles. We talked about to include being at DHS at the ground floor when the department was being stood up. And I didn't have the privilege to serve under you, but I was there when Secretary Ridge and Secretary Chertoff. So my question is, now that we're coming up on the 20-year anniversary of the department and in your time there from 2013 to 2017, where do you think the department is gonna go in the next 20 years? And can you try to catalog what do you think has worked well for the department and where do you think it needs to do better, going forward? 

0:47:28.6 JJ: So I'm gonna answer that question and I'm gonna answer what I think is gonna be your next question in one answer. DHS was created in the aftermath of 911 on the realization, encounter terrorism was the cornerstone mission, on the realization that we needed a ministry of the interior like a whole lot of other governments have. My counterparts, when I was at DHS, were ministers of the interior of Italy, Turkey, Egypt, all these on the nations, and we didn't think we needed a national level public safety department because we were separated from the rest of the world by two oceans, and we learned otherwise on 9-11. So the thinking then with counterterrorism uppermost in our minds was that terrorism is an extra territorial threat that exists beyond our borders, and we have to more effectively police how terrorists get into our country.

0:48:53.6 JJ: And so if we consolidate into one cabinet level Department, all the different ways you regulate getting into this country, land, sea and air, TSA, border patrol, customs, Coast Guard, you will have better and more effectively dealt with Terris because it's an extra territorial threat, so let's tighten up our borders, land, sea, and air. That was the thinking then. Like everything in Washington, DHS was a political compromise, in some respects, we went too far, in other respects, we didn't go far enough. Meanwhile, two things have happened. The terrorist threat to our home man has morphed. It is no longer... The ADL tracks this... Most acts of terrorism in this country are domestic-based, they're not foreign-directed or foreign-inspired by a foreign terrorist organization, and there are not a whole lot of...

0:49:55.4 JJ: As you know, there are not a whole lot of DHS cops running around the interior looking for terrorists. That task has fall into the FBI. And so in many respects, the DSH model for combating terrorism is outmoded today 20 years later. Second, as everybody knows, the immigration mission has overwhelmed DHS, the secretary of DHS, whether it's me or the incumbent, doesn't like to say this, but the majority of your time as secretary of DHS is immigration border security. And that has meant that the mission of DHS has become overwhelmed by politics, which I believe has really hurt the brand. The Department of Homeland Security should be an apolitical entity. Aviation security is an apolitical entity, I believe border security should be an apolitical thing.

0:51:01.1 JJ: You have to balance a whole bunch of competing values obviously, but Board of Security, maritime security, cyber security should be apolitical in this country, as it is in most other countries. Now, one of the things that I think... And when I got to DHS nine years ago, I was shocked at how immature our bureaucratic structure was. We didn't have... And I'd come from the Department of Defense where the bureaucracy is very mature, so mature that becomes intractable. And it's hard to make change, but the acquisition process, the budget process was very stovepipe and very immature. And so I spent a lot of time on Basic management reform, including raising moral. So the bureaucratic structure lacked maturity then, and I fear that not how a lot of work's been done since that time.

0:52:12.6 JJ: And the one thing that we've done well is CISA, the new cybersecurity and infrastructure security agency that I pushed to create. Didn't happen on my watch. It happened in the last administration. Chris Krebs was the first director. Jen Easterly is the director now. And I think CISA is off to a good start. CISA is a part of DHS. We need a cyber security agency in this government devoted to cyber security, and I think they're off to a good start, and they're building a lot of credibility with the private sector, building good private partnerships. So that's the good news, but the Department of Homeland Security is, it's become over-politicized, it's an over-heated debate, and that's really unfortunate.

0:53:04.1 JA: Sir, thank you for that. You got all my questions in one response.


0:53:11.8 Ann Lin: So let me just build on your observation that DHS is so politicized. My name is Ann Lin, I'm the Lieberthal-Rogel Director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan and an associate professor here at the Ford School. I've done a lot of work with Arab and Muslim-Americans, especially communities here in the Detroit area. And as you know, one of our country's responses, first responses to 911 was to create a no-fly list. While a very small number of individuals are actually on this list, thousands of people with Arabic background, Muslim names or Muslim dress are routinely treated as suspicious when they fly, return to the US after overseas trips or otherwise interact with TSA or CBP or even ICE. So could you talk a little bit about how DHS personnel are taught to distinguish between legitimate questions and illegitimate suspicion that's based on their ethnicity or religion or appearance? 

0:54:14.2 JJ: Well, I'll tell you what they tell me. First, I think in my three years in office, I came to Michigan probably four times, and each time was an engagement with the Muslim communities in this region. I was very focused on building trust within the Muslim-American community, which was challenging because they, many members of that community view federal law enforcement with suspicion, particularly in the mosque. And so I was on a mission to try to build trust, and Michigan was a place that came to often. I consider the highlight of that effort, it was when I was invited to speak to the Islamic Society of North America in Chicago in 2016, I was the senior most person in the US Government to ever address the [0:55:21.1] ____ ICNA Convention, which is annual. It's 10,000 American Muslims.

0:55:27.6 JJ: And a turning point for me, in preparation for that address, I spoke to some Muslim leaders who had invited me, and they said, "Would you please not talk to us about terrorism? Please don't give us a message about... Talk to your friends and family about not being a terrorist," and I said, "That's your right." And I ended up talking about the promise of America, and how given our heritage, generation after generation are waves of immigrants that seek acceptance into our society who ultimately, and this arc is long, ultimately do win acceptance. And that was the address I gave to that convention.

0:56:18.6 JJ: Now, in answer to your question, what I am told, I'm passing on what I'm told, first of all, many people end up on the No-Fly list, maybe even 90%, I'm not sure of the exact number, because of mistaken identity, because of a name spelling, one letter is off. The other is, the other thing I'm told is that we profile a behavior, not personas, we profile behavior. And very often, travelers get secondary because they hit a rule. In other words, their travel patterns fit a travel pattern that merits secondary screening of some sort. There are ways to get off the No Fly list, it's very cumbersome, it's very slow, the FBI, by the way, manages the No Fly List, not TSA. But that's what I'm told.

0:57:28.8 AL: Thank you.

0:57:32.8 John Ciorciari: Secretary Johnson, thank you so much for joining our community today, I'm John Ciorciari. I'm a Professor and Associate Dean here at the Ford School, and I focus on international politics and law. We've been talking about how central immigration is to DHS's mission, not just border security, but also in part through its management of refugee flows in this country, through its authority to be able to designate populations for temporary protection.

0:57:58.8 JC: And I want to ask you the question about how you think that our refugee law and policy needs to evolve, in light of the fact that we're not talking in this day and age so much about individuals who are fleeing targeted persecution, as much as people who are fleeing more generalized harms associated with war or with the effects of climate change. Do you think that an expansion of the temporary protection system is an adequate means to respond to this change in the demographics of refugees, or do you think that a more fundamental change to our asylum and refugee law is needed, that gets away from this traditional distinction between those who face targeted persecution and broader arms? 

0:58:43.1 JJ: Yes. [laughter] So you asked about two things, TPS and asylum. I have to say, I'm not a big fan of TPS, and here's why. Temporary protected status is something that the Secretary has the authority to grant to classes of people who, let's say, left the country because of an earthquake that devastated the economy or the infrastructure of that country, and they were present here in the United States on the date of the earthquake, and the plea is, don't send me back to this country 'cause it's been devastated. So we have the authority to say, "Yes, you 15,000 people who were present in this country on this date because of this earthquake should not be sent back to that country because of the earthquake, so I'm granting you Temporary Protective Status, and we're gonna review that every 18 months."

0:59:50.4 JJ: For that class of people from that country, what happens is nobody wants to end it, so we have TPS for classes of people going back years, for an earthquake that happened in 1983. And in the meantime, we're actively deporting people back to that same country who came here two years ago, and so it becomes something that we vest in people and we don't wanna take it off, it becomes very hard to take it off. It ends up being status in perpetuity. So it's not the right fit. It's not the right model. The asylum laws. So the current state of asylum law in the US does not fit the current environment. As you know, asylum laws are intended for those fleeing some form of persecution, most migrants on our southern border flee Central America or Cuba or Haiti because of economic conditions. The asylum laws do not protect economic migrants, you can try to shoe-horn that claim into that law, but it doesn't fit, unfortunately.

1:01:23.0 JJ: It would require a change in law to make it fit. Now, can this Congress wrestle with anything having to do with immigration? Frankly, no, though it should. We can't even take care of the DACA recipients. I'm sure that there are DACA recipients in the University of Michigan, there are DACA recipients at Yale Law School, there are DACA recipients in Georgetown Law School, there is a DACA recipient who was an associate of my law firm, was Editor-in-Chief of Georgetown Law Review. When I asked her... When she asked me, "What's my future?" I can't tell her as long as DACA remains executive action and it's not codified into law. These are people who are de facto Americans who know nothing but this country, and we can't even pass a law to take care of them.

1:02:13.4 JJ: Wrestling with the asylum laws is gonna be extremely difficult. Now, the problem, larger picture, The lesson I learned from having to wrestle with immigration and immigration was the most difficult issue I wrestled with in public life, more difficult than Guantanamo, more difficult than drone strikes, more difficult than gays in the military, more difficult than a cyber attack. More difficult than the theft of 2 million OPM files from the cyber attack. The most difficult issue I wrestled with was immigration. Because no matter what you do, somebody is gonna be really angry. The thing I learned is that we can do certain things to enhance enforcement on our southern border, and immigration is very information-sensitive. So it reacts sharply, the numbers react sharply to perceive changes in our enforcement policies.

1:03:26.8 JJ: So if you are perceived as lax, the numbers are gonna go up. If you're perceived as clamping down, the numbers are gonna go down, but it only has a short-term effect. The numbers always revert back to the longer term trend lines, as long as the underlying push factors in Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Cuba, persist. Venezuela, as long as they persist, people are gonna keep coming. The push factors overwhelm any level of defense you can throw up on our southern border. And our asylum laws, because of the length of time it takes to adjudicate an asylum claim are a magnet. Many people don't wanna hear that, but that's a reality. The push factors are the dominant factor, however.

1:04:18.9 JJ: And as long as it takes three, four, five years to adjudicate an asylum claim because of the backlog and the number of immigration judges we don't have in this country, families are desperate to come to the US, even if it means I get to stay for a couple of years while my asylum claim is pending. So for Congress to take the issue of asylum on would be exceedingly difficult because there'd be a lot of competing factors. Some people wanna enhance expedited removal for asylum applicants, some people will want to broaden the scope of the protection to include economic migrants. And in the meantime, the executive branch does all it can to try to do what it can to fix the system within the confines of existing law. So it's very, very difficult.

1:05:12.2 CW: We covered jurors, correct Javed? 

1:05:13.6 JA: Correct.

1:05:14.0 CW: Ann, do you have a follow-up? 

1:05:16.3 AL: I'm sure. I'm going to tell you what I didn't tell you at lunch, which is my brother is an Associate General Counsel at Lockheed Martin, and so when one of our students sent in this next question, this is a student question, I thought I should pick it up. Because of your role as a member of the board at Lockheed and the fact that you've worked in the Department of Defense, I'd like to ask you to say a little bit about the military industrial complex. When the United States gives aide to foreign countries for weapon systems, of course, it sounds like we're giving countries lots of aid, but actually that's really aid that stays here in the United States to pay American contractors for American weapons. So I'm wondering if you can say a little bit about how that industry, the defense contracting industry affects US policy and appropriations, and especially the kinds of decisions we might make around foreign policy.

1:06:13.7 JJ: Well, for a defense contractor, in this country, the principal customer is the US Department of Defense. And defense contractors do not sell weapons directly to foreign countries, there's a requirement that all foreign military sales be blessed by the executive branch of our government and the legislative branch of our government. So if Congress and the executive branch encourage and don't object to a sale, it goes through the US Department of Defense and with their concurrence and blessing. Obviously the most notable example today is Ukraine. We are, in many respects, the arsenal of freedom right now.

1:07:06.6 JJ: We do not sell weapons over the objective, if Congress objects, we don't sell weapons to particular countries, and we certainly don't sell weapons directly to countries with human rights issues, but sometimes that's in the eye of the beholder. Defense systems. Support for defense systems goes up and down depending upon the world climate. I will say I am surprised at how well our defense department is doing in this year's budget. This year's defense budget is exactly half of the entire US budget. Usually in democratic administrations, the defense department like the one I was in, face a whole lot of budget pressure, so that money can be routed to some place else, but the essential role of a defense contractor is to follow the lead of our government.

1:08:06.2 AL: Well, if I can just extend that a little bit. I think one thing that you see, one kind of criticism that you certainly see from foreign countries, even American allies who are buying the weapons that are approved by the executive and the legislative branches, is that the US is focused on policies that will not... Because they want to sell weapons, but that aren't surprisingly are focused around military readiness, military preparation, the military deterrence rather than policies that might be more beneficial to those countries. And because of my role at the Center for Chinese Studies, one place where you clearly see this now is in Taiwan, where there's a very vigorous national argument within Taiwan about whether they are being pushed into an aggressive posture vis-a-vis China in ways that benefit the US more than they might benefit the inhabitants of that place.

1:09:23.0 JJ: That is an issue for national security policy makers in our country, not Director Lockheed Martin. We don't make policy, we don't make national security policy, we respond to the... Within the confines of the law and what the Defense Department tells us they want, we respond to the needs of the customer.

1:09:44.1 JC: I've got another question, when we go back to Javed's initial question about...

1:09:48.3 JJ: A larger debate, however, if I could veer off a little bit, a larger debate though around defense systems is AI, artificial intelligence. And some of the moral dilemmas that may be presented by AI. And I'm not sure that smart people like yourself in private life have fully awakened to the course we are on. I'll say that.

1:10:24.8 CW: Can you say more about that? [laughter]

1:10:29.5 JJ: No, I stopped where I stopped. You and Barbara McQuade need to go think about that.

1:10:37.4 CW: But I will say this, there was just a story on CBS this morning yesterday about AI in the arts and the use of AI technology to create... People saw that to create and replicate art. And it was striking to me that one of the founders of the company said, "Well, we just create the technology and put it out there, and we trust that it will be used responsibly, and hey, there are firewalls. If you put art that you created through AI on Facebook, Facebook might block it, if it's heinous or violent or etcetera."

1:11:21.6 CW: So kind of assuming that the Twitter and the Facebooks of the world and the social media platforms will monitor the rails, and I was struck by this founder's lack of awareness, if you will, in terms of... We've seen this movie before in terms of... Well, I create the technology. And we just put it out there. So, now that we think about it in the context of what you're talking about. Do you see basically history repeating itself in terms of the same kinds of logics are informing our use of the technology in our ignorance around the unwillingness to see the moral and ethical dilemmas it produces? 

1:12:05.2 JJ: What I'm saying is that the technology in this space is moving with lightning speed and the awareness and the thinking around AI is not keeping pace with he lightning speed. That's what I'm saying.

1:12:22.4 CW: And we have a science and technology public...

1:12:24.4 JJ: The other day... The other night...

1:12:24.7 CW: [1:12:24.8] ____ policy program that responds to this.

1:12:29.8 JJ: I have this fancy alarm system in my house put there by the Secret Service, they're gone, but the alarm system is still there and it detects everything. It detects CO2, it detects a loose window, it detects everything. And I don't understand it. And so it started beeping at me like midnight on Friday night, and I was able to figure out it's a dead battery, in one of the things. I undid the alarm to change the battery and the whole system got mad at me and started beeping and it wouldn't stop. And I called Honeywell, the 1-800 number that I could find to say, "How do I make this thing stop?" And I realized I couldn't get anybody on the phone, forget that. And I get this little thing on my iPhone, "What is your problem?" And I said, "I can't make this thing stop. Oh, well, let's try this." And I realized I'm talking to... I'm not talking to a person behind the keyboard, I'm talking to AI. I'm talking to a system. I'm not talking to a human being.

1:13:46.6 AL: Did it help? 

1:13:48.3 JJ: How many of you...

1:13:49.5 CW: Did it stop? 

1:13:50.8 JJ: Think you are talking to a human being online and you're really talking to technology. Anyway.

1:13:55.1 CW: Right. If we have any other faculty questions, I have one more question but I'll let you...

1:14:03.3 JC: I did have one more, when Javed was asking about looking 20 years forward, what are some ethical challenges that DHS has to face, climate change is on every department's list, and of course, as most of our audience probably knows, DHS sits on top of FEMA and therefore has a major role in domestic disaster response. As you know well, FEMA's often in line of criticism, both for the nature of a response, but also for equity considerations around racial and other disparities and how aid is provided. I wonder if you could walk us through what you see as FEMA's strengths as an organization as it now stands, and the surrounding architecture and what you think some of the key reforms need to be going forward to deal effectively with the greater and more frequent scale of disasters we're facing, but also to be sure that we do in a way that's equitable to our residents.

1:15:00.7 JJ: So the last poll I saw on this, which was a couple of years ago, the poll was in what agencies of our government do you most trust... Do you have the most trust in do the right thing? FEMA was right up there with the US Military, surprisingly. But in my judgment, deservedly so. FEMA is particularly... When Craig Fugate basically, rebuilt that agency... FEMA is a very agile, nimble, creative agency, knows how to mobilize assets, move assets, rapid response in reaction to a disaster, as good as the US Army. FEMA, in my opinion, was woefully under-utilized during the pandemic. If we had life to live over again, I think FEMA should have been a central role... FEMA and the defense production act, better use of the defense production Act should have been central to our national level response to Covid. That's what FEMA's for is for disaster response, and it was a disaster. It affected every corner of this nation. So I have a lot of faith in the organization, but policy makers at the top need to know how to effectively use FEMA.

1:16:31.0 CW: Can I ask you a question about political polarization and...

1:16:35.3 JJ: Never heard of it.

1:16:36.3 CW: Never heard of it. I noticed that you are quite nimble in terms of the different news shows and conversations that you're willing to have on television. And I wonder, is that a deliberate choice? And I wonder if you can tell us what you've learned by... And you talked about this at lunch. MSNBC is literally across the street from FOX News in New York, in terms of where the studios are located. And I wonder if you can just talk about your willingness, ability, strategy around crossing the aisle, crossing the street.

1:17:17.3 JJ: So I believe that in my private life, my role is to educate, inform, challenge a bit, and you can't do that if you're just talking to an audience that's already inclined to agree with you. And so I make a point of going to FOX. I work at 6th avenue and 51st Street in Manhattan. NBC, MSNBC is at 49th and 6th Avenue. FOX is at 47th and 6th Avenue. So we're literally across the street from one another. All the same subway station. And so once in a while I'll go on FOX, I'm on MSNBC the most, CNN, shows like Face the Nation and Meet the Press. But I also do FOX once in a while. And I pick my spots when I go on FOX, I pick... I'm selective. I get a lot of... During a border surge, I'll get a lot of requests to go on FOX, 'cause they want me to talk about how messed up the border is, to make the current administration look bad. I avoid that.

1:18:35.5 JJ: I will go on FOX to challenge that audience in a way. So for example, right after Trump said of the five women in Congress, "You need to go back to where you came from" or whatever, I'm paraphrasing. And they're all US citizens. I went on FOX, and it happened to be, it was FOX & Friends. I go on FOX & Friends and I go on Neil Cavuto. Neil Cavuto is reasonable. FOX & Friends, I go on just because of the sheer size of the audience. And I went on, and it happened to be a live audience like this in the FOX studio that day, and I said, "There's no place for them to go back to. That's an affront, it's an offense. They're Americans just like all of you. And you could hear a pin drop in the room like... But I go on FOX to challenge that audience. The other time I went on FOX very deliberately, it was right after the election, the 2020 election.

1:19:41.2 JJ: It was two days after the election, and MSNBC was just kinda hanging on the edge of their seat waiting for Arizona to be called for Biden and FOX, it was all dark. I was channel surfing, it was all dark. There was this garbled voice of a postal worker who says, he swore that he saw ballots being backdated, and I saw this is all dark. So I called Neil Cavuto's people and I said, "I wanna go on FOX Today." And I was being kind of foolish, but I wanna go on a FOX today, and I said, "In this country, you may not like the result of the election, there have been plenty of elections where I didn't like the result of the election, but it's a democracy, and you have in four years an opportunity to change it. But we have to respect the result." Before I could... It was virtual.

1:20:38.0 JJ: Before I could hit leave meeting on Zoom, my phone in my office was lit up. "You Democrat, go back to your cave and go back to under your rock. How dare you say this? Blah, blah, blah. That election stolen." But you need to... People need to hear things to challenge their points of view. So when I go on FOX, first of all, they're very nice to me on FOX. They wanna keep me coming back. But when I go on FOX, I'll get some of the most offensive emails on my email, but I also get some of the most complimentary. "Jeh, you're a Democrat and you're really... You're smart? Wow. You were so reasonable and you're black too. Wow, you should run for president." I really... You've opened my eyes because on both sides of the spectrum, you asked about polarization. Too often, whether it's social media, and you can't just blame social media for this.

1:21:44.9 JJ: Cable news, you turn on cable news and they're just telling you what... They're just feeding your predilection and your suspicions and your likes. And that's right, yep. I agree, yep. He's right, he's right. He's so right, he is so right. He's right because he agrees with me. And just reinforces your own views already. There's not enough opportunity to be challenged, to hear sane objectives, straightforward news, "Here's what happened at the White House, here is the traffic jam on 994, here's the weather, and here's the score of the Giants game." They're so often too few opportunities now for just straightforward news, and as a result, America in my view is more divided now than it ever has been. Down the middle.

1:22:38.9 CW: What is the remedy for that? How do we get past this place? 

1:22:43.5 JJ: Well, I used to think that the remedy of that... For that, I used to say, "Well, it shouldn't take a crisis like another 911 to bring us together." But guess what? We did have a crisis called COVID.

1:22:53.4 CW: Yep.

1:22:54.3 JJ: And it didn't bring us together. We argued about whether or not you should wear a mask, did it come from a lab or did it come from a monkey in China? And isn't it all fake? And Tony Fauci should go to jail, we couldn't even agree on the source and the cure. We couldn't even agree on the validity and the safety of a 35-cent mask. "No. It's my freedom and I'm not wearing a mask. I have my rights." Well, there's public health too. So we couldn't even agree on that. So I don't have a good answer to your question, I'm sorry. I just don't. I'd like to be more optimistic, I can quote my grandfather again, but I think it's getting better. I'd like to say it's getting a little better than it was, say 2, 3, 4 years ago. Well, we are more divided now than we have been in a long time.

1:24:01.8 CW: What advice would you have for students who are making their way in this kind of environment and building careers in this kind of environment? And that'll be our last question.

1:24:12.9 JJ: My advice is listen, read things, watch things that will challenge you, that will challenge your thinking. Seek out the other perspective, don't seek out the offensive, ignorant perspective, but sometimes we need to hear that too, to understand just how bad it is. But seek out things, especially when you're in education, that will challenge you, that are different points of view, that will help you either change your point of view or reinforce your own point of view. If you happen to believe in X and you listen to somebody who espouses Y, it seems to me you could double down on your belief in X, but your conviction will be that much stronger if you've been exposed to Y and you can defend X in the face of Y. So I think it's important to be challenged. It's not easy to be challenged, it's not... You have to be willing to go places and listen to things that might make you feel uncomfortable, but... This session is all about Martin Luther King.

1:25:38.7 JJ: I'm always impressed when somebody says, "I didn't know much about Martin Luther King at all. But you taught me something I didn't know about him." I'm always impressed by that. Or 12 years ago, 13 years ago, I led the effort in the Department of Defense to assess whether or not we could repeal, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, to permit gay people to serve openly in our US military. General Carter Ham and I co-chaired a working group that wrote a report that we gave to Congress saying, "Yes, we can do this," and Congress then repealed the law two weeks later. In the course of that review, we spoke the tens of thousands of service members. Everybody had an opinion about gays in the military. The opinion that I valued most was from the senior enlisted sailor or airman or marine who said... Who was part of our working group who said, "I came to this a skeptic, but after listening and reading, I now believe we can do this." That to me was the most viable input I got.

1:26:58.6 CW: Secretary Johnson, this has been an amazing, enlightening, very helpful discussion. Thank you so, so much for being with us. Please, join me in welcoming and thanking.


1:27:12.2 JJ: Thank you.