In an extended interview with host Trevor Noah on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Mayor Mitch Landrieu warned of demagogues exploiting working class vulnerabilities and stressed how the country - not just the south - needs to confront its racism to find a "common ground."
"I do think it would be helpful if everyone in the country realized it's a national problem," Landrieu said on the March 19 episode. "It's built into the country's DNA."
The Daily Show is the latest stop on Landrieu's press tour for the release of his book In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History, out March 20. He recently appeared on 60 Minutes, This Week with George Stephanopoulos and NPR's All Things Considered, and an excerpt of the book was published in TIME.
The book charts Landrieu's decision to remove four Confederate monuments in 2017 and chronicles his life through a lens of his realization of an obligation to address racism. In one chapter ("David Duke and Donald Trump, A Nightmare Loop"), Landrieu recalls the "pyschodrama" of neo-Nazi David Duke and draws a parallel to the ascent of President Donald Trump.
“Everybody deserves to be seen,” Landrieu told Noah. “So when people who are poor and live in Appalachia and have been left behind by economics or trade or technology, we do have to see them. There’s no use in litigating whether our hurt was as bad as your hurt, when a father and a mother, whether they’re black or white, are trying to feed their family and they can't get a job and nobody can see them and nobody cares about them - they feel left out so they’ll strike back, and they’ll cause the rise of a demagogue to lead them and the country, and I think we have to pay attention to that ... In America, one of the great political successes has been turning working class white people and working class black people against each other on the issue of race and not talking about economically how we work together."
Asked whether Landrieu sees a potential 2020 presidential run "against a demagogue," Landrieu laughed.
"It's obviously very flattering for people to talk to you in that context," he said. "I've been doing this for 30 years. My wife and I have five kids. I don't have any plans for the future. The 300th anniversary is coming up, we're getting ready to land the plane - y'all should celebrate the history and beauty of New Orleans. You helped rebuild it, so on behalf of the people of New Orleans, thank you so much. I'm going to rest a little bit then figure out what I'm going to do in the future,"
"He said yes," Noah said.
Landrieu argued the crucial element of finding that "common ground" is to correct the record - drawing a line from slavery and the Civil War to Jim Crow and the construction of monuments meant to honor the men who fought to enslave others.
"The confederacy has always occupied this mythical place in the minds of a lot people," Landrieu told Noah. "I don't think it should be hard in the second decade of the 21st century to say the confederacy was on the wrong side of history, it was fought to destroy the country not unite it, and it was fought for the purpose of preserving slavery, which is the worst thing we've done in this country. If you don't do that, it's really hard to move forward and find common ground."
To people who agree the monuments shouldn't be there but don't want to disturb the public space they occupy, or are uncomfortable "removing history," Landrieu told Noah "there are places for remembrance and places for reverence."
"A 12-year-old African American girl should not have to walk under a statue of an individual who fought to destroy her life and freedom," Landrieu said. "That's not something the city of New Orleans has really ever been. For those people who say they want to remember history, I say they ought to remember the totality of history."