Jeff Daniels went on MSNBC’s Deadline: White House in a pre-Tonys roundtable today and basically took the Republican Party to the woodshed. The star of Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird harkened back to a previous role — that of cable news anchor Will McAvoy from HBO’s The Newsroom, for which he won an Emmy — as he talked politics, race and the need for the country to dethrone Donald Trump.
Speaking with host Nicolle Wallace and her panel, Daniels first discussed playing the fictional but revered Atticus Finch in the Aaron Sorkin-penned Mockingbird every night. “You walk out there and we pin the ears back of, basically, white America,” he said. “White liberal America comes in, and they go, ‘We had no idea it was that tough.’ It’s a slap in the face; it’s a wake-up call.”
But Daniels was just getting warmed up. He cites a moment in the play when the KKK is coming for Finch and his daughter Scout recognizes one as their neighbor and compares it to when Daniels asked his fellow Michiganders about the 2016 election results and they said, “Yeah, isn’t it great?” He then notes how Finch’s defending his neighbors by saying, “I know these people, they’re good people,” but “he’s an apologist, he’s an enabler,” Daniels said. “And I think there are people in the Midwest, between the coasts, who don’t know anything about this, who don’t care about this, who don’t have any time for this, who have to make a decision now. You have to decide whether, like Atticus, you believe that there is still compassion, decency, civility, respect for others — ‘do unto others,’ remember that? — all that stuff you guys believe in, and you still voted not for Hillary or for Trump. Where are you now?”
As a kicker, he added: “If the big gamble is to go all the way to November 2020 … and lose, that’s the end of democracy.”
He wasn’t done, because the topic turned to race in America. Quoting a line from the play, Daniels said, “A mob is a place where people go to take a break from their conscience. … That’s what I see when I look at Donald Trump’s rallies, that’s when I see the lies he’s spewing at these people, and people going, ‘I gotta believe in something,’ and he said he’d bring my manufacturing job back and she didn’t, and I’m all in.’ But … at the end of the day, it’s race. It’s race.”
Measuring his words at this point, Daniels continued: “This is about the Republican Party — or a wing of it — going: ‘This is our last chance to save the party. And if we don’t, it’s the end of the Republican Party.’ And the only way they can do that was to tap the race button and say, ‘Go ahead, it’s OK.’ And [Trump] did. And they did. That was the only card they had left to play, and they played it. And they aren’t going to go quietly.”
He added: “Who are the heroes going to be? Is it gonna be the Daniel Ellsberg Pentagon Papers guy? Who’s the guy at the Justice Department who’s gonna go, ‘Washington Post — here’s the unredacted Mueller Report. Go’?
“I’m waiting for that guy,” Daniels said, “I need people to stand up and be heroic. Because democracy is at stake.”
Here is the clip, which begins with part of an impassioned monologue from Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird: