Former President Bill Clinton believes that “democracy is fragile right now,” and he spoke candidly on A+E Networks and History Channel’s History Talks on Saturday about the issues “that are tearing us apart.”
“What’s more important? Our common humanity or differences?” he mused on stage. “And what works better to build the kind of future we all want? Does collaboration work better, or is everything a zero-sum game?”
He answered the rhetorical question by saying, “Life is not a zero-sum game. Football is a zero-sum game – I’ve already watched one game today. I hope it’s not true, but it may be true that saving our democracy is just a zero sum game, because democracy is vulnerable right now.”
The former president was joined by Tom Hanks, chief Jose Andrew and moderator Chelsea Clinton in a one-hour conversation. They spoke at length about their humanitarian efforts, as well as their hopes and concerns about the country’s prospects.
Chelsea made one thing clear: only young people should not be responsible for the future of the world. “I’m disgusted by the framing that young people are going to save us,” she said. “With all due respect, what the hell are adults doing?”
As the crowd cheered, a stunned Hanks said, “She said ‘fuck.'”
Speaking with the reverence and authority of a history professor, Hanks argued that educating people about real historical events can help interest the public in — and advocate for — important causes in their own communities. But being a storyteller is a responsibility that comes with great strength, he said. In short, he does not support artists who tend to bend, bend or break with reality.
“I do nonfiction entertainment,” said Hanks, who includes real-life figures like Captain Phillips, Mr. Rogers, Walt Disney and Captain Sully Sullenberger on screen. “[It’s] the best of entertainment, because that is part of an education.”
But while adapting stories for movies, TV, podcasts or documentaries, Hanks said there’s an obligation to make sure the truth doesn’t get “overcrowded” at the expense of telling a good story.
“When we come across inconvenient facts that we don’t want to talk about because it could take away the purity of the main character… I say, ‘Oh, what you want to do is alternate history. You want to have an alternate fact.’”
He continued: “Because I’m in charge, I can say things like, ‘Instead of making something up, why don’t you go – why not we, I’m saying that – figure out a way to figure out what really fascinating happened?” Otherwise, he says, “You can end up this other way, where every movie ends up being a version of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ and everything works.”
Also during the lecture, Andres got the crowd cheering as he made a passionate, rousing plea for the government to treat food as a national security issue. His charity, World Central Kitchen, a food aid organization, has donated hundreds of millions of meals to people and communities in need.
“I’m sorry, but fuel isn’t the main enemy. Weapons are not the main commodity. The most important energy that we need to take care of is the energy that moves humanity forward. And that is food.”
He called on the White House to take action. “Americans are hungry right now. We can do better. Let’s make sure, in a two-pronged way, that Republicans and Democrats declare that we will never have food deserts in America again.”
There was a moment of frivolity in the otherwise heartfelt conversation, as Hanks joked about his dream of playing Andres in a movie. “I recorded it to lessen the accent,” Hanks said, mimicking the inflection of the Spanish chief’s speech. “I can’t cook, but I’ll read cookbooks until the cows come home.”
Andres, for his part, approves the choice of casting. But, “he needs to get his accent right.” Andres is already charmed by Hanks’ efforts. “Every time he says ‘Jose’ I fall in love with him. I’m married, but…’