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Hi, I'm Phil Donahue, and I'm Marlo Thomas. We fell in love on live television and got married over 40 years ago.


Now on our new podcast, we visit the homes of our favorite long married celebrity couples to talk about enduring love and all its challenges.


Family, career, conflict, everything a couple can face.


Listen to double date on the I Heart radio app, Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcasts.


You and me both is a production of I Heart Radio. I'm Hillary Clinton and this is you and me both. Today, we are talking about our democracy, which was really put to the test over these last four years. I was greatly relieved when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were finally declared the winners of the election that they had won. And I've been really encouraged by the steady way they've governed. The significant covid package that was passed by the Congress sends a message to not just Democrats, but Republicans, independents, every American that guess what, they have a government, again, that cares whether they live or die, that cares whether their kids are in school, that cares, you know, whether their small business survives or their local government is going to provide essential services.


So I'm deeply relieved, but I think we have to be watchful because as we are speaking, lots of states are trying to turn the clock back on voting. So we still have to be vigilant about our democratic institutions. I'm excited to talk to two people who have thought about and contributed to the health of our democracy. We'll hear from Rashad Robinson, one of the most tireless activists I know. But first, I'm talking with writer and journalist Masha Gessen.


Masha, someone whose career I have followed for a long time, Masha grew up in the Soviet Union and has written a lot about the resurgence of autocracy in Russia. And the day after the 2016 election was called for, Trump Masha wrote an essay called Autocracy Rules for Survival that really captured my attention. Masha told us we should be worried about autocracy right here in the United States, which I know sounded alarmist to a lot of people. I thought, however, that it had the ring of truth.


So I asked Masha to join me on the podcast to talk about how our democracy fared under Trump and where we are now. Well, let me start by saying how really delighted I am to speak with you, Masha.


I have been an avid reader and follower of your writing and speaking and appreciate very much all of your insights into what's going on in our world today.


Thank you so much. Is such a huge honor to be talking to you.


Almost immediately after Trump was elected, you wrote an essay called Autocracy Rules for Survival, in which you argued that our laws, our democratic ideals and institutions were at mortal risk. How did you come to that realization so early?


You know, I mean, I'd spent the couple of years before Trump's election writing a book called The Future His History How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. So I had spent two years actively thinking about that every day and thinking, you know, how do you define totalitarianism? What are the signs? How do you know you're in it? How do you know it's ending? And that was happening in parallel with having all these conversations, obviously, during the election about if you're going to get nominated, is he actually going to win?


But the conversation had actually spend the most time thinking about was the conversation I've had with somebody know one of those lunches where you said, oh, you think you know, do you think Trump can get elected? And I sort of said something like, yeah, but, you know, this isn't Russia. And the person I was talking to said, Oh, so you think our institutions are strong enough to withstand someone like Trump? So do I.


And sort of biking back from that, I thought, what do I think that our institutions are strong on that? I'm not sure I do. That was the exact question that I've been thinking about and had come to the conclusion they weren't.


Do you have a kind of sense of what did better than something else? Like were there institutions that withstood Trump's interference and his belittling and his undermining, you know better than others? How would you, in effect, grade that?


It's an interesting question. I think that our institutions of checks and balances did not hold up at all.


I think that he really showed how well he could use his legal and extralegal powers to do things from firing the inspector general to basically stonewalling Congress. And, of course, the disastrous period after the election when we saw, you know, it is Congress's actual job to exercise a check on the presidency and it is what Congress failed to do. And we've had, even after the insurrection, more than 100 Republicans in the House vote against certifying the election, which I just think is terrifying.


So failing works all around there. I think that he did an incredible amount of damage to the courts, more than we realize at this point by packing the courts, which is, of course, part of the autocrat's playbook. And if we move on to the media, I think we you know, there is some there are a lot of failures. There were also some incredible successes. And I think we saw investigative journalism unlike any that we have seen before.


We saw also and I think this is even more important, new collaborative models in investigative journalism that we wouldn't have seen had it not been for Trump. And I think probably the part of our society that held up first is civil society organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, which just all did it for four years, was fight trump those kinds of projects. Their integrity wasn't compromised. Yes, I think civil society probably comes out of the spirit stronger than it went in.


And that's the only part of our democracy that we can say that about it.


But I wanted to ask you, now that we have seen a real life insurrection in the United States with an attack on our capital, how would you, knowing as much as you do about autocracy and totalitarianism, have handled it? What else could we be doing or should we think about?


Right are a couple of things that I want to sort of take a premises. One, you mention that in the book I tried to set out the benchmarks for how an autocratic attempt happens. But I also try to grapple with something, which is that it never happens overnight. The way that we learn history, you know, we collapse events that happen over time into single events like the Reichstag fire. Right. We imagine that the entirety of Nazi rule came into being with the Reichstag fire.


But the Reichstag fire happened in 1933, eight years before the Holocaust began. There were things happening over the course of those years that made it imaginable for Germans that they would try to take over the world. And I've always been obsessed with sort of what happens between the beginning and the end of a historical event.


You know, so to me, looking at the insurrection and the outcome of the election in general, a lot of people have sort of breathed a sigh of relief and said, well, look, you know, our institutions held up. Hmm. And what I see is that we'll look you know, it takes time to destroy institutions. In Russia, in twenty twenty one, we're seeing the dregs of the court system still being used to jail Alexei Navalny, but they're still using something that they're calling the courts, right?


It's like exactly hounded them into the ground. They're holding court hearings in a police precinct. They're charging them under nonexistent laws, but they're still using the remnants of the institutions.


So what I see is evidence that our institutions haven't been entirely destroyed, but not that they've not held.


They are holding strong. Right. I think that's a very important point. And I've often wondered about this myself, that authoritarians often remain committed to the charade of institutions. You know, they pack the courts, they change the laws, they subjugate those institutions, but they don't eliminate them. And there still is a recognition on the part of an autocratic regime that they have to have these kind of indices of normalcy in order to run a government. You know, I always was struck how when allied troops were liberating the death camps, the remaining Nazis before fleeing tried to destroy evidence.


You know, they tried to burn the gas chambers. They tried to destroy the clear evidence of what they had done there because they knew, despite all of the efforts to propagandize and to brainwash and to turn them into cult members, they knew that there was something that would not withstand scrutiny. So what do we do? I mean, the long term effects of the Trump presidency are still being, I think, felt and assessed. So what are the rules for surviving autocracy that not only we as citizens, but the press and other parts of society should be following?


I think we need a huge storytelling project. Interesting. It's a crazy idea, but I mean, it's not completely crazy. It's actually been tried in this country in the 1930s.


Right. There was a huge write during the WPA.


I think that's what we need because what do we know actually about surviving a democracy after the end of autocracy is that countries, the dupa societies that do best are societies that have a story, a story that promises a sense of belonging, which I think is so huge in the appeal of these past oriented autocrats.


That's so important. I want to underscore what you said, because it's always an appeal to the idealized past. Make America great again. It used to be it isn't any longer, right.


Hitler's contemporaries, Eric from the Great Psychoanalytic Social Psychologist, wrote a lot about that idea that the autocrat comes in and promises a return to this imaginary past. When you didn't feel this extreme level of anxiety. There is an extremely high level of anxiety that, of course, gives us autocrats in the first place a sense of social and economic displacement and a sense of profound uncertainty. And what you need for that is a story about the future that is as glorious as that story about the past is grand.


And a lot of people were really upset that politicians were saying this is not who we are when we're looking at the insurgency. And I actually think that that's the seed of the kind of story that needs to be told.


This is not who we are, should really be understood as aspiration, as this is not who we are in the way that we imagine ourselves.


So how do we become, you know, the America that we were promised that we promised ourselves? You know, in the book I quote the Langston Hughes home America, where he says America has never been but America will be, which I think was echoed beautifully by the inaugural poem. Yes.


Amanda Gorman, who clearly referenced it and who I thought brilliantly talked about democracy as an aspiration. It is a project for the future. She talked about democracy, brave enough if we're better, but also democracy can be delayed. Right. And by saying democracy can be delayed, she's saying democracy is always in the future. Democracy is the thing we're going toward. Those are the seeds of a kind of storytelling project that can be radically inclusive.


I love this Mattea. I love this idea.


You know, it's interesting to me how countries, how nations tell themselves stories. And I have to ask you, what is the story that Russians are telling themselves right now? Is there a different story or do Russians have to wait until Putin is somehow gone?


I think there is actually collusion of stories, the story that Putin has been selling for. This is this very nostalgic story about a glorious past. It is centered entirely around the Soviet victory in World War Two. It's the ultimate legitimizing event of the 20th century for the Soviet Union. It's what made the Soviet Union a superpower. And it also by sort of legitimizing the post-war period of being a superpower, it also legitimized the pre-war period of the great terror.


Interesting. But for the great terror, you would not have had the victory. Exactly.


And so that that manages to, you know, sort of gloss over the entire 20th century and create this kind of beautiful story of a victory and being right. And I think Navalny has actually been telling a very different story. He has this insistence on acting as though Russia could actually be a country with an accountable government, with transparent elections, with mechanisms that work.


The basic story that he is telling is the story that it is possible to have good, accountable government in Russia, which is a radical idea, which does throw it into the future, like you were suggesting, is one of the best ways to counteract the organized look back nostalgia that autocrats rely on.


Exactly. Yeah, he uses this phrase the wonderful Russia of the future, and he talks about what will happen in the wonderful Russia of the future. We're taking a quick break. Stay with us. Let's face it, taking trips to the post office is probably not how you want to spend your time. That's why I recommend mailing and shipping online at If, like me, you spend most of your day on Zoome after Zoome call, having to go out to the post office is harder than it used to be.

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Hi, I'm Phil Donahue. And I'm Marlo Thomas.


We fell in love on live television right there on my show not long after we got married and that was more than forty years ago.


Now on our new podcast, Double Date, we visit the homes of our favorite long married celebrity couples.


We share intimate conversations about enduring love and all its challenges family, career, conflict, addiction, illness, jealousy, everything a couple can face.


And you'll hear those personal and often hilarious stories that all married people like to tell from couples like Viola Davis and Julius Tenon, Neil Patrick Harris and David Birka, Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, Judge Judy and Jerry Sheindlin and so many more.


We can't wait to share some of the laughs and tears and revelations that we had with these remarkable spouses. Listen to double date on the I Heart radio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.


So I'd love to close with this, because I I love talking to you and maybe when we are all vaccinated we can continue this.


But the love that, you know, you're an immigrant and you're a refugee and those are two parts of your identity that have been long tied to the story of America. But as you wrote in Surviving Autocracy, the immigrant story was the story that the Trump administration abandoned. And there are lots of stories that the United States could tell now and moving forward. What do you hope the American story would be again?


Well, I don't have to tell you that the immigrant story is at once inspiring and problematic. The idea that this is a nation of immigrants elides the story of those who came here against their will. Right. And also the story of those who were here before the settlers.


Exactly. And the extraordinary prejudice against wave after wave of immigrants who came in the years since.


But, you know, that underscores the need for some kind of reinvention of the story. Right.


You know, we are at a crossroads in terms of telling the story of this country. How do we combine the story of a country founded on a set of beautiful abstract ideals that also systematically failed to live up to those ideals? And I hope it can be a story of these ideals are still possible. I agree. These ideas are still the foundation of our potential unity. And then I think we're so close to actually being able to grab it as a story and as a way to move forward.


But it has to be a huge national project with visible leadership. I mean, what I imagine is writers and facilitators going out to every public library in this country when we're all vaccinated and holding storytelling sessions, holding town halls. I mean, we have these beautiful American rituals. And I think some of the more interesting arguments about how we do the reckoning, if we do the reckoning now, has had to do with what kinds of rituals we employ.


You know, do we employ the Senate hearings, that we employ court hearings.


But I think we need to employ the existing rituals of public gatherings in the United States, you know, gather town halls, tell stories, come together in telling these stories and figure out how we move forward and rebuild on the basis of those ideas on which the country was founded, which is a very different concept than sort of the institutions held up. Let's go back to normal and act like none of this ever happened, which I'm really scared.


I am scared about that, too. And I think it would be such a serious error and the next couple of years is going to be a real test. I actually think that Biden is well suited for this period because of his personal story, which is a deeply human residents story about suffering and and redemption and and forgiveness and all that goes with it. But the organized approach that you're describing could be exactly what is needed. And so I, for one, am going to be promoting the idea.


I will give you full credit for it. I don't need credit.


I need somebody who's an organizer. Like you're not an agitator like me. So.


Well, to be continued and thank you for your incredibly insightful and very important writing over the last years. Thank you, Secretary Clinton. It's been such an honor to talk to you.


Masha Gessen is a staff writer at The New Yorker whose most recent book is called Surviving Autocracy. My next guest is Rashad Robinson, Rashad has been an activist his entire life, starting in high school when he led his classmates in a protest against a local drug store because of how it treated students who hung out there after school. These days, he leads Color of Change, America's largest organization, helping people to take online action in support of racial justice.


I've known Rashad for years, and I'm proud to say that Color of Change was one of our first partner organizations in Onward Together, a group I founded after the 2016 election to support the people and groups doing the really hard work of repairing our democracy. Rashad is one of the most energetic people I've ever met, and he's also known for his trademark hats, which he's almost always wearing. I was thrilled to catch up with him. Hi, Rashad.


Hey, how are you? I think they're calling me about a grocery delivery that misses the pandemic moment. Yeah, no problem. All right, there we go.


OK, well, welcome to the show, Rashad. I am so excited about having you as a guest on this podcast.


Well, thank you for having me. It's an honor and a pleasure. I want to talk with you about what these last four years have been like, because in many ways, what color of change stands for what you've been fighting for has been really on the line because of everything happening in our country, the threats to our democracy.


What has it been like for you personally?


Well, personally, it's been non-stop to see and to be in the midst of so much suffering and to feel like the levers that you relied on to pull were not there in so many ways. You know, right after the twenty sixteen election, we had to figure out how we were going to move. You know, we had spent years during the Obama administration pushing and challenging. We would show up to DOJ sometimes with petitions in hand pushing. We would show up at HUD or Education Department pushing it.


Did it mean that we got everything we wanted, but we knew that we were inside of a conversation. We recognize very clearly that we had to shift strategies that we couldn't go hat in hand anymore. And that meant that we had to really figure out who we were going to be to actually build power, to not be inside of. What we talk about is magical thinking, right? Magical thinking is like the stories we sometimes tell ourselves about how change happens.


Write a petition demanding Mitch McConnell stand up for affirmative action is not a petition that's going anywhere, no matter how many people sign it. Right. And so part of what we had to do was figure that out. And we really built what I feel was a new strategy that was focused not simply on resistance, but on opposition. What would it mean to not just resist, but to build power to oppose so that we could get back to governing, focusing on winning real world victories at the local level, while also recognizing that the game was not fair, that the rules were raped, and that we couldn't simply say that what happened in twenty sixteen was democracy.


It was what happened. And we are dealing with it. But we had to recognize it, fight and challenge to build something new.


Those are really important insights because you're right, oftentimes when people get involved in any kind of movement for social justice, for progress, they can't believe that just stating the problem won't get the results that you're seeking. And it is a slow, hard, boring of hard boards, as Max Weber's said decades ago, about politics and political change.


You know, when we look at what you had to face during the four years of the Trump administration, in your opinion, how close did we come to actually losing our democracy?


Well, you know, I think it's still under contention, right? You know, we right after the election, we started going on white nationalist sites. We work with the Southern Poverty Law Center. And we looked at all these sites. And one thing I noticed and one thing my team noticed was that you could put your credit card number in or your PayPal number in and you could donate money. Yes. You could go and buy merchandise, buy merchandise.


Right. So we started calling the credit card companies. We started calling these payment processing companies. And you know what they told us? They said, oh, we're with you, but, you know, you have to talk to the banks. And then the bank said, you know, you have to talk to the credit card companies. So we start building the no blood money campaign and we start building this platform. Right. And, you know, we're not quite done with it all when Charlottesville happens.


But the team goes in over the weekend. They like. Get all the tools together and we start going public. We gave the companies we're like we've been talking with you for months. We've given you these lists of white nationalist groups. And then within about twenty four hours, they start sending us a list of white nationalist organizations that they are cutting off for processing fees. No law had changed. Exactly. And so to the extent of what institutions will allow to happen, that will put us all in harms way because it serves some sort of interest.


We all have to recognize that that hasn't gone away. And that part of what we have to do is really double down on all of the vehicles that I believe actually get us closer to real change. And I think that there are no greater drivers right now than racial justice and gender justice, not only because there are motivating forces. If you think about the women's march or if you think about the uprisings over this summer as some of the strongest vehicles to actually getting people into the streets right now, getting people mobilized, but they also are force multipliers and actually undoing the norms, the practices, the ideas that got us into this in the first place.


And so we have to lead into those things now because a true democracy produces gender justice or produces racial justice.


It's because racial justice and gender justice actually get us to that true democracy moving toward the private sector and corporate power was an incredibly smart approach. But one of your biggest targets was Facebook. And I think, Richard, you understood before many, many people did the really negative role that Facebook played in being literally an organizing tool for the far right, for white supremacists, for extremists. Explain to our listeners, you know, what brought that insight to your mind and how you then proceeded.


At first, Black Lives Matter activists were being taxed on the platform. And so we sort of reached out and we started pushing and we tried to get some action and we were getting all sorts of stalling. That just didn't make sense. Like, why wouldn't you just deal with this? Right. And then, you know, there was a woman by the name of Corrine Gaines, a woman who was having a mental health episode. She had our Facebook live on.


She was having an interaction with police. Her young son was there in the city of Baltimore. And the police called Facebook and had them turn off her Facebook life. And Corrine Gaines ends up dead and there's no video.


And we were like, what are the rules here? Like what? Like what's the rules around working with law enforcement? And we found out that they were actually providing information to law enforcement about activists without warrants, without, you know, sort of the proper sort of protocols and seeing how this platform relied on our data in many ways, mind our data and then could sell it, could use it, could do all sorts of things with it. We recognize that there had to be new rules and we were pushing Facebook around a number of things and we got them to agree to do a civil rights audit.


So we dealt with that. And then we found out in twenty eighteen that while we had been at the table, I think of those end of twenty seventeen while we've been at the table, I'll be going back and forth with Facebook. They had hired a PR firm called Definers to attack us and I and I only found out from the New York Times, the New York Times call that maybe you have a comment on this story we just published, I think what story you just published.


And at this point, we had been at the table. They had been talking about the audit. We have been working with them. And it was very clear that they had no intent on making sure it was a charade, wasn't it? That's exactly what it is. We will always lose with both Facebook and even with big corporate power in Washington or in Silicon Valley. We will always lose in the back room. If we don't have millions of people lined up at the front door.


We'll be right back. Hey, it's comedian Nikki Glaser, and I have a new podcast with my best friend and roommate, Andrew Callon.


Hey, I'm Andrew. Azealia, I didn't know you were going to let me speak. You know, sometimes I look in the mirror and I go, You're a thirty six year old woman living with your male best friend platonically. And how did you get here? I told him, no, I don't want to do that. Are you doing in an instant I wasn't I would never understand why you're interested, but I'll bet I was at your dinner.


If I do the face, I get more in the care of. This is a podcast so they can't see that you look like De Niro and it barely sounds like it. We're having a blast over at the Nikki Glaser podcast from the Big Money Players Network and I heart radio Monday through Thursday every day, Monday through Thursday. So. Not every day, but most listen to the Nikki Glaser podcast on the radio app, Apple podcast or wherever you listen to your podcast, if you like true crime.


Check out the new podcast, Good Assassins Hunting the Butcher Part Spy Story, Part Detective Case. It's the true tale of a secret mission to hunt down a savage Nazi murderer and assassinate him. Delving deeply into the pulse pounding undercover operation. Listen to good assassins hunting the butcher on the I heart radio app, apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts, join the hunt.


We know we still face these structural obstacles to democracy, all the progress that was made in turning out voters and the huge numbers of black voters who made the difference not just in and the Georgia win for Biden, but in electing two new senators in Georgia, Latino voters, Native American voters in Arizona. You know, we saw what it means when voting actually reflects the electorate of our country. So now we know that there's a concerted effort in a majority of states at this moment to try to make it hard again.


So what will color of change and all of your allies be doing to make sure that your voice is heard in this effort as well?


Well, we are going to be there three hundred and sixty five days a year. And so part of what we've already pivoted to is the base building, grassroots work and voter contact work and engage work. We do year round focusing on places like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia, which all have Senate races and twenty twenty two focusing on places that will have key races in the House around the country, pushing the Biden administration like part of our job is to hold the line between what our real solutions and fake solutions and make sure that a vast administration with a lot of people doing a lot of different things is constantly focusing on giving us the narrative, the tools and the real change that we can go out and sell.


You know, one thing that I've told to folks in the administration is budgets are moral documents more than anything that we say and ensuring that the budgets match the aspirations that if we say we want to hold people accountable, corruption and stop prosecuting low level crimes, that that actually has to show up in a DOJ budget because prosecuting corruption is actually more expensive than going after people who can't afford lawyers and researchers and infrastructure to defend them. And so that's what we're going to be doing.


And then, you know, to be very clear, we're going to be fighting against the rollbacks of this. And, you know, one thing that I've been thinking about since, you know, we let our campaign against the American Legislative Exchange Council Act, which was so instrumental in passing so many of those voter ID laws, the discriminatory I.D. laws, you know, the one in Texas that says you can vote with your gun license but not your student I.D., which are like really just on their face clear about what they're trying to do.


You know, we have been working to hold corporations accountable. I just recently had a conversation with Reverend Barber about this in North Carolina, about the corporations in North Carolina that have stayed silent as their black and brown employees are attacks on their voting rights. The corporations in Georgia, the Coca-Cola and Delta and and companies, what are they going to say when their employee base are being attacked in terms of their ability to vote and cast a vote? And so part of this is, yes, we've got to be in those legislatures.


But I'm also very clear that the political project of many of those legislators is to like hold on to power as long as they possibly can, even if the people don't want them there. Exactly. And so what we have to do is go to the institutions that say buy our products, use our services and say that you can't come for our money by day and take away our vote by night. I love that.


Well, I just can't tell you how much I love talking to Rashad. I love your sensibility. I love your strategic understanding of what we're up against in the world today. I want to end on a personal note. You've been, as I pointed out earlier, and the front lines of activism. Now you lead really one of the most consequential racial justice activist organizations in our country in the 21st century. What makes you hopeful? I mean, how do you get up in the morning and feel like sometimes it's pushing the same rock up the hill that you pushed yesterday and the day before, but you just, you know, get your energy up.


You put on that hat that you know is your trademark and you start pushing. How do you keep yourself motivated?


You know, so I have so much hope and optimism in this summer. You know, being quarantined before the uprisings was really tough. I'm a people person. I like to be out in the world and spend most of my time on the road and the other world. And so it was really tough. And then the uprisings happened up until the uprisings the best. Many of us thought could happen was we would uplift investigative journalism and we would clap outside of our windows for essential workers who deserved all of the support and love.


But it was racial justice that got people into the streets, got people motivated to see people of all races, all walks of life coming into the streets, employees and corporations pushing their companies to have to say things that they previously did not believe they had to. And certainly many of them did not want to. You know, color change does not take direct corporate dollars. And every morning I was waking up to all of these announcements of corporations giving us money or the like.


Well, they can agree to the things we've asked them to do, but we're not going to take this money. But it was like, you know, but it was a surreal moment of saying, like, so much is possible right. Into think about the deep pain that had to get there, but also the opportunity to create generational change.


And as I see millions upon millions of Americans sometimes taking their first steps into activism, believing that something new is possible, that gives me so much hope.


What a great way to wrap up our conversation. And I hope our listeners will learn more about the work of color of change, because I so admire the way you're on the front lines of what real change looks like. Thank you so much, Rashad. Thank you so much for having me. It's an honor.


To learn more about the incredible work Rashad and his colleagues are doing, go to Color of Change, dawg. And if you want to hear more about Reverend William Barber, who Rashad mentioned, check out the very first episode of this podcast, You and Me Both, which is about faith. It's one of my favorite episodes, in part because Reverend Barber has so many profound things to say about how his faith fuels his work for racial and social justice. But I want to end today's episode with a question for you.


What do you think about the state of our democracy? Do you know someone who is working hard to make it stronger? I'd love to hear from you with your ideas, so please send an email to you and me both pod at Gmail dot com. You and me both is brought to you by I Heart Radio, we are produced by Julie Soberon, Kathleen Russo and Lauren Peterson with help from Huma Abedin, Niki Toure, Oscar Florez, Lindsay Hoffman, Brianna Johnson, Nick Merrill, Rob Russo and Loan.


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