Penn Jillette: Trump 'would say racially insensitive things that made me uncomfortable'

Magician Penn Jillette gave an interview to Vulture today about his career in magic and how he sees his own field changing for the better. Toward the end, the interview took a sudden turn into the question of Celebrity Apprentice and what tapes might be out there of President Trump saying “damaging things.” Jillette didn’t hesitate to say he knows such tapes exist but refused to say, specifically, what might be on them:

Does Mark Burnett have tapes of President TrumpOmarosa Manigault Newman has backed the claim that there is a tape of Trump using the N-word on Celebrity Apprentice. Not to be confused with the Access Hollywood tape, the alleged pee tape, the tapes Omarosa made in the White House, or the tapes Michael Cohen made of Trump. saying damaging things during Celebrity Apprentice?
Yeah, I was in the room.

You’ve heard him say …
Oh, yeah.

Can you tell me what you’ve heard him say?
No. If Donald Trump had not become president, I would tell you all the stories. But the stakes are now high and I am an unreliable narrator. What I do, as much as anything, is I’m a storyteller. And storytellers are liars. So I can emotionally tell you things that happened racially, sexually, and that showed stupidity and lack of compassion when I was in the room with Donald Trump and I guarantee you that I will get details wrong. I would not feel comfortable talking about what I felt I saw in that room — because when I was on that show I was sleeping four to five hours a night. I was uncomfortable. “Stress” is the wrong word, but I was not at my best. Then at the end of a day, they put you in a room and they bring out a guy [Trump] who has no power whatsoever and he’s capricious and petty and …

You’ve got to pretend to care what he thinks.
Yeah! It’s your job. You sit at this table and this man rambles — pontificates is giving him too much credit. And because you live in the modern world you’ve heard Trump ramble. But you’ve heard Trump ramble when he thinks he’s being careful. Imagine when he feels he can be frank. And I will tell you things, but I will very conscientiously not give you quotations because I believe that would be morally wrong. I’m not trying to protect myself. This really is a moral thing…

Okay, I think I follow your logic.
He would say racially insensitive things that made me uncomfortable. I don’t think he ever said anything in that room like “African-Americans are inferior” or anything about rape or grabbing women, but of those two hours every other day in a room with him, every ten minutes was fingernails on chalkboard. He would ask one cast member if he’d rather have sex with this woman or that woman. He would be reading on the web about a real-estate deal he’d made — like he’d sold his house for a certain amount and someone on some blog had said he should have gotten more. Then he would turn and say that making X amount on a house makes him a good businessman, right? I would say to him, “What are you talking about? You don’t know who it is reporting that. Is that Forbes?” He had no idea. So when it came to think about supporting him for president, I digested that information from being on the show with him and said, “Absolutely not. He would be a terrible president.” And because I’d been around him and some people cared what I thought, I said that publicly every chance I got — while also saying he’s a good reality show. You want someone capricious and petty and narcissistic to be on your reality show. And boy, I hate to say this, but playing tapes of him doing that job might be unfair. I want those tapes to be used against him, but it might be unfair.

Jillette is known as an outspoken atheist and libertarian, so he’s not exactly coming at this from the usual resistance angle. His point questioning whether this would even be fair to Trump seems sincere. He goes on to say that you could take a quote from almost any friend you’ve had dinner with and ruin their reputation by offering it out of context.

So does Trump get some kind of benefit of the doubt for being on camera for hours at a time talking casually with people around him? I think we all know what the answer to that will be. These tapes are probably the best thing the left can hope to come up with for 2020. The pressure to get these out, whether they contain the n-word or not, is going to be tremendous.

Overall, I have to say I used to dislike Penn Jillette but over time I’ve found him to actually be someone I enjoy listening to in much the same way I could enjoy listening to Bret Weinstein, i.e. someone with a different perspective who is both honest and interesting. For instance, I found his take on people adjusting to the firehose of information on the internet, from the same interview, to be pretty interesting:

You’ve talked in the past about how the antidote to bad ideas is more ideas. But doesn’t the way things are shaking out online suggest that actually what we need are better ideas and not just more of them?
I believe in the marketplace of ideas but you’re right, we now have algorithms that push people crazy. YouTube is set up to push you crazy. If I search for vegan recipes, I’ll end up with 9/11 truthers. But it’s like the first time people saw movies, and the train on the screen was coming toward themThe 1895 film The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station is a 50-second silent film showing a train pulling into a Paris station, and is an early document of cinematic technique: forced perspective, long shots, close-ups. There’s a myth about the film that in its premiere, audiences were terrified by the train coming at them, and ran from their seats. …

And everyone jumped out of the way.
That’s right. They were screaming and yelling, but then it only took a millisecond for people to realize what was going on from that point forward. So even with all this bad stuff happening, yes, I still think people are overwhelmingly good, ideas are overwhelmingly good, and if you have Nazis being able to reach 10 million people, those same 10 million people will also be reached by Martin Luther King.

Maybe that’s too optimistic for you but after a year and a half of overheated partisan panic over Russia buying ads on Facebook, I find it refreshing to hear someone say: Relax, we’ll figure this out.

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David Strom 4:31 PM on November 25, 2022