Bill Clinton and Tom Hanks in conversation at History Talks

Former President Bill Clinton believes that “democracy is fragile right now,” and he spoke candidly on Saturday on A+E Networks and the History Channel’s History Talks about the issues that are “tearing us apart.”

“What is 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 it all 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 saw 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 fragile right now.”

The former president was joined for an hour-long talk by Tom Hanks, chef Jose Andrew and presenter Chelsea Clinton. 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: young people alone should not be responsible for the future of the world. “I loathe the framing that young people are going to save us,” she said. “With all due respect, what the hell do adults do?”

As the audience cheered, a horrified Hanks mouthed, “She said ‘fuck’.”

Hanks, speaking with the reverence and authority of a history professor, argued that educating people about true historical events can help get the public to care — and advocate — for important causes in their own communities. But being a storyteller is a responsibility that comes with great power, he said. In short, he doesn’t support artists who are inclined to bow, bend, or detach from reality.

“I do non-fiction entertainment,” said Hanks, who has played real-life on-screen characters like Captain Phillips, Mr. Rogers, Walt Disney, and Captain Sully Sullenberger. “[It’s] best entertainment, because that requires a certain amount of education.”

But while adapting stories for film, TV, podcasts, or documentaries, Hanks said there’s a commitment to making sure the truth isn’t “suppressed” at the expense of telling a good story.

“When we come across uncomfortable facts that we don’t want to talk about because it might affect the purity of the protagonist… I’m like, ‘Oh, you want to do an alternate story. You want an alternative fact.’”

He continued, “Because I’m the boss, I can say things like, ‘Instead of inventing something, why don’t you – why not we, I say this – can you find a way to make up what really fascinating happened? Otherwise, he says, “you can go into that other direction where every movie is a version of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ and everything works.”

Also during the lecture, Andres got the crowd cheering as he made an impassioned, rousing appeal 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 is not the most important enemy. Weapons are not the most important asset. The most important energy we need to take care of is the energy that drives humanity forward. And that is food.”

He urged the White House to take action. “Americans are hungry right now. We can do better. Let’s make sure, bipartisanally, that Republicans and Democrats declare that we will never have food deserts again in America.”

There was a moment of hilarity in the otherwise candid conversation when Hanks joked about his dream of playing Andres in a movie. “I recorded it to get the accent down,” Hanks said, mimicking the tone of the Spanish chef’s speech. “I can’t cook, but I’ll read cookbooks until the cows come home.”

For his part, Andres agrees to the casting choice. But “he has to get his accent right.” Already, Andres is delighted with Hank’s efforts. “I fall in love with him every time he says ‘Jose.’ I’m married, but…” Bill Clinton and Tom Hanks in conversation at History Talks

Charles Jones

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