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Condoleezza Rice's Film Grapples With What, If Anything, Unifies America


A new film grapples with what, if anything, still unifies America. It's called "American Creed," and it's co-produced by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE: With so much diversity, we have to bond to a common sense of what we're trying to achieve. You have to understand what the common enterprise is. You have to understand what the common aspiration is. And I think we've lost sight of it.

MARTIN: "American Creed" premieres tonight on PBS. And I recently spoke to Secretary Rice about the film, and I asked her to explain why she thinks the nation has lost its way.

RICE: These days, we seem to be dividing ourselves into ever smaller groups, each with its own grievance, each with its own narrative. Increasingly, we just yell at each other. We don't talk to one another.

MARTIN: One of the divisive issues "American Creed" explores is immigration. And in the film Rice says, time and again, America is a country of immigrants. But immigrants may be getting a different message right now from political leaders, and I wanted to know whether she thinks something has fundamentally shifted on this issue.

RICE: We go through periods of time in our history when we've not been welcoming of immigrants. We like to think that we were always welcoming of immigrants. We weren't. Now, I am quite obviously a major proponent of immigration. I think one of the saddest things, that we haven't been able to have a comprehensive immigration policy that helps people respect our laws but also deals with the fact that we are a compassionate country. And there's one other point that I want to make. I know that there's a lot of talk now about bringing immigrants here who can, quote, "contribute to our country," because they're well-educated or they have certain skills. That's fine. But America's always been a place that believed that it made people better, too. And so I want people to come here from all walks of life and join this great experiment that is America.

MARTIN: On that note, I want to play a clip of President Trump speaking last week at the CPAC conference. This is the annual gathering of conservatives in Washington. And in this clip, he is talking about the immigrants who come to this country as a result of the visa lottery system. Let's listen.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They turn out to be horrendous, and we don't understand why. They're not giving us their best people, folks. They're not giving us - I mean, use your heads. They're giving us - it's a lottery. I don't want people coming into this country with a lottery. I want people coming into this country based on merit, based on merit.

MARTIN: Is President Trump undercutting your idea of what America is?

RICE: I think that whenever we go through periods of time that people are feeling vulnerable - and some of our fellow citizens feel vulnerable - they are likely to be susceptible to arguments that there are people who are coming here and taking their jobs. So we've got to do something about the vulnerability of some of our populations. And I think that in part that's why we have something of an anti-immigrant bias these days. I will say this. It depends on what you mean by merit. I will not speak to the lottery system. I actually am not a big fan of the visa lottery system, to be quite honest. I'm not sure that it's a fair system, either. But what I will say is that merit has many definitions, and I'd like us to stay open to somebody who comes here to make five dollars, not 50 cents, as well as people like Sergey Brin's parents, the founder of Google, who brought him here when he was 7 years old from Russia, and he helps to lead the knowledge-based revolution.

MARTIN: I will say when you watch the film, at least for me, I came away feeling moved, but I also felt like if it's just a story holding us together and we are telling ourselves different stories for a lot of different reasons - if you're locked in separate tribes, as you describe it, in these factions - then it feels really fragile.

RICE: It is fragile, and that's the point of this story. And we hope that this film is a call to action. Each and every one of us has a calling to make America what it should be. And that's what this film is asking - not just that you acknowledge the story, but that you become a part of securing that story, understanding its fragility and working to make it stronger.

MARTIN: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Her film, "American Creed," airs on PBS tonight. Dr. Rice, thank you so much for your time.

RICE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.