Return to Transcripts main page


When Free Speech Becomes Hateful; Spike Lee on Trump's Call for Muslim Ban; Billionaire U.S. Donor Funding Climate Candidates; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 8, 2015 - 14:00   ET




CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: has Donald Trump finally gone too far?

The Republican presidential candidate doubles down on that call, to ban all Muslims coming to the U.S.

Is there a line between free speech and hate speech?

Also ahead, reaction from the iconic American film director, Spike Lee.

And another American billionaire, Tom Steyer, enters the fray, defending American values and what he calls the David and Goliath fight to save our



AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour, live in New York tonight.

Donald Trump is known to shock but this time he has shocked, horrified and disgusted people, not just in the United States but all around the world

with that call.


DONALD TRUMP, ENTREPRENEUR: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's

representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.


AMANPOUR: You hear that? The sound of what "The New York Times" calls "Trump's applause lies."

For the Philadelphia "Daily News," it's a front-page double entendre, "The New Furor," while in Britain, "The Daily Telegraph" says, "Forget Muslim

terrorists -- Donald Trump is the real danger to America."

And at 10 Downing Street, the British prime minister, David Cameron, completely disagrees with Trump, says his spokesman, calling the comments

"divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong."

And the Muslim Council of Britain says Trump ought to be barred from entering the country, saying those who espouse hatred have no place in the


So what does this mean for the presidential race here and the Republican Party in particular?

The newly elected Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, says that Trump's proposed ban is un-American.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: This is not conservatism. What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for and, more importantly,

it's not what this country stands for.


AMANPOUR: Joining me now from Boston is one of America's top civil rights lawyers, Bryan Stevenson.

Mr. Stevenson, welcome back to the program. Obviously, you have spent your whole life defending and fighting this kind of bigotry.

What did you think about where politics is in this country when you heard those comments?

BRYAN STEVENSON, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: Well, I do think it represents something different. I think people have

been tolerating some of the commentary of Donald Trump. They have characterized it as comical. It has been seen as frivolous and mildly

entertaining although deeply offensive and troubling.

I think this is worse. This is religious bigotry. And it signals something really dangerous in American political life. This is the kind of

rhetoric that led to putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps in the 1940s. It's the kind of rhetoric that we use to terrorize African

Americans in the South.

It is the politics of fear and anger. And unfortunately, people will buy into it. They like to get revved up and hate someone. And when a

presidential candidate engages in this kind of rhetoric, we have to see it as a real threat not only to democracy but to the kind of justice that we


AMANPOUR: Now, do you think -- look, this country is wedded constitutionally to the First Amendment, free speech.

Is there, as many around the world are asking, a distinction between free speech and hate speech?

And does this measure up as hate speech?

STEVENSON: Oh, I think there's no question that this is hate speech. When you are basically condemning all Muslims, when you are engaging in a

bigotry, which is that all Muslims are suspect, that is what we talk about when we talk about hate speech.

The difference between our country and other countries is that we have always relied on a moral resistance to that kind of demagoguery. And,

unfortunately, the absence of moral resistance is the threat.

We don't have laws that say you can't use the N word or you can't degrade women. But we have this consciousness that says that when you engage in

that, you should not be rewarded. And the problem is that Mr. Trump is being rewarded. He is being celebrated. He is being encouraged to engage

in this bigotry.

And all Americans need to see that as a threat, not just Muslims, all of us. Because that is the rhetoric that led to 100 years of racial --


STEVENSON: -- bigotry and terrorism and enslavement, bigotry against Jews in Germany, bigotry against Catholics and protestants in Northern Ireland.

It's the same thing. And until we recognize that it is the very element that leads to the kind of bias and discrimination, when George Wallace said

segregation forever, he was saying the same thing Donald Trump is saying now.

When Horatio Seymour in New York said in 1868 that he's the "white man's" candidate and that black people aren't ready for governance, he was

engaging in the same politics of fear and anger. And we have got to recognize that.

Well, there is obviously a history of this. And we're also hearing calls for Donald Trump's fellow Republican presidential candidates to stand up

and be counted and say no to this kind of rhetoric.

To that end, Lindsey Graham said this on CNN earlier. I want you to listen and then we will talk about the other candidates.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), S.C.: He is a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.

You know how you make America great again?

Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.


AMANPOUR: Well, that's pretty strong.

Is that strong enough?

And should the other candidates also stand up to be counted?

Because let's face it, I could read a whole list of some hovering around that bar of bigoted comments made by many of the other GOP candidates as


STEVENSON: Well, I think it is very strong. And I think what we have do is to see what other people do.

I think you don't accommodate this kind of perspective. You don't host "Saturday Night Life." You don't get engaged by people who are committed

to true democracy and justice. You don't get tolerated. I mean, what we did to it the members of the Klan, what we did to people who were engaged

in Nazism, we isolated and we excluded from legitimacy that kind of sentiment.

We haven't yet seen the Republican Party do that. But I think it needs to be talking about that. I think these are appropriate comments in response

to this kind of bigotry. But we're going to need to see more.

And more than that, we're going to have to see how people respond because that's the ultimate measure. If this is resonating in America --


AMANPOUR: Well, you know -- sorry to interrupt you but you say that as we played applause from the people in that hallway where he made those

comments last night. And many people who watch the political polls here say that his poll ratings are just going to go higher up.

So my question to you next is, obviously, what is the media's responsibility?

Many say that he is just a showman and a narcissist and wants attention, particularly when his poll ratings are dropping. And we had the co-host of

NPR's "On the Media." They study the media. They study what they say. And they say that Trump says a lot of lies and that nobody holds him

accountable to it.

STEVENSON: Well, I do think we actually have to be clear about what this represents.

You know?

We should be saying, this is racism. We should be saying, this is bigotry. We need to let people know that if you align yourself with these kinds of

comments, if you are applauding people for engaging in this kind of rhetoric, you are aligning yourself with the forces that try to preserve

slavery, with the forces that engage in terrorism and lynching, with the forces that put Japanese Americans in concentration camps, with the forces

that stood behind segregation and Jim Crow. It's the same thing.

And so we've got to be clearer about what it represents. And the media can be clearer. The Republican Party can be clearer. Policymakers and

journalists and others can be clearer. We all have to understand that this is a threat to a nation that says it values equal justice and equal

treatment. And I don't know we have done that consistently.

AMANPOUR: And finally, you know, even Dick Cheney, former vice president, has come out and condemned these comments.

In terms of the media, "The Atlantic," Jeffrey Goldberg has said that, "Donald Trump is now an actual threat to national security. He is

providing jihadists ammunition for their campaign to demonize the U.S."

But there's also a sense of comedy and anger as well coming from Britain because Trump repeated this specious claim that parts of London were so

radicalized that the police dared not go there -- parts of London, mind you.

And Donald Trump has said -- or rather Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, has said, come over to London. Our metropolitan police will give you a

guided tour to show you that that's not the case. Had he said, the place he would most fear to go is anywhere in New York where he might run into

Donald Trump.

What is the best way to counter this kind of rhetoric?

STEVENSON: Well, I think we have to characterize it as ignorant, which it clearly is. But I think more than that, we actually have to start talking

to the people who are listening and responding to it. I think if we focus too much just on Trump, we're going to miss a bigger problem.

There are hate crimes being committed against Muslims every day. There are people who are laughing about the victimization of people who are Muslims.

There are people who are not taking seriously the complaints that people in the Muslim community have been making for 20 years about the way they are

targeted and menaced and threatened. And I think that means that faithful Christians --


STEVENSON: -- and faithful Jews and faithful Buddhists have to say on the day when Trump's rhetoric becomes meaningful to people, we're going to

claim to be Muslim, too. We're going to embrace this community and call it our own. That's the kind of activism and conversation that I think we need

to have.

It's not just Trump. It is the way it resonates in the American psyche, a psyche still too ready to hate and engage in the kind of racial bias and

religious bias that these comments reflect.

AMANPOUR: Bryan Stevenson, thank you so much for joining us on this day.

And just earlier, I spoke to, as I said, the iconic American film director, actor and writer, Spike Lee. He, of course, has also dedicated his career

to challenging cultural assumptions, not only about race but also class and gender and religion.

And I asked him, of course, about his reaction to Donald Trump's comments.


AMANPOUR: You are an artist. And many people here believe, rightly, that the constitutional protection to free speech is paramount.

My question to you is --

SPIKE LEE, ACTOR, DIRECTOR AND WRITER: I'm not saying -- I'm not saying he can't say what he says. But the stuff he is saying, I hope that was -- you

know, when it gets down to it, that these statements he keeps saying are going to pile up and people are going to like -- we're not voting for you.

AMANPOUR: And it comes --

LEE: I mean, what would it say to the world if Trump got elected?

What would it say to the whole -- this global society when we go around the world saying, we're the beacon of democracy and the Constitution, human

rights, all that stuff and then he's the president?

I don't know we don't have that moral foundation anymore.

Because you listen to the stuff that he says, you know. I don't think that's what the United States is about.

AMANPOUR: Many people believe that he is a master showman, a master attention seeker and that every time he has a dip in his polls, he throws

these verbal grenades, these political and cultural grenades out.

What do you say about his ability to capture the headlines as a showman?

LEE: Well, what did P.T. Barnum say?

"There's a sucker born every minute."


LEE: But, look, there's no negating the fact that he's a great showman. But we're talking about the highest office in the United States of America.

This is not a TV show.

This is someone who has -- the president has the guy next to him, who got that box. And I've seen that box. I've seen the box. And one finger and

one code --

AMANPOUR: You're talking about the nuclear code?

LEE: Yes. I have seen the box. I had a fund-raiser for the president. I saw the box. That's scary. It's even scarier if he gets -- I don't want

Trump anywhere near that box, nowhere near it.


AMANPOUR: And tomorrow, we will have the rest of my interview about Spike Lee's latest film, "Chi-Raq." It's just opened here in the United States.

And timing is everything. It is, of course, about the epidemic of gun violence here.

And as we take a break, we want to recall a past national hysteria, the height of the Cold War and the red-baiting by Wisconsin senator Joe


Back then, a towering giant of American broadcasting, Edward R. Murrow, set the moral compass of the media and the nation straight.


EDWARD R. MURROW, JOURNALIST: We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we

cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

The actions of the junior senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our


And whose fault is that?

Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it -- and rather successfully. Cassius was right.

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Good night and good luck.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

It is painfully apparent the American politics is mired in extremes, whether on religion, immigration or indeed climate change, it seems many

American politicians are willing to go places where few others in the world would dare to tread.

But if there's a single truth of American politics, it is that money talks. One man trying to use his billions to bring what he calls common sense back

to politics is Tom Steyer. In the course of just a few years, he has made himself a must-see donor for any Democrat seeking major office here in the

United States.

When I spoke to him earlier today from the climate summit in Paris, he told me the fight there is David versus Goliath.


AMANPOUR: Tom Steyer, welcome to the program.

TOM STEYER, BILLIONAIRE AND CLIMATE ACTIVIST: Christiane, it is wonderful to be here.

AMANPOUR: Well, I'm sure you didn't expect me to ask this as my first question as you're there for the climate conference but you are a very

heavyweight Democrat with a lot of activism and money behind causes for your party.

I wonder what you make of what some may feel verges on hate speech by the leading Republican presidential candidate last night, Donald Trump, when he

said "ban all Muslims" from coming to the United States.

STEYER: Well, I think that when people are upset and worried, that is the time when you have to make sure that you stick to your deepest values and

that you represent best what America stands for.

And I think that President Obama stood up and did that in his speech. And I think that for Americans, who have had the dubious pleasure of hearing

Mr. Trump sound off in various ways that none of us really appreciate, we have to realize that he has a right to free speech, however much we deplore

what he has to say.

But in times when people are worried, the key is not to lose your head, not to go to the places that he chooses to go but, in fact, to realize that is

the time when your deepest values have to come into play.

AMANPOUR: But are there limits to what people can say under the most stressful of circumstances?

Is it like, for instance, shouting fire in a crowded cinema, when you say "ban all Muslims" at a time of war with ISIS?

STEYER: Let me say this is not the first time in this campaign when Mr. Trump's speech has denigrated entire groups of people and, in fact, tried

to, you know, make them less than fully human and have less than full rights.

So it's not surprising this is the continuation of a trend. But I think that actually he is somebody who's seeking a lot of attention. The more we

ignore him, the more desperate he'll become.

AMANPOUR: Let's transition from that to what you're doing in Paris right now because obviously there was this terrible terrorist attack. And yet,

the city, the country has received so many hundreds of world leaders, also people like yourselves, activists who want to do something for the


Let me ask you about the right thing economically because you divested from your fossil fuel investments. The Koch Brothers have a huge amount

invested in fossil fuel energy. They're on the skeptical side, as is Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican crowd, by and large.

What can you tell people about the economic benefits?

Because they all say, hang on, this is going to penalize us and cut jobs and harm our economy if we do, you know, something different on climate


STEYER: Well, Christiane, you're absolutely right. The go-to move for our opponents is to claim that any progressive energy policy is a job-killing

energy tax. And let me say, that's the reason I'm in Paris. I'm in Paris, along with Governor Brown, leading a delegation of --


STEYER: -- California business people to show the world that that statement by our opponents is false.

The fact of the matter is the places that have progressive energy legislation like California are growing faster than the United -- the rest

of the United States of America. So we have created jobs in the last few years faster than the U.S. We've grown faster than the U.S.

And our analysis is, to date and going forward, moving to progressive energy policies creates net jobs, raises people's income and lowers their

energy bill so that I have not seen any justification for the other side's claim.

And we have spent a ton of time and effort to make sure that what we're saying has been true to date and will continue to be true.

The fact of the matter is, from our point of view, it's inevitable that we will create hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs.

And the questions will be, will they be good-paying jobs and will they be distributed throughout society?

And I believe that they will be.

AMANPOUR: Let me get back to politics again. You have been a supporter of Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side in the past. You've held

fundraisers for her. But you haven't actually come out and endorsed here this time around.

Why not?

And do you think you will?

STEYER: Well, what we're trying to do is take advantage of the presidential election process to push candidates from every party,

including Ms. Clinton, including every Democrat and every Republican, to come out with what their program and plan is to get us on a sustainable

economic path.

And what we've defined that as, at least to get 50 percent clean energy by 2030. So we're asking every candidate, including Ms. Clinton, to be

specific because I think the time to talk about the science is over and we think the time for good intentions is over.

What we want is specific plans. So right now, we're waiting to see how that turns out. We believe that every candidate is going to have to talk

at length about energy. We believe that ultimately every candidate, including Republicans, is going to have to accept the science and start to

talk about solutions.

AMANPOUR: And finally, as you know, around the world, people look at American politics and they gasp at the number of billions of dollars that

get poured into not just presidential campaigns but just about all campaigns these days.

You are, again, a very rich person who puts your money to the causes you believe in.

On the other side of the aisle, as we've spoken about, the Koch Brothers do the same.

Do you think, though, that the amount of money, combined with politics, has a good effect or a corrosive effect?

STEYER: Well, we have been consistent in saying that we believe that the Citizens United decision that unleashed corporate money into politics by

the Supreme Court was a tragic mistake.

And you know, we feel, in general, that this way, where people are using their money to support their self-interests, is something scary and

corrosive. We're not speaking up for our personal self-interests. We're going to be as transparent as possible.

I'm going to go on CNN to explain what we're trying to do or any other place that people want to hear me. And, in general, we feel that, from our

point of view, our advantages are we're speaking the truth, we think the overwhelming weight of evidence is on our side and the American people are


And if they get a chance to hear both sides, they will come to the right conclusions.

We think this is David and Goliath. We think we have a slingshot and five rocks. And we think that that's going to be what carries the day because,

in the end, the truth is going to win.

AMANPOUR: You're talking about the climate now, right?

STEYER: I'm talking about energy and climate, yes.

AMANPOUR: Tom Steyer, on that note, thank you so much for joining us from Paris.

STEYER: Christiane, it's a beautiful rainy day here in Paris.


STEYER: Thank you very much. It's nice to hear your voice.


AMANPOUR: When we come back, we imagine standing up to bigotry and fear, words that ring true through history. That's next.





AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world of global threats and chilling fears, where actions and reactions can mean life or death.

The action by the United States government to deny refuge to Jews fleeing Hitler's persecution, turning a boatload away in 1939, meant they had to

return, many to the death chambers.

Fearmongering is classic political populism. And too often it clouds individual conscience.

So tonight we end with the eloquent and piercing call to conscience by Pastor Martin Niemoller, written in 1946, a year after he was liberated

from a concentration camp at Dachau, where he had been sent for opposing the Nazi's control of churches.

He said, "First, they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists.

And I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews. And I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

"And then they came for me. And there was no one left to speak for me."

Reflections of doing not the wrong but the right thing.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always see our show online, listen on our podcast and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for watching and good night from New York.