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Trump Under Fire After Press Conference; Race Relations in a Divided America; HIV Prevention in South Africa. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 14:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: Tonight on the program, Trump's outburst on Charlottesville sent shockwaves through the country. We go to Washington

for the latest and speak to the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Isabel Wilkerson from Atlanta.

And then later in the program, Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron tells me why the battle to end HIV in South Africa is far from over.


CHARLIZE THERON, ACTRESS: South Africa has been the hardest hit by this epidemic and still is. And it's just really unfortunate because HIV is 100

percent preventable.


HOLMES: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the program. I'm Michael Holmes in for Christiane Amanpour in London.

Well, President Donald Trump gave a press conference. You may have heard about it. It may well live in infamy, an unfiltered, unrestrained

performance, lashing out at critics, while defending the white nationalists who brought tragedy to Charlottesville.


DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I do think there's blame - yes, I think there's blame on both sides. You look at - you look

at both sides. I think there's blame on both sides.

What about the alt-left that came charging at the - as you say, the alt- right. Do they have any semblance of guilt?

Not all of those people were white Supremacists, by any stretch.

Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.

I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you all - you really do have to ask yourself,

where does it stop?


HOLMES: Well, today's headlines paint a clear picture of much of the nation's response. Leading "The New York Times", "Trump gives white

supremacists an unequivocal boost."

And in "Politico", "Trump goes off-script and white supremacists cheer".

And topping the page here at, "Trumps' moral failure."

Then again, the president's performance got a thumbs-up from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who said this, "Thank you, President Trump, for

your honesty and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists."

Well, it was fascinating to see the body language of those who were around President Trump, like the Chief of Staff John Kelly, head bowed, looking at

the floor.

Now, what does the chaotic news conference and the content of it say about leadership and how this president handles a crisis and how much risk is

there that what we're seeing unfold does permanent damage to the fabric of American society.

Let's bring in CNN's Stephen Collinson from Washington. He has described Trump's switch in stance on Charlottesville as a meltdown for the ages.

Stephen, a pleasure to have you. You wrote on "" that the news conference "appeared to represent an authentic window into his inner

most thoughts and feelings." Expand on that for us.

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, on Monday, we have this news conference, this speech in the White House rather, in which Donald

Trump did what it appeared that he had to do for political reasons and because he is the President of the United States. He gave a clear and

specific denunciation of the KKK, white extremist groups and neo-fascists.

What we saw at the Trump Tower on Tuesday, I think, was the real Trump. He was reading a teleprompter. You could see his thoughts tumbling out of him

one after the other. We got a sense of his anger at the media coverage of this. His real views of what happened.

We saw, I think, the authentic parts of Trump, which people behind the scenes say exist, but sometimes you don't get before the cameras.

Conventional presidents always try to keep that kind of picture of them venting against enemies or on some issues sort of out of the public eye.

So, I think this is really what Donald Trump is really like. And it was fascinating to watch.

I think it raises questions not just about the moral leadership that is incumbent upon the president of the United States to show, historically,

but also for people watching around the world, for foreign leaders, I think there has to be some concern about the question again of whether Trump has

a suitable temperament to sort of navigate major international crises.

[14:05:03] HOLMES: And to that point, we did see, of course, the disbanding of these business councils today as more members were jumping

ship. Perhaps the president getting in ahead of more defections.

Talk more about this chaotic news conference and what it says about leadership, how the president handles a crisis, particularly a socially

divisive one like this.

COLLINSON: I think it shows that the president sees things through a very idiosyncratic lens to start with. It doesn't seem like there was any

concern, as you might have, from any other politician that his words could actually inflame racial tensions, could cause more trouble down the road.

He appeared to be exceedingly angry about the way his remarks were covered on Saturday and on Monday about this, feeling that the media had done him


And I think it was a sense in which the president is unable to resist getting involved in these bitter sparring matches with the media.

If he feels that someone has attacked him, he comes back twice as hard. And I think I gets to the point about the temperament I was talking about.

Clearly, this wasn't in the president's political interest to do this, quite apart from the other moral questions. But he went ahead and did it

anyway. And that kind of raises questions about how much control he has over his own personality.

HOLMES: And also, another important question, many Republicans in Congress, let's face it, have looked the other way during previous, let's

call them, crisis points with the argument that the president is there to sign into law the Republican agenda, so we'll put up with this.

What could make those Republicans start to split with their president as opposed to staying silent really?

COLLINSON: Well, it's very interesting. We're seeing some Republicans come out and specifically condemn Trump, but they're more the kind of

Republicans like Sen. John McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham who have always been quite happy to be critical of him.

They have almost their own power base. You've seen the leaders of the House and the Senate, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell come out and criticize

what Trump said, condemning racism, the KKK and extremists, but they haven't referred specifically to Trump by name.

And I think that shows us there is still a political calculation going on among Republicans about how bad this will get. Clearly, this is doing a

lot of damage to the Republican Party.

In theory, the Congress could just pass its agenda and send it up to Trump. The problem with that is Trump still, even though he has very low approval

ratings, has a loyal base. Many of those Republican lawmakers are in districts that Donald Trump won in the presidential election last year.

They may be unable, for political reasons, to completely separate themselves from Trump unless his support base starts to collapse. And I

don't think experience tells us that that's going to happen anytime soon.

I think there are some Trump supporters who are sort of uneasy about what he said and the racial content, but there are many who see the media as

misinterpreting this and deliberately trying to harm the president, and I think the president is taking a lot of care to cultivate his base.

He's got rallies next week in Iowa and in Arizona, where he is going to be talking to exactly the people who sent him to Washington in the first


HOLMES: Yes, exactly. And it is a loyal base. It is a core of support, but it is a shrinking one. It is starting to peel off a little bit.

Stephen Collinson, always a pleasure. Good to see you. Thanks so much there in Washington.

And let us not forget that this violence culminated in the death of a young woman. Thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when a car plowed into

a crowd of people protesting against that white nationalist rally.

Today, at her memorial service, her parents spoke movingly.


MARK HEYER, HEATHER HEYER'S FATHER: She loved people. She wanted equality. And in this issue of the day of her passing, she wanted to put

down hate. And for my part, we just needed to stop all this stuff and just forgive each other.

SUSAN BRO, HEATHER HEYER'S MOTHER: They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what, you just magnified her?


HOLMES: Great strength on display there. Powerful tribute.

I want to bring in my next guest, Isabel Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize- winning journalist and author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.

A pleasure to have you with us. When you hear the president say what he said, how he said, the equivalency, if you like, between white nationalists

and those who were opposing them, I'm wondering whether you think he's taking a conscious position there or do you think perhaps he doesn't truly

appreciate the impact of what he's doing, comprehend, if you like, the history.

[14:10:00] ISABEL WILKERSON, AUTHOR: I think that it represents the amnesia that really unfortunately many Americans have about our country's


When you really know our country's history, you realize that the circumstances, the things that we've seen over the last few days, in fact

the last few years, in fact, are in some ways written in our DNA.

The country was founded on racial inequality, racial conquest and this is coming at a time in which people are recognizing and having to come to

grips with the Civil War and enslavement, which are the sort of founding bases of the country. And so, what we're seeing really is a waking up from

the amnesia of what the country actually is.

HOLMES: I'm wondering if Donald Trump perhaps doesn't, as some say, fully appreciate what slavery was about and what the Civil War was about and so

on, and there are people who are saying that.

What do you think? Are you concerned about his close advisers, people like Steve Bannon, people like Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka? Do you think

that they perhaps have a much broader concrete agenda that is being put into play in this country - in the United States?

WILKERSON: I think that one of the things that concerns me, and I think other historians is, the electorate that got us to this point and the lack

of understanding, the lack of understanding of the history, the disconnect from what got us to this point.

The concern is actually a much broader one, and that is not being aware of how we got to this point. When you think about the Civil War, people - we

see that the Confederate monuments that people are now fighting over are in some ways emblems of the DNA, of the focus on their repression that is part

of American history.

And what we really have in America, which we don't often think about, is we have a caste system in which there are hierarchies based upon what - the

history, and we are dealing with this now.

And so, Heather Heyer becomes, in some ways, a martyr of a new kind of civil rights movement that's going on right now in our country, that's

risen up in the shadows of all of this.

HOLMES: It is interesting that you say that about how we got here. Well, the thing is, we are here in the United States in that situation. We

discussed earlier in the week on this program about how you go to Germany, you see reminders of the Holocaust, a recognition, an acknowledgment.

You go to Rwanda. You see acceptance of the genocide and work towards getting past that. Why is it in the United States there isn't that

understanding of which you speak?

WILKERSON: That's such a great question. Right after the Civil War, which, of course, was one of the great schisms, a great turning point,

watershed moment in this country's history, right after the war, not long after it, Frederick Douglass, one of the great orators in American history,

said to the winners of the Civil War, he said there was a right side and a wrong side to the Civil War, which no sentiment should ever disregard.

And that meant that there was no truth and reconciliation commission, there was no effort to hold accountable the people who had been vanquished in

this war, which is what happens in most wars around - throughout human history.

And so, it turns out that in this particular case, in this particular country, the people who lost were not really held to account as they have

been, for example, in Germany and other parts of the world, and so we are still living with the aftereffects of not addressing the consequences of a

war that practically tore this country apart.

HOLMES: Yes. But, again, how to fix it. I'm just curious, how much do you think - how much of what we are seeing unfold in the US is doing

permanent damage to the fabric of society? Whether this is a large element of society or a small one, it is growing, it is becoming louder, it's been

emboldened in the views of many by this president and his lack of repudiation of them? Is damage being done long-term and can it be stitched

back together?

WILKERSON: I often think of it as, when you go to the doctor's office, and the doctor - before the doctor will even see you, should begin to get a

diagnosis, the doctor wants to know your history, wants to know not just your history, but your parent's history and your grandparent's history, and

if they wanted even go further back because you can't solve a problem unless you have identified it and defined it.

And I think, as Americans, we have not yet come to grips with what has always been there. This has been an undercurrent beneath the surface of

the country for generations upon generations before anyone alive was even born and it's risen to the surface to remind us of the deep unreconciled

challenges that have always been there, but must be addressed.

[14:15:09] HOLMES: Isabel Wilkerson, a pleasure to have you on the program. Thanks so much.

WILKERSON: Thank you.

SPEAKER NAME: Well, now as we told you earlier today, the mother of Heather Heyer eloquently spoke of how she wanted the death of her daughter

to create action all over the world.

Well, in Poland, that's exactly what happened as activists bearing the words and face of Heather Heyer briefly barred the way of far-right marches

on the country's army day.

After a break here on the program, Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron speaking out on the state of America and how her native South Africa is

tackling HIV. We'll be right back.


HOLMES: Welcome back to the program. We have just, of course, been discussing race in America.

Well, South Africa has a history of racial struggle, but the company also carries another very heavy burden, an HIV epidemic, bigger than anywhere

else in the world.

Around 7 million people there are living with the virus. Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron, who's from South Africa, has set up a charity

aimed at bringing that number down.

She joined me from Johannesburg to talk about her work.

HOLMES: Charlize Theron, thanks so much for your time. Great to have you on the program. Let's start with why South Africa, your home country, is a

country so heavily burdened by the AIDS epidemic in this day and age.

THERON: Well, South Africa has been the hardest hit by this epidemic and still is. And it's just really unfortunate because HIV is 100 percent


And being South African, I just couldn't see myself not doing something. I think once I left South Africa and came back and started really, as a young

adult, paying attention to statistics and seeing the kind of unnecessary suffering that was happening here, there was - I had to do something about


And so, it was really just a question of how can I be the most effective in helping to stop this epidemic.

HOLMES: What sort of damage is being done to African society? I know you've spoken before of so many children who lost parents and it was

something that you grew up with and were very well aware of, growing up in South Africa, right?

THERON: Yes. I don't think there is a child of my generation that didn't grow up in hushed silences and their parents or adults always whispering

about this monster that nobody really knew anything about and people were dying at a degree that was really frightening.

And I think it definitely marked me as a child. Also, just kind of the misconceptions about what AIDS was at that time. And seeing a photo of

Princess Di visiting a hospital with HIV-positive patients really moved me.

We have come a long way. It's been - we have the largest treatment program in the world right now, but we still have 53 percent of our HIV infected

people not - HIV-infected people not on treatment.

So, we still have a long way to go. And I think for me and where my focus really stands with CTAOP is in really focusing on the adolescence of this

country, the young people of this country who will be the future of this country, and not treating them to kind of curb AIDS, but to invest in them

and invest in their youth and their health to be the future leaders, not just of South Africa, but of this world. I'm trying to get people not

positive, so they don't need treatment.

HOLMES: Right.

THERON: That's my hope and my dream.

HOLMES: Where is the shortfall? Where is the government responsibility? Why are there places in countries like South Africa where that isn't

available? Why on earth is it not available?

THERON: Look, the country - South Africa as a country and as a government has really stepped up to the play. And it took a long time for them to get

there, but they really are a country that is taking this very seriously.

But when you look at our economic structure and where we are with our economy, we're not a country that can be solely responsible for the burden

of what this cost is.

We need a bit of a bigger push here. There is a huge misconception. I think a lot of Americans think 25 percent of the budget is sent to South

Africa or to AIDS aid. And that is not true. It's less than 1 percent and now it will be less than that since President Trump's administration made

these cuts to that part.

And so, I think as an international world, we have to look at how do we stop something that's a virus that could come back in several years or

maybe tomorrow and cause a lot more damage than what it did in the last 30 years by getting 76 million people infected and having 35 million people


That's something that might be a South African problem right now, but could very much be an international problem. So, why not solve it here, which is

to end this.

HOLMES: Well thought. And I was going to ask you about President Trump and the cutbacks to overseas health projects and the impact of that. And

you did address that.

It just brought me to another thought, though, at the International AIDS Conference last year, you said we value some lives more than others.

That's still the case in your view?

THERON: Well, when you look at the amount of people that are infected and how the AIDS epidemic has ravaged sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade

versus what's been happening in the Western world, how can you deny that?

HOLMES: Right.

THERON: I think that some lives are valued more than others and I think that goes beyond the AIDS epidemic. I'm seeing it right now in America.

So, I think that we have to look at that as a global front. We have to be brave enough to kind of look at that as part of the problem that's been

keeping the AIDS epidemic alive for so long.

HOLMES: When you say you're seeing that in the US now, you mean with the current environment, what we've seen in Charlottesville and those issues

sort of having a broader context.

THERONL Yes. I see racism alive and well and that scares me and saddens me.

HOLMES: Thank you so much, Charlize Theron.

THERON: Thank you so much for having me.

HOLMES: And from a South African star to an icon, a quote by Nelson Mandela is the talk of Twitter, after this tweet by former President Barack

Obama featuring the words of Mandela became the most liked tweet of all time.

When we come back, imagining America at its peak, the hope and joie de vivre of new Americans who became citizens at the top of Freedom Tower. We

will be right back with that.


HOLMES: And, finally, tonight as the American president painted an equivalence between fascists and those who opposed them, across New York

City and 102 floors up, a very different country was on display.

Tonight, we imagine America reaching new heights, at the pinnacle of the city's Freedom Tower on Tuesday. Thirty immigrants from 19 countries

became proud US citizens, sworn in to their nationality on the observatory of One World Trade Center in a ceremony overlooking the Statue of Liberty


Presided over by a judge whose father fled Nazi Germany, the keynote speech delivered by a fellow naturalized citizen, Preet Bharara, who rose to serve

as the United States attorney.

He commemorated the event on Twitter, writing this, "Witnessed 30 immigrants taking the oath of citizenship in first such ceremony at World

Trade Center since 9/11. I love America."

That is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can listen to our podcast, you can see us online at, follow me on Twitter

@HolmesCNN. We're also on Facebook, of course. Thanks for watching, everyone. Goodbye for now from London.