Return to Transcripts main page
Award-Winning Reporter, Lawrence Wright and His New Book "God Save Texas," Sees America's Future Taking Shape in His Home State. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired August 16, 2018 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:16] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Coming up. We're looking back at some of our favorite interviews this year. In
this edition, he is the Pulitzer prize-winning author behind the book and hit TV series "The Looming Tower."
Lawrence Wright joins me with his new book "God Save Texas," and why minorities in America will change that state and the nation's political
Welcome to this special edition of our program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
When it comes to investigated journalism, few people come close to the award-winning reporter, Lawrence Wright. His 2006 book "The Looming Tower"
is widely considered the definitive account of the events leading up to 9/11 and it's now a popular TV drama on Hulu. Now, with his new book "God
Save Texas," Wright sees America's future taking shape in his home state. I spoke with him when he was in London for the book's U.K. release.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program.
LAWRENCE WRIGHT, AMERICAN AUTHOR: Thank you, Chris.
AMANPOUR: Now, listen, your book "God Save Texas" purports to say that Texas is the center of the universe.
WRIGHT: Well, not of the universe perhaps, but of America for sure.
AMANPOUR: How so?
WRIGHT: Well, Texas is the future. It's growing faster than any other state. By 2050, it's projected to double in size. At which time it will
be about the size of California and New York combined.
AMANPOUR: That's huge.
WRIGHT: Yes. It's -- already 10% of all of the school children in Ameri are Texans.
AMANPOUR: So, look, is a controversial state, you yourself refer to that.
AMANPOUR: Is that a good thing for America that it is going to dominate the United States?
WRIGHT: It's good and bad. On the good side, Texas is a great job creator. In last quarter of last year, Texas grew 5.2%, there wasn't a
single other state except for Idaho that got into 4%. So, you know, people come to Texas for the jobs. They don't come for the scenery. But it's,
you know, a tremendous amount of growth, in economic growth in this state where we are falling down, is we're not educating our children and we're
not building the infrastructure that we need for that massive amount of growth.
AMANPOUR: And what about politically? Because, I mean, you've written and many have written it, you know, once the south and including Texas was
Democrat and then it went very Republican in some cases, very much back to the future, so to speak, quite right wing and quite conservative. And you
know, dragging the rest of the country with it when it comes to big elections. But you say that it should actual by a blue state, in other
words, Democrat. How do you say that? Why? What are the demographics?
WRIGHT: Well, Texas is a majority and minority state. It has it in common with California. And of course, California is the largest state and also
the largest blue state, largest Democratic state, and Texas is the largest Republican state. They are similar demographically but totally opposite.
And what's the difference Hispanics vote in California and they don't in Texas.
AMANPOUR: Is that what difference is? In other words, if they all came out, would it be a blue state, because it is hard to figure out why it's a
majority/minority state and still conservative Republican.
WRIGHT: I have wondered about this and here's my analysis. You know, there are 29 million Texans and 19 million of them were registered to vote
in the presidential election. Only 9 million did vote. So, they took the trouble to register but not to actually go cast their ballot. And, of
course, you know, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the least popular candidates in the history of American presidential election, so there was
that. But in the whole modern history of Texas, there has not been a compelling candidate who spoke to the disenfranchised, especially the
Hispanic voters who would go have a reason to go out the vote. And when that day arrives Texas could turn blue very quickly. And demographically,
it already should be.
AMANPOUR: It looks like Hispanics around the United States really did help President Trump more than anybody expected. How do you explain that given
the immigration dilemma, given the sort of, you know, President Trump's known views on immigration, migrants, people who aren't White?
WRIGHT: Well, you know, if you take the ethnic question out of it, who doesn't vote in Texas or anywhere really, the poor, the young and the
poorly educated. There are a lot of Hispanics in Texas who fit into those categories. And we have just -- you know, we have an abundance of people,
you know, in Texas who haven't been well educated, who are young and you are struggling.
AMANPOUR: You grew up in Texas?
AMANPOUR: Was it always a source of pride for you growing up in Texas?
WRIGHT: Not at all. I was in Dallas when Kennedy was killed. It was a tremendous stigma. One of the reasons I fled the state, you know, shortly
after that because having -- you know, even being from Texas is large, but especially being from Dallas. Dallas was taken down like no other American
City in our history and it was --
AMANPOUR: After the assassination?
WRIGHT: Yes. I mean, the idea, I really felt alienated from the political scene in Dallas, which was extremely right-wing. But it was not a right-
winger that killed Kennedy, it was a Marxist, and I had no idea that we had a Marxist in Dallas, I hardly knew any Democrats. But it was awful being
from Dallas and being from Texas then. And -- you know, and then when Lyndon Johnson was a president there was such a lot of sneering that went
on because of his accent, and I know how self-conscious I felt the first time I heard myself trying to speak Spanish in the language lab and talking
through my nose like a real Texan, you know, it was -- I thought I'm done with that accent.
AMANPOUR: You still have the accent?
WRIGHT: I can acquire it when needed.
AMANPOUR: Oh, you're talking it now. I mean, did you once Spanish it and bring it back?
WRIGHT: Listen, the way I'm speaking now is -- does not nearly -- when you in north Texas and Dallas, you talk through your nose and, you know, talk a
little bit like that and I decided that was not going to be me.
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, in the book, you do talk about your history, you had ancestors, they fought in the, you know, confederacy, they fought for
that. You kept a portrait when you were young of General Robert Lee on your bedroom wall. And then you went on the cover the Civil Rights
Movement and all of the rest. And you said, "I still feel a ashamed of the prejudices that I struggle to shed."
AMANPOUR: What is the biggest prejudice that you had to shed?
WRIGHT: I think that this -- I thought people of other races were strange and not -- that I couldn't relate to the them, and they were exotic. I
mean, the only Black person that I knew at all was our weekly maid. I went through the entire public education in Texas without a single Black
classmate, and this is years after Brown versus Board of Education. You know, Texas, the whole south fought integration and successfully for so
many years. So, you know, people of color were kind of frightening to me and their exoticness.
AMANPOUR: And what switched you to a more rational view of your fellow human beings?
WRIGHT: Well, you know, of course, I spent, you know, a couple of years living in Cairo and I've gotten to the point where I learned something
about foreign cultures and I loved my students so much. Then after that, I went to work for a race relations reporter covering the Civil Rights
Movement, and seeing the nobility of that cause, it was so stirring to me. I think it is -- you know, since the revolution, the American revolution,
it's the greatest accomplishment in our history.
AMANPOUR: You know, you just said that -- you know, even after Brown versus Board of Education, even after integration of the schools you barely
saw, maybe one you said, Black person in your school.
AMANPOUR: And I wonder whether you think now how far, again, we're going back to the future, so many articles written by the local media in parts of
the south Texas including many other countries are talking about deliberate, you know, re-segregation and redrawing of school districts and
things like that, and it's really sad.
WRIGHT: It is a form of tribalism that I think has infected our entire country, especially our politics. And I feel despair about that. Where I
don't feel despair is, you know, other parts of the culture, sports and entertainment, which are robust and deeply loved by Americans, and
especially Texans, you know, there is a sense of community. And I think that if we concentrate on what it is in those environments that gives us
that sense of togetherness, how can we apply that to our political system?
AMANPOUR: Well, again, everybody is trying to grapple with what has happened to our political system, whether it is terrible polarization and
just this real sort of the stress that is around. I wonder what you make again, this is, you know, talking about the book. This was Cecile Richards
of Planned Parenthood. And she's quoting Even Smith --
AMANPOUR: -- who in your book says, "White people are scared change, believing that what they have is being taken away from them." In 2004, the
Anglo population of Texas became a minority," which you just said, "and it's no coincidence that the social conservatives who ruled the state for
two decades have continue the look backward." Describe what they're looking at, all the little -- well, the big social movers that they are
hanging on to?
WRIGHT: Well, they would like to have gays back in the closet, you know, not just no gay marriage, they just want to eliminate the identity of
homosexuals. I mean, it's nuts. To some extent, there's -- you know, there's one character that I write about in the book, he's talking about
they're propagating sodomy in the kindergartens. Well, it's nonsense. But he is one of the main funders of the party -- of the Republican party. And
eliminate abortion entirely, you know, and remove government from almost all walks of life, even down to the security cameras on the traffic lights.
You know, get out of the U.N. I mean, these are the things that I heard about as a child in the '50s. And now, you know, this agenda has come
And it's -- in my opinion the Republican party, at large, you know, has been ripped apart and, you know, essentially is -- Donald Trump has run
away with it and the Republican party in Texas has taken an overdose of some kind of hallucinogen that makes them think that they can antagonize
40% of the population, the Hispanics, with this show me your papers revision and then alienate young people who are so much more tolerant and
so past the whole thing about homosexuals. In the recent state convention of the Republican party, they refused to seat the log cabin Republicans and
the gay Republicans. We are in another millennium and yet, you know, that's what Evan was talking about.
AMANPOUR: Exactly. And I wonder if you can reflect then that it's having potentially an equal but opposite effect on the Democratic party. They've
been primaries in four states overnight. And it looks like in some of them, the moderate Democrats lost in their primaries. In the very left
wing, Democrats won. So you're having, again, in both parties this massive polarization. Where is there any hope? How does one ever get back to what
we're told the majority prefers, which is somewhere in the middle?
WRIGHT: You have to have the candidates that speak to that. And., you know, I can only say about Texas, we haven't had those people. There's an
interesting race going on right now. And Ted Cruz is facing for the -- you know, really quite powerful challenger, Beto O'Rourke, who has outraised
him in terms of money, which is really surprising, and is within the margin of error right now in terms of the polling, and he's a Democrat, he's from
El Paso. We haven't elected a Democrat statewide office in more than 20 years and we have never elected anybody from El Paso. I don't know why
that is. But he is a very appealing candidate and he's quite talented. A candidate that we need more of in both parties who are willing to speak to
the center, which feels so hollowed out right now.
AMANPOUR: What do you make of the latest study that came out, that basically scientifically show some of what I was talking about, that it's a
bit of a white lash this election of Donald Trump, which is what Van Jones, a political (INAUDIBLE), had said CCN the night of the election. But that
they're seeing that actually it wasn't about, you know, a fear of losing jobs or being unemployed or economic -- you know, their salary or anything,
it's mostly why its Christian America didn't want things to change, which played for Trump.
WRIGHT: I think it's true. Throughout American history, the politics of resentment has always played a big role. And I certainly understood that
as a child in Dallas, the idea that the eastern establishment, as we called it, it was -- you know, it sneered at us, looked down at us and was
fighting our values. And so, we are reacted against it. And it's still a feature of politics all over the country. And who feels that resentment?
Who feels marginalized? Well, it's the people who are in favor of -- you know, who oppose abortion, the people who are Evangelical Christians, the
White people -- White men who've lost their jobs. You know, this is a -- it's a broad swath of America, and they feel despised. And Trump gives
voice to their complaints and that's why they've turned to him.
AMANPOUR: So, President Trump has also been very active on the foreign policy stage. I just i want to go to the Looming Tower quickly because
that was really one your seminal works. And I think you've said it may be the most important thing that you will ever write?
WRIGHT: I think so.
AMANPOUR: You do?
AMANPOUR: The Looming Tower, which was the rise of Al-Qaeda and led to 9/11. Why do you think it's the most important thing and how did you come
to write it? Why did you get on to that track?
WRIGHT: Well, I it was more of a mission than, you know, anything else. I -- as a young man, I taught in Cairo, I spoke some Arabic, although it had
been a long time. I, you know, started to live in a Muslim country, and I loved my time in Egypt. I had written movie called "The Siege" with Denzel
Washington and Bruce Willis, Annette Bening, which is about what would happen if terror came to America, for instance, to New York city, this came
out at 1998. And it was premonitory in many ways of the events of 9/11. And so, you know, there were a number of different things that were
affecting me, but mainly just as an American, I knew that this was a turning point in our history. And as a reporter, I had an obligation to
try to go out and understand what was it that led to this and why did we fail to stop it.
AMANPOUR: And right now, anybody who didn't read your book is getting to watch The Looming Tower on television, on the streaming service. Hulu did
it, it's on Amazon Prime. It is fantastic. But what really stands out is, in sharp relief, is the battle between American agencies, the FBI and CIA,
which seemed to prevent them preventing the intelligence and using it to prevent 9/11 from happening. It's quite shocking.
WRIGHT: It continues to shock because, you know, the CIA knew in 2000 the two Al-Qaeda future hijackers came to America, and they failed to tell the
FBI. You know, they arrived in January of 2000, 19 months before 9/11. And the -- and in March of 2000, the CIA found out about it and they
withheld the information, it wasn't an accident. And they --
AMANPOUR: I still can't figure out why, having read your book and watch it. What were they thinking?
WRIGHT: Well, there are two theories. Is it the case that the CIA wanted to recruit them? This is one possibility. They're not supposed to work in
the United States, the FBI has authority over cases of domestic terrorism inside of the United States and they had a warrant on Al-Qaeda. The other
thing is, was it an agreement between the CIA and the Saudi intelligence who were going to monitor these guys and maybe try to turn them? And if
you look at some of the behavior of, you know, Saudi people that were in L.A. and San Diego and working with these hijackers, then I think there's
some possibility to that theory.
AMANPOUR: Did that ever get satisfactory resolved in the 9/11 commission afterwards?
WRIGHT: You know, it's still an issue. You know, there were the missing 28 pages that produced some additional information about that.
AMANPOUR: And the Saud has spent a long time making sure it were redacted, right, and missing?
WRIGHT: Well, they -- actually, said that they wanted it produced because it reflected poorly on them, but it didn't help them when the pages came
out because there was information in there that I had no idea about, that there were training flights where people were casing how to get into the
pilot's cabin and stuff like that. And when they were questioned, they were saying, "Well, you know, the flight had been paid for by the Saudi
embassy," and, you know, they have some very damning material in that. And, of course, families of the 9/11 victims have also been suing the Saudi
government. And lot of information has been produced in depositions, especially by agents that I didn't know about that had been involved in
AMANPOUR: Do you think that the relationship now between these two big agencies, FBI, CIA is corrected in terms of this never being able to happen
WRIGHT: It's far better now than it was. You know, the creation of the National Counter Terrorism Center, for instance, has been a big help. We
have 16 different intelligence agencies and they are mandated to sit together and trade information. It created an Office of the Director of
the National Intelligence who is above the CIA and, you know, is -- and it's theoretically, at least, able to control this.
What concerns me, you know, there was conflict of between the agencies and that was -- and it obstructed our ability to stop the plot. Now, there is
this argument between the administration and the intelligence agencies. And of course, it is Donald Trump's intelligence agencies, they report to
him, but the disparity between what he's saying, you know, and what they are actually doing is alarming to me because Al-Qaeda is far stronger now
than it was on 9/11. You know, on --
WRIGHT: On 9/11, there were maybe 400 people in Al-Qaeda, now there are thousands.
AMANPOUR: You don't think it was decimated and decapitated?
WRIGHT: At one time, yes, it was.
AMANPOUR: With the drone strikes relentlessly, relentlessly?
WRIGHT: Yes, but it has now got chapters in 18 countries and that doesn't even count the progeny like ISIS and Boko Haram. There are thousands of
people following this Jihadist philosophy and their intentions haven't changed. Fortunately, our abilities have improved, but so have the
abilities of our opponent opponents. And this depredation of our intelligence agencies at a time when we're under threat, not just America
but certainly Europe, I think is a really bad experience.
AMANPOUR: So when you say, you know, that they're stronger than ever and their intentions haven't changed, you know, they always manage to play on
Muslim grievance, on the suffering of the Muslim brothers. While we've seen it in technicolor in Gaza this past few days with the split screens
around the world of everybody laughing joyfully, opening up the U.S. embassy, breaking the 70 years of tradition in Jerusalem. At the same
time, lethal force used against the protesters by the Israeli forces. And they have come out and said that they failed to minimize the casualties.
So, they know that the world has come down on them for that.
But you wrote the book Thirteen Days in September, the dramatic story of the struggle for peace. And of course, it was about that incredible moment
in '78 and '79, Camp David, the very hardline right-wing prime minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, manage to seal a peace deal with the highly
nationalists, king of the Arab world, you know, President Anwar Sadat.
AMANPOUR: Those days seem like a long time ago.
WRIGHT: Yes. You think about that -- people say peace and possible. And you've mentioned, you know, Menachem Begin, he was a terrorist. He was a
head of Irgun.
AMANPOUR: Against the British mandates?
WRIGHT: The British. And also, against the Palestinians. Remember, Deir Yassin and then there were -- Anwar Sadat had been an assassin against the
British troops. And Jimmy Carter was a one-term Georgia governor Evangelical Christian. Those three men managed to make a peace that has
lasted to this day and it has never been replicated. There was another part of the treaty which was going to be about the Palestinians, but the
course of Palestinians weren't represented at Camp David, and that portion of it has not been enacted.
But what is the difference? You know, there are two things, I think. One is that did Carter put the relationship with America on the line, you make
peace or our relationship is fractured. And I will tell the congress and I'll tell the world that it was your fault, this is a powerful hammer to
bring down. And the other thing was, the men that were all there at Camp David had political courage. And I think that is a quality that's notably
AMANPOUR: You know, it's very interesting you say that, you know, Carter did what he did, fast forward to 1991 when President George H.W. Bush and
his quite magnificent Secretary of State, James Baker, also played the honest broker to a point where they -- remember James Baker holding up --
WRIGHT: "Call me when you're ready."
AMANPOUR: -- "Call me when you're ready," and that was Prime Minister Shamir at that time.
WRIGHT: Yes. Right.
AMANPOUR: And so, the Americans really did knock both heads together, knowing that Israel was their main ally, believing that peace was in
Israel's best interest.
AMANPOUR: Where do you see it going now? Now, with the so-called potential of the Kushner, Green Blat, Trump peace plan at a time when
they've so heavily sided with one side?
WRIGHT: To be frank, I don't think it is going anywhere because they are using the two-state model. And everybody says they want two states, but we
don't have two states and it's because nobody believes in it. And the Palestinians are distancing themselves from it. And, you know, where it is
really headed, I think, is Gaza becomes a kind of the model for the rest of the Palestinian population in the west bank with, you know, being isolated
into little t fiefdoms cut off by these roads, guarded by Israeli troops.
You know, I -- and what's really striking with the furor in the world, nobody is really doing anything about it. Even the Arabs have turd gain
against the Palestinians. I think that that's part of what's fueling the despair in Gaza. I have been to Gaza and it is -- it really is a prison.
You know, it's just a big open-air prison. While I was there, a little girl was shot and her brother was wounded just because they were out
working in the fields and they got a little too close to the fence.
And, you know, there are automatic weapons stationed at every like mile and, you know, they are remotely controlled and, you know, it's just a
sense of, you know, absolute mastery over the population.
AMANPOUR: And just to finish, this administration is, as I said, you know, putting its hand in a lot of areas, hoping that the tough lines, different
lines, disruptive lines of engagement will create change where it hasn't happened before, whether it's in the Palestinian, Israeli conflict by
moving the embassy, whether it's with North Korea, by having a high level summit, whether it's in Iran, by pulling out of an arms control agreement
with the Iranians.
Just reflect for a moment, there probably would not be a Hamas in charge if the United States, under George W. Bush, hadn't insisted on elections then,
despite advice from the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian leadership at that time. That if you have an election now in 2006, Hamas
is going to win.
AMANPOUR: It tells you a little bit about America's --
WRIGHT: Well, an unintended consequence, you know, the whole Middle East is -- you know, there are two lessons, you know, you can draw from spending
time in the Middle East. One is that, you know, every action has the unintended consequence. The other lesson is, things can always get worse.
AMANPOUR: On that note, Lawrence Wright, thank you very much indeed.
AMANPOUR: My pleasure, Christiane.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That's it for our program tonight. We hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane. And remember, you can always listen on our podcast and
see online at amanpour.com. And you could always follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks for watching this special edition and good-bye from London.