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Impeachment Hearings in American, Then and Now; Doris Kearns Goodwin, Presidential Historian, is Interviewed About the History of Impeachment in America; "The Report," a New Film About CIA's Use of Torture; Interview With Annette Bening; Interview With Joel Stein. Aired 1- 2p ET
Aired November 25, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The difference between then and now is not the difference between Nixon and Trump, it's the difference between that
Congress and this one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: America gathers for Thanksgiving as a divided nation. Award- winning author, Doris Kearns Goodwin, tells me how history will judge these dramatic public hearings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNETTE BENING, ACTRESS, "THE REPORT": Are you accusing the CIA of murder?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Hollywood takes on the government inquiry that exposed torture in America. Annette Bening on being Senator Dianne Feinstein in "The
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOEL STEIN, AUTHOR, "IN DEFENSE OF ELITISM": In general, I think we need to all listen better and respect expertise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: "In Defense of Elitism," a new book uses comedy to examine how one social class fueled a populist backlash. Our Walter Isaacson sits down
with writher, Joel Stein.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in New York.
As America gets ready for Thanksgiving, will politics be taboo at the dining table or will it be a bomb fight with Democrats hoping to vote on
articles of impeachment before Christmas, the temperature will just keep rising.
Democrats say the evidence of serious presidential misconduct is overwhelming. But the more damning the suggestions of an abuse of power
becomes, the deeper it sends Trump's defenders into a mix of what critics say are conspiracy theories, disinformation, and outright distortion.
History, though, can tell us a lot about all of this and, of course, about leadership. And Doris Kearns Goodwin is the preeminent presidential
scholar with award-winning books such as "Team of Rivals" and "Leadership in Turbulent Times." Her latest work is a masterclass on the topic and
she's joining me now.
Welcome to the program.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I'm very glad to be here with you.
AMANPOUR: It couldn't be a more important time. We've just wrapped up a series of public hearings on Capitol Hill over two weeks. Very tense
times. And as we said, it has driven people into their obvious corners. What has stood out as a historian then and now with these hearings?
GOODWIN: I think the thing that stands out most is that there's two competing narratives that are now being told of that weeklong hearings. I
mean, if you were listening to MSNBC or CNN, you might have heard what these witnesses said and felt about them they were professionals taking a
huge risk in their lives to do this. If you listened to alternative cable networks or social media, it would be attacking their credibility that the
story wasn't real, that it wasn't true, and both narratives are believed.
We're at a time in our history where it seems to me it's like the 1850s, which is scary, when such partisan understanding was dividing the country.
You only read your own newspaper. You couldn't get news any other way. So, you're reading the Republican, the Whig, the Democratic newspaper, you
could be reading about a Lincoln/Douglas debate and read it in the Republican papers and he's carried out in triumph.
You read it in the Democratic papers, he falls on the floor and he's so embarrassed, they have to drag him out of the floor. And that's the
situation we're at. Can we reach a consensus? The goal would hopefully be, if you have an impeachment proceeding like with Nixon, almost, that by
the end of it, the country agreed that should happen. Otherwise, it would just going to be more divided than we are now, then the country's going to
be hurt by all of this.
AMANPOUR: So, the question then is -- because it looks like the country is going to continue to be divided, it doesn't look at the moment even
despite, you know, President Trump has had all the Republican senators, the jury, if it comes to that, to lunch, to a way days at Camp David, et
cetera, trying to persuade them and put his case.
But what happens if it remains entirely along partisan lines? Will it have been worth the price? Because certainly, the Democratic leadership was
worried about that, that they didn't even want to bring this impeachment process, if it wasn't going to have some bipartisanship to it.
GOODWIN: Well, I think the decision they finally made, and there's two parts to it. One was that, if they didn't do this, then they might risk
similar behavior on part of President Trump. That right after the Mueller report was released, it was the next day after that he called up Zelensky.
So, there was some sense that if they didn't check and balance him, they wouldn't be doing their responsibility.
The harder question for them is, they have to educate the country. Not just the other Republicans about what does an abuse of power mean, what
does it mean to break the rule of law, what is obstruction of justice? They can't be just words. It has to be a giant civics, a giant civics
lesson now, if they're going to persuade even not the votes necessarily, but the country, that this was an important thing to do now.
AMANPOUR: So, where does the giant civics lesson come from? You were doing a master class, presumably your contribution to this giant civics
lessons from the perspective of history. But who does it? It obviously can't be the senators or Congress people involved in this process because
it will be each of their [13:05:00] lessons, it won't be the civics lesson. Who will do that lesson?
GOODWIN: Well, that's what leadership should be. I mean, leaders are teachers when they're at their best. I mean, I loved teaching when I
started out. That's why it's been fun to do a master class and come back right now to being a teacher after 40 years again. But when Teddy
Roosevelt talked about the bully pulpit, he meant a platform that the president has to educate the country.
So, each one of the congressmen on each side, they have a platform and they're going to have to be it. The news people are going to be doing it.
I mean, the news job has done an extraordinary job in these last couple of years under enormous pressure. But it's up to them to understand that they
have to change people's opinion, if they're going to get a consensus not just keep us in those silos.
AMANPOUR: You, obviously, have done these amazing books. I mean, "Team of Rivals," which, obviously, was sort of kind of a bible for the Obama
administration or the Obama White House. And now, "Leadership in Turbulent Times" was your latest book. What makes a good leader, if not a great
leader, a good leader? A good presidential level leader?
GOODWIN: I really think it's the question that you're asking me that we should be asking of the candidates right now in this election. There
almost should be a leadership index to understand they've all come from somewhere. They've been governors, senators, mayors or president and we
should figure out, do they have the following qualities, which my guys, I think shared. I call them my guys because I'm so used to --
AMANPOUR: So, remind us about your guys, who you profile.
GOODWIN: So, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. I lived with them longest. So, I would say the qualities that
they shared mostly and that are absolutely essential for a good leader, humility is the first, which means you recognize you're a human with
failings. You're going to acknowledge your errors and learn from your mistakes. You're going to grow through office.
Empathy is absolutely essential. To understand other people's points of view. Resilience through adversity. The ability to create a team where
people can argue with you and question your assumptions and you're going to give them a sense of purpose and you're going to treat them with respect.
And then, also, just accessibility to people. And maybe lastly, when an ambition for self becomes an ambition for greater good, that's when a good
leader becomes a great leader.
AMANPOUR: Let me just take a few examples because -- I mean, you say humility and admitting mistakes. Give us an example of a president who
admitted a mistake, for instance, a big consequential one.
GOODWIN: Well, I would say John Kennedy when he talked about the Bay of Pigs. He was absolutely honest about the mistake that it was. And as he
later teased, the worst I do, the more my polls go up. People appreciate that. Somehow there's some feeling in the world today that admitting a
mistake shows a weakness. Ronald Reagan talked about the Iran-Contra, finally admitting that, yes, it was a deal that he hadn't understood fully
was but it was, and that ended the problem. You know, you just keep thinking you can lance it if you can acknowledge the error. But somehow
that seems like a sign of weakness for too many politicians.
AMANPOUR: Well, really interestingly, and I don't know whether it plays into your sort of landscape, but the Bay of Pigs was slightly enabled by a
pliant press. John F. Kennedy had the "New York Times," Scotty Reston particularly who was a big shot there, and the press loved him and they
protected him even though they might have known that perhaps this wasn't the best exercise. And they also had to do mea culpas, right?
GOODWIN: That is correct. For them, too, it's important. I mean, I think one of the things --
AMANPOUR: For us too.
GOODWIN: Yes. That's you, yes. It is a great thing. I mean, in this whole run up in these last couple of years, when the newspapers, and not
that often have made a mistake, they have owned it up. Otherwise, the credibility is lost.
I mean, when Teddy Roosevelt first got into the state legislature, it's not making a mistake and acknowledge it, it's learning when you are too
arrogant. He has a swelled head, he was yelling and pounding his desk against all his Democratic opponents. And even his Republicans got mad at
him because he was talking too much. So, he said, I got a swelled head. I realized I'm not that important. And he started working across the aisle.
So, it's temperament self-reflection you need in a leader. When am I going wrong? Not just in mistakes but temperamentally.
AMANPOUR: I mean, I'm going guess what you're going to say about the current incumbent of the Oval Office, that he neither has the empathy or he
hasn't demonstrated it nor has the humility to admit mistakes, in fact, the opposite, because he doubles down and keeps digging, essentially.
But I'm also interested in what you say because you also take issue with the wave of criticism that reaches out for, you know, fascism and sort of,
you know, the sort of really sort of awful political movements of the past to sort of, you know, compare him.
But you're saying, actually, you'd rather criticize him on important every day issues that connect with people?
GOODWIN: I think you're rally right. I mean, I think we need a sense of proportion. But more importantly, if you're going to persuade people, look
at him as a leader. Just try to see, is he the kind of leader you want? And that's much more everyday life. Is this the person you would want in
your school committees? Is this the person you'd want as you mayor? Is this the person you'd want as your friend? Those kind of comparisons I
think, get us further than saying he's a fascist or he's a dictator or things like that. Those words conjure up the [13:10:00] past in a not
helpful way. I think we just stay in the present.
AMANPOUR: I mean, you started by saying, you know, the 1850s and I mean, you've obviously studied these presidents as you've named them. Is it
worse today than it's ever been or not?
GOODWIN: Oh, it's interesting. A woman on the plane asked me a question a couple of weeks ago. She said, is this the worst we've ever had? So, I
started telling her about the 1850s when, as I say, the partisan press was so much worse than it is now and the country was splitting apart. A
congressman from the South Carolina hit the senator from Massachusetts over the head with a cane. And the worse thing was, he was lionized in the
South and that mobilized the antislavery movement in the North. So, you had this real sense of a split. That's deeper than our split right now but
it has analogies to it.
You know, I saw an article not long ago that said when you're talking about what are we going to talk about at Thanksgiving, they said people now worry
more about whether they're child will marry outside their family, outside their party than outside their religion.
GOODWIN: I mean, that's crazy. Parties don't have that much identity with us even as much as they did in the 19th century, but that's happening. I
bet you there's a lot of families that won't even talk about what is currently happening because there's such deep feelings on both sides.
AMANPOUR: You know, you speak about leadership and when one speaks about leadership and brings these example that you've brought to bear, the four
U.S. presidents, each of them was heroic in their own way. And yet, there are people who are good leaders, in other words, they gather people behind
them, they're able to send their message far and wide, they're able to propagandize, brainwash, whatever you want to call it, for bad as well.
We've seen that kind of leadership.
How -- what is your cautionary tale on -- because President Trump has a huge number of followers. I mean, obviously, we know what the percentages
are, but in his own base, in his own media environment, he still has a massive number of followers. There's huge number of people on, you know,
social media and in his base and in the press.
GOODWIN: Well, I think the most important lesson to understand, first of all, is why he won. And I think what our situation is today is much like
the industrial revolution. It had shaken up the economy as much as globalization and the tech revolution have done today. This is happening
all over the world. People are feeling a sense of that gap between the rich and the poor. They're scared about a lot of the new inventions that
are changing the way of life as they were about the automobile and the telephone and the telegraph. And there's a populist fervor that arises in
such time, easily able to blame people for the situation they're in, and that was the anti-immigrant fervor at the turn of the 20th century.
We were lucky then to have a leader in Teddy Roosevelt who came along and understood. There were anarchist bombs in the streets. It was even more
scary than the situation is today. But he argued for a square deal for the rich and the poor, the capitalist and the wage worker and got moderate
progressive reform through.
But we have to understand what that lack of mobility means to people, why they feel angry at people in the cities, in the country, that's where the
empathy of a leader has to happen. What President Trump has done is to mobilize that base and he got that base to feel he was on their side and
one has to give him credit for having done that.
AMANPOUR: Now, he really tapped into something.
GOODWIN: He tapped into. They felt he's speaking for us, and they still feel that way. So, I think we have to figure out what is it about our
country right now that's not answering the real needs of these people. And I think that's a critical question.
AMANPOUR: On the empathy issue, I mean, there are many times when people have criticized him. For instance, I mean, the one that comes immediately
to mind is what happened after Hurricane Maria in the Dominican Republic and on and on and on.
But on empathy, I think you say through the study of your four presidents, that each and every one of them had a life-changing hardship and that
changed their characteristic and changed their sensitivity. Tell me about those.
GOODWIN: No. Absolutely. I think Lincoln, of the four, was the only one maybe born with a profound sense of empathy. Even as a little kid, he
would get angry at his friends who would put hot coals on turtles to make them wriggle. And then his life experiences only increased it. A near
suicidal depression when he was in his 30s. He came out of it only because he said, if I die now, I wouldn't be remembered for having done anything
What happens to Teddy Roosevelt is that arrogant person becomes a lot more empathetic when his wife and mother die on the same day in the same house,
and he's so depressed that he goes to the badlands and he lives in the West and he's a cowboy. He learns another whole way of life in the West from
FDR, clearly, the polio changed him. He said about that, you learn humility when you're spending two hours crawling on the floor trying to
strengthen your upper body. And then he goes to Warm Springs and he understands and he's vulnerable to his fellow patients and he gives them a
sense of joy in life again. He connects to other people to whom faith have delved an unkind hand.
And even LBJ who had been an progressive politician when he was young but turned conservative when he wanted to win the Senate had a massive heart
attack when he was majority [13:15:00] leader and he couldn't wake up from it, and they thought he was mentally gone. All of a sudden, one day, he
woke up. Shave me. I'm back. And they said, what happened? And he said he was lying there thinking, what if I die now, what would I be remembered
for? And he went for civil rights in the Senate and he went for civil rights in the presidency.
So, those life attacks and those adversarial experiences, if you learn from them and can be resilient, they do make you more empathetic, as humankind
to other people.
AMANPOUR: I wonder if part it also is being able to be confident of at least some of the facts and evidence that you see before your very eyes, in
history books or science books or whatever they may -- or in the bible, whatever it might be. We've got this conspiracy theory world that we live
in. Sacha Baron Cohen, AKA Borat, AKA Ali G, just received an award.
And he said, "Conspiracy theories once confined to the fringe of going mainstream. Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat. And
autocracy which thrives on shared lies is on the march." So, that's what he said. I want to ask you about it. But first, by playing a mash up of
this very phenomenon in the impeachment hearings about the facts of the election interference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FIONA HILL, FORMER TOP RUSSIA ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did
not conduct a campaign against our country, and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been
perpetrated and propagated by the Russian Security Services themselves.
LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL'S TOP UKRAINE EXPERT: This is the consensus of the entire Intelligence Community that the
Russians interfered in U.S. elections in 2016.
MARIE YOVANOVITCH, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: I would remind, again, that our own U.S. Intelligence Community has conclusively determined
that the -- those who interfered in the election were in Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And yet, even, you know, push back by Chris Wallace on "Fox News" couldn't get Senator John Kennedy to admit it was Ukraine, despite
intelligence -- all America's -- and -- sorry, that it was Russia. He was saying it was probably Ukraine. How do you preserve all of the things
you've said, even if you have great leadership in this kind of environment, where even the facts are in doubt?
GOODWIN: And that's the real problem with this environment. It's one thing if opinions are being debated. But when we have the three television
networks in those days or you had national radio, you at least had the facts that people were agreeing on and then you could argue about them when
you don't agree with that.
I mean, what she said is absolutely right, it was the Senate committee on the intelligence that published the report saying it was Russia, not
Ukraine. And then their own senators go out after the fact and they're now trying to say something different.
AMANPOUR: And I know this is a hard turn, but we're talking about leadership and President Trump has often, you know, despite his disputes
with President Xi of China, has often talked about him in very, you know, flattering terms.
We've just seen what happened in Hong Kong over the weekend that despite the danger on the streets and, you know, the real troubles that they've
been going through after six or seven months of protest, they turned out overwhelmingly in local elections for democracy and for the democratic
process. That's a triumph.
But I want to ask you, because Trump addressed us before and we'll just play what he said about the China/Hong Kong issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Look, we have to stand with Hong Kong but I'm also standing with President Xi. He's a friend of mine. He's an
incredible guy. And we have to stand. But I would like to see them do is work it out. OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, I mean, you know, on the one hand, on the other hand.
GOODWIN: You can't be on the one hand, on the other hand on this issue. And I think, you know, that idea those young people came out again despite
all the danger they were in, that's when change takes place when citizens are active. When Lincoln was called a liberator, he said, don't call me
that. It was the antislavery movement that did it all.
In our country we have to remember that it was the settlement house movement and the social gospel at the turn of the 20th century that
produced that Teddy Roosevelt could do, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the gay rights movements, the environment movement. We
have believe, just as those Hong Kong people are now believing in democracy and where it comes from is when citizens speak up and when they take
chances as the people in the civil rights movement did.
And if we're going to change our political system, if we're going to make the primaries better, if we're going to get money out of politics, if we're
going to change the congressional boundaries that have to be changed for nonpartisan commissions, I would love to see a national service program
where young kids are working together for a common goal from the city and the country and the country and the city. It's all up to us as citizens.
We can't just look for the leaders right now. It has to be the citizens and that's what those people in Hong Kong are doing.
GOODWIN: And they deserve all the credit in the world.
AMANPOUR: And it's a great optimistic way to end.
GOODWIN: It really is. We have to be optimistic. We have no other choice.
AMANPOUR: Historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, thank you so much for joining me.
GOODWIN: You're very welcome.
AMANPOUR: So, as history shows, impeachment isn't just an investigation into a sitting president, it is also an important test of congressional
oversight and its ability to act as a check on the executive power.
"The Report" is a timely new film about how a Senate investigation exposed the CIA's use of torture following 9/11. It's a dramatic [13:20:00]
account of Senator Dianne Feinstein's decision to expose wrongdoing at the highest levels. It took six years of digging by her Senate staffer, Daniel
Jones, who is played by Adam Driver. And actress, Annette Bening leads the all-star cast as Feinstein. She join me to talk about its lessons for
today as well as he own brilliant career and taming the legendary Hollywood heartthrob, Warren Beatty.
Annette Bening, welcome to the program.
ANNETTE BENING, ACTRESS, "THE REPORT": Thanks.
AMANPOUR: So, this film, "The Report," which is out now, is, in a way, incredibly timely not because of the subject matter but because of the idea
of accountability, we're right in the middle of the impeachment hearings. Reflect on the time we're in right now as this is being released.
BENING: Right. Our whole systems of checks and balances is being challenged right now. So, this is actually a story where to a degree our
system actually worked. This secret torture program was uncovered by the "New York Times," there had been tapes made of these torture sessions,
which had been destroyed. So, the Senate was then tasked with figuring out what happened.
And in the end, there was a report issued after a lot of back and forth and a lot of fighting and a lot of fighting between the CIA and the White House
and the Senate Intelligence Committee. But it was eventually released.
AMANPOUR: There's a really interesting bit of dialogue between you, your character, Senator Feinstein, and also, then chief of staff, Denise
McDonald, about this process, which we're going to play now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENING: Do you ever wonder why history repeats itself? Well, I think maybe it's because we don't always listen the first time.
DENISE MCDONALD, ACTOR, "THE REPORT": Senator, the people at the agency, they have families. Their children who might lose a parent.
BENING: Years ago, some radical group put a bomb in the flowerbox outside of my daughter's bedroom window right out here. Had it been any warmer
out, it would have exploded. And then there was the time that I found Harvey Milk shot to death in his office. I think I'm aware of the risks of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It's really powerful.
BENING: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: What it's like having to play a real-life, alive person?
BENING: Well, in this case, it was really fascinating. She led this effort. And as I said, the right thing ended up happening. But she's a
very straightforward woman and she is known for playing by the rules. She's known for being a defender of the intelligence programs within the
So, she gets a lot of heat from the left because she's more of a centrist. But that sort of what -- one of the things that interests me about the
story, because in this case, it didn't take a fire brand radical to push something through. So, it was a really a joy to play it.
AMANPOUR: Which actually leads me perfectly into the next clip, which is the real Dianne Feinstein.
BENING: Oh, OK.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): History will judge by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and
say, never again. There may never be the right time to release this report. The instability we see today will not be resolved in months or
years. But this report is too important shelve indefinitely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Golly. It's so redolent of what we're going through right now, there's never a right time. But this report is absolutely fundamental to
who need to be. It's the same struggle that the Democrats have had over impeachment, there's never a right time, we didn't want to do it, but we've
been forced to do it.
BENING: Yes. And she was under a tremendous pressure not to release it, even by friends and colleagues of hers, John Kerry and others, for very
good reason, we're worried about what would happen. But in the end, she did move forward and she did release. And that speech is actually a very
beautiful eloquent speech.
And I think that a lot of Americans can feel proud in reviewing in because what she said was, we admit it. We admit that we tortured and we are
apologizing and we are doubling down and reaffirming that we will not do this again. And she and McCain, and of course, McCain's speech -- the real
John McCain, is in the film as well.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And that's actually pretty dramatic. And you know him pretty well. You and your husband, you were -- I believe, you were at the
Liaoning State when he died.
BENING: Yes. And the essence of John McCain's speech on the floor of the Senate when the report was released, which is when he made this incredible
speech, he said, it's important to remember that torture is really about us. It's about the perpetrator of the torture.
And not only has it been proven to be ineffective and we know that, but he said it's -- of course, it's a stain on us. And this is a man who can
speak moral [13:25:00] authority after having been extensively tortured in Vietnam.
So, I was privileged to know Senator McCain. He was a great friend. I miss him. We all miss him. And it's such an important -- he's such an
important figure, isn't he?
AMANPOUR: But interesting, because you are known as among the preeminent Hollywood liberals. Certainly, your husband is and I think you are too.
How did you become friendly with John McCain?
BENING: Senator McCain was the liaison between the military and the Congress when he first was out of, -- you know, when he came home from
Vietnam. That was one of his first jobs. And he became very friendly with Senator Gary Hart. And in fact, he was -- Gary Hart was at the wedding
between Cindy and John, and they became very good friends and remained friends.
So, my husband is very good friends with Senator Hart. So, that's how they ended up meeting. And then, over the years, so, when John would come to
Los Angeles, he would come to our house and tell us stories. Tell our kids story. It was wonderful. And he and --
AMANPOUR: So, it really had the political instruction --
AMANPOUR: -- from the top --
AMANPOUR: -- and young age.
BENING: Yes. And it -- of course, John was a Republican.
BENING: So, it was good for my kids to hear from him and --
AMANPOUR: But that's interesting too because your parents are Republicans.
AMANPOUR: If I'm not mistaken, may have even voted for Donald Trump.
BENING: Oh, absolutely.
AMANPOUR: Did vote for Donald Trump?
BENING: Oh, yes.
AMANPOUR: Which you didn't?
AMANPOUR: How do you have that conversation when everything or any conversation about anything? I mean, politics goes through people's
bedrooms, through their dining rooms, through their neighborhoods. And it seems today, you can barely discuss anything rationally anymore. John
McCain was an exception.
BENING: Yes, he was. And, of course, it's a great gift to me and to my family that my parents are Republicans because we love them so, so dearly.
And I -- you know, I was raised in a Nixon household. My parents don't talk about politics a lot. We talk about politics incessantly in our house
with our kids. But my parents are more self-spoken about it but they are dedicated Republicans and I respect that.
So, I know right now, we're in such a divisive time when it's hard for people to find a middle ground, certainly, within our public servants,
that's true. So, no, it's one of the good things in life.
AMANPOUR: Yes. But it's good -- can you talk with them? Can you discuss with them?
BENING: Oh, yes. And we have great --
AMANPOUR: That's excellent.
BENING: Oh, and we can laugh --
BENING: -- and we can argue. It's never gotten ugly with my parents. Once in a while, we tease them but then they tease us back. So, it's OK.
AMANPOUR: That's really refreshing to hear because we're stuck in this conflict-driven, partisan, very poisonous debate about -- just about
everything right now.
BENING: It is poisonous and it's unfortunate. So, "The Report" actually is an example. There were people on both sides of the aisle within the
intelligence committee who voted to do the report. And then, eventually, when it was -- when the vote was about whether releasing it or not, it took
people from both sides to make sure that it was released and that it got into the public eye.
AMANPOUR: Let's go all the way back to the beginning. What drew you to acting?
BENING: I got interested in the theater, quite frankly, and the incredible melding of great intellectual ideas and emotion and great dramatic
literature, quite frankly. That's what really got me interested in the whole process. And then it just sort of, you know, plodded my way along in
a very sort of slow methodical way. I just kept following it and it seemed to -- I seemed be answered as I went. So, I just continued.
AMANPOUR: Just a review about the play you did "All My Sons." The director told the "New York times" that -- about you, that he had rarely
seen an actor "so willing to self-emulate in for suit of honesty." And I wonder what your reaction is to knowing the people find you incredibly
honest in no matter the role you take on.
BENING: Well, it's a great compliment. I'm incredibly flattered by that. That's just the most -- there's nothing -- you can't hear anything better
as an actor. That's really nice to hear.
AMANPOUR: And the self-emulation is interesting because it means you go above and beyond the call of duty to really get to the heart of the matter
and to really connect. And we saw that, also, in "American Beauty." We're going to play a clip and the clip is where your character, Carolyn, who was
a realtor, trying and unable to sell a property and this is her reaction to that and another setback.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AMERICAN BEAUTY")
BENING: Shut up. Stop it, you weak -- you baby. Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Whoa. That is the whole gamut.
I mean, when we -- when I started to roll it, we kind of started to giggle. And then, I mean, it's everything. It's tragic. It's, in a weird way,
humorous to begin with. It's violent.
What do you think, seeing that now?
BENING: I remember, when I first read the script. Actually, that's one of the things I was thinking about when I was watching it just now, is, I
remember reading it and thinking that is a great -- that's good writing. It's really good writing.
And the whole script had this sort of nuance. And it was always on the knife edge of being funny and being tragic at the same time, which is very
So I remember that. I also remember the fantastic cinematographer Conrad Hall, who shot the movie, who was a great veteran and a wonderful man and
very, very sensitive. And we had shot the scene once, and he had lived it too dark. Of course, we didn't know it at the time.
And we -- so, when they developed the film, they said, oh, wow, it's too dark, because I remember that, of course, because I was nervous about doing
the scene. So, then, when I had to do it again, I got...
BENING: I remember, when I saw it on the schedule, I thought, oh, no. I thought I had done it.
AMANPOUR: Does it take out of you emotionally?
BENING: Yes and no.
Sometimes, it does just -- it takes it out of you in a not-so-pleasant way. And ,other times, it's quite cathartic.
And I think that maybe we have -- one of the gifts of being able to do what I do is that we do get to express things and explore emotions and explore
the expression of emotions that we might never have in our normal life.
And that can be kind of liberating and cathartic too. It sort of depends on the day.
AMANPOUR: So let's talk about women, being a woman.
Do you find that it's any easier now for you to be a woman in Hollywood or woman who had to balance marriage, motherhood and work, a woman being able
to express her emotions, whether this kind of professionalism that we have seen in Capitol Hill, whether it's anger, whether it's -- whatever it might
be, where do you feel feminism, if you are a feminist, has landed right now?
BENING: I feel more liberated as I get older. It's one of the great gifts. Nobody told me about that.
I don't know how you feel, but I certainly...
AMANPOUR: Much more.
BENING: Yes, I feel that. I feel liberated getting older.
And, yes, there's a whole industry built around us not wanting to accept getting older, a large industry. And so we're all sort of inculcated with
that sort of point of view.
But, in fact, as one gets older, I feel freer. I know that my mom, who just turned 90, has always been a great example to me, and all of the women
in my family, actually. So I hope I can be that example to my kids.
AMANPOUR: I want to play, because I want to ask you more about motherhood, but I'm going to do that by playing a clip of you and the man who became
your husband in "Bugsy," when...
AMANPOUR: ... you starred for the first time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BUGSY")
WARREN BEATTY, ACTOR: That was pretty impressive, Georgie boy.
JOE MANTEGNA, ACTOR: Well, Benny, I'm a pro.
BENING: If you want a simple yes or no, you're going to have to finish the question.
BEATTY: Light your cigarette.
The way you were staring at me, I thought you were going to ask me for something a little more exciting.
BEATTY: Like what?
BENING: Use your imagination.
BEATTY: I'm using it.
BENING: Let me know when you're finished.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And then he did.
AMANPOUR: And then you got married?
BENING: We did.
AMANPOUR: Is it true that Beatty reacted to your audition by saying, that's the woman, I'm going to marry her? Is that true?
BENING: Yes, I think he did tell -- yes, he did say that.
It wasn't -- we just met, so we met and had lunch. So...
AMANPOUR: I know that you are probably very tired of people asking you about your marriage, but I want to know how it is that you have lasted this
long in Hollywood married with four kids.
BENING: I don't -- I don't have any words of wisdom. We love each other. We're dedicated to staying together and dedicated to our children. So,
what can I say?
AMANPOUR: And there's so much about women struggling with the professional and the personal, with being a working mother.
In a way, would you say, in retrospect -- I mean, maybe, as you say, you're lucky because you reached a huge high level -- but that acting is actually
almost a perfect profession for a mother? You can dip in, you can dip out, you can tailor your career or your working time around your children?
BENING: I was very -- absolutely. I was very lucky. I could take -- I mean, I know at one point I took a couple of years off. So it was after I
had my last baby.
So, yes. No, that's true. And I have friends who are executives and lawyers and journalists, and they can't do that. So I felt lucky that I
that I could stop and start. And so, yes, it was a very fortunate in that way, which I didn't anticipate.
AMANPOUR: In 2017, you told "The New York Times": "I'm always trying to get out of cliches of portraits of women."
Basically, you said that you are uninterested in idealizing women, because -- quote -- "That's so boring."
What did you mean?
BENING: Well, for a long time, we had so many stereotypes of women that we saw portrayed over and over in stories, whether it was the good mother or
the bad mother, or the good woman or the bad woman, these sort of polarities in character.
But, of course, interesting women aren't just strong women. They're flawed. That's what's fun to me is trying to find the nuance.
And, of course, it's all in the writing, really. It starts with the writing. We're just interpreters. So it's -- all we can do is try to
illuminate what's already on the page. So that's part of how I have been lucky, is that I have read things that were good that I have been asked to
do, or I wanted to do.
So, yes, I think that's what's interesting for most of us who do what I do, is that we're trying to find more layers, not just the cliches about how we
think about women, and especially now, as I get older, older women, because there's little even more cliches, really. There's a lot more.
So, of course, once -- now that I'm the age I am, I see how there's so much subtlety and so much difference in all the women, in all of us that are
around my age. So that interests me, and that interests me in trying to bring that to the stories that I'm asked to do.
AMANPOUR: And it interests all of us.
BENING: Oh, thank you.
AMANPOUR: Annette Bening, thank you so much.
BENING: Thank you so much for having me.
AMANPOUR: Annette Bening, a master class in art and in work, and an interesting example of somebody who can actually cross the political
In an era of political turmoil, though, one author has opted for human to get his message across as he examines America's political cultural wars.
Joel Stein is a former writer for "TIME" magazine. His new book, In Defense of Elitism," offers a sharp and witty take on what elitism means
today and why he thinks it's so important to fight against the rise of populism.
Our Walter Isaacson, who was his editor in chief at "TIME," sat down with him, as he recounts what he learned from spending a week in Trump's
heartland of Roberts County, Texas.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You were a humor writer at "TIME." This is sort of a humor book.
It's actually a laugh-out-loud funny book.
JOEL STEIN, AUTHOR, "IN DEFENSE OF ELITISM": Well, thank you.
ISAACSON: But you use the humor to make a pretty subtle and changing point about elitism and listening to people.
Why don't you start by reading the call to arms when you begin your book.
STEIN: Oh, my God. I'm going read my book out loud to Walter Isaacson.
ISAACSON: Yes, yes, yes.
STEIN: This is very nerve-racking. OK.
"This book is a call to arms for the elite, not actual arms, since we don't think people should those, but metaphoric arms, which are the type of arms
that will be useless against the populist arms, which are real arms, which is why I'm not standing up to the populists in person, but here in print,
where none of them will know about it."
ISAACSON: Let me then me read the end of your book, because...
STEIN: OK, yes.
ISAACSON: Because this journey changes you more than you change the people out there that you're trying to enlist.
"Since I started this work, I have changed my mind about my superiority. It happened because I listened to others, due to the fact that it's hard to
talk when you're taking notes. By doing so, I learned that gathering on a porch with your neighbors is better than sending texts. I learned that the
old quilts, the ones that were for comfort over pretty, are better. I have learned to entertain strangers. I have learned that even other people's
problems -- even when other people's problems are minor injuries suffered in the name of progress, they are still real."
Tell me how you changed over this journey, where you went out, sort of half-jokingly, to defend the elite against the populist uprising, and you
start off in the Panhandle of Texas and start changing your mind.
STEIN: Yes, I was really worried the night of the election, when Trump won.
Like, I brought this bottle of Trump sparkling wine to a party, thinking we would toast him with this Virginia blanc de blanc and mock his attempt to
be an elite.
And when he won, like -- Republicans have won in my life. I have friends who make great wine who are Republicans. Like, that didn't freak me out,
but a populist hadn't won since really Andrew Jackson beat John Quincy Adams.
And the thought of someone who just had no experience and knew nothing about the world or how the American political system worked running our
country just made me feel very unsafe and worried.
ISAACSON: And so you went to Roberts County, Texas.
STEIN: Yes. Yes. Yes.
ISAACSON: Right in the Panhandle.
ISAACSON: I think it's probably more than 90 percent Trump.
STEIN: It was, I think, almost 96 percent, the highest percentage of Trump voters in the entire country.
ISAACSON: And that's why you picked it?
STEIN: That's why I picked it.
ISAACSON: And what did you do?
STEIN: I stayed there for a week. And I just -- I wasn't -- I didn't have a meal alone. Like, these people invited me to their houses, to their
churches, to their after-church dinners.
And there's one cafe in town. I knew more people in Miami, Texas, than I know in Los Angeles by the time I left there, went to their parties.
And I thought I would go down there and teach them a lot, and they would teach me something that I could probably stitch on a doily and put in my
And, instead, I really came to understand their point of view. Like, I read "Hillbilly Elegy," and I thought these would be like opioid-addicted,
toothless maw maws.
But these were -- these are people who knew more about our lives than we know about theirs. Like, they were educated, and they were smart, and they
had a real vision of America that they care deeply about.
ISAACSON: There's a guy named Bill Philpott in the book that actually surprised me.
STEIN: Yes. Yes, he had been a professor at Rice.
And I was shocked. Like, when I told him I was writing this book about the elite, he immediately just showed me his business card. And I was like,
"What do people here think of you when you tell them that you were a professor at Rice?"
And he said, "I don't tell them that."
And so I was like, "Oh, yes, because they would hate you."
He's like, "No, they would think I was bragging."
And I was like -- I thought, oh, well, that's a different perspective.
ISAACSON: And it was the first step towards humility and anti-smugness, which I think is one of your themes.
I mean, what I came out with at the end was realizing that me and my friends and so many progressives sit around thinking that, if only the
Trump voters understood what was in their best interests, if only Elizabeth Warren could explain her Medicare for all plan in a way that they
understood, then they'd be on our side.
And that's not the case. They understand what's going on completely, and it's -- people don't vote in their own interests. Political scientists
will tell you people vote altruistically. Like, there's a lot of rich people in New York and L.A. who are voting for higher taxes. That's
against their own interests as much as a soybean farmer who's voting for Trump.
These people are voting for what they want for America. And if you're a white Christian in America, you used to have more power. You're still the
most powerful group, but I think people feel acceleration more than they feel speed.
And they have noticed they have less power than they used to, and they're afraid of what that means for what America will be.
ISAACSON: And as you go through the book, you're almost giving more advice to your -- quote -- "friends amongst the elite," meaning the smug Los
Angeles dinner party types, which is, OK, here's how we have to change.
STEIN: Well, yes.
I mean, I think we're losing a war that -- I talk in the book about this guy Vilfredo Pareto, who is known the Pareto Principle. He is a turn of
the 20th century Italian economist who Mussolini loved.
And he had a theory of the circulation of the elites, which I think is pretty similar to Nietzsche's idea, that there's two groups of people who
are constantly in battle. It's very Orwell, that there's always going to be someone in charge. And they're always going to look the same, but they
have a different outlook of life.
And I'm afraid that we're going to get the authoritarian, anti-democratic, populist version, who I call the boat elite in the book, because they care
about money compared to ideas.
Like, I think the intellectual elite don't want a yacht. They want a TED Talk. And then Trump makes this crazy speech in Minneapolis last year
after railing against the elites, successfully so, for years, where he says, why are they the elites? Like, we're the elites. We have bigger
houses, and we have nicer boats.
And I realized, oh, these are boat people. And the boat people are trying to be in charge. And you see these kind of populist elites. You see them
certainly in England with Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. You see Bannon.
I think there's just a bunch of people of this populist vision of a very small, nationalist, anti-globalist world that I feel is going to drive us
backwards to the Dark Ages.
ISAACSON: Why has populism swept the world, Europe, here, Hungary, to Brexit, to...
STEIN: Poland to...
ISAACSON: Yes, to...
STEIN: Everywhere, right? We could just list countries.
ISAACSON: Yes. Yes.
STEIN: I want to ask you that, because you're smarter than me, and you know way more about the world and you have seen more of the world.
STEIN: There's been a lot of change, I think. And I'm not smart enough to know which changes we're talking about, if we're -- if we're talking about
racial diversity, if we're talking about the rise of women's power, if we're talking about globalization, or immigration, or the knowledge
economy, or people moving to cities.
But I forget how much change has happened so quickly, which is stupid, because I worked in magazines. Like...
ISAACSON: Yes, right.
STEIN: Yes. Like...
ISAACSON: We used to have paper magazines.
STEIN: Yes, exactly. Like, people talk about the coal mines. They don't about magazines enough.
But I -- the change I felt when I was in Miami, Texas, was that the world is moving so fast. And they were living in what I would call the past, in
the '80s or something. But, to them, gay marriage just happened. And it's sort of shocking.
And marijuana legalization is crazy. Like, these changes are happening. Transgender people. Like, this is a lot to wrap your head around on a
And I don't know why people are freaking out. But there's a lot of change that's been happening.
ISAACSON: I will give one answer, since you asked.
ISAACSON: Which is what -- and it's partly from your book, reading it, which is, the smugness of the elites really started angering people.
STEIN: And when do you think the smugness -- the smugness has been around almost my whole life, I feel like. But where do you feel like it got
ISAACSON: I think it got worse in the past 20 years, when the Davos-type elites believe that free trade and immigration and everything and
technology were all good for us. And it ended up being good for the financial of the elite, and not good for the most people who are left
STEIN: Certainly good for the planet. I mean, globalization...
ISAACSON: Yes, but there was a certain smugness, and that's what you write about.
STEIN: So it wasn't the globalization itself that was bad. It was people's smugness about the pain that it was causing other people.
STEIN: I completely agree.
And I'm, as you can tell from the title this book, equally guilty of that smugness.
ISAACSON: The title of the book, though, may I say, seemed somewhat ironic and humorous by the time I got to the end of the book.
You're not defending elitism by the end of the book.
STEIN: No, but the subtitle is "Why I'm Better Than You and You're Better Than Someone Who Didn't Buy This Book."
ISAACSON: Yes, that's right.
STEIN: And by the time I finished this book, I was desperate to ask my publishers to remove that and just have "In Defense of Elitism" as the
And they felt that they wanted to signal that this is a funny book, because most political books are very angry right now. And that anger, I think, is
dangerous. And so I wanted to write a funny book, and they wanted to signal that, but I didn't like the smugness of the subtitle anymore.
ISAACSON: Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, is a character in your book.
STEIN: Yes. He just texted me. He liked it. So I'm...
ISAACSON: Oh, good. OK. I was about to say he comes off pretty good. Yes.
STEIN: Great. OK.
So what were you using him as -- for?
STEIN: Well, I was just thinking about the people in Miami, Texas, who told me that it was fine that Trump had no experience in politics.
And so I thought, what if someone who was equally stupid and had no experience in politics was in charge of something? So I texted Mayor
Garcetti. And I said, can I be mayor for the day? And he said, what does that mean, which is a nice way of saying no.
And so I said, well, I would just like to trail around, make the decisions before you do, and you could tell me if I made decisions that you would
have made. And he texted me back and he said, sure, which seemed insane.
So I spent the day with him. And what I quickly realized is the mayor doesn't sit around all day saying yes or no to things, which is kind of
what I thought.
He spends his day collecting information and connecting other people who know a lot, so that they can share information and improve. Like, it's a
real connector of a job. And the amount of people he knows and the amount of knowledge he has from being president of the city council forever, and
probably from being a Rhodes Scholar, and -- you know, it's amazing to watch what he did and how much of it was not doing what I think Trump is
doing, which is just firing off letters and saying yes or no.
ISAACSON: And one of the things Garcetti does in the book, which I think becomes a theme in your book, is, he listens. That's what mayors have to
And by the end of the book, it's almost, instead of a defense of elitism, it's a defense of listening.
STEIN: I don't know how different those are.
I mean, yes, smug elites tend not to listen.
STEIN: And I wish they would go and, instead of telling people they're racist immediately, listen to what they say and -- because plenty of
elitists are racists.
Like, just saying that these are the only racists in the world is not right. And, instead, listen to what their complaints are, and try and feel
some of what Clinton said, in essence, which is like feel their pain, but really do it, I think, is important.
But I think, on the other hand, elites are listeners. I mean, I don't think populists are listeners. I mean, Trump is not listening to the State
Department. Trump is not listening to the generals. I don't -- and I talk not just about politics, but I talk about, like, people who read one WebMD
article and then argue with their doctor about why they have cancer, instead of food poisoning, which is something that happened to me.
So, in general, I think we need to all listen better and respect expertise.
ISAACSON: And one of the points about listening is that we in the country aren't listening to each other. I'm not talking about the elites and the
leaders. I'm just talking about people across party lines talking.
And by the end of the book, you're talking about that as well in sort of a humorous way too.
And I just think we have reached a really dangerous point of vitriol. And when you reach that point, you start to throw out democratic norms. And
then you get yourself into a really dangerous position, where someone could really become an authoritarian leader, which is what I'm scared about.
ISAACSON: And what caused this polarization, besides the resentment against the elites we have talked about?
STEIN: And I think there's a real difference between people who live on the coast and people who live in rural America.
And I think there's -- there's -- Steve Bannon taps into this . There's a real social disagreement about how we should live, what the hierarchy
should be, and what our true beliefs are, and the need -- we need to come to some sort of middle ground and listen to each other a little bit before
they become too different.
ISAACSON: You wrote an article saying that the Democratic nominee ought to pick a Republican as a running mate. Why is that a good idea?
STEIN: First of all, every expert I talked to from both parties told me it's a stupid idea. And I respect them. I think it's a stupid idea.
But I think the feeling behind it maybe was less stupid, which is that we need -- there's a populist party right now. And it's not really that
conservative. There's a lot of never-Trump Republicans that they're pulling their hair out at this -- ending trade and raising tariffs.
So I think we need a party that represents neoliberalism and globalization and is against the populists. And if we're going to fight them, I think we
need to grab -- make it a really, really big tent.
And I think the way to tell America that we're interested in saving our democracy, at any cost, is to -- is for the Democratic nominee to pick a
Republican vice president, like someone who doesn't believe in populism, preferably someone from a swing state like a John Kasich or a Jeb Bush.
But I think that would -- that would show a real sacrifice that Democrats were willing to make in order to save us from Trumpism and populism.
ISAACSON: But don't you think that the Democrats also have a problem, which is most average working people in this country say that the
leadership of the Democratic Party don't get up every morning and care about them?
STEIN: Yes, and I think -- I think this is probably not a time for progressive candidates.
In the whole globe I'm looking at behind me, I'm looking at every country that has a far right populist leader or strong party. Like, the world is
moving pretty far right.
I don't know that a far left person is going to succeed in that environment.
ISAACSON: And so you think, in some ways, to right the nation, we need a bit of a centrist thing, which is a moderate Democrat and a moderate
And I think you should be willing to make that sacrifice right now. Like, I really am scared of who has their finger on the button, who can shut down
trade, who can mistreat immigrants. Those things really scare me, and I'm willing to sacrifice the other things that mean a lot to me right now in
order to just save this country from those things.
ISAACSON: Do you think impeachment and this march towards impeachment is not only polarizing, but it's sort of a trap for Democrats, that it makes
them seem more elitist?
STEIN: So I wrote a piece for "The Washington Post" that I'm guessing you read that said that impeachment is really bad for elites, because it looks
It looks -- if you're not following it very closely -- look, I'm an elite. I love the idea of there being a courtroom in the Senate where the chief
justice wears his robes and presides over it. It's all like a PBS special to me.
STEIN: But I think people see it as, you know, inside Washington politics, and there are lawyers, and people are bringing up a more obscure thing, and
it's not about fixing the real problems of America.
And if you do all of that, and you don't throw the president out of office, I think you haven't really accomplished anything, except making certain
people more angry at you.
ISAACSON: And become more polarized.
STEIN: And become much more polarized.
I mean, I think this is bad for the country, especially if you instead do the best job you can in a year and vote him out through a democratic
process. I think that -- I think that will bring people much more together than this will.
ISAACSON: So how has this journey changed you? And what are you going to do?
STEIN: I am going to stop screaming at other people for being racist or stupid or voting against their own interests.
And I'm going to start to think -- just show people some respect and learn about their lives. I think that's a big part of it, more than any policy.
ISAACSON: Joel, thanks for being with us.
STEIN: Thank you again.
AMANPOUR: And all of our conversations tonight have focused, one way or another, on coming together by trying to listen more in this age of
But that's it for now. Remember, you can listen to our podcast and see us online at Amanpour.com. And you can follow me on Instagram and Twitter.
Thank you for watching, and goodbye from New York.