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Boris Johnson Tested Positive for Coronavirus; Trump Questions the Need for Ventilators; $2 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill; Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), is Interviewed About Coronavirus and Medical Supplies; Lessons From Shakespeare; Interview With Danish Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen. Aired 2 -3p ET
Aired March 27, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: We have to get back to work. Our people want to work. They want to go back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: President Trump pushes for the country to move on. But has he released enough federal help to keep Americans safe? I'll ask congresswoman
and former Pentagon official, Elissa Slotkin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICOLAI WAMMEN, DANISH FINANCE MINISTER: We decided to do something that I decided was very crucial. And that was to go big and go fast.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Denmark wasted no time going in first to protect its work its and its economy. The finance minister, Nicolai Wammen, on how his small
country can lead by example.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES SHAPIRO, AUTHOR, "SHAKESPEARE IN A DIVIDED AMERICA": I've been reading, teaching, writing about Shakespeare for 40 years, but I'm going
back to him now and realize he's been there before us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Looking to Shakespeare for guidance on the crisis we're facing now, with Columbia professor, James Shapiro.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour.
Tonight, we're broadcasting from my house here in London, as more and more people have to work from home, we do too. But we are bringing you the same
quality news, information, context and analysis.
So, let's begin with the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, and his health secretary testing positive for coronavirus. Johnson says he'll be in
charge via video conference while in self-isolation.
Meanwhile, in the United States, President Trump continues to play down the impact of the outbreak. Now, even questioning the need for thousands of
ventilators in New York and other hard-hit communities. Even as new hot spots break out in Illinois, Louisiana and Michigan.
Michigan representative, Elissa Slotkin, says it is time for the federal government to use the powers it already has to speed medical supplies to
front line workers, and she has authored a new bill to force the Trump administration to act. And Elissa Slotkin is joining me now from
Washington, where she's just joined the vote to pass the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill.
Representative slotkin, welcome to the program.
REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: So, let me first ask you, because we've said that there's a new hot spot emerging in your own state. What is the status of coronavirus
there? And we know that there are now 85,000 confirmed cases around the U.S., it has the most of any country right now.
SLOTKIN: Yes. Well, Michigan, like many states, is quickly seeing the number of cases exponentially rise. We have two of our major hospitals have
declared that they're full, they aren't able to take more patients. And we know we're at the beginning of this conversation rather than the middle or
the end. So, we're preparing. And the most clear thing that we're seeing right now is we just simply don't have enough tests or personal protective
equipment. So, that is our singular focus right now.
AMANPOUR: So, let me just start by asking you about this ventilator issue. Now, you may not need it as critically as New York says it is it does, but
the president has basically played down perhaps the need for some -- for federal aid to get to some of these states. We want to drill down with you
on that. But let me just play this sound bite from the president about how he thinks states need to be helping themselves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don't think that certain things will materialize. And, you know, a lot of equipment is being asked for that I don't think they'll need, but
I'm building. You know, we're building four hospitals, four medical centers and many other things. We've developed and sent thousands of ventilators,
and hopefully they're going to do well.
But, you know, you have to understand, this has to be managed by local government and by the governors. It can't be managed by the federal
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Representative Slotkin, he says it can't be managed by the federal government. But I thought that actually that was the point in
crises like these and in invoking, for instance, the War Production Act as the president did many days ago. What -- how do you understand the
government is meant to help?
SLOTKIN: So -- sure. In any natural disaster or emergency that we have, it's a conversation and a relationship between the states and the federal
government. One cannot deal alone on the crisis. It has to be a relationship between the two.
On something of this scale, this significant, obviously the states are not going to be able to manage it on their own and that is why the federal
government is, in theory, supposed to backstop and be able to handle crises when we need to have a common approach, you know, make sure that hot spots
in the country are getting what they need in a timely fashion.
So, you know, we can have lots of time after this crisis is over to talk about lessons learned and what should have been done in January when we saw
this coming and what the federal government could have been doing to stock up. We will have time for that. Right now, we just got to focus on moving
And there are a number of things we can do, including the president actually using his powers of the Defense Production Act to make sure that
we have the equipment we need. We just know we have these gaps, at least for the next two weeks.
AMANPOUR: So, can you just talk to us about this thing, you know, Ventec Life and the federal government and Ford Motors -- or rather General
Motors? They pulled this sort of idea that they should combine forces to actually make ventilators. Why is that? They said it might cost a billion
dollars. Is it just the cost?
SLOTKIN: So, listen, I'm from Michigan. So, we are the auto capital of the world. And we have a really rich history, especially from our big three
autos of converting. For instance, during World War II, to become the arsenal of democracy, to literally produce the tanks and equipment that we
needed to win the war and help win the war. So, we have a rich history in that.
And our auto suppliers and our manufacturers jumped in to see what they could do to retool. And the truth is, it takes a lot to retool. It's not
overnight. It's something that takes effort. The role that the federal government could be playing right now and that is in dispute right now in
all of our papers is they could be guaranteeing orders. I mean, they could say, we want this much supply and we will guarantee we need all of that
supply and we will use it. That will help companies like G.M. have the capital to invest in retooling and all the suppliers that support them.
So, there are things right now the federal government could be doing. I don't know the inside, you know, workings of the debate. We know that it is
expensive, but the demand is there and we know that if we don't need ventilators tomorrow in certain states, we're going to need them in another
couple of weeks. So, I'm hard pressed to understand why the president is shirking in these negotiations right now.
AMANPOUR: So, let me just read a bit of a letter that some national security experts and officials, about a hundred of them, have written and
signed a letter, basically to the president. The private sector lacks the ability to process incoming requests, prioritize the most urgent needs and
coordinate with other companies absent more concerted government involvement. This is precisely what the DPA, that's the Defense Production
Act, is designed to do.
So again, people who know and have been there before are saying that this is where the federal government has to actually step up and do what has to
happen during massive crises or wars and the rest of it. You are now trying to add, by trying to pass, you know, a Medical Supply Chain Act. Tell me
what you are trying to do to speed this process along, which is delivery of critical goods to the front line.
SLOTKIN: Sure. So, you know, I -- my background is at the Pentagon and the CIA. I've worked on lots of crises. I've had to organize and sometimes lead
task forces to deal with a certain issue. So, this isn't a new thing that we have to tackle crises. But the most important thing we need to do is
have a common sight picture. We need to understand where the areas of greatest need and where is the supply going to come from.
Right now, there is not one person or one entity in the government who has a perfect sight picture of all the supply and the demand. So, one of the
things that I've been calling for is we literally need an emergency medical supply czar. We need to assign someone, a serious person. My personal
thought was the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Joe Dunford, someone who knows how to handle themselves in emergencies, who has the trust of the
president, to sit on top of FEMA, the Defense Department, the FDA, and all of these folks who are desperately trying to do, I think, the right thing
but not doing it in a coordinated fashion.
And then that czar would be absolutely able to go to our big manufacturers and say, got it. I know that we need it in New York, in L.A., I knew we're
going to need it in Michigan and Louisiana. So, I'm going talk to you, G.M., and tell you exactly how big an order I need and tell you where I
need you to send it.
It's not rocket science. It is a skill. And right now, we don't have anyone performing that czar role either with our manufacturers, with FEMA looking
for supply all over the world, our states who are competing against each other. There's a whole lot of things that we could do if we all had the
same common sight picture of the problem.
AMANPOUR: I mean, really, the question is why is it not happening, especially since the president himself invoked the Defense Production Act
and he's obviously criticized your own governor. She's a Democrat, and he's criticized her for her appeals as well.
And I just want to ask you, given your military background as well, your Pentagon background. The military has a massive logistics capability and it
has been deployed in the past and there's just a huge amount of lift capability in the U.S. military. What do you think it could do right now if
it hasn't yet been deployed or requisitioned? Should it be and what could it do?
SLOTKIN: Sure. So, to be honest with you, we have -- there's a number of things that if we had a czar that they would be doing. One, obviously we've
talked about giving clear guaranteed orders to our manufacturers. Two, helping FEMA to centralize acquisition of these emergency medical supplies
from existing suppliers, whether they're in Korea or in Europe or in the United States or in China, we need someone, again, who's looking worldwide
and making those orders and making sure they go to the right places.
Then third, as you are saying, we have amazing both commercial and military lift options. We have so many empty aircraft right now. Do you know how
thrilled our airlines would be to get more orders, to go move cargo from across the world and bring it back to the United States? We could use the
military if we needed to, but we also have amazing commercial capacity at our fingertips to speed the movement once we place those orders.
And then we need to look at our regulation. I mean, the truth is the FDA should be doing a full soup to nuts look at the regulation that was put in
place, you know, before COVID-19 really is helpful at this time. So, for instance, we know that there are companies that supply our dentists and our
vets with -- our veterinarians with gloves and gowns. And maybe they're not regulated for hospital use, but maybe in this moment some gown is better
than no gown. We need someone who's guiding the FDA to look at all of the regulations and decide whether they are still appropriate given the level
of the crisis.
So, there's plenty of things we could be doing. Why the president is not doing them, he's clearly made a decision that he does not want that kind of
centralized control. And he may not want it, but the federal government is in the best position to provide it.
AMANPOUR: First and foremost, isn't the medical supply czar, isn't one of that -- isn't that part of Mike Pence, the vice president's job? Isn't he
meant to be, you know, governing this response?
SLOTKIN: Well, listen, I mean the vice president is, I hope, kind of providing sort of oversight. But I would never expect the vice president of
the United States to be emergency medical supply czar. I don't ask that of him and don't expect that of him.
What I expect of him is for him to say, we need someone to fill that role. I need a trusted right hand who people can look up to and will know that
they're getting clear, straight, serious strategic answers and bring in someone that they believe in, right? And that's to me, in my mind, someone
who's had experience dealing with a crisis. There's a lot of people to choose from. But of course, based on my background, I look towards, you
know, the uniformed military, retired.
AMANPOUR: Exactly. And based on my background, I've seen it in the field over and over and over again for decades. And particularly, you were around
in the Pentagon when the Ebola crisis hit, that was in 2014, and the Defense Logistics task force, something like 26,000-person task force was
deployed and helped a lot. So, this is absolutely possible and necessary.
SLOTKIN: Yes. And listen, I was an assistant -- acting assistant secretary of defense when Ebola broke out in West Africa. And I will be honest, there
were many people in the federal government who said, you know what, that's not our problem, the Defense Department shouldn't be brought in, that's not
our role, where's the World Health Organization, let someone else do it.
And then the head of the CDC came back and he briefed us at the Pentagon and he said, if we do nothing, we're going to have a million cases by the
end of the year and it's going to be on every continent in the world. Now, what do you do when you're faced with that kind of information? You act,
you move and you accept responsibility. So, the Defense Department stepped in. We provided logistics, we provided help for field hospitals to make
sure that the health care workers in West Africa had somewhere to go if they got sick. You accept responsibility and move into something that maybe
you didn't want as a responsibility but you now have as leaders.
AMANPOUR: Congresswoman, we know because it's been reported that a full outline of a plan to face a pandemic was produced by the National Security,
it was shelved and it provided detailed instructions on how these kinds of personal protective gear and other vitally needed things in these kinds of
emergencies was detailed how to do it and it was shelved.
But I want to ask you this. There are now, you know, 3.3 million Americans signing on for unemployment. It's the highest number ever to happen like
that. And you've just passed this $2 trillion stimulus bill, which presumably the president is going to sign pretty quickly. Is that going to
help all those people who are signing up for unemployment now who just got back onto the unemployment rolls?
SLOTKIN: Yes, absolutely. I mean, that was a major reason why we passed this large of an appropriation and this quickly. So, it was important, I
must say, that we learned the lessons here in the United States from 2008 and 2009, and the recession that we had then and the bailout that we had
then. We tried to learn the lessons to make sure that this time around people at the grassroots level, the working people, got the help first
ahead of the folks at the top of the food chain, you know, in the larger corporations.
So, what people will expect to see is, if you make under $75,000 as an individual, you will get a check of $1,200, approximately. They -- we've
extended unemployment. So, now, there's more weeks that you can apply for unemployment, and we've increased the amount of money you're going to see
in an unemployment check. We've also expanded who can get small business loans and expanded the categories of people, frankly, who qualify for
unemployment. So, those folks who work for themselves, contract workers, the gig economy, all of that was really pushed to make sure that we are
moving out money as soon as possible. And then, our system, that probably means mid to late April, people are going to start to see money in their
AMANPOUR: And finally, can I ask you about more and more sort of impetus coming from the president. He wants America to get back to work again, and
that's what he keeps saying. First, he said about Easter, now they're talking about -- well, we're not quite sure when, but he's putting a lot of
onus on the government -- on the states, rather, saying governors and, you know, elected officials need to figure out in terms of testing but also,
perhaps there's a medium, low and high risk way to differentiate between who's at risk and who's not and who can go back to work and who cannot.
Given your experience in Ebola and other previous crises, how does that sound to you? Is that possible?
SLOTKIN: Yes. I mean, I think it has to be conditions based. And this idea that somehow, we're going to try something new when we've seen other
countries struggle through this. And what we have seen over and over again is that the countries that handle this the best are the ones that accept
that in the short-term we have to do what is medically necessary to stem the flow of this disease.
We never want to get to the point where our hospitals are now progress triage medicine, right. They're deciding who gets a ventilator and who
doesn't. We don't want that. And by the way, no one feels confident if that's going on in our hospitals, if they want to go get on a plane, take a
trip, restart the economy again.
So, we need to do what's medically necessary. It needs to be conditions based when we open up our economy again. And I just can't support an idea
that's based just exclusively on the economic question and not the medical question because they are linked.
AMANPOUR: Can I just ask you one final question? We've got about a minute left. This business about President Trump being reluctant to invoke the
actual -- you know, the force of the War Production Act is saying that they don't like centralized control or, as he said, nationalized like Venezuela.
Can you just explain whether this means suddenly nationalizing the United States economy or is it just time and issue specific?
SLOTKIN: No, it's just -- I think that that is a red herring. Our companies -- I mean, G.M. is already doing this. They are moving out on
their own without the president telling them what to do. So, he's not taking over their industry. What he can do right now is use the power of
the federal government to guarantee orders, right, Large orders, big orders, so that big companies that are retooling know that they know the
exact demand signal and they have negotiated a price. That is not nationalizing anyone, that is actually giving these companies what they
need to do this right.
So, any time you hear someone talking about nationalization and Venezuela, that is not what we're talking about. What we're talking about is managing
supply for the companies that are stepping up ready to do this.
AMANPOUR: Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, thank you so much for joining us. And really, the time is now and the urgency speaks for itself. Thank you so
Now, the coronavirus pandemic is delivering the fastest, deepest, economic shock in history. As we just discussed, Congress has now spent -- or rather
sent a $2 trillion stimulus bill to President Trump's desk. And the U.K. added its fourth emergency package in a month as the number of people out
of work soar.
But Denmark was the first to act big and fast, putting its entire economy into the freezer for three months. I spoke to the Danish finance minister
about how they did it and what other countries could learn.
Minister Nicolai Wammen, welcome to the program.
NICOLAI WAMMEN, DANISH FINANCE MINISTER: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: So, Minister, right now, your lockdown is due to stay in force until April 13th, that's the day after Easter, obviously. And you've seen
how many of your European neighbors, even the United States, they have been kind of struggling with getting people to take it seriously and they have
had to come out, you know, with ever increasing mandates for people to self-isolate. How did it go in Denmark? Did -- when did you announce that
people had to be in, you know, a certain amount of isolation and certainly, social distancing, and how did they take it from the start?
WAMMEN: Well, the Danes have taken this very seriously. And I believe that people understand that this is not only affecting, of course, Denmark, this
is a global situation. And we have seen, of course, what happens in China, what happens in Italy and what we are also seeing, unfortunately, in Spain.
And that gives a very sad background, of course, also, for what is happening in Denmark.
And, therefore, we have also tried from very early on to take strong measures and have a very clear communication with the Danes saying, this is
serious, you have to act upon it. We have to send people home from their jobs to basically keep down the threat of the disease spreading more than
it has to do.
So, it is a corroborated effort between all parts of the Danish government and also, of course, the people in authorities in health but also in other
parts of the Danish society with business, with labor and with the ordinary Danes saying, this is something we have to get through together and we have
to work together if we are to be successful.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to ask you to talk about your -- you know, one of the first major countries to try to rescue and help the ordinary worker. You,
in Denmark, and you obviously as minister of finance, acted very quickly to guarantee workers' salaries up to about 90 percent of that you've done, and
it was obviously to discourage mass layoffs.
How did that come about? You saw how so many other governments just -- they were -- it took a long time. It took a long time for the Congress to
negotiate a stimulus and rescue package, quite a long time for Britain to start and then, you know, after several attempts to ramp it up. You've gone
about the furthest with 90 percent of salaries being guaranteed. Tell me how that came about.
WAMMEN: From very early, on we saw that this was going to hit not only the Danish society when it comes to health, of course, the safety of our
citizens and the work to protect the Danes from this disease is our front and center. But we also had to look at the economy and we could see that
Danish businesses, small, medium and also big businesses were hit immediately and it came without any warning, it came without any
responsibility from the companies affected.
And we decided to do something that I believe was very crucial, and that was to go big and go fast. To basically say to business and also to the
unions, we want to keep as many jobs as possible. We know, unfortunately, that we cannot save every job and we cannot save every company, but we can
make a real difference if we act immediately.
So, with the help, not only of the government but of all of parliament, all the parties in parliament supported the actions we have taken, which is
unprecedented. And also, with what we call the Danish Model, basically working with labor and also, with the employers to make a plan. We did that
in two negotiations, which both lasted less than 24 hours, to make sure that help will come fast to those who need it very much right now.
AMANPOUR: So, the Danish Model basically essentially freezes the Danish economy. Do you believe that what you did, fast and big and early, has had
an effect on people's behavior? Because then they were able to stay at home and they were able to take, at least, a little bit of comfort in the
draconian isolation measures and the ban on going to work.
WAMMEN: What we could do with this plan is to help many families have the safety of knowing that they will receive their pay. I mean, the government,
the State of Denmark, will pay a big amount of the salaries for companies who are hugely affected by the consequences of the coronavirus. The company
itself will also chip in and the workers will put in five holidays into this agreement.
So, basically, in a situation where there is so much uncertainty, where everyone is concerned for obvious reasons, we could say to many, many
people who would otherwise have lost their job and their income, we can help you so that you keep your salary. And when we get on the other side of
the coronavirus, then they are still very close to their company. They can go back to work. It will be basically plug and play.
We know, of course, that the effects of the virus will last for a long time. Also, when we look at the economy. But by doing this, we will make it
much easier for both the employers and the employees to get back to work when the chance to do so reopens.
AMANPOUR: And get the national economy back on track, because -- and correct me if I'm wrong, that you think that this is going to cost you some
13 percent of GDP over the next three months. Is that right?
WAMMEN: That's pretty much the figure. And we see this as an investment. Denmark has a very strong economy going into this crisis. We have AAA
rating. So, we also have the financial muscle to do this. However, this has never been done before in Danish history. We are in uncharted territory.
But we believe that doing this with speed and resolute is the right thing to do.
And we see now that small companies and medium-size companies and also, some of the largest companies operating in Denmark, including the airline,
SAS, Copenhagen Airport, the big clothing company best seller, are using this, what we have done here, so that they do not lay off as many employees
as they would otherwise have had to do, but they can keep them in their company with the help from the state.
AMANPOUR: So, you're describing not just an all of government approach but an all of society approach, even with workers giving back five days of
annual holiday. It's pretty extraordinary. Has this -- you say it's a first for Denmark. Has this model ever been used anywhere before?
WAMMEN: Not that I know of. I think we are pretty much the first doing this. And it can, of course, only be done if all of society works together
and there is a real commitment both from business, from the labor side and from the political parties and government.
But in this time of crisis and peril, you really see the Danes coming together, working hard to get this to function. And of course, we have no
illusions as to the enormity of the task ahead of us, but we believe that these steps are very important to make sure that when we are on the other
side, then we can get into a more normal situation much faster than what would otherwise have been the case.
AMANPOUR: And I know you're not going to point fingers or criticize other countries, but I just wonder what your reflection is, for instance, on the
U.K., which was quite slow on this, and then did a very fast ramp-up over 24 hours. The United States, which was also quite slow on this.
I mean, I remember a couple of weeks ago, Congress was giving the president $8.3 billion. Now, it's $2 trillion. And it's fairly, you know, quick, this
particular last bit of the negotiation, fairly -- you know, given the partisan nature of Congress today, you know, they did reach across the
aisle to try to get this done.
But what is your observation? And do you think, well, in your case, is all of Europe doing what it needs to do to help each other and their own
WAMMEN: Well, I believe that, of course, every country must find its own path. But if we can inspire others by what we have done in Denmark, I would
be very pleased. Europe is struggling right now. We see terrible news coming from all European countries, in particular from Spain and Italy. And
we try to help each other also in the E.U.
With concern to the U.S., I welcome the package that has been agreed on by the White House and the Senate. One must remember that this is not only
very important for the U.S., it is also with the role played by the U.S. in the global economy quite crucial that every country is doing what it can.
And I believe what we have seen with the stimulus package coming out of the United States is a very important contribution to getting the world economy
back on track when we are at that point.
AMANPOUR: So let me ask you. You keep saying, when we are at that point.
I guess you're having to model, you're having to make some kind of predictions. When do you think? Because, right now, as you also know, there
is sort of a rising babble of dissent amongst some nations, some political beliefs, that is the cure worse than the disease?
In other words, is the damage to the global economy by all these mandated isolations and don't go to work worse than the health care crisis? And you
can see that, in the United States, in Poland, in many other places, they're starting to talk about going back to work sooner, rather than
What do you think of that? And when do you see the light at the end of the tunnel for your economy and the global economy?
WAMMEN: I believe it's too soon to say, honestly.
We have seen the virus spread with such speed, with such magnitude, and with such impact that it has, quite honestly, surprised, I believe, most
people. And in Denmark, we believe we have not seen the worst yet when it comes to the disease, but we are doing everything we can to combat the
effects of it.
And we have, as you said, prolonged our initiatives until after Easter, and then we will see what will happen next. Whatever happens, at some point --
and I believe this is also a very important message, and that's why I carry it with me today -- we will see that we get the disease under control on a
global scale also, and we have to get the world economy back on track.
Whether that will be sooner or later remains to be seen, but I don't think we have seen, in Europe at least, the worst yet.
AMANPOUR: All right. Well, with that warning, let me ask you about big- picture thinking coming out of this crisis. Obviously, it's exposed so many shortcomings and so many failings in institutions and infrastructure.
The -- you, Denmark, Italy, you have really sophisticated public health care systems where people have cradle-to-grave practically free treatment.
Obviously, that is not the case in the United States. And yet, even in Italy, even in Denmark as you're saying, the health systems are on the
verge of being overwhelmed, and there aren't enough protective gear and all the critical front-line equipment that you need to face this.
What do you think, do you hope, will be, at least in health care, something different, some different way of thinking going forward once out of this
WAMMEN: I believe there will be many lessons to be learned from this crisis, both when it comes to health, when it comes to the economy, and
also how to secure that our institutions and also our health organization is the strongest possible in the time to come.
We have seen this disease spread with a terrible speed, and we have seen societies being affected in a way that is unprecedented. So, I believe it's
too early to make very big conclusions as to what we can learn from -- for the future.
But we must, out of this, be as prepared as possible when the next crisis hits. We don't know what that will be. We don't know when it will come.
But, of course, this situation, even though it's urgent that we deal with it now, would also give us a lot of food for thought for the years to come,
AMANPOUR: Minister Nicolai Wammen, thank you so much for joining us from Copenhagen.
WAMMEN: You're welcome.
AMANPOUR: And just to repeat why it is so important that they went big and first and early is because, as the president of the Minneapolis Fed told me
last week, that it took more than a decade to get all the workers who were hit during the financial crash to get back into the labor force, so it's
And by now, we should know that, even as this virus surges, the basic sanitary measures still matter, and washing hands is more critical than
The medical benefits of handwashing dates back to the mid-19th century, when a Hungarian doctor discovered that it prevents diseases from spreading
And even in modern times, iconic leaders have joined campaigns to get their people on board, like the great Nelson Mandela when he was president of
South Africa. Just look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NELSON MANDELA, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: Everybody should practice good hygiene.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, a short 2003 video was released this week by the Nelson Mandela Foundation which shows Madiba teaching a little boy how to properly
wash his hands, a powerful reminder that this basic act does slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives.
And now to the value of art and culture in good times and in bad. For centuries, during war, plague and social upheaval, people have turned to
James Shapiro is a world-renowned scholar at Columbia University. And his new book is "Shakespeare in a Divided America."
And he tells me that the Bard has lessons and hope, even, perhaps especially, now.
AMANPOUR: James Shapiro, welcome to the program.
JAMES SHAPIRO, AUTHOR, "SHAKESPEARE IN A DIVIDED AMERICA": Thanks so much. It's a pleasure being on.
AMANPOUR: It seems that Shakespeare can be invoked to memorialize or sort of contextualize just about everything.
But I am fascinated by the focus on this right now during the time we're in, particularly to start off with one of the many bits that you write.
You say: "His writing continues to function as a canary in the coal mine, alerting us to among, other things, the toxic prejudices poisoning our
Let's start there first. Tell me about that and then we will talk about coronavirus.
SHAPIRO: I wrote that specifically about the United States, although it could easily be extended to other countries.
Right now, there is a chasm between the left and the right in America, and one of the ways in my book about "Shakespeare in a Divided America" is
which I explored that was looking at Shakespeare and how he tells us where we have been and where we're going on issues of race, on issues of
immigration, and although I didn't discuss it in my book, sadly, on issues of plague.
AMANPOUR: Well, let's talk about the plague to begin with, because all those other issues are so, so vital.
But now all anybody can think of is surviving what we're going through right now. It is, again, quite common in these times to say, oh, well,
Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague. First, is that true?
SHAPIRO: Shakespeare lived through two terrible plagues in London.
The first was in 1592-'93 that wiped out tens of thousands of Londoners, perhaps a seventh of the population. And a decade later, plague returned
with a vengeance in 1603. And it recurred for the next eight years.
So there wasn't really a moment in the second half of Shakespeare's career that he wasn't working either under the threat of plague or during an
outbreak of plague. And King Lear was probably written during an interim while the theaters were open, but at the moment that Shakespeare was going
to capitalize on its great success in the spring and summer of 1606, the theaters closed.
The theaters closed any time there were more than 40 -- 30, 40 plague deaths in London. So, he had to wait, watch his theater company disband, as
is happening all over the world and obviously in the U.K. and U.S. right now.
So, he wrote that under the pressure of plague. He didn't write that play during plague time, but he wrote many others during plague time.
AMANPOUR: OK. So what plays did he write under plague -- or about plague, rather?
SHAPIRO: I think "Macbeth" was written as plague was starting to occur in the middle of 1606.
The numbers always started small, as they do now, and then they grow quite dramatically, as we're watching that curve that we talk about flattening at
"Timon of Athens" was probably written in or around plague time, "Measure for Measure" as well. It's hard to know exactly when Shakespeare wrote
which play. It's also hard to know when plague was driving him out of London to Stratford-upon-Avon, where he had a home.
Then, as now, people sought to flee the city, which had the worst outbursts of plague, and seek shelter outside of it.
So, there's not a lot that we know for sure about where he wrote what play and exactly when, but we can tell from discussions in "Timon of Athens"
where the character talks about, where does plague comes from? Is it a Miasma in the air?
Or a terrible allusion in "Macbeth" about a flower in a man's cap that he put there that morning, and the man dies before the flower dies. These are
extremely painful. Perhaps the most painful is reading King Lear attacking and insulting his elder daughter, Goneril, by calling her a plague sore,
kind of a token of this infestation.
These are terrible things. It's funny, because Shakespeare almost never writes about plague in his plays. He had a decade earlier in "Romeo and
"Juliet" where we know that the message that was supposed to be brought to Romeo couldn't get there because a friar was quarantined on his way to
deliver that message.
So, virtually the entirety of Shakespeare's career is marked by plague, including the sad truth that rival companies went under, both in the 1590s
and in the first decade of the 17th century, when they didn't have deep enough pockets to come back economically from such devastating outbreaks.
So, I guess I want to ask you, what is the effect of closing arts to people at a time when they might need it the most? And does Shakespeare talk in a
meaningful way about isolation, solitude, loneliness?
SHAPIRO: I'll take those one at a time.
The first sad truth is, this is the first moment in over 200 years in which no Shakespeare is being performed around the world. And I woke up and
brooded about that and started writing about that this morning. That has never happened in centuries.
And it's going to change when coronavirus lifts, and we return to what we will think of as normal or try to put pieces back together again. My fear
is that governments do not realize the extent to which theater is crucial to the cultural and mental health of all of us.
At least King James, whatever you might want to say about him in Shakespeare's day, gave Shakespeare's company a bailout, you might say,
money to cover them during this horrific time.
SHAPIRO: Not all theater companies got that. The best company in the land, the King's Men, Shakespeare's company, got that bailout and support,
And I'm waiting to see if Donald Trump and Boris Johnson and leaders around the world are going to recognize that we're going to need theater more than
ever. We're going to need it because it's about community, it's about global connection, it's about understanding ourselves, and, yes, to answer
the second part of your question, about isolation and loneliness.
"Timon of Athens" is a really haunting tragedy Shakespeare wrote that alludes to plague in which an individual that leaves the city and goes off
and self-isolates. And the consequences of that are quite terrible, as we're all realizing right now.
I have been reading, teaching, writing about Shakespeare for 40 years, but I'm going back to him now and realizing that he's been there before us and
that his words and his plays have a lot to teach us about navigating the crisis we're all experiencing right now.
AMANPOUR: Let's broaden it out just a little bit, because you have said in this book, "Shakespeare in a Divided America," that also many of his plays
have metaphors for so many issues that we are facing right now.
Let's say immigration, and especially in a time of crisis. Tell me about how that plays in. What play would you say is the one where you could say,
see, this is about keeping people out, et cetera?
SHAPIRO: "The Tempest," in America, was that play. A hundred years ago, America was struggling with a large influx of immigrants, white immigrants
from Eastern Europe, from Sicily, Italians and Jews, that were coming to the country.
And those who imagined that this was an Anglo-Saxon country leaped on Shakespeare as -- and weaponized him, really, as a way of keeping those
immigrants out or trying to acculturate them into an Anglo-Saxon world.
And there was an adaptation of "The Tempest" called "Caliban," "Caliban by the Yellow Sands" by a dramatist named Percy MacKaye, that was performed by
tens of thousands and even more spectators than that, first in New York and then in Boston, in 1916 that was trying to negotiate this issue, navigate
through the problem facing large-scale immigration in the United States.
I'm speaking to you at a time where borders are being closed worldwide, airports shuttered. There's no opportunity to see past this right now.
And my fear is that governments once again will take advantage of the coronavirus to raise greater barriers between peoples. And that was a
pretty good instance of the ways in which Shakespeare entered into political battles over immigration and, as I said, was weaponized really by
those who wanted to turn America back into a fantasy of a white Anglo-Saxon Nation.
AMANPOUR: Yes, you say that Shakespeare and "The Tempest" were conscripted by those opposed to the immigration of those deemed undesirable. You have
mentioned a few of them.
And, also, it was weaponized. But you also say that comedies, his comedies, almost always end with the creation of a new social order, defined by who
is included and who is kept out.
Fast-forward all these hundreds of years since. How do you think that will play out now?
SHAPIRO: We all love Shakespeare's comedies, the uplift, the marriages at the end, the new sense of community that's created.
But there's a darker side to the ending of all those plays, and that is that community is created through and by exclusion. "The Merchant of
Venice" ends with Shylock left out. "Twelfth Night" ends with Malvolio excluded. "Caliban" ends with everyone else in the play sailing back to
Italy, but Caliban left alone on the island by himself.
So, that we're out of moment in our history around the globe right now where decisions are going to be made post-coronavirus. Who is in, who is
left out, how do we define our borders? And I suspect that Shakespeare is going to be mobilized or weaponized in unpredictable ways in helping us see
But make no mistake. Community is created not by who is included, but also by who is excluded. And Shakespeare again and again with great prescience
explores that phenomenon.
AMANPOUR: Well, that obviously brings us to race. Shakespeare, race today, race, and the obvious one would be "Othello" with the black hero, the Moor.
How and who used that for racial reasons?
SHAPIRO: Othello has had a very, very troubled history in the United States.
Ira Aldridge, a great African-American actor, was able to play the role of Othello on the London stage in the 1820s, but over a century would pass
before Paul Robeson had a chance to do so, another great African-American actor, had a chance to do so on Broadway.
And I live in a country where slave holders in the South named their slaves Othello. I live in a country where the sixth president of the United
States, John Quincy Adams, though he was a great abolitionist and opponent of slavery, could nonetheless say that Desdemona, in marrying a black man
who smothers and strangles her, got what she deserved.
So, one of the things that I try to do in the book is to say that these issues that have divided us, especially in the United States, over race,
over immigration, over gender, are embedded in Shakespeare's plays, and that Americans are not really good at talking through our differences.
And we turn to Shakespeare to give voice to that which in no other ways would we be honest enough to say.
AMANPOUR: You also talk about Congressman James Henry Hammond, who invoked "Othello," ambitious, brilliant, to instill fear of a black president in
the United States. When was that?
SHAPIRO: These are all in debates leading up to the Civil War, and, again, where race was central.
And what's remarkable about that speech you quote, and it just knocked me over when I stumbled on it, is, he's imagining Barack Obama. He's imagining
the threat of a smart leader who is also a black man and the threat that that would pose to the United States.
Well, that threat led to a war, a civil war, in which slavery was eradicated, but racism was not eradicated in the United States. And what
we're experiencing right now since 2016 is an airing out, if you will, of those racial attitudes.
AMANPOUR: We have been talking about the Civil War. You talk about Abraham Lincoln being a Shakespeare devotee, his assassin as well, John Wilkes
SHAPIRO: You have a collision of two people who loved Shakespeare, who made Shakespeare at the -- put Shakespeare at the center of their lives,
one a white nationalist, John Wilkes Booth, who thought America, as he put it, was created for the white man, not the black man, and the other, the
man who essentially freed the slaves and led America through the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln had no formal education to speak of. But early on, he got hold of, through his stepmother, a book with 32 passages from Shakespeare. And he
spent the rest of his life reciting many of those passages to anyone who would listen.
And he spent his last few years in the White House going to see Shakespeare on stage, meeting with actors. He loved Shakespeare.
But his Shakespeare was a reflective, thoughtful writer, whereas John Wilkes Booth, who was one of the leading actors of his day, thought of
Shakespeare's heroes as physical, aggressive types. He didn't give much thought to the words they were saying, but couldn't wait to pick up a sword
and fight somebody to the death.
And that led to their fateful encounter at Ford's Theatre in April 1865, where Booth shot Lincoln, leaped on stage and cried out, "sic semper
tyrannis," "thus always with tyrants," trying to spin the story of his act as an American Brutus killing a tyrannical Abraham Lincoln, who was like
So this story of Julius Caesar is threaded through the darker moments in American history.
AMANPOUR: Well, James Shapiro, you set me up perfectly, then, to talk lastly about one of your more controversial productions. And that was
"Julius Caesar" for Shakespeare in The park in New York casting Trump as Caesar.
And there was a huge amount of controversy over the Trump one, because, as we know, Caesar is assassinated. Tell me about that. And it is Trump's
election that made you write this book, "Shakespeare in a Divided America."
SHAPIRO: It was quite controversial and also one of the most brilliant and landmark productions.
The director, Oskar Eustis, chose to have a Trump look-alike as Julius Caesar. And he was challenging his mostly liberal New York audiences,
50,000 of whom streamed into Central Park to see Shakespeare for free night after night. And he was challenging them to think about by what means you
can end democracy and what damage you do to democracy.
Many in the audience may have wanted Trump gone, but watch what happens when a Trump-like Caesar is assassinated and democracy is destroyed in the
very act of trying to save it. And Eustis did a brilliant thing.
He took 50 actors and hid them throughout the audience of 2,000. And night after night, when Caesar was assassinated, they would leap up and start
jeering and shouting at Brutus and the conspirators: What have you done? This is terrible.
And it was in a way of creating a sense of whiplash in the audience, making them realize, what are we really wishing for? And the problem that really
happened was, live protesters paid by right-wing activists to disrupt this theater started coming into the playhouse, rushing the stage.
There were death threats against Eustis and the actors. And I suddenly realized that conversation was over in America. The right played to win.
The left was hoping for a conversation that never occurred.
And on certain nights, I was quite scared sitting in the theater watching this unfold.
AMANPOUR: And so what hope do you have, from your own experience and from your experience of Shakespeare, for doing the opposite of a divided
America, a united America? Do you see that might happen out of this crisis or not?
SHAPIRO: I would like to be optimistic, but, as I look out my window in a New York City that's locked down, I'm not really hopeful.
I don't see leadership that will get us to a place where the arts are recognized for their extraordinary importance. And I will wait and see, but
the arts are in for a terrible time. And if that's the case, all of us are too.
AMANPOUR: I think a lot of people would agree with you.
James Shapiro, thank you so much.
SHAPIRO: It's a pleasure talking with you.
AMANPOUR: That conversation recorded earlier this week. And we will never let the conversation end.
And, finally, it is the end of another week that was dominated by just one story, the pandemic, with hundreds of thousands of coronavirus cases and a
third of the world's population under some form of lockdown.
We're racing and we're facing very difficult times, so we just want to end tonight's show with a reminder to do something you enjoy every day. Help
others, cook, pray, exercise, search out beauty.
But whatever your stress-buster might be, keep your distance, protect yourselves and protect others.
That's it for now. And you can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media.
Thanks for watching, and goodbye from London.