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How Conservative Politics Came to Dominate America; Interview With Former Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ); Interview With Ta-Nehisi Coates and Radhika Jones. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired August 28, 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)
FMR. SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ): Character matters. Decency matters. Civility never goes out of style.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Former Arizona senator, Jeff Flake, one of the first senior Republicans to turn on Trump, makes the conservative case for Joe Biden.
And "Vanity Fair" pays tribute to Breonna Taylor's beautiful life. I'm joined by editor-in-chief, Radhika Jones, and the September issue's guest
editor, esteemed author, Ta-Nehisi Coates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK PERLSTEIN, AUTHOR, "REAGANLAND: AMERICA'S RIGHT TURN, 1976-1980": Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan were very different people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Historian, Rick Perlstein, takes us to Reaganland.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
A week of politics and protest across the United States ends with a massive march on Washington, 57 years to the day after Martin Luther King's "I Have
a Dream" speech. On exactly the same hallowed spot today, they demand racial justice and reform. This comes a day after President Trump wrapped
the Republican Convention on the White House lawn not so far away. And the election campaign now heads into its final phase.
President Trump enjoys strong support from Republicans, but more and more high-level party members are coming out publicly to say they just can't
vote for him. Former Arizona senator, Jeff Flake, is a leader in the Republican anti-Trump movement. Indeed, it was four years ago when he first
came out and said that he wouldn't vote for the GOP candidate. But this year, he's going a step further. Flake says he'll vote for the Democrat,
Joe Biden, and he's calling it the only way to save conservativism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ): In deference to the truth or to the careful stewardship of the institutions of American liberty is not conservative.
Disregard to the separation of powers centerpiece of our constitutional system, is not conservative. Governing by tweet is not conservative. It's
not even governing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, that was his statement. And now, the man himself joins me from Utah.
Senator Flake, welcome to the program.
So, just let's put it right out there. You're a conservative. You have never voted for a Democrat, and yet, you've said what you've said and
you're going to do what you're going to do. What is the conservative case for Joe Biden?
FLAKE: Well, conservatives believe in preserving and conserving, you know, institutions to preserve what we know works. And the institutions of
American democracy are freedom of the press, for example, or separation of powers, independent judiciary. And the president has shown that he either
little understands or little appreciates these institutions. So, I'm not pretending that Joe Biden is as conservative as I am on fiscal issues and
whatnot, but on those important issues of American democracy, frankly, he's more conservative than the president is.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you the converse question, because, of course, I mean, left unsaid was that Joe Biden is running on a progressive platform,
as you know. I mean, you know, almost FDR-like and new deal-like. The president is doing the opposite. You've just had this week of convention.
You talked about fiscal issues. The president had cut taxes, people seem to love that. He's still regarded as solid on the economy. He's appointed
hundreds of conservative judges. What is the conservative case against President Trump?
FLAKE: The conservative case is that we're running the Republican Party into the ground. We lost the House of Representatives in the midterms. We
stand a good shot of losing the Senate this time. I think we've lost several hundred legislative seats in state capitals nationwide, and we're
headed toward a demographic cul-de-sac. We could very well, if the president is elected, lose Texas within four years if this kind of brand of
Republicanism, this Trumpism takes hold and keeps the party.
So, the case that can be made for conservativism is there is just no future for Trumpism. And so, we need a break. I would like to have a Republican in
office, obviously, Republicans are more conservative in general than Democrats on issues that I care about like fiscal issues, but there is just
no future for the party under Trumpism.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to ask you about the so-called aha moment, your eureka moment. When did you decide, I mean, beyond not voting for Trump,
that not only were you going to vote for Joe Biden but that you were going to come out publicly as you're doing right now and even gathering others
like-minded, other members of the party? What was the moment that sort of tipped you over the top?
FLAKE: Well, the moment they nominated Joe Biden. I've been asked over the past four years, could you vote for a Democrat for president? I've voted
for Democrats on other, you know, further offices but never for president. And I said -- you know, my ready answer was, if he or she were a Joe Biden
kind of Democrat, then I could. Well, the democrats nominated a Joe Biden kind of Democrat.
So, when he was nominated in, and also, I think, as we go further into this presidency, we see the dangers not just to the party and what that means in
the long-term, but to, you know, governing in general. We desperately need somebody like Joe Biden who can at least create the civic space where
Republicans and Democrats can argue about policy again. Right now, that's not really possible.
So, when they nominated Joe Biden, I knew all along I couldn't vote for Donald Trump, but I entertained thoughts, as many of my colleagues have,
of, you know, just voting for a third-party candidate or writing somebody in, but I think it's important that we not just register our disapproval of
the president but we elect somebody in his place. And somebody like Joe Biden -- and we've just come out of a primary. Let's face it, both parties
run to the left or right to where the party base is during a primary.
But one thing that impressed me is during that primary, when it would have been more popular to say otherwise, Joe Biden kept saying, I'm going to
work with Republicans. You need to work with Republicans. This is how the system works. And he has been in the Senate after so long. He knows how to
negotiate. He knows how the system works and how to get policy that actually endures. So, I think when the nomination happened, I knew that I
would not only not vote for Donald Trump but would be able to vote for the Democrat.
AMANPOUR: Well, let's just put what Donald Trump said to the convention on the last night, and this is sort of the anti-Biden case that he put. Let's
just play a little bit of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: If the left gains power, they will demolish the suburbs, confiscate your guns and appoint justices who will wipe away
your Second Amendment and other constitutional freedoms. Biden is a trojan horse for socialism. If Joe Biden doesn't have the strength to stand up to
wild-eyed Marxists like Bernie Sanders and his fellow radicals, and there are many, many, we see them all the time, it's incredible actually, then
how is he ever going to stand up for you? He's not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Senator Flake, I want you to comment on that, because he paints, obviously, a completely different portrait of Joe Biden than you
do. But also, we've seen in this week of the convention that what's been happening in Kenosha, Wisconsin has been sort of morphed into -- I mean,
for want of a better word, a campaign strategy, the fear card is being played. Just tell me -- I mean, do you agree with that and how likely is
that to work?
FLAKE: Well, in terms of, you know, his description of Joe Biden, Joe Biden defeated the other candidates, including Bernie Sanders. He won. And
so, I think that to try to paint him as a wide-eyed socialist is just a bit disingenuine.
With regard to this law and order strategy, I do think that it does rally the base and some beyond the base as well. You know, this creates real
danger for Democrats if these kind of protests and violent protests and shootings go on. But I don't think it will be enough. For one, I think
people, and I'm sure Joe Biden and the Democrats will point out, you know, this is happening on Donald Trump's watch. And four years from now, there
weren't these kinds of riots going on and whatnot. So, for Donald Trump to place the blame solely with the Democrats just won't work very well.
AMANPOUR: So, this is what Joe Biden said yesterday to Anderson Cooper at CNN about the violence and about how it's being played in the Republican
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He continues to root for violence. You know, the country will be substantially safer when he is no longer in
office. And, you know, I'm going to work the calm attentions and root out systemic racism. I'm going to lead.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: You think he's actually rooting for violence, that he wants violence because it allows him to claim a law and order
BIDEN: Sure, and because it takes everybody's eye off the ball.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Senator, what's your response to that, and particularly the question about the law and order mantel?
FLAKE: Well, I'm not going to go there whether or not the president wants violence. I don't think anybody does. But I do think to the extent the
Democratic Party and those running for office embrace this defund the police, then that is politically a gift to Republicans, because that is not
where Joe Biden is. He's made it clear that he does not embrace that part of that movement, but he will look to root out systemic racism, which I
hope he does.
So, I think that there are dangers there for Democrats depending on how it's played, but I don't see that danger as much with Joe Biden leading the
AMANPOUR: Interesting. Even Kellyanne Conway, the president's senior adviser, admitted on television yesterday that any violence, you know, in
response to the shooting of unarmed black men, you know, is likely to be in favor of President Trump.
But let me put this to you, because you just mentioned racial injustice. Obviously, this amazing march on Washington is going on, and there have
been so many people killed. This is what the great NBA coach, Doc River, said. He said it a few days ago, but I want to play it for you because it
just is like a stab to the heart.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOC RIVERS; HEAD COACH, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: All you hear Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear, we're the ones getting killed. We're
the ones getting shot. We're the ones that were denied to live in certain communities. We've been hung. We've been shot. And all you do is keep
hearing about fear. It's amazing why we keep loving this country and this country has not loved us back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So emotional, and it's taken a lot of people, you know -- got them in the solar plexus, that the country does not love us back. Just how
do you respond to that? What would you say to Doc Rivers, to Jacob Blake's family, to everybody out there who wants just basic justice?
FLAKE: They're hurt. That's what's been so wonderful to see after the George Floyd shooting, is that not just those who are effective and those
who are victims, but everyone going out and protesting peacefully and saying, this does need to change. It's gone on long enough. So, I would say
that it is heard. It's heard by many, and some will take advantage of it for political reasons, but I think it's being heard like never before. I
think many of us who have not seen the extent of it or understood the extent of it are in a better position to do so now, and that's a wonderful,
AMANPOUR: So, let me get back to the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden and your state particularly. I mean, it's a pretty reliable red
state, conservative. The party there is all out for President Trump, but we're seeing, and there's evidence according to polling, that many women,
particularly in the suburbs, are moving away. We hear a Republican strategist out there tell the newspapers, and I'm going to quote it for
you, you know, in red states like ours you've got to hold your Republicans and convince your independence. Right now, we are losing both.
Can you tell me what you make of that and how you analyze where your state is going to go?
FLAKE: I think that was an accurate statement. The difficulty in Arizona, obviously, to win a Republican Primary, you've got to be with the
president. But to win statewide in a general election, unless you show some kind of independence from the president, then you're likely not going to
prevail. And that's a difficulty. You know, Senate candidates and gubernatorial candidates and others will have that difficulty in the
And right now, you know, Mitt Romney carried Arizona I think by 11 or 12 points, Donald Trump carried Arizona by 3.5, and is in very much in danger
of losing it this time. And so, I do think that, you know, in terms of suburban women, minorities, gen-Xers, millennials, a lot of them have been,
you know, walking away from the party for a while. I think since the party has turned toward Trump, I think they're in a dead sprint away from the
party and it's going to be very difficult for Republicans to win statewide in states like Arizona, or four years from now, you know, if Texas goes
blue, how in the world does any Republican put together a coalition of states to win in the electoral college? And that's the danger of embracing
the president and his conduct and his behavior and many of his policies.
AMANPOUR: Do you -- so, 95 percent, according to the polls, of Republicans support President Trump.
AMANPOUR: You know, you're amongst many Republicans. You know, former Congress people, we've seen national security people, legal people. Many,
many Republicans groups are coming out like you against President Trump and saying that really, you know, they will vote for Joe Biden. How do you --
do you think that will sway a lot of people or do you think this 95 percent in general is going to stick, despite what we've just talked about, the
suburban women who are, as we saw at the convention, a main target of this campaign as well?
FLAKE: Yes. You know, I don't think that it will sway a lot of those who are self-identified Republicans who are with the president. But remember,
in Arizona and many states now, you almost have one-third registered Republican, one-third Democrat, one-third independent. And so, you don't
have to move, you know, many Republicans, self-identified Republicans, who are already voting for the president. Of independents who are those who are
looking for an alternative, you don't have to move many to change a state.
AMANPOUR: Just very quickly in our last few seconds, what has been the personal cost of basically going, you know, against your tribe?
FLAKE: Well, let's just say we're very tribal as a country now. It's been difficult, I have to say. When people will hear, and that's why I wanted to
give a speech and explain my reasons why, I find that when people, you know, will listen or read about it, they'll understand. But right now,
we've been conditioned to believe that, you know, your opponent is not just your opponent but your enemy. And we put that in a party context.
And so, people see this as betrayal of your party and your principles when you're simply voting for another candidate. I hope we can get back, and I
think we will, to a time when people will put country over party and support the right person regardless of the party.
AMANPOUR: Senator Jeff Flake, thank you so much for joining me.
Now, the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin seven times in the back is the latest reminder of the lethal cost of racial inequality. His father is
saying that Blake asked from his hospital bed why they shot him so many times. Here he is speaking today at that march on Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACOB BLAKE SR., JACOB BLAKE'S FATHER: There are two systems of justice in the United States. There is a white system and there's a black system. The
black system ain't doing so well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Indeed, Jacob Blake's story echoes that of Breonna Taylor's, the 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was shot eight times by police
in her own home in March. Unlike Blake, Taylor did not survive, but her name is synonymous with the Black Lives Matter protest that is gripping the
nation and the world.
A portrait of Taylor is now the over "Vanity Fair's" September issue, which is dedicated to art, activism and power in the 21st century America. Few
contemporary writers have deconstructed racial injustice like Ta-Nehisi Coates who guest edited this issue, and he is joining me now alongside
"Vanity Fair's" Radhika Jones, who's made diversity her priority as editor- in-chief.
Radhika, Ta-Nehisi Coates, thank you both very much indeed for joining me.
Radhika, let me ask you first, what made you decide that this was going to be your September issue? I mean, I don't know, could you have known that
George Floyd and Jacob Blake and -- I mean, you decided this a long time ago, right?
RADHIKA JONES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, VANITY FAIR: No, actually. In terms of the usual amount of lead time for a magazine issue, we did this pretty quickly.
What happened was we had been speaking with Ta-Nehisi about a different story. We were in dialogue together and the George Floyd murder happened,
and the protests began to spread around the nation. And our dialogue turned to the September issue and we thought, how can we capture this moment,
which is obviously radiating back into history and radiating forward to the desperate need in America for justice? How can we capture it and capture
the urgency of it? And so, we set to work in early June and produced this issue of "Vanity Fair" which we wanted to address everything that's
happening in country right now.
AMANPOUR: This is really remarkable painting cover and we're going to in a second. But let me ask you, Ta-Nehisi Coates, as guest editor, what were
you laser focused on? You know, obviously, we've said that the issue is about art, activism and 21st century America. What did you want your
message to be?
TA-NEHISI COATES, GUEST EDITOR, VANITY FAIR: I wanted to make something in partnership with Radhika, the staff at "Vanity Fair" and all the writers
and artists that we had assembled that would endure. I wanted to make something -- I mean, this may sound overly ambitious, but that 100 years
from now, when people look back at 2020, a period in which we had a plague that was killing upwards of 150,000 Americans, when we had officers of the
law who were shooting African-Americans down in their back, when they look back and try to understand what exactly happened, my hope would be -- I
think all of our hope was that, you know, this issue of "Vanity Fair" would figure fairly prominently in trying to understand.
AMANPOUR: Let's just talk's just talk about the image first because in their back, in their beds, Breonna Taylor was shot I believe in her bed,
certainly in her home. And as yet, there has been no justice and no accountability for those who did that.
So, I first want to ask you about the image. I'm calling it a painting, because it was a painting originally, and it's done by Amy Sherald whose
first commission was to paint First Lady Michelle Obama for the Smithsonian, and this is her second commission. Talk, both of you, first of
all, you, Radhika, about her story. She's very determined and specific about what she was looking for and what she wanted to convey.
JONES: You know, you're right, it is a painting that Amy made, and the reason that I thought of her for this work was -- of course, I remembered
and so admired her painting of Michelle Obama, and I also remembered the reaction to it. In particular, I remembered a photograph that went viral of
a young black girl looking at that painting and connecting so purely to the figure of Michelle Obama. And I think Amy's art has the power to create
that kind of emotional connection so that you're really seeing someone's life and their power and their purpose. And that was the spirit that we
wanted this cover to have.
So, you're right, she was very determined and specific in her desire. We spoke to her about the process of making the painting, and there is a story
in the magazine about it, and one thing she said that really resonates with me is she talks about Breonna Taylor's gaze. Her gaze is strong. She's
seeing you. She sees you look at her. And that the power of her presence and her gaze was very important to us.
AMANPOUR: And she talks also about the engagement ring which she's painted on her wedding ring finger that her boyfriend was going to give her. And of
course, the marriage she never lived to have. And, Ta-Nehisi, you talked to her mother, right? A huge long interview in the magazine is your
conversation with her mother. You called it a beautiful life. What resonated with you about the story of Breonna's life?
COATES: Well, I think, you know, unlike with Jacob Blake, unlike with George Floyd, unlike with Tamir Rice, you know, so many of these cases of
the Black Lives Matter movement has organized around had been because the videos so appalling. And there was no video of the death of Breonna Taylor,
and I was very struck when they released the police report that the police report was blank.
And to me, what it kind of amounted to, taken all together, was the fact that many times if we can't see things, we have trouble believing, you
know, that they were as, you know, horrible as, you know, people actually report them to be. That was one thing. But the second thing was also that
her life would be erased.
You know, When Tamika Palmer, Breonna's mother, when she thinks about her daughter, you know, she's very happy that, you know, she's become a symbol
for the movement. But that is her daughter. That's a life. That's -- you know, Breonna is not a slogan to her, she's an actual person. You know,
she's somebody she, you know, gave birth to, somebody who she taught how to ride a motorcycle, someone who, you know, she prepared a special, you know,
(INAUDIBLE) receipt with, someone who was -- you know, and she said the glue for the family that got everybody together.
And it's so important to remember that when these cops kill people, that they kill actual people, that they're not piling up numbers, that these are
not digits, these are actual lives, people, children who folks have put energy into, who are complete erased off of the face of the earth. And so,
what we were trying to do was -- you know, forgive the terminology here, but was to resurrect for a moment so that folks could remember that this
was a life that was taken, that it was erased off the face of the earth for nothing.
AMANPOUR: Humanizing I guess is another way to say it. What did her mother think, Ta-Nehisi, will she get justice that she believes?
COATES: I don't know. I don't know. I didn't have the courage to ask her if she believe she would get justice. I just didn't have that in me.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And Radhika, what will happen to the actual painting? What do you plan to do with it?
JONES: That's up to the artist. That's up to Amy Sherald.
AMANPOUR: Yes. As I was asking you, I thought, it's not your, it's hers. It's obviously up to her. Well, we'll ask her when we get the chance. But
listen, you have talked about creating a space for conversation and wonder because now you have -- you know, you have expanded your contributor list.
I think Ta-Nehisi is going to remain as a contributor, not just as a one- time guest editor. Tell me about space for these conversations. And we heard this week from NBA as well, they created a space for a moment while
they stopped playing for people to think about what was going on. And we understand they're going to have all their basketball arenas turned into
voting places in November. Talk to me about the space for this kind of discussion.
JONES: I think it's the most important contribution that we can make, those of us who have platforms to use, you know. To edit a magazine really
is to bring together a community of voices and artists and illustrators, photographers. Ta-Nehisi and I, you know, are so proud of all of the
contributors to the September issue, and I want that spirit of community to continue.
You know, it feels to me that the role of a magazine or publication in this moment is that we can elevate and amplify the people we think are leading
the culture forward. And that was what was behind our September project, and that continues to be an important part of my mission.
AMANPOUR: Ta-Nehisi, I want to ask you about one of the articles. It's called the great fire facing the truth and it's inspired by a poetry book
of 1990. But in it, you have this passage, whiteness thrives in darkness. It has to because to assert itself in full view is to have one's own
manners and morals degraded. And so, evil does its business in the shadows, ever fearing not the heat of the great fire but the light. To clearly see
what this country has done, what it is still doing to construct itself is too much for any human to take. Talk to me about that.
COATES: Yes, that piece is inspired by my good friend, Eve Ewing, who also contributed to the issue taken from her book of poetry, "1919." But that --
what you just read specifically is, I would argue, inspired by one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson. Who -- you know, as I write in the
piece, was never more persuasive and never more sublime. When he was articulating the burden of enslavement upon enslavements, and his whole
point was the act of enslaving is actually degradating to the enslaver, (INAUDIBLE) would echo this point years later.
But when you have to torture somebody, when you have to beat somebody, when you have to do all of the horrible things you have to do to keep somebody
them in their place, you in turn become a monster, you destroy your own humanity, and you pass on that self-dehumanization to your kids and they
practice the same thing. And so, it has effects.
And so I think it's not so different than to be a citizen in this country with a certain amount of privilege. To watch George Floyd be tortured to
death for eight minutes and say, yes, I'm OK with this, that's fine, that works for me, and I'm OK with that, and that's the price of keeping me
safe, that's an assault upon your humanity.
You have gone somewhere. You have lost something. Some part of your heart and your soul has been taken if you can watch that video, and be OK with
And so I think that's always been key to the African-American struggle. As I'm write, from the time of the slave narrative to the time of the cell
phone, from John Lewis on the bridge and why that footage had such effect, to Emmett Till and an open casket funeral, of why that had such effect,
it's very, very hard for people to witness what racism and white supremacy actually.
It's violence. It's force, and do nothing about it. Now, the flip side of it is, when people can hide it, when they can commit those acts and not
allow them to be seen, people are OK with it then.
AMANPOUR: And, I mean, you talked about the light.
And, of course, what happened to George Floyd happened in full daylight. What happened to Jacob Blake was in the daylight, and that it's
I just want to ask Radhika.
You weren't overly political when you -- we talked when you took over "Vanity Fair." We talked about your heritage. We talked about your
diversity priority, but you were hesitating about being overtly political, whether about racism or sexism or whatever it is.
Have you changed? And do you believe that your magazine should actually take a political point of view? I mean, obviously, this one has a. But do
you think that's what "Vanity Fair" is going to do more of?
JONES: I think it's hard not to be political in this day and age.
And I think about everything that's happening right now in our country. And, you know, we have come to a point where, in the middle of a pandemic,
to wear a mask is apparently a political act, to declare that black lives matter is apparently a political act.
If that's political, then yes, please, I am political. And I think it's a magazines role and even responsibility to advance arguments and ideas that
open people's minds.
AMANPOUR: Absolutely, especially for the for this time.
Ta-Nehisi, lastly to you, there's another piece in this issue where it's talking about the abolition movement. And it says, "From colonial times up
through the civil war, the largest police force in the country wasn't primarily found in the early towns or the bustling metropolises, but in the
slave societies of the South, where to be a white man was to be deputized."
That sentence is pretty profound, but I want you to reflect on it in terms of what has happened in Wisconsin, this 17-year-old white boy who's now
charged with homicide, I believe, the first-degree, intentional, for allegedly killing two people.
And videos that we haven't been able to confirm ourselves, but apparently show him and others with long guns walking past the police in Kenosha and
being greeted, having water thrown at them, these white militia vigilante groups.
Can you just talk about that, please?
COATES: That's such a great question.
Just to take it back to the quote that you mentioned, it's difficult to get one's head around how much of policing actually has its roots in
But the sentence is literally true. To live in the South during the period of enslavement meant that you lived in a time of slave patrols, where
ordinary white men who either owned slaves or did not were basically deputized to patrol the roads for runaway slaves.
But, more than that, it basically meant that the entire white population had the power of arrest, of punishment, the power of just taking control of
the body of any African-American, in fact, often very -- either free or enslaved.
That is the earliest form of police power in this country. And it stretches back to our very beginnings. And, as we argue, as the writer Josie Duffy
Rice argues in the piece, we have never quite escaped that.
And you can see the ghosts of it right in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where you have a 17-year-old white boy, who is not a part of the police force, but is
actually treated as though he were, as though he were an extension of the police force, shoots three people, walks down the street right past the
cops, keeps going.
And the cops keep going as though he did nothing, because, at least in his mind, he's one of them. And I think perhaps more important than the action
of the video, which, as you mentioned, we haven't completely verified yet, is the statements of the head of police in Kenosha the very next day, when
he speaks of the shooting in the passive voice and attempts to equate the people who were protesting and were shot with the actual shooter.
And it's the exact sort of passive voice language that you hear all the time when chiefs of police are often called to speak upon shootings that
their officers perpetrate.
And so it was almost as though that boy was an officer. And that's not a mistake. Whiteness and policing have been deeply intertwined from both at
earliest beginnings in this country. And to this very day, we're still paying the effects of it.
AMANPOUR: And, meantime, according to his father, Jacob Blake is in hospital shackled to the hospital bed.
AMANPOUR: Ta-Nehisi Coates, thank you so much.
Radhika Jones, congratulations on the September issue. Thank you for joining us.
Now, earlier, you heard former Senator Jeff Flake, a self-proclaimed Reagan conservative.
Well, historian and journalist Rick Perlstein has been called the chronicler extraordinaire of American conservatism. His new book,
"Reaganland," the latest in a series exploring how conservative politics came to dominate American politics, retraces the events that propelled
Ronald Reagan to the White House.
And he tells our Walter Isaacson how it compares to President Trump's vision.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Christiane.
And, Rick Perlstein, welcome to the show.
RICK PERLSTEIN, AUTHOR, "REAGANLAND": Thank you. Glad to be here.
ISAACSON: You have written now this fourth book on the rise of the new right in America. Tell me, how is what's happening now with Donald Trump,
how does that resemble what happened with the rise of Ronald Reagan?
PERLSTEIN: Well, I like to say history is a process that parallels.
And the process that produced Donald Trump were forged in this crucible of the movement that gave us Ronald Reagan. I was really struck looking
through my book the other day at a quote that Pat Robertson, the televangelist who eventually, of course, ran for president as a Christian
right candidate, what he said in 1978.
He said: "God wants stability. It's better to have a stable government under a crook than to promote turmoil under an honest man," right? So, in
that sense, you can clearly see that there's nothing surprising that a movement like that would be galvanized by a Donald Trump, if they believe
that they're kind of getting what they want in terms of society of hierarchy and authority and all the usual right-wing values.
But, by the same token, Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan were very different people. Of course, Ronald Reagan cherished immigration. When he gave his
speech introducing his campaign for the primary in 1979, he proposed open borders between the United States and Mexico.
But, certainly, the forces that brought him to the Republican nomination and then the presidency were full of the same sort of feral, reactionary
rage that we see as the hallmark of the Trump era.
ISAACSON: Well, let's start with those things that you have said were differences.
To me, I covered the Ronald Reagan campaign when I was a reporter. And he seemed to exude optimism, a genuine sense of sunniness.
PERLSTEIN: Right. Right.
He did. And that was absolutely crucial to his appeal. It's something he really introduced into conservative rhetoric, which sounded before Ronald
Reagan became its dominant force a lot like the kind of American carnage rhetoric we hear from Donald Trump.
And he was extremely skilled at making public presentations that created a sense of comfort and ease, but often around the same sort of policies and
the same sort of attempted outcomes as the more kind of feral and angry and rageful conservatism was calling for.
And so he was -- he was adapted by the people who, for example, were weaponizing fear and anger about gay rights, right, even though he did not
express that fear in anger in anything like the same unsavory terms.
ISAACSON: One of the things that struck me in your book, because I was there, the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi. Ronald Reagan famously gives
a speech in which he's in the environment with the Klan and racism and the murders of civil rights workers had happened, and it was supposed to be a
bit of red meat for his followers.
And yet he was oddly uncomfortable giving it. It was the worst speech he ever gave.
ISAACSON: That's sort of in your book.
His strategists knew that if he was perceived as a bigot that he wouldn't be able to win those kind of swing voters, those moderate voters. And they
made it absolutely central to his campaign for him to speak to as many African-American audiences as possible.
In fact, the campaign was not supposed to open at the Neshoba County Fair. It was supposed to open at the Urban League Convention, the African-
American civil rights organization in New York. There was a schedule snafu. The Neshoba County Fair, down the street from where three civil rights
workers were lynched in 1964, ended up being the opening of the campaign.
And the guy who picked him up at the airport was a young congressman, the chairman of his Mississippi campaign, Trent Lott. And he said, you can
really win over this audience if you mention states' rights, which, of course, was the sort of thing that racists have been using to advance the
cause of white supremacy for generations in Mississippi.
And Reagan takes his advice. But you can tell that he's uncomfortable with it, right? His most powerful psychological wellspring, really the
foundation of his self-image, was that he was not -- he was a figure of innocence. He was not an aggressive person, right?
So the way -- the best way to kind of make Ronald Reagan lose his temper to accuse him of racism. So, you can see him delivering the speech, telling
the usual jokes and stories that he tells, but he doesn't really stop telling the jokes and stories. He just keeps on going on and on.
And, finally, he makes his turn to his usual anti-government rhetoric, and he gets to this. And you can kind of feel the audience kind of draining
away. And, immediately afterwards, Jimmy Carter pounces, right? And he's accused by a group of Southern governors, Southern Democratic governors of
being a carpetbagger.
And the most fascinating document I was able to read was one in which an official of the Mississippi Democratic Party said, we had a chance for a
landslide in Mississippi. But, basically, people in Mississippi don't want to be seen as the butt of the nation's derision for their racial past, and
now it's a tossup.
There was actually a backlash against Reagan's backlash politics. That's another example in which we see that kind of difference between Ronald
Reagan and Donald Trump. Often, the policy goals are the same. But Reagan was very good at selling them with a smoothness and kind of a domesticated
And just as an example of just how skilled he was, by the November election, he manages to win the endorsement of Martin Luther King's right
hand-man, Ralph Abernathy. Martin Luther King died in his arms. And he gave a rip-roaring speech for Ronald Reagan in a black church in Detroit a
couple of weeks before the election.
ISAACSON: What's interesting to me is that Jimmy Carter was the first evangelical Christian to be elected president.
ISAACSON: Does very well with the evangelical vote. And then quickly, within four years, the evangelical vote switches sides. Why is that?
Jimmy Carter has a very old-fashioned and traditional sense of how a Southern Baptist should enter the public sphere, which was with a
reluctance to bring his religion into political discussions, right?
In fact, when he gives his famous interview in "Playboy" magazine, which is really the most deep, brilliant, thoughtful, interesting portrait of the
mind of a presidential candidate we had ever seen, that's specifically what he's trying to convince his readers.
When he wanders into this theological disposition, he says, I'm not going to be breaking down people's doors. He's not going to break down
fornicators' doors, he says, and that segues into the discussion that begins when the interviewer, Robert Scheer, asks him if he's afraid of
And he immediately takes that into a very deep place. And he says, no, me and Rosalynn are not afraid of death because we have been washed in the
blood of the lamb. We believe in the hereafter.
And that's when he starts talking about how he has lusted in his heart many times, but he knows that God has forgiven him. And the media does a
terrible job with this. They immediately turn this into a giant joke.
And that's when you begin to see the evangelicals taking a hard second look at him. This is a guy who is not reading fundamentalist theologians. He's
reading Reinhold Niebuhr. This is not a guy who's listening to Anita Bryant. He's listening to Bob Dylan.
He's speaking warmly of the Equal Rights Amendment. And the rest of the Southern evangelical movement, along with the rest of Christian
fundamentalism, is making a turn towards politics in which those divisive social issues, those issues that have to do with kind of the social mores
of the 1960s kind of entering the mainstream of American life, are becoming their political focus, this very apocalyptic fear that liberalism is taking
And they begin to associate Jimmy Carter with those fears, such that, by 1980, they're treating Jimmy Carter like he's Beelzebub.
ISAACSON: The trajectory of your four books begins with the rise of Goldwater. But Goldwater gets wiped out in a massive landslide, ceding the
ground in some ways for Ronald Reagan, who endorses him with a speech.
ISAACSON: How did that trajectory from the defeat of Goldwater so badly ended up with landslide victories for Reagan not too much later?
PERLSTEIN: Well, the process begins very soon after that, right?
So my first book, "Before the Storm," ends with all the pundits declaring the Republican Party dead and buried unless they purge conservatives,
because there's been such a mandate for liberalism. But only two years later, a lot of the people who lost office because liberals won on Lyndon
Johnson's coattails got back in office.
Ronald Reagan wins the election in 1966. And a lot of this is the racial backlash against what's happening in the streets. And a lot of this is the
backlash against kids protesting against the Vietnam War.
Pundits are always declaring conservatism a dead letter in American politics after liberals win, and it never is, right? It always kind of
comes back, like the monster in a Godzilla movie, you know?
And the process I described in all these books is the weaponization of the fear and the resentment, the anxieties about the social changes that are
happening in America that eventually become accepted parts of American life.
But when they are introduced to the scene, like, the idea that gays and lesbians should have the same rights as everyone else, they're terrifying,
right? And you can kind of use that terror to kind of frighten people into voting for candidates who come into office and do things like cut taxes for
So that's a playbook that they have run again and again and again that reaches its modern apotheosis with Ronald Reagan, and has kind of been
repeated again and again, possibly with diminishing returns in 2020.
ISAACSON: Let me push back on something you just said, which is that conservatism keeps roaring back like a monster.
Why is it a monster, in the sense it is tapping into things that people deeply feel and that liberals...
PERLSTEIN: Let me address that very important question.
If you look at Arthur Schlesinger's history of the New Deal, and you read what conservatives were saying in the middle of the 1930s, when Social
Security was first propounded, they said it's going to destroy freedom in the United States.
If you look at what Ronald Reagan said when Medicare was first propounded in 1961, and he recorded a medical -- a record album for the American
Medical Association to lobby against it, he said, if this passes, if old people get to get free health care out of Social Security, we will be
telling our children's stories about what America was like when it was free.
You heard the same thing about what happens if African-Americans are afforded full right -- full civil rights in the South in 1964, the same
thing you heard in 1977 in 1978 about whether gay Americans receive full civil rights.
It happens that the changes are frightening at first, but we eventually accept them as part of Americans' birthright as a free and equal nation.
The next time some social change is proposed by liberals, you will see the same panic, right, whether it's Arab Americans become American life, and
then there's a terror over Sharia law. But the same pattern repeats itself, but the world doesn't end.
That's the way the politics of reaction works. And we kind of divide the humanist state of people figuring out politics and built a left wing and a
right wing. And the left wing are the people who have their own flaws, but generally are more comfortable with expanding the ambit of freedom and
And the right wing are the people who kind of use the fears over those changes in order to kind of gain and control power. And I think it's
reached its apotheosis with Donald Trump.
We have seen how dangerous and how ugly that can be when it kind of reaches its kind of most pure ore.
ISAACSON: But don't you think the liberals are somewhat to blame for not understanding and not even feeling the true resentment and perhaps even
understandable resentments people feel about the way the economy and, for that matter, foreign policy has been conducted?
PERLSTEIN: Well, the Democrats, I think, certainly at their convention that we just saw have kind of shown themselves to be a pretty pluralist
You did have this priest kind of praying for the unborn in the womb, at the same time as you saw very strong pro-choice elements, whereas the
Republicans refused to have a platform. They basically just said, our platform is supporting Donald Trump, right?
So, I mean, there's nothing wrong with being a conservative, right? And there's nothing wrong with respecting the fears that people have about
I think the challenge of leadership in a diverse and pluralist society is to respect the necessity of change, but also kind of calm people's fears
about anxieties that change brings.
ISAACSON: What about the weaponization of resentment? How important is resentment in the rise of the new right?
PERLSTEIN: It's absolutely crucial. That's the theme of my book "Nixonland," in which the figure at its center, Richard Nixon, basically
forms a social club for all the nerds in his college and kind of weaponizes their resentment against the cool kids, who are in the fancy fraternity.
And that becomes his political template. The nerds in his college fraternity become the silent majority in his famous speech of 1969, right?
It's Sarah Palin talking about how all these kind of cosmopolitan intellectuals are trying to tell you that they're more moral and more smart
than you are, but, really, you're the smart one, right?
So that sort of resentment at liberal cultural elites, as opposed to the resentment that the Democrats have traditionally mobilized for the working
class, and their resentment of their bosses, who are kind of telling them what to do at the workplace, is absolutely central to conservatism becoming
a popular and not an elite movement -- movement, I should say.
ISAACSON: Reagan used to use the old John Winthrop line about a city on a hill, a shining city on a hill.
ISAACSON: And that was a sense of the belief in America.
Why has that changed in the era of Donald Trump?
PERLSTEIN: Yes, that's really a fascinating quotation, because, in the hands of Ronald Reagan, it's actually 180 degrees the opposite of John
When he said, we're going to be a shining city on the hill, he meant everyone's going to be looking at us, so we really have to hold ourselves
to a much higher standard of moral virtue. Ronald Reagan meant it as, we're already a standard of moral virtue, and anyone who disagrees is maybe not
quite American at all.
It's really central to Ronald Reagan's appeal that he absolves America of their sins, right? He says America is not racist, America is a force for
good in the world, and it's these liberals who are kind of trying to apologize for America that are the problem.
Jimmy Carter is the guy who says we need to make do with less, we have to sacrifice. Ronald Reagan is the guy who says, no, America -- the American
economy is this mighty dynamo, and the only reason it's not performing at full capacity is that these liberals, liberal regulators have their foot on
its neck, and I'm going to release that.
I'm going to give a tax cut to everybody. Right? So the idea of the city on the hill, in the hands of Ronald Reagan, is a way of telling Americans that
they don't need to kind of challenge themselves to a higher and more vigorous standard of patriotism, patriotism is all about worshipping and
celebrating this essential greatness of America that can only be befouled by foreign elements, like liberalism, like bureaucrats.
ISAACSON: Rick Perlstein, thank you so much for joining us.
PERLSTEIN: Thanks for your kind hospitality, Walter.
AMANPOUR: And an important historical reminder.
And, finally, as we have been reporting, today marks exactly 57 years since the biggest mass movement in civil rights history, the March on Washington,
and the day Martin Luther King spoke the words, "I have a dream."
Today, in an echo of the past, thousands rallied once again for justice. This time, they called it the Get Your Knee Off Our Necks March. After
months of protests and global outrage over police brutality and racial injustice, demonstrators have gathered on those same steps of the Lincoln
Memorial to demand, finally, change and equality.
And Martin Luther King's family joined them to make this impassioned plea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YOLANDA RENEE KING, GRANDDAUGHTER OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: We are going to be the generation dismantles systemic racism once and for all!
MARTIN LUTHER KING III, PRESIDENT & CEO, REALIZING THE DREAM: So, if you're looking for savior, get up and find a mirror. We must become the
heroes of the history we are making.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And in light, of course, of all those victims that have come since, it is indeed emotional to hear, almost 60 years later, the father
and the grandfather who stood in that very spot.
That's it for now. Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.