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The Power of Theater to Keep Body and Soul Together; Reimaging Our Future During Pandemic; Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director, The Young Vic, is Interviewed About Art, Racial Reckoning and Chadwick Boseman; Trump Contradicting Himself on Coronavirus in Pennsylvania Town Hall; Examining Global Systems of Government; Interview With Fmr. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired September 16, 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)
KWAME KWEI-ARMAH, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, THE YOUNG VIC: We're in the theater to be part of the zeitgeist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The first black Britain to head a major theater company. I sit down with The Young Vics, Kwame Kwei-Armah, to discuss art, racial
reckoning and Chadwick Boseman.
Then all the world is a stage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, I didn't down play it. I actually -- in many way, I up played it in terms of action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: President Reagan might have said, there you go again, as Donald Trump contradicts himself on coronavirus. I ask former Democratic senator
from Minnesota, Al Franken, about sorting political fact from fiction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN MICKLETHWAIT, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BLOOMBERG NEWS: We had a year that people began by talking about this thing, China's Chernobyl, and I think in
some extent, this ended up being, you know, Washington's Waterloo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The authors of "Wake Up Call" talk to Walter Isaacson about how Asian countries got COVID right, while the American and Britain faltered.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
All the world is a stage and rarely have Shakespeare's words rung so true. What would the bard have made of any leader appealing to voters in a
performance that raises buck passing and truth distortion to an art form? As the deadly global pandemic shows no sign yet of abating, racial
disparities are felt the world over. And the real drama is the one affecting the most vulnerable communities, often those of color.
Throughout the history of civilization, storytelling has been central to our human condition and to the community that binds us together. And so, my
first guest tonight is perfectly positioned to discuss the power of theater to keep body and soul together, to be ahead of the curve, not just
reflecting the zeitgeist but representing all stakeholders.
Kwame Kwei-Armah was the first black artistic director of a major American theater, the Baltimore Center Stage. And since 2018, he's been artistic
director of London's Young Vic Theater, now celebrating its 50th anniversary. He's been pulling in young crowds and championing black
playwrights. But with many theaters closed in the U.K., the U.S. and around the world, Kwei-Armah tells me that now, at the height of our uncertainty,
it is the right time to reimagine our future.
Kwame Kwei-Armah, welcome to the progam.
KWAME KWEI-ARMAH, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, THE YOUNG VIC: It's an absolute pleasure to be here.
AMANPOUR: So, is it though? Because here we are in The Young Vic, which is empty, obviously because we're sitting here, but because of COVID, you have
not been able to put plays on.
KWEI-ARMAH: Absolutely, absolutely.
AMANPOUR: Tell me where you are right now even in predicting when you might put theater on again?
KWEI-ARMAH: Well, you're right, actually. It's bittersweet being here. You know, normally, this stage would be filled with people and with performers
and with people creating art and debate and energy. And so, now, we have to rely on the two of us to do that.
We've been scenario planning on sand, really. You know, everyone has been hoping and guessing and asking for support and getting support, and then
not knowing when we can open. I would say that we are possibly thinking that we may get back up on stage at April of '21.
KWEI-ARMAH: That's if we're lucky and that's today. Tomorrow it may be different.
AMANPOUR: You know, some have said, and I've done a lot of reading about theater, I love theater and I love live events, and it's the lifeblood
really of any civilization.
AMANPOUR: You know, you go back obviously to the Greeks and beyond, but nonetheless, it's indispensable.
KWEI-ARMAH: Yes, it is.
AMANPOUR: And I just wonder whether you're thinking about how it might transform after this. I've heard people say, if you can't go large, like in
big theaters, then maybe you go local. Maybe theater stars go to the regions, maybe smaller groups, maybe there's more, I don't know, less
barriers to theater.
KWEI-ARMAH: Here's what I know. It will not be the same on the flip side of this portal as it was going in. We all -- not only -- we don't have to
think about our economic model, but we have to think about forms, we have to think about what people want, what people will expect. They expect of
their artists that they will find the cracks, excavate them and fill them with something different. And I think that's what's going to happen with
theater. We are going to do all of what you have just said and more. We won't even know it yet.
The day that we get a green light which says, you can come back in, we will see new forms emerging. We will hear new ways of interacting with
audiences. Audiences will demand new ways of us interacting with them, and that's just not within the context of COVID. And there also be a camera, I
think, involved in every aspect of creating theater. So, if ever we're locked down again, there is something that we have to share with our
AMANPOUR: That is vital. In fact, some of those that were done on film have been shared and it's being greatly received. Can I ask you this,
because you're suffering a double whammy, so it's not just COVID, it is also the racial reckoning? I've heard you say or I've read you say that
you're done with pussyfooting around, you're done with shadow boxing, as you've said, versus really saying what it is, when it is now. So, what is
it? What do we need to know about this moment?
KWEI-ARMAH: Yes. I mean, I describe it as kind of a triple threat of COVID, white supremacy and the insecurity of our sector financially. Waking
up every day trying to fight on three fronts is quite a thing. And I think the exhaustion that comes from that actually brings a kind of steadiness in
your soul and in your spirit. It says, what can I use my physical and spiritual mental resource for?
And some of that banned with tax has been dealing with racism and dancing around it and, you know, it's like gender. Somebody says something sexist,
you go, do I do this battle now? Do I not, do I leave it to later? But actually, where I have got to right now is a place where the diplomacy that
I might have used before, or actually giving people the benefit of the doubt, I do like giving people the benefit of the doubt, I'm going to
reduce that just a little bit more so that people get to understand that this moment of profound listening, because that's what I think black lives
matter have done this time, it's allowed our white peers to listen more profoundly. But it means we have to speak clearer, and I actually have to
speak clearer. I have to demand a new world view.
AMANPOUR: Demand a new world view. You hear people in all sorts of areas of endeavor, not just in the arts, talking about diversity. But then others
of color, black people, people of color, et cetera, saying, now, what does diversity mean? We're really talking about representation. Is that perhaps
a more accurate and less threatening, less political word to use that more likely represents what we lack, and that is a lack of representation?
KWEI-ARMAH: Yes. You know, I spent half of my life trying to negotiate around languages today. No, no, I don't mean quotas. What I mean is this.
So, no, no. I don't mean anti-black racism, I mean diversity. And I think, you know, leading on from your last question, here's what we need. We need
our cities and our countries and our nations to look like it does demographically.
In London we are over 43 percent of the population. If I walk into a theater and it does not look like London from its audience to its
administrative team, it is not doing the job, and we have to get there. In every aspect of life, we have to make sure that every citizen is able to
fulfill their potential. And it's not Victorian philanthropy to do that. It is actually in our best interest. The best ideas come from people when they
are free, when they feel they can walk into an institution and be their full self, not their part self.
I think what I am asking for, and I use the word demand sometimes, but I think what we're articulating is that we actually need to make sure that we
get representation, that we get diversity, that we get anti-racist environments and that the structure and equalities that our countries face,
that actually they are addressed with an immediacy so that we do not have to hand this down to our children.
AMANPOUR: I understand that you are going to open with a certain palette of plays, and you were going to perhaps bypass or drop for money reasons
one that was about black life, essentially, and black experience. And then you decided to reverse yourself.
KWEI-ARMAH: Yes. I think I'm a little ashamed of myself, actually, for having thought that. But in the first few weeks of COVID, when all we could
see was financial devastation, you know, my colleagues and I, and we looked at the play that we thought or perceived would be the play that would need
the most subsidy, which is different from being risky in order to succeed. And I went, do we have that subsidy to put in? Maybe, actually, we're going
to have to do something that's a big boomer and gets everybody racing in.
Then black lives matter happened. And it said to me, actually, we're in the theater to be part of the zeitgeist. And we had commissioned these three
plays a year-and-a-half before which celebrated, actually, resistance, some might call it rioting or uprising, and then the results of those uprisings
in the lives of those black individuals and society.
And so, actually, what I did was run away from myself and it was then that I decided I'm doing no more shadow boxing.
AMANPOUR: It's really fascinating. Because in fact, you were been ahead of the curve. You've been ahead of the curve most of your career. You're
certainly the first black artistic director of a major British theater. I believe when you went to the United States and you were artistic director
in Baltimore, it was a first as well.
AMANPOUR: There are only a couple of black women, in fact, who are artistic directors in Europe. I know you had a conversation with them
recently about how to go forward. You were also in the United States, slap, bang, almost at the start of black lives matter. Freddie Gray, Eric Garner.
AMANPOUR: What was it like for you being an English black man in the middle of this uprising?
KWEI-ARMAH: Well, actually, rather interestingly, in Baltimore when the Freddie Gray uprising happened, I was the only person in my institution who
had lived through uprisings before. I'm old enough to have lived through the Brexit uprisings of the early '80s and in the end of the '80s, and 2011
uprisings here, the southland riots. I've literally lived through it.
So, in a way when it happened, I was able to sit in myself and say, OK, how do we lead and how do we serve the community at this time, not how do we
shut down. And it was frightening. There is no two ways about it. But one of the beautiful things about America is personal philanthropy. And,
actually, that sense of being an artistic director is not being the director of an art house but being one of the leaders of the community, and
how do you serve that community?
And so, actually, going out at night when we were on curfew and riding around Baltimore and calling artists and saying, I just want to let you
know this is what's happening outside your house. By taking art into the streets right where the uprisings were happening and saying, we feel your
pain and we share our art with you. These were instincts that I felt were necessary. Why? Because I wasn't just the artistic director of a theater, I
was a member of a community.
AMANPOUR: And yet, you experienced racism there. You tell a tarrying story of what -- an encounter on a train.
AMANPOUR: Tell me.
KWEI-ARMAH: It was quite hard, actually. I was taking a train from New York to Baltimore and a guy sat next to me, or actually opposite of me. I
was in the catering cart (ph). And I saw him, you know, he was on his third beer, and suddenly he said to me, do you mind if I go get another beer? I
was a bit like, yes, I'm not your dad. Yes, go for it. And when he got to the bottom of that, he then said to me, you know -- out of the blue --
there are two things I dislike in this world, two things I hate in this world, black men and spiders.
And so, I said, so tell me about spiders. And he kind of diverted that because I was like, yo, I don't really need to go into a race talk right
now. And he got really relatively violent and stood up and started like literally pointing his hands at my head and I was like, dude, I think you
need to calm down. But actually, what was really interesting about that for me was when I got off at Baltimore -- this went on for about 45 minutes --
sat directly behind me was a young Muslim woman and a young white woman. And I thought to myself, had he not gone at me, he would have gone at them.
And so, as painful as it was, in a way I was pleased because I'm sure they had the tools as well, but I had the tools to deal with that kind of overt
AMANPOUR: It's really shocking. In here, even, you talk about being in the subtle (ph) riots, again those were big race riots that happened here in
South London. You were quite young, right?
KWEI-ARMAH: I was. Eleven.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And you also talk about being at school and experiencing colorism, so to speak. People telling you that you that look too dark, that
your mouth was too big, your nose wasn't narrow enough. Tell me about that. How did that affect you as a young kid?
KWEI-ARMAH: You know, I think a lot. I think we all want to be beautiful and we all deserve to be told that we are beautiful. And I was told that I
was beautiful in my house. But then I would walk into the outside world and the outside world would say that I was ugly.
And I remember really clearly one of my teachers saying, you know, you'll never be able to speak English properly because there is something about
the black mouth, that is the design of the black mouth, which means that the tongue is too heavy. And in a way, that stuff sticks in your mind, and
it can either defeat you or it can make you stronger.
I'd like to say that it made me more determined and made me stronger, but I have to say there is an emotional tax on dealing with notions of European
beauty being the only thing that is being articulated when you're growing up.
AMANPOUR: This teacher, did you ever see her or him again? Do they know that you've achieved so much in the kings and queens' English?
KWEI-ARMAH: Yes. I have, actually, I have met them again. Really interestingly, I think I met them maybe about, I don't know, 10 years after
I left school, and at the time I was doing my masters. And I said something -- you know, and the said, so, how are you doing? And I said, oh, I'm doing
well. I'm just going well and I'm just doing my masters. She said, you always had a chip on your shoulder. I was like, yo. I mean, even after all
of this time. And then I ran into her maybe a couple years ago, and she was very proud of me.
On that day, I went back to my younger self. And I said, forgive yourself for holding the pain, for holding the anger that you had for this person.
Let it go. And in a way now, I can laugh about it. For many years I could not. For many years it sat in my spirit.
AMANPOUR: Was that idea of being out of sync with the white world around you part of the reason that you changed your name? Because you were born
KWEI-ARMAH: I was, yes. Yes, it was. I remember at 16 saying to my cousin who was a Rastafarian at the time, I said -- and they all laughed at me. I
said, you know, I'm a universal alien. When I walk out on the street for my house, they say, go back to the jungle. When I go to Grenada, they say, go
home, Englishman. And when I got to Ghana they go, hey, Bob Marley. I was just like, wherever I go in the world no one knows who I am.
And then, actually, by the time I got to the end of doing my geological study I realized that actually I was tricultural. That actually that I was
Garnain, Grenadian and British. And if I wanted to be, I could be from (INAUDIBLE), St. Georgia's at London. You know, it was like that sense of
moving from being an alien to understanding my place as part of the global majority came out of reclaiming my ancestral name and doing that journey.
So yes, I would say that the England, the cold England that I grew up in, and it's gotten much warmer though a long way to go, contributed to a sense
of alienation, but I'm not comfortable having other people define me. I need to define myself.
AMANPOUR: Are you comfortable, or rather, are you satisfied with the level of discussion and discourse that's going on around these issues and around
correct racial reckoning that needs to happen? Are you satisfied with the level of discussion and the level of execution of change since, let's say,
KWEI-ARMAH: I think that it would be churlish for us not to acknowledge the profound listening that has occurred in white society around black
lives matter. And of course, there is left and right of that, but I have seen that. And now, we have to change that rhetoric to reality. And I think
by the time we get to this time next year, we'll start looking at KPIs, right? We'll look at our key performance indicators and go, oh, have we
What that means to me is right now, here, that it's less about the talk and more about the action. We've heard now, we've listened now, what can we do
to make sure that we're not having this debate in five years' time? And actually, what that means is there needs to be an accelerated and sustained
evolutionary growth in the way that we integrate black and people of color into the institutions of every country in the world.
AMANPOUR: So, accelerated goes back to that word you used, quotas, which some people don't like, but, you know, if it wasn't necessary, then it
wouldn't even be mentioned. We've seen it in gender and now we're seeing potential people that are black and people of color representation.
KWEI-ARMAH: I'd call it targets, right?
AMANPOUR: OK. Targets. So, what do you think of the American Broadway Theater Initiative? You've seen that they've made some very strict demands,
I think, you know, at least 50 percent of theaters should be renamed for black actors and black performers. I think it's something like that
percentage of performers and creative teams should be that. They've even gone so far as to say, we should cease our security interaction with the
New York Police Department.
AMANPOUR: What do you think of that, and should that happen here, naming different theaters for --
KWEI-ARMAH: Yes. You know, I am very proud of my peers in America who have said, again, that they're going to stop shadow boxing, and they're not
going to have these conversations in the corner. They're now going to have it right in the center of the town square. And so, I think, like
everything, there are negotiations to be had, but I think you set your demands right up front.
Let's get some equality in this house. Let's start having the real debates. Let's understand that much of this land belonged to the indigenous
community and let's acknowledge that on the first day of rehearsal. Let's acknowledge the role the black performers and black playwrights and admin
staff have given to American and to British theater. Let's do that. Let's start that discussion. I think demands can always feel like it's one-way
traffic, but I don't think it is. Demands are a catalyst for the debate, and I'm very proud of the debate that they have started.
AMANPOUR: I want to go back to something you said earlier about risky, financially risky, you know, the palliative of black stories you were going
to put on. I just want to ask you, if I say Chadwick Boseman --
KWEI-ARMAH: Yes. Chadwick was a beautiful spirit, and a beautiful soul. And he did with his art what we all tried to do, to incrementally bring the
world to a better place. I get emotional about Chadwick. I didn't post anything because he was a very good friend of one of my best friends in
America. So, it's even less about what he did on screen, which was magnificent, and more about the man he was to the people that knew him.
It's a great, great loss. However, I think life is not just about what you can see but what you can feel, and we will feel his art for decades and
centuries to come.
AMANPOUR: And he the Black Panther team proved that black stories put bums on seats.
KWEI-ARMAH: End of story.
AMANPOUR: End of.
KWEI-ARMAH: End of story.
AMANPOUR: Drop the mic.
KWEI-ARMAH: Let's not have that debate. It's just there.
AMANPOUR: Kwame Kwei-Armah, thank you very much.
KWEI-ARMAH: Thank you. It's a real honor.
AMANPOUR: Chadwick Boseman, of course, died last month of cancer. He was only 43 years old.
Now, President Trump was also on-stage last night in a televised town hall with undecided voters in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. He
contradicted his own self on whether he played the coronavirus up or down, and he was asked whether Make America Great Again was ever real for
African-Americans. Leaving a key Republican strategist to say that this town hall perhaps did not go well for a president fighting for re-election.
My next guest is Al Franken, the former Democratic senator from Minnesota, which is another crucial swing state, and he's joining me now.
Welcome to the program, Senator Franken.
FMR. SEN. AL FRANKEN (D-MN): Thank you, Christiane. Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to ask you, leading from my conversation with Kwame Kwei-Armah, before you were a politician, you were in the business of
theater and definitely satire. And I just want to ask you, because so many people have tried to figure out how to reckon with this this, by his own
admission, disruptive president who has been busting norms for the last nearly four years.
You know, we've seen satire throughout history, you know, deal with leaders of all stripes. Tell me about how you think, given your past work, feel
that he should be dealt with by the public.
FRANKEN: Well, satires are really, actually, quite important now, and that's what I did. I still do a little bit. After I left the Senate, I
continued to make my voice heard. I do satire every once in a while, on my podcasts, although I do a lot of mainly very, very serious stuff, which
we'll get into about the threats to truth and science.
But, no, it's very important. You know, I used to -- when I would be on David Letterman, I would clarify to him that I was a satirist and he was a
clown. And the role of satirist is very important.
AMANPOUR: Well, yes. I mean, you know, obviously, you know, George Orwell, Mark Twain, I mean, Milan Kundera, so many people, Armando Iannucci, and
before, you know, around World War II you had Charlie Chaplin who did a takedown of Hitler obviously in -- what was it called, "The Great
Dictator." In the Soviet Union there was such satire about those, you know, leaders that were passed around in underground pamphlets.
What sort of satire can you see happening right now? I guess what I'm trying to figure out is, what is an effective way to analyze, discuss
Donald Trump in this particular moment of leadership in the United States other than, you know, just going crazy, as so many people do, who oppose
him? Obviously, not his own supporters.
FRANKEN: It's a fairly dark time and it's a very serious, extremely dark time, but I try to do that in my podcasts. You know, I combine that with --
for example, I just did a podcast with Lori Garrett and Andy Slavitt. Lori is a Pulitzer prize-winning writer on pandemics, on infectious diseases and
Andy Slavitt was the head of CMS. And the focus was on the vaccine, but we went into -- it got quite disturbing because we're talking really about --
the subject we were going to talk -- are talking about today is sort of the trust -- the war against science. And Lori was basically talking about
there is no baseline to truth anymore.
And this is -- you know, as a satirist, I wrote a book called "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot: And Other Observations" and then I wrote a
book called "Lies: And Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair Balance Look to the Right." And that was about Fox, the first obviously about Rush. And at
the time people said, well, you can't call people liars. And I would say, well, except they're lying. And what's happened is, is that there is a
reason Rush Limbaugh got the congressional -- the presidential medal of freedom is because he started this. Without Rush Limbaugh, there would be
no Donald Trump.
And then you add Fox, and then with the internet you started having the bipartisan and that stuff. And now Facebook, people are getting channeled
this misinformation, and, you know, when Kellyanne Conway, the first day of the presidency, said, well, there's going to be alternative facts, she was
telling us something. You know --
AMANPOUR: You know --
FRANKEN: Go ahead, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Well, you were mentioning the science, because it's obviously very important, and we're seeing it right now. I mean, if we needed any
reminder, we've got the fires, we've got climate sciences being denied, we've got COVID, we've got medical science as being manipulated. I mean,
you know, to your point about lies and liars, et cetera, some 20,000 lies and distortions have been counted by fact checkers.
I mean, for the first time in its, I think, 75 or 175-year history, scientific America has come out and now --
FRANKEN: 175 years.
AMANPOUR: Yes. -- endorsed Joe Biden for president. It's the first time they say, the evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly
damaged the United States and its people, because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response
to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care and the researchers and public science agencies that help this
country prepare for its greatest challenges.
I guess you look at it a lot, and America is known for its brilliant science and all its innovations and technological achievements. What do you
see in, I mean, the fear, I guess, that you must have of this denial of science?
FRANKEN: Well, this is exactly what Lori Garrett and Andy Slavitt and I were talking about, which is the focus was on the vaccine and the question
was, is this president going to announce a vaccine at the end of October for election purposes, and probably chances are very good of that, and I
asked Lori, would you be poked with that vaccine, and she said no. And then we thought, if Biden wins, what's that going to look like, and it's not
going to be pretty. Because we have kind of two sets of truth here.
You know, it used to be we had evidence. We had evidence the earth is round, gravity works this way, and we got to a space program. We sent a man
to the moon. But now, this president is saying that the deep state has infiltrated the FDA. They have undermined the authority of scientists,
these career scientists who work for the CDC, NIH, HHS, FDA, and they're undermining them.
So, during COVID, we have -- he basically was telling people it will go away. He said it was a hoax after telling Woodward, this is really serious.
But -- and you wonder, OK, now, how can he be still in the race? And it's because people say, oh, scientists are lying. There is no climate change. I
remember Rush Limbaugh in, like, '93 or '94 or something said, well, sea level, if you have an ice cube in a glass of water and it melts, it stays
at the same level. Well, yeah, but an Antarctica is not an ice cube, it's a continent. Greenland is a body of land. It's called Greenland.
And this -- so there -- he's going out there and saying it's going to get cooler, meaning we're going to have winter soon, I guess. And it's also
going to get darker tonight. It's very, very frightening. So, what they concluded was if Biden wins, you know, this 40 percent of America, a lot of
whom are vaxers, anyway, won't take that.
And Andy Slavitt was saying, look, if you have a vaccine that's 100 percent effective, and only 30 percent of the people take it, then you will have 30
percent of the people inoculated. If it's 30 percent effective and 100 percent take it, you will have the same thing.
This trust is extremely important in fighting COVID, and there's no trust.
FRANKEN: It's completely thrown away by this guy.
AMANPOUR: Well, I was going to ask you in terms of -- I will ask you that in a second.
I want to play a little bit about the vaccine and about that it will go away, what Donald Trump said to George Stephanopoulos on that stage last
night. Of course, today, we're hearing from the CDC there won't be a vaccine for the people, for the wide population, at the very least, until
practically this time next year.
But this is what President Trump said on stage last night:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It would go away without the vaccine, George, but it's going to go away a lot faster with a vaccine.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: It would go away without the vaccine?
TRUMP: Sure, over a period of time. Sure, with time, it goes away.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And many deaths.
TRUMP: And you will develop -- you will develop herd -- like, a herd mentality. It's going to be -- it's going to be herd-developed, and that's
going to happen. That will all happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, I'm sure he meant herd immunity.
But I just want to know, what you think people -- you used to have constituents.
AMANPOUR: What do you think people get from this kind of conversation, when it means the difference between life and death?
FRANKEN: It's tragic. It's tragic and infuriating.
And he did mean, whether he meant it or not, herd mentality, because that's what it is. There is a herd mentality, which is, I'm going to believe what
any of this -- what this guy says and what I'm reading on Facebook from other right-wing -- people who believe right-wing stuff, what I read from
Breitbart and get on AON (sic) and FOX.
That's, unfortunately, where we are today. So, it doesn't end on November 3. Hopefully, it changes, because, if it goes the other way on November 3,
if it goes toward Trump, it's more of this by the government of the United States, which we really, really don't, obviously, need.
But this guy -- it will go away? Yes, the sun will go away in, I think it's four billion years. It will go away. It will consume all the hydrogen, and
it will burst into a -- it will become a red star and en envelop the first three planets, and, at that point, COVID, if it's still here, will go away,
because we will be enveloped by a red star.
FRANKEN: It is really sick.
AMANPOUR: Coast your mind back or your time back to when you were in the Senate, and you had colleagues there, Republicans, Democrats.
FRANKEN: Yes, I can do that.
AMANPOUR: And try to figure out -- these gentlemen and women may have known what President Trump was saying -- they knew that he thought it was
dangerous, I guess, COVID. His own people in the White House must have known what he thought about it.
He didn't just tell Bob Woodward, presumably. He may have told the public something, but, presumably, high-level officials knew, and yet didn't stand
up and say, well, let's actually do something about it.
What is -- what are your colleagues in the Senate thinking when it comes to this kind of line support?
FRANKEN: Well, when you said gentlemen and women, there are certainly men and women.
My Republican colleagues are scared. They are scared of losing a primary. They're scared of the Koch brothers. If you -- there were Republicans, John
McCain, Lindsey Graham, others, who believed in climate change, because climate -- we have science, and they told us the climate was changing.
But when Citizens United was passed and became la -- or when the Supreme Court decided Citizens United -- I'm sorry -- it's been a while -- then
that unleashed all this money. And the Koch brothers could tell any Republican senator, we're going to dump $10 million against you in a
second. And if it takes more, we will dump another $10 million.
So, you are now -- you don't believe in climate change.
I was on the Energy Committee. The Republican senators on the energy committee wouldn't acknowledge that the climate was changing.
Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, who is a chairwoman, she would every once in a while because villages in Alaska are disappearing. They have to move entire
villages that are sinking into the ocean because the permafrost is melting, everything is melting.
But this is about that 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court. That's why the Garland nomination and what Mitch McConnell did on that was so disastrous.
This has been a pretty ugly time. And my former Republican colleagues and the new Republicans that are there have been a huge part of that. It's been
a profile in cowardice.
AMANPOUR: Well, we will continue to follow this. And we will follow this as the election campaign and the election comes up.
Senator Al Franken, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
And now COVID is making us all rethink our priorities and ask hard questions about how we can build better societies.
"The Wake-Up Call" is a new book by top journalists at Bloomberg News and "The Economist." It studies different government responses to the pandemic
in order to find answers.
The winners and losers have proved surprising, with many states in Asia, including authoritarian China, faring better and saving more lives than
their wealthy Western counterparts.
Here's our Walter Isaacson speaking with John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge the lessons in good governance that we can take from these
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Christiane.
And, John and Adrian, welcome to the show.
JOHN MICKLETHWAIT, CO-AUTHOR, "THE WAKE-UP CALL: WHY THE PANDEMIC HAS EXPOSED THE WEAKNESS OF THE WEST AND HOW TO FIX IT": Thank you, Walter.
ISAACSON: So, why did China handle COVID so much better?
MICKLETHWAIT: Well, I don't think it's China. It's most of Asia.
You look at the numbers, they're pretty extreme.
America has going on for 600 deaths per million. Britain's a bit above that. You go to Asia, and you find places like Singapore, Taiwan, South
Korea all around sort of 10 or 20 deaths per million. China claims a number of 3.3 deaths per million. They're probably fibbing about that, but you can
imagine that they're -- they have got it wrong by a factor of 10, that, in fact, they're hiding 90 percent of the deaths.
That would still mean that they have only got 30, which make them 20 times better at protecting their people than America. And I think it's a mixture.
I think, to begin with, China certainly looks faulty when COVID first appeared. But, after that, it began to work out quite quickly how to get
testing equipment, how to do lockdowns.
And you compare it with the chaos in America, I think we had a year that people began by talking about this being China's Chernobyl, and I think, at
some extent, it's ended up being Washington's Waterloo.
It's one of those things where people will look back at this year, and they will ask themselves the question, did the West react to this sense that
Asia actually did these things incredibly well? Is it something that really goes back over 40, 50 years of Asia gradually getting better, led by China,
and whether that really is going to change?
And is America particularly going to do something about this?
ISAACSON: Adrian, is there something about the Asian mentality, the Asian way of doing things, the Asian governance system that's inherently better
at something like this?
ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE, CO-AUTHOR, "THE WAKE-UP CALL: WHY THE PANDEMIC HAS EXPOSED THE WEAKNESS OF THE WEST AND HOW TO FIX IT": I would say no to the
question of mentality.
I think, if you look at the mentality of the Chinese rulers, that's a sort of rather dictatorial mentality. If you look at the mentality of people in
South Korea, that's a much more liberal, anarchic mentality.
So, I don't think there's any common sort of Confucian outlook there.
I do think there is a question of governance or government. And that is because, today, if you go back to 1500, China was ahead of the rest of the
world in terms of the quality of its government. It has the biggest city in the world. It has the best civil service in the world, the biggest, largest
civil service, selecting people from all over the country.
And the West, at the same time, is really a backwater. And what happens over the next few hundred years is, the West gets better at government. It
keeps innovating and inventing, so invent the nation state, the liberal state, the welfare state.
And all that time, China atrophies. Its government remains fixed in time. And what's happened in the last few years is, that process has begun to
reverse. The West has sat on its laurels. Its atrophied.
And the East, starting with Singapore, spreading to China, has really taken government seriously. It's got better and better and better with
So, what we see with the coronavirus pandemic is really a test that's measuring something that's happened over many, many decades.
ISAACSON: Adrian, do you think that systems based on individual liberty, the way Locke and Mill and Hobbes helped create a contract there, are
really good at innovation, but not very good at organizing themselves for grand purposes?
WOOLDRIDGE: Well, we have had one test, which is how you respond to COVID.
And it does seem that centrally directed countries have done quite well at that. Certainly, China has done quite well at that. We have another test,
which is how good you are at producing vaccines. And it may be the case that the West actually demonstrates its virtues and does produce the best
vaccine, the earliest vaccine, and we solve this appalling problem of the pandemic.
But what we're trying to argue in this book is that you need a bit of both. You need to have liberty, you need to have a society based on
entrepreneurialism and innovation, but you mustn't forget about the collective problem of government. How do you govern society?
And if you're too much reliant just on entrepreneurship and just on innovation, if you regard government as irrelevant, you are missing a very,
very important truth.
And I think the Anglo-Saxon countries, in particular, the United States and Britain, that have been really keen on entrepreneurship, really keen on
business, have got a bit of a wakeup call. They have realized -- they should be realizing they need to put a little bit more emphasis on
government, on the collective, on how to make society cohere together.
ISAACSON: John, in reading your book, the Singapore model stands out. How have they gotten a balance more right than other places?
MICKLETHWAIT: I think what's interesting about Singapore is that it answers two different bits.
It answers firstly that idea that you want to have more government. There is no Republican in Congress who comes remotely close to advocating a
government as small as Singapore or -- they all talk about it, but they do absolutely nothing. They finance tax breaks for the rich and all those sort
Singapore doesn't have those. It just tries to keep the state as small as possible. And there's a second lesson for the Republicans, I think,
particularly. If you just blather on about wanting a small government, or the small as government as possible, you end up with Congo.
The point about Singapore is that it takes its public sector and it pays it well. So, if you're a civil servant at the top of Singapore, you get paid a
million-dollar salary. The right wing in Congress would never dream of doing that. And they're wrong, because the other part of the Singaporean
model is, you get rid of bad teachers.
You get rid of bad performers. You try and bring clever people in. Yes, there is a little bit of authoritarianism with this, but you look around
the rest of Asia, I think it's hard to make that call. If you look at South Korea, a country, Seoul is a place where I think there's been -- I think 30
people have died at COVID.
Go to London, 6,000 people have died. Go to New York, 20,000 people have died. Seoul is big, indeed, bigger than London or New York. It has an
amazing kind of nightclubs. It's the center of K-pop. It won the Oscar last year.
You cannot sort of stereotype it as just being a question of sort of Asian that's (AUDIO GAP) happened. These are big, bustling cities. And most of
the things they did -- and Singapore shows this -- most of this had nothing really to do with issues of liberalism or whatever. It's just simply making
If you're going to make education good, you do it the same way as you make business good. You bring in good people, you get rid of bad people, you
promote people who do well. And it's not actually that much more complicated.
ISAACSON: One of the themes in this book is that government had gotten too big, gotten too flabby.
But do you think, or do you fear, or do you hope that, in the wake of COVID, we're going to end up with more government, rather than less?
WOOLDRIDGE: I would say it's very important it shouldn't just be more government.
I mean, a lot of people on the left have seized on this idea that we just obviously need to expand government. Government has to take a bigger role
in steering the economy. Government has to step into people's lives to regulate them more.
What we argue in this book is that, in some cases, we need more government. In some cases, we actually need less government. The government is doing
all sorts of unnecessary things, like creating mortgage tax relief for people who are already fairly well off or intervening in the economy in
fairly targeted ways to support lobbyists and lobbying groups.
What we actually need is smarter government, government that is really thinking in the long term, government that is willing to invest in long-
term growth, government that looks after education, after innovation, rather than being very biased towards the elderly, which I think the
American -- the American government is.
One of the many thinkers that we try and talk about in this book is actually Plato. And Plato says two things, really, that we were very struck
by. One is that government really matters. He likens it to his ship, and says, the quality of the captain of the ship is very important. If you
don't have a good captain, you hit the rocks or go in the wrong direction.
And, secondly, that you need a sort of a leadership class, a guardian class, people who are committed to government, people who committed to
thinking in the long term, want to make sure that the stage isn't captured by special interests, that the stage isn't too short-term.
A very good example on this, I think, would be climate change, that you need people willing to think about what's happening in 100 years' time,
rather than just responding to this or that headline or this or that lobby.
ISAACSON: Do you think, John, that there's an inherent flaw in the 400- or 500-year-old notion of basing things around individual liberties and
markets, and that that's a system that has to be revised for the 21st century?
MICKLETHWAIT: No, I think -- I don't think that.
I think that the system of basing things around individual liberty is still crucial. And, overall, there's no doubt in our mind that the democracies
are stronger. This particular -- and the reason why COVID matters is because China, as we've said, did better generally, despite its very shabby
beginnings, than America.
But you mustn't draw a kind of false positive from that that means autocracies are better than democracies. There are a lot of democracies
that did well. In fact, most of the countries of Asia that we celebrate, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, are democracies
And, by contrast, most autocracies -- I don't think anyone is rushing to go and live in Russia, which has done very badly, Iran, which has done
possibly worse, or North Korea, which I think claims it's had no COVID at all, that doesn't want it.
And I think there's a danger. One of the dangers now is, the West has done so badly, that a lot of people looking around, especially other countries
are going to look and say, do you want the American model, where so many people die, or is there something about autocracy?
And that is, I think, a dangerous path to get out. We need to sort of educate people that democracies can work.
WOOLDRIDGE: I would add a word to the word liberty, and that is the word accountability.
I think there are certain occasions during a COVID crisis, a pandemic, when we do have to surrender liberty. You know, we surrendered our liberty to
move around. We had a lockdown. We surrendered our liberty in the sense that we are watched much more by the government.
We have now introduced in this country a rule of six, where you can only have six people gathering and meeting together at one -- at any one time.
And I think most reasonable people would agree that we sometimes do have to surrender our liberty in order to preserve life.
But the important thing is that you should have accountability, that this should be -- the government should be watched over by a parliament, and
that parliament should be able to call the government to account, force it to stop intervening with people's lives if it's gone too far.
ISAACSON: What other remedies do you all suggest in the book?
MICKLETHWAIT: What we actually do is, we retract into history and we drag the two people from the 19th century who were best at reforming government
in our book.
One is Abraham Lincoln. There other is William Gladstone, who was four times British prime minister, great sort of champion of what was then known
And they both believed in roughly the same things. They wanted to empower, help the poor. They had very little truck with rich interests. And they
wanted to keep government as small as possible. Both Lincoln and Gladstone hated the idea of taxation. They wanted to keep it as small as possible.
So, we look at -- we look across -- we look at America and imagine what a fictitious President Bill Lincoln, as we call him, would so, and, in some
cases, yes, we think America does need more government. We think it's a disgrace that the country as big and as powerful America does not have a
universal health care system.
We look around America -- look around the world and say, look, you can cherry-pick from Germany, from Canada, from Singapore. All these places
manage to look after people better. We look at education and look at the things that other people are doing well. We do, yes -- we say that it would
be essential or a good idea would be to try and reunite the elites with the public sector, introduce some kind of non-military national service to
bring countries together.
But, above all, I think a lot of it is about ripping out these exemptions. There is $1.6 trillion worth of exemptions in the U.S. tax code. You have -
- we a system where nine out of 10 people require accountants to fill this out.
If especially the right, the Republicans, were brave, they would get rid of all that, reduce the rates, have a much simpler government. People cannot
understand government. And the only people who really gain are special interests. And if you look at the American tax code, it is riddled with
things that should be hidden from voters as a whole.
And I think, if you were a Gladstone, or a Lincoln, or, in our case, President Bill Lincoln, you would begin by dismantling those and spending
that money on the poor.
And, again, there is another inequality in America to do with the fact that most of the money -- and you saw this with the health service with COVID --
most of the money goes to the old, rather than necessary to the poor. It is surely wrong that Warren Buffett and Bruce Springsteen should get Social
Security. There is no reason for it.
And the same would apply to Mick Jagger in the U.K., if anyone queries that. It is simply the wrong thing. This was set up to provide security for
the poor. It's not meant to be something that goes to the rich.
ISAACSON: One of the great tectonic shifts in the past 20, 30 years has been the rise of populism and the revolt against elites, which is coming
back to haunt us in the days of COVID, where people are distrustful of any scientific or government elites.
But you write in your book that one of the reasons for this populist role was the flabbiness of government, that it didn't work, that it got red
tape, it got bureaucracy.
But isn't there another major reason, which you both and myself are probably implicated in, which is what I will call the Davos, "Economist"
magazine syndrome, which is that free trade is just great, and that free movement of people is just great, and that it'll help benefit the
And that turned out to be wrong for most of the people in the West.
MICKLETHWAIT: Yes, you are right.
I think we all should face up to that. There was an element whereby -- we're all guilty of this -- we went and trumpeted the advantages of free
markets. We pointed out that they were altogether opening the world, was making the world a richer place, which was true. It was also bringing an
enormous number of people out of poverty.
There's no doubt that if you were, say, in the poorer white middle classes in America, you didn't gain a great deal of it. And I think, when you look
at the Trump, you look at Brexit, you see a group of people who are angry and cross out a message. And no doubt we would come back and argue it
wasn't as well -- it wasn't as well-enforced as it would.
There's nothing terribly liberal about having $1.6 trillion worth of tax exemptions. And there was a lot of incredibly bogus favoritism within it.
But, yes, you're right. I think people -- that was another reason why people got cross with internationalists.
I would still say, actually, the bigger problem was just simply the fact that we neglected the public sector. I think there was more -- it was more
the fact that we all took the attitude that the private sector was the answer to everything.
But, on the other side, the public sector has been getting worse and worse and worse. It's the public sector which tends to look after the people
who've been left behind. And it's been very bad at doing it.
ISAACSON: Adrian, how will COVID change the world?
WOOLDRIDGE: I very much hope that COVID will be the wakeup call that we think that we argue for in this book, that people will look at COVID and
see that it has revealed that Western government is really much less good than we thought it was, and that governments in the East, particularly
China, is much better than we thought it was.
And that's -- there is a short-term panic about COVID, but that we will get beyond that short-term panic and start asking some really, really big
questions. And we really, really passionately believe that one of the things that it means is that government matters, and that we haven't been
doing anywhere near as well on that front as we should have been.
MICKLETHWAIT: I have one.
If you -- we look back through history, plagues and pestilences have had an amazing effect on these big empires. You can look at things like Athens,
what happened there in the plague, which eventually led partly towards its defeat by Sparta. Rome, when it was descending, had several times plague
intervened. Spanish Flu 100 years ago in some ways spurned people to do better things.
So, it's not so much the reverse you suffer when you have the kind of COVID problem. It's what you, as a power, you, as a society, do about it, whether
you react to it, which is the important thing.
ISAACSON: Adrian, John, thank you all so much for being with us. Appreciate it.
WOOLDRIDGE: Walter, thank you.
AMANPOUR: And, finally: Government does matter. So, is COVID making some governments more compassionate?
Germany is taking in over 1,500 migrants living in overcrowded refugee camps on the Greek islands. The decision came after a devastating fire
destroyed Moria refugee center on the island of Lesbos last week, leaving nearly 13,000 people homeless.
Ten European countries, including Germany, had already agreed to take in 400 miners impacted by the blaze, but thousands of migrants is still
sleeping rough. And the German government says it'll work towards a -- quote -- "far-reaching European solution" with member states to
redistribute more people.
Now, the issue of immigration has divided European nations since the 2015 refugee crisis. Germany stepped up back then as well, taking in nearly a
But that's it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media.
Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.