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Day Two of Confirmation Hearings for Amy Coney Barrett; Personal Faith Not to Interfere with Court Rules Says Judge Barrett; Interview With Jessica Anderson, Executive, Heritage Action for America; Drugs Derived from Stem Cells; Interview With Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor, Slate; Interview With Former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey; Interview With Author Dave Eggers. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired October 13, 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)
JUDGE AMY CONEY BARRETT, U.S. SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Judges can't wake up one day and say, I have an agenda, I like guns, I hate guns, I like
abortion, I hate abortion, and walk in like a royal queen and impose, you know, their will on the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: What impact will Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, have on health care, civil rights and abortion rights? I ask pro-life activists
who support her nomination, and I ask a legal expert, Dahlia Lithwick, about originalism, textualism and what all this means for democracy itself.
Then, novelist, Dave Eggers, on how they think his Trumpian satire has held up since it was first published a year ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NATASHA TRETHEWEY, AUTHOR, "MEMORIAL DRIVE: A DAUGHTER'S MEMOIR: She wasn't going to let him batter my soul in the same way that he was
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Domestic abuse rises to shocking level under the cover of COVID. Our Michel Martin speaks to Pulitzer prize-winning author, Natasha
Trethewey, about her new memoir "Memorial Drive."
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
It is day two of confirmation hearings in the United States for Amy Coney Barrett. She's president Trump's third Supreme Court appointment, and the
stake could not be higher with health care amid this pandemic top of mind on both sides of the Atlantic.
In yet another case of politics versus science, here in Britain a bombshell revelation that the government of Boris Johnson rejected advice from its
own scientific advisers in September to implement a short lockdown as cases dangerously rose, and they continue to rise across the United States as
senators question Judge Barrett's interpretation of the law amid concerns about her faith and previously stated opinions.
Familiar battle lines are drawn between Republicans and Democrats, from the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare to abortion and civil rights. Judge
Barrett claims personal faith should not interfere with court rulings. But what do pro-life activists make of her nomination? My first guest tonight
is one of them. Jessica Anderson is executive director of Heritage Action for America, lobbying for conservative policies on Capitol Hill, and she's
joining us now from Washington.
Jessica Anderson, welcome to the program.
So, you've been watching clearly very closely the Senate questioning of Judge Barrett. What exactly, if you can sum it up, is your case for her to
be the next Supreme Court justice?
JESSICA ANDERSON, EXECUTIVE, HERITAGE ACTION FOR AMERICA: Thank you for having me. Judge Barrett is an exceptional judge. She has incredible
jurisprudence, an originalist perspective in all of her legal writings, and we're excited to see her move through the Senate Judiciary process this
week and ultimately to the Senate floor. We think she's a great nominee. She's a great legal scholar, and she will bring a certain sense of decorum
to the Supreme Court in filling that ninth seat, hopefully sooner rather than later.
AMANPOUR: You've seen some really interesting presentations from various senators. Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democratic senator from Rhode Island,
just a few minutes ago, brought up some pretty interesting evidence, reports and things that he had taken down from the Republican platform,
including this from one of the other pro-life groups in Washington which is the Susan B. Anthony Foundation. Let's just play what he's raised in the
Senate and then we'll talk to you about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): The Susan B. Anthony Foundation is running advertisements right now saying that you are set, you are set to give our
pro-life country the court that it deserves. There is the ad with the voiceover. She said --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Jessica Anderson, clearly that's what your group wants as well. Give me an idea. Do you expect that to be one of her signature, you
know, achievements on the court?
ANDERSON: Well, I think there is something to clear up here. Of course, I have a personal opinion on Roe v. Wade as does Judge Barrett. She has
acknowledged as such, but I really do think it's a bit unfair to stake out the potential position of a judge before a case is in front of them. So,
some of the Democrat comments today and yesterday around how she may or may not rule on the ACA or Obamacare or Roe v. Wade or Heller and the gun
cases, they all really are premature.
And just like previous judicial nominations that have come before the committee and full Senate, we don't yet know how they will rule if a case
in fact gets in front of them at the Supreme Court. So, my organization, we view the role of the judiciary differently. We view it as a way to protect
the constitution, to protect the rule of law. I think many Democrats view it as a super legislator in some places where they can enact policies that
they may or may not be able to push through Congress or the White House at another given time.
AMANPOUR: I agree with you. We don't yet know how a Supreme Court justice would cast an important vote. However, when you say it's premature to
judge, let me just read you this, you must know this, obviously, that she signed her name, Judge Barrett, to a newspaper ad in 2006, you know, that's
a long time ago, that denounced, the "barbaric legacy" of Roe v. Wade and called for it to be overturned. She was a member of Faculty for Fife at --
as a law professor at Notre Dame University where she got her law degree.
And today, under question from Senator Dianne Feinstein of California she also asked particularly about the Affordable Care Act and about Roe v.
Wade. Here's the exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Do you agree with Justice Scalia's view that Roe was wrongly decided?
JUDGE AMY CONEY BARRETT, U.S. SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: If I express a view on a precedent one way or another, whether I love it or hate it, it signals
to litigants that I might tilt one way or another in a pending case.
FEINSTEIN: Let me try again. Do you agree with Justice Scalia's view that Roe was wrongly decided?
BARRETT: Senator, I completely understand why you are asking the question, but, again, I can't pre-commit or say, yes, I'm going in with some agenda
because I'm not. I don't have any agenda. I have no agenda to try to overrule Casey. I have an agenda to stick to the rule of law and decide
cases as they come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, she referred to Casey, just for our viewers, it's a 1992 ruling that upheld Roe v. Wade and reaffirmed it. I mean, that's a non-
answer answer. Again, what -- you know, your groups have spent a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of money and a lot of strategic planning for
decades to try to overturn Roe v. Wade. Are you really saying now that that's actually not your agenda? What is your agenda then on Roe v. Wade?
ANDERSON: Well, we've spent a lot of time and money and effort to have an originalist put on the bench. I mean, that really becomes the heart of this
issue, whether or not she is an originalist and whether or not we can count on her to do that.
I will just say her comments today, I think that was a good clip to play but also her remarks yesterday which is that she is articulating there is a
difference between her personal view on a subject, which is why she signed that letter that has been referenced and then how she might rule as a
judge. A number of senators went through every single policy position that, you know, is under the sun right now to ask, can you separate your personal
opinion from a potential Supreme Court case in front of you? And I think her words and her commitment to the American people that she would do so is
important and it's one that we should take her word for and use this process through the judiciary to finetune that and to better understand her
juris prudence as opposed to any personal policy positions.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that might, in fact, end up happening, but you know better than I do that the 2016, which is the 2020 GOP platform and what
we've heard from President Trump himself and many of his supporters and those of you in the antiabortion movement, pro-life movement, have said
that that's what you want to see, an overturning of Roe v. Wade, the gay marriage act and also parts of Obamacare.
So, let me just put it to you again. As you know, some 6 in 10 American people say the Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade, but the numbers
that are truly fascinating to me are the numbers in the latest "Washington Post" poll which suggest that even amongst the evangelicals there is a
majority that agree. Listen to this, white evangelical protestants overall, not just those who lean Republicans are split with 44 percent saying Roe
should be overturned and 41 percent saying it should be upheld. So, that's very close. A 60 percent majority of Catholics and 62 percent of white
Catholics say Roe should be upheld. Who are you doing this for then? What is the Democratic imperative of this kind of agenda if it's not for the
I'm not sure where you and your groups are headed in the American people are clear about wanting, by a majority, Roe v. Wade to be upheld. And we've
seen what they want about Obamacare and we've seen the Supreme Court rulings on that so far.
ANDERSON: Well, look, I'm personally pro-life, the organization that I work for, Heritage Action, we advocate pro-life positions here in
Washington, but when it comes to judges and the judicial process, we are very clear, we want to see an originalist the bench and we want to see that
filled with this ninth seat.
So, to me, any time you rely the judiciary to advance a policy position, that's out of stuff with not only what the American people want is, you've
just described, but also our American founding. And so, we have no desire to see the judiciary turned into a super legislator. I think Congress has
their hands full enacting policies.
Obviously, the Trump administration has done a lot on the pro-life cause including defunding much of planned parenthood and providing the protect
life rule. I mean, this is the type of work that we can get excited about because it puts arguments around the abortion fight and not life fight back
into the hands of legislatures and out of the courts. So, we actually fall specifically in supporting an originalist, not really as why I'm excited
about Judge Barrett moving through the process this week.
AMANPOUR: I wonder whether you are convinced though that legislature by a huge majority in the United States would heavily restrict Roe, because
that's, hey -- you know, they were moving certainly at the time in a much more reformed way and the Democratic will of the people is clear with all
these numbers that I have read to you.
But I also wonder what you think about your organization. As I mentioned, Susan B. Anthony, other organizations, which are like minded, what you
think then about President Trump? Because, for instance, in an interview with "The New York Times," Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B.
Anthony has said, she didn't support Trump initially. But he's been the most pro-life president in history. He's appointed more than 200 judges.
And now, he's had three Supreme Court justices.
Is that the legacy that you are looking for? Let's say he doesn't win in November. Let's say, there's a, you know, Democratic Congress elect. Let's
just say, is the Supreme Court then delaying for and are some of President Trump's, you know, questions about his moral compass, about his behavior
over the last three years a worthwhile trade-off?
ANDERSON: Well, look, I am going to judge President Trump's administration and his legacy based on the policies that he puts in place for the American
people. And I think that runs the life issues that we're talking about now.
And so, you know, when I look at President Trump's nominees, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and now, Barrett, I'm looking specifically through the lens of
are they an originalist, will they uphold constitution and the rule of law when it's applied to the cases that are before them today? If President
Trump's nominees prove true to that, then I think that is a lasting legacy. It's one that restores the rule of law in many ways the Supreme Court and
takes this out of this partisan politics that are taking place and frankly, that hurt the country when it becomes so embroiled in the partisanship that
we're not able to see past each other as just Americans.
So, I'm looking forward to Judge Barrett on the court because I actually think she will turn the temperature down in this country and allow a shift
that's going to hopefully be generational. I mean, she's very young. She has the potential to be on here for three, you know, maybe four decades,
maybe not that long but long enough for there to be truly be a generational shift where we can get some of this partisanship around policymaking out of
the courts back to the legislator, whether that's here in Congress, in Washington or at the state level and not rely on judges to advance policy
positions on either side of the aisle.
AMANPOUR: We're going to talk about originalism with our next guest. But I want to ask you, finally, again, people in America have said exactly what
they mean, and they've been saying it since 1972 when Roe v. Wade was adjudicated. The majority of American people, by a fairly healthy majority,
want to keep it and do not want to see it overturned.
Now, I want to ask you about this because it's got a related aspect. President Trump, as you know, apparently feeling much better after his bout
with COVID, after being hospitalized, but trumpeted over and over again what he said was the main -- at least he felt, the main drug that made him
feel so much better. Regeneron, which is a monoclonal antibody serum.
Now, as you know, it was derived and developed using human cells derived from a fetus that was aborted decades ago. President Trump called this a
cure. What do you make of that?
ANDERSON: Well, I think going back to your first point, there's an argument that can be made if the -- as the American people have weighed in
through polling and obviously through letters to the editor and campaigns at the local level, then let's just -- let's allow any sort of policy
legislation that needs to go forward on abortion to be handled at the state level.
And I think the great makeup that we have in this country around federalism will allow that to happen, and you see states having everything from, you
know, the 24-hour notifying period to parental rights, all of that playing out at state level, which is an important, I think, element in this
As to the president's well-being and as he clearly has turned the corner, thankfully, from his bout with COVID over the last week, you know, I can't
speak to any specifics on a drug of how it was made it or the specifics of how it's helped him. But I think at the end of the day, what you're seeing
from President Trump is that he listened to his doctors. His doctors advised him to move to the hospital, to leave the Oval Office, he followed
that advice. He's thankfully feeling better. And we would hope this thing for any of our elected officials as well as all Americans that might be
stricken ill from COVID-19.
AMANPOUR: Everybody wishes everybody well, of course, but president Trump has talked over and over again about the issues we're talking about
tonight, today. The "New York Times" has quoted a doctor who led the international society to stem cell research saying, if they opposed this
research, they should be willing not to take a drug that was developed using that. Do you agree? Is it not somewhat hypocritical?
ANDERSON: Well, again, I can't speak to the drugs that the president's doctor --
AMANPOUR: Anybody, anybody. You, yourself, would you take it. Would you take Regeneron?
ANDERSON: I personally would have to look and see if that was something that my doctor was prescribing, if it was meant to help me feel better. And
at the end of the day, I think that decision is between the individual and their doctor and their health care choice and that's what all the
conversation around health care reform and health care freedom really comes down to, access to care and making that decision to be as small of a circle
of people as possible between the doctor and the individual.
AMANPOUR: Right. It goes to the heart of abortion though and to the heart of the pro-life issue and, of course, the argument for Roe v. Wade is
precisely what you say, the freedom for individuals to make decisions over their own bodies. So, finally, do women have the right to make their own
decisions in the most intimate and sometimes, often painful situations?
ANDERSON: Women have the right to make decisions over their health care, but they don't have the right to take away the decision of a human being
that's in their womb's health care. That's really what this comes down to. Do you believe that life begins at conception and that that is a child in
utero developing? And I think at the end of the day, the more the extremism of abortion comes to light with late-term abortions and even abortions
after the woman has survived an abortion, then what do you do with the baby, whether you call it infanticide or you keep them comfortable, that's
the kind of stuff that I look at, and I believe that along with the majority of Americans that that's too far and it represents a shift in our
culture as we look at this important issue and ultimately, as it plays out at the state level, as it plays out with state regulations and state
legislatures and hopefully, it doesn't distract us too much from Judge Barrett's confirmation process as she moves through the Supreme Court this
AMANPOUR: Jessica Anderson, thanks for joining us.
Now, listening to all of this is Dahlia Lithwick. She is Slate's legal correspondent. And in her latest juris prudence column, she warns that
these confirmation hearings represent "the erosion of representative democracy in the United States." That is pretty dramatic. And Dahlia
Lithwick is joining us from Ontario, Canada.
Welcome to the program.
I wonder if you could just weigh in there. Is there, you know, a mix of morality going on when it comes to using drugs that are derived from stem
cells that pro-life, you know, candidates disapprove of? And the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett which is all about the pro-life agenda.
DAHLIA LITHWICK, SENIOR EDITOR, SLATE: Well, first of all, thank you for having me. It's great to be here. And I think you're exactly right. I think
you can't say, you know, what is sauce for the goose isn't sauce for the gander if you are opposed to all of the stem cell research. If you say,
fundamentally, this is immoral, then you can't turn around and reap the benefits of using it as medicine when you're in a crunch.
I will say, I just think we get very, very, very knocked off course, Christiane, when we start talking about infanticide and late term
abortions. I mean, I think we have to be really, really focused on what the terms of this conversations are. Infanticide is not part of this
AMANPOUR: Well, indeed, the majority of Americans, as I've said, approve of upholding Roe but with some restrictions. So, I think that's also
interesting as well. But I want to ask you because Jessica Anderson spoke over and over again about this concept of originalism. Can you tell us what
she means precisely in relation to this nominee and at questions that she's being asked?
LITHWICK: Yes. Originalism is a method of constitutional interpretation. It's a toolbox. It was probably most famously embodied by Justice Antonin
Scalia. That's Amy Coney Barrett's mentor. She clerked for him. And I think there's different flavors of it, but the flavor that Judge Barrett says she
subscribes to is this notion that when you look at either a constitutional provision or statutory provision, you go back and you try to figure out
what was the original public meaning that the drafter had in mind. In other words, you don't triangulate forward into the future. You don't necessarily
look at present circumstances. You are very much bound by the actual language of the statute or the provision, whatever the drafters thought it
meant is what it means, and that means sometimes looking in dictionaries, contemporaneous dictionaries, but it's a way of saying, I'm constrained by
the language of the law.
AMANPOUR: So, everybody who has read history knows the framers themselves were bitterly divided, you know, and had lots of disputes over the actual,
you know, meaning of the document. I guess it's just an obvious question, and it's hard to understand how one would expect a 21st century judge or a
21st century Supreme Court being bound by a text that was, as brilliant as it was, hundreds of years ago. How is that possible? I mean, does that
LITHWICK: Well, it's not clear that it's possible. I think the effort is to try as best as you can to replicate it. But you're quite right, Senator
Dick Durbin today was pressing Judge Barrett on how you think about the Second Amendment, an original public meaning, when folks had muskets, not
weapons of war. So, there's one problem which is, how do you understand, you know, stem cell research? How do you understand marriage equality? How
do you understand so many complexities of campaign finance through the lens of the constitution?
There's a second problem, I think is more pressing, and that is there are a lot of provisions of the constitution like due process, equal protection of
the law that had no meaning. They were deliberately left broad in order to pour future meaning into it. And so, I think that while it's nice to say as
sort of a rhetorical trick that the framers had the answers to everything, the framers were smart enough to say on some questions what is cruel and
unusual punishment, we're going to leave that open so that each generation can interpret it as that generation sees fit.
So, there's a lot of limitations on how far originalism strictly construed can get you.
AMANPOUR: Do you think -- I mean, I read out to Jessica Anderson something that Judge Barrett had written when she was at Notre Dame about Roe v.
Wade, and you saw that she didn't fully answer Senator Feinstein on the issue. Do you believe that that is her intention or might she be a
surprise? Do you think she might not vote to overturn Roe? What is your prognostication for what will happen to this particular law under the new
Supreme Court if she's appointed?
LITHWICK: A couple of answer. One, I noticed that Jessica Anderson confirmed to answering in terms of Judge Barrett's speeches and writings
and the ads she signed, but we actually have evidence from Judge Barrett's time on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, she actually weighed in on
abortion cases. So, we know how she thinks of this not just as a citizen but as a judge.
And in two cases that I could come up with, she went much further than any normal judge looking at president would go. In other words, she was willing
to push beyond Roe, and I think that's emblematic. I also think we just have to take very seriously, and you brough this up, that Donald Trump has
pledged to put someone on the court who will automatically overturn Roe. Josh Hawley has said he will not vote to confirm anyone who will not vote
to overturn Roe.
And so, in some sense, whether or not she wants to be bound by the promises that other people, including groups that say, we will only support her if
she strikes down Roe, she is bound by the fact that everyone else says they are pledging her to this. And so, I think it puts Judge Barrett in a box,
but I'm not sure it's a box she gets out of by simply saying, I'm a brain in a vat, I start from scratch, I have no prior opinions.
AMANPOUR: Interesting. In 2016, at Jacksonville University, she said she didn't think abortion or the right to abortion would change but that "some
of the restrictions would change," and that the question is how much freedom the court is willing to let states have in regulating abortion.
How do you see -- you heard also Jessica Anderson talking about it going to the states. Where are the states right now? I mean, I know you can't say --
they are not all the same. But in general, what would you predict?
LITHWICK: It depends on the state. We have states like Virginia and California that are making it ever easier through telemedicine and
medication abortions for women to terminate pregnancies. We also have a whole host of red states that have tried very hard and largely succeeded in
regulating all but one clinic out of existence. And so, we have one states like Louisiana that are down to almost no clinics to serve of entire
So, I think when you say, oh, this will just get kicked back to the states, what you're doing is consigning women in states like Texas or Louisiana or
Ohio or Georgia to having no clinics, and what that means, of course, is that that will fall the hardest on poor women and women of color who can't
necessarily make their way to California.
But I think the other thing that you say that is really important is that you don't have to write the words Roe v. Wade as overturned in order to end
Roe. Just by regulating, regulating and further regulating clinics until they go out of business. That's been kind of the playbook in a lot of red
states. That will be the playbook that the Supreme Court without ever saying Roe is formally overturned, just to create so many burdens on women
seeking abortions and saying every one of those burdens is constitutional, that's probably the way the court will go.
AMANPOUR: So, to state the obvious, we're in the middle of an election, this is a pretty controversial time to be, as the others have said, the
critics ramming through such an important confirmation. And Democrats are trying to see and trying to get her to say that she will re recuse herself
from cases which could influence the election, California versus Texas or any contest where voting rights could arise. This is what she said about it
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARRETT: I want to begin by making two very important points, and they have to do with the ACA and with any election dispute that may or may not
arise. I have had no conversation with the president or any of his staff on how I might rule in that case. It would be a gross violation of judicial
independence for me to make any such commitment or for me to be asked about that case and how I would rule.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: How do you interpret what she said, and should she recuse herself given what the president has said about these issues?
LITHWICK: This is a bit the point I was making before about how the president puts her in a box because the president has said, I need her on
the court to strike down the ACA, I need her on the court to eviscerate Roe, I need her on the court, he said, to count ballots for me in a close
election. It doesn't matter whether she pledge to the president or someone in the White House that she would do those things, the judicial recusal
rules are really clear, judged recuse if there's an appearance of bias or impropriety.
And so, what she's trying to do is disaggregate to say, well, I didn't make any promises. The fact that the president says she's made promises, that
Josh Hawley has said she's made promises, the fact that Republican want her because they believe that she's going to put her thumb on the scale puts
her in the box of it looks improper, that's the benchmark for judges, not whether they actually do something bias whether it looks bias, and that's a
real problem that Donald Trump set up for her when he made all those promises in advance.
AMANPOUR: And in one word, in her three years on the Appeals Court, has she been apolitical?
LITHWICK: I think she's been very much a card-carrying originalist (INAUDIBLE) society conservative judge. She has not hidden who she is. We
should take her at her word.
AMANPOUR: OK. Dahlia Lithwick, thank you so much for joining us.
And this all adds to the turbulence of the current presidency amid a tight election campaign. Writers, commentators, satirists, journalist alike have
grappled over the years with how best to cover this most unusual White House. Dave Eggers is of course known for his parablelike novels on issues
such from globalization to technology and political polirization.
In his novella "The Captain and the Glory," he follows the election of a large and lumpy man with a yellow feather in his hair, whose passion for
disruption has unintended consequences. Sound familiar?
Well, Dave Eggers joins us from San Francisco.
Welcome back to the program.
Just having read and reread this book, it just seems that you kind of got it right. You have figured out how to make a parable. And I just wonder
what you were trying to do when you wrote it. Of course, it came out a year ago.
DAVE EGGERS, AUTHOR, "THE CAPTAIN AND THE GLORY": Yes.
AMANPOUR: Tell me, what was the sort of impetus for when you wrote it?
EGGERS: It was pure self-therapy and telling myself a story that makes sense of this time.
And I had been going to Trump rallies for -- since he was a candidate and then watched with astonishment and horror when he got elected. And I guess
the -- I wanted to write a story that had an ending to this time. And parable or allegory gives you the chance to make sense of a complicated or
chaotic time and sort of attach a linear narrative to it.
And so, for me, it was very cathartic and therapeutic, especially when I got to finish the story and imagine a time when we were free of this, we'd
gone through this dark corridor and come out the other side.
AMANPOUR: Well, look, just to quote, your captain has a yellow feather in his hair. The captain is inspired by pirates, the Pale One. Maybe that was
Putin Bloodbeard, maybe that was MBS. I mean, you have certainly written about that.
What you were digging in, it seems, also was a sort of a sense of inadequacy and insignificance. The captain sort of tosses books and experts
overboard, so that he doesn't feel inferior.
What were you saying?
EGGERS: Well, I think Trump is surely the most fearful and insecure president we have had in the modern era. I think he is the most needy and
the most desperate for approval and attention.
And, for whatever reason, that approval he seeks most of all is from other autocrats. And so "The Captain and the Glory" takes place where he captains
a ship, even though he has no qualifications and has never steered a dinghy before, but he's elected to lead the ship and steer it through rough
And the people that he looks up to are the bloodthirsty pirates, who see him as a joke and a lapdog. And so, yes, I -- some of the corollaries are a
little obvious there, like the Pale One and Blood (AUDIO GAP)
AMANPOUR: Oh, I think we have lost Dave Eggers in full flow. We apologize for that.
Read "The Captain and the Glory." It is quite an amazing satire.
Now, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And, as we have reported, this cruelty has surged around the world, along with the
pandemic, due to mandatory lockdowns, with abuser and victim trapped inside together.
Our next guest knows firsthand the devastating impact of violence in the home. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey was 19 when her
stepfather murdered her mother. This excruciating pain is the subject of her new book, "Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir." She also writes about
growing up in the '60s in the Deep South as a mixed-race child.
And here she is in a raw and often emotional conversation with our Michel Martin.
MICHEL MARTIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Christiane.
Natasha Trethewey, thank you so much for joining us.
NATASHA TRETHEWEY, FORMER U.S. POET LAUREATE: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: I think many people are familiar with your work. You have won multiple awards. You're a respected, highly sought-after college professor,
teacher, former poet laureate of the United States, a high honor.
I feel comfortable in saying that I'm sure millions of people know your work. And I remember reading a brief biography of you. It said, her father,
Eric Trethewey, was a poet. Her mother died when she was in college. Her mother died when she was in college.
So, just to get to the core terrible details, your stepfather, your mother's ex-husband, who had physically abused her, and, frankly, if I may
say, emotionally abused you, killed her when you were only 19 years old and when she was 40. She had finally gotten free of him.
And, frankly, he seems to have been threatening her for years, from what I can see.
Why this book now? Did this book sort of force its way out of you? Why this book and why now?
TRETHEWEY: I think it did.
I have been carrying this grief with me now for 35 years. And more and more, my mother was being erased. This erasure was ongoing. It was
particularly easy for people, as I said, to draw this line straight through my father to me, because my father was a poet. My father was also my white
So there was something both racial -- racialized and patriarchal in this assumption that I'm who I am because of my father. And it wounded me deeply
that people didn't understand that the thing that hurt me into poetry, that the thing that I had tried to contend with my whole adult life was the loss
of my mother.
I felt like I needed to tell that story and to place who she was and what she meant to me in its proper perspective.
MARTIN: The title of your book, of course, is "Memorial Drive." And it comes at this remarkable moment of reckoning for the country, where this
country is reckoning with its racial past, as it does periodically.
And one of the remarkable things about your book is the way it intertwines your personal history with that of the history of the South and of the
So, to that end, I just wanted to ask if you wouldn't mind reading a passage for us from...
TRETHEWEY: Oh, of course, I'd be happy to.
This is from the first chapter, which is called "Another Country."
"In the spring of 1966, when I was born, my mother was a couple of months shy of her 22nd birthday. My father was out of town traveling for work, so
she made the short trip from my grandmother's house to Gulfport Memorial Hospital, as planned, without him.
"On her way to the segregated ward, she could not help but take in the tenor of the day, witnessing the barrage of rebel flags lining the streets,
private citizens, lawmakers, Klansmen, often one and the same, raising them in Gulfport and small towns all across Mississippi.
"She could not have missed the paradox of my birth on that particular day, a child of miscegenation, an interracial marriage still illegal in
Mississippi, and as many as 20 other states. Sequestered on the colored floor, my mother knew the country was changing, but slowly. She had come of
age in the summer of 1965, turning 21 in the wake of Bloody Sunday, the Watts riots, and years of racially motivated murders in Mississippi.
"Unlike my father, who'd grown up a white boy in rural Nova Scotia hunting and fishing, free to roam the open woods, my mother had come into being a
black girl in the Deep South, hemmed in, bound to a world circumscribed by Jim Crow.
"Though my father believed in the idea of living dangerously, the necessity of taking risks, my mother had witnessed the necessity of dissembling, the
art of making of one's face an inscrutable mass before whites who expected of blacks a servile deference."
MARTIN: It's always tricky asking our artists how she makes her art.
But I am wondering how you arrive at this voice, how you arrive at this kind of intertwining of the personal with the social story, the mixing of
the races, the expectation of white supremacy, expectation of deference?
Was it hard?
TRETHEWEY: Well, it took a long time to write this book. It took me seven years to write the book.
And I think part of the hardest thing was to figure out the voice. Who am I in telling this story? And what is the story that needs to be told? I mean,
because there are obviously the tragic facts of my mother's life and mine, but that's not the story.
And I -- when I -- what I realized, and it has everything to do with that intersection of public history, the history of the Civil War and the
aftermath and the monuments we have erected to remember, or misremember, the Civil War, and my mother's death at the base of Stone Mountain, that
largest monument to the Confederacy.
Those things converge, and they actually represent my two existential wounds. In his memorial to William Butler Yeats, W.H. Auden wrote, "Mad
Ireland hurt you into poetry."
Well, likewise, my nation, my native land, my South, my Mississippi, with its history of violence and racial oppression, inflicted my first wound.
Being born there on Confederate Memorial Day was as if I were given that history to write.
And then, when my mother's death occurred at the base of that mountain, I could see how what is remembered and what is not was the very threshold
through which to enter this book.
MARTIN: This book is so beautifully written. And it is so -- if you don't mind my saying, it is so terrible in other ways, just the recitation of the
abuse that your -- was visited upon your mother is very hard to read.
It's obviously the remembering and the intuiting of the kind of physical harm that he's inflicting on your mother, but it's also terrifying and
horrible to read the harm he inflicted on you in trying to silence you.
In fact, there's this one passage where you come home and you say, I'm going to be a writer.
MARTIN: And he says to you, you're not going to do any of that.
MARTIN: I can't think of a more terrible thing to say to a child.
So, I mean, I think that anything that seemed like a dream that I had, he was going to try to find a way to shut that down. And that is a very
telling moment in my relationship with my mother as well, because she was obviously enduring physical abuse at his hands, often out of sight, but
something I could hear.
And, for years, in order to kind of do a kind of dissembling and to keep him from going into a violent rage later on, out of sight, she would only
talk to me about my accomplishments or achievements when he wasn't around. It was something that we had to keep secret.
But that particular day, I came home so excited, I couldn't wait. And I said that at the dinner table. And when he said, you're not going to do any
of that, I could see my mother's hands clench the fork she was holding and her jaw clench. And she said, "She will do whatever she wants."
And even in that moment, I knew the price that she was going to pay for defending me. And as much as she was willing to do that, and knowing the
cost, she wasn't going to let him batter my soul in the same way that he was battering hers.
Your stepfather murdered your mother. He murdered her after she had left him, after a long history of abuse. That's right. That's the foundation...
TRETHEWEY: She'd been divorced for him -- from him for nearly two years when he murdered her.
So, she indeed had done everything right and gotten away. And he continued to stalk her. He even went to prison for attempting -- well, he wasn't
convicted of attempted murder, but he did try to kill her once before, on Valentine's Day in 1984. He went to prison for about a year, but only
convicted of criminal trespass.
And when he got out, he came back and finished what he started.
MARTIN: Natasha, it's another hard thing, but it's my understanding that he's actually been released from prison now. Is that true?
TRETHEWEY: That's right. He was released in March of last year.
MARTIN: May I ask, do you feel safe from him?
TRETHEWEY: You know, the day that I found out, I had the strangest sensation of being inside my mother's body. And I was very afraid and I
felt very unsafe.
I think the only thing that makes me feel safe, or a modicum of safety, is that I don't live in Atlanta anymore. I got out of Atlanta just before he
was released, a year or two before. And so that helps. The distance helps.
But I think I have never truly felt safe in the world.
MARTIN: Kiese Laymon writes in "The New York Times" that: "Trethewey's memoir is not the hardest book I have ever read."
He says: "The poetry holding the prose together, the innovativeness of the composition, make such a claim impossible. 'Memorial Drive' is, however,
the hardest book I could imagine writing.'"
And, truly, you do some very difficult things in this book. I mean, you go through the files, like you're -- the police officer -- incredibly, you
encounter the police officer who responded to your mother's murder, and he retrieves the files for you.
MARTIN: And you go through them all.
I just find myself wondering how you were able to do that, to read the fact that she was keeping notes of what was happening to her, create -- to
create some sort of protection for her, for herself, which ultimately did not succeed.
But how did you do that, and why did you feel that was so necessary to do?
TRETHEWEY: Well, I resisted doing it for a long time.
He gave me those files in 2005. And I did not allow myself to sit and go through them until I was in the process of writing this book. I didn't want
to have to look at those things.
I'd been trying to, I think, forget and avoid as much as I could over these last three decades. And, finally, when I did sit down, it was as if I were
reliving those -- those days. They came all back to me. And the grief -- even now, having done that, the grief feels much more immediate, as opposed
to sort of the dullness of it that I have lived with my whole adult life.
But I think it was important, because it allowed the possibility of my mother's voice to enter this book, along with mine. And I knew that that
was important, because I could tell you how resilient and powerful and loving she was, or I could just let you see it for yourself.
And I think, when you read those documents that I include in the book, you see it for yourself. The evidence is incontrovertible.
MARTIN: I'm reminded that, as we are speaking now, this country, among -- and along with many, many others, many people are still in lockdown mode. I
mean, many people are trapped at home.
I can't help but think about other people who might be trapped in similar circumstances, as part of this effort to control this health crisis. But
part of it makes me worry that another crisis is afoot. And I wonder if you think about that, too, given what you saw, given what you grew up with.
TRETHEWEY: I do.
And it's a terrifying moment to think about how many people might be in a situation of domestic violence. One of the things I think about all the
time is that, in the language of organizations committed to ending domestic violence, my mother was referred to as a perfect victim.
And that's because, not only did she do everything right, did she seek out the right resources to get out of this marriage, but she was also an
educated professional woman who was not dependent upon her abuser for shelter, for the care of her children, for support, for financial support.
And so, if you have someone like my mother like that who can't even get away, what can you say to women who are in that situation, but are
dependent on their abusers for support? It's almost impossible to get away.
And if you add to that the chances of you dying go up, not when you stay, but when you leave, it makes it almost impossible. And we are in a moment
where all of that is the case now, and it's even harder to leave, because where will people go during this time of lockdown?
MARTIN: This country is very fractured and traumatized right now, I feel comfortable in saying.
Is there something we can learn from your story, do you think, as a country?
TRETHEWEY: Oh, well, I would hope a lot of things, actually.
One of the things that I deal with constantly is the idea of memory and forgetting. On a personal level, one might argue that, for a long time, I
enacted a kind of forgetting, thinking that that was helping me some kind of way.
And yet, even as I was consciously trying to forget, I think our bodies recall trauma. So, it was still there with me waiting to somehow attack me
at a different point.
I think that's a metaphor for our kind of cultural amnesia in this country, that wounds that we haven't healed, that we have simply allowed to fester
are waiting to make us sick, to make us even more damaged, because we haven't contended with the truth of our shared history.
I think that that's what this moment of reckoning is about. So, I always -- Yeats wrote, we make of the quarrel with others rhetoric, but of the
quarrel with ourselves poetry.
I always begin with the argument the quarrel I have with myself in order to talk about the larger quarrel that I have with my nation over and -- our
historical amnesia about race, about the aftermath of the Civil War, about the causes of the Civil War, about the reason that we erected monuments to
All of those things, if we don't deal with the truth of them, they're going to continue to erode us as a nation.
MARTIN: Natasha Trethewey, thank you so much for speaking with us today.
TRETHEWEY: Thank you, Michel.
AMANPOUR: It's really sad. And, of course, it's such an important reminder that we also need to address our national wounds.
So, we have got Dave Eggers back with us now.
And I want to ask him kind of a postscript, really, to the book and to the conversation we were having, perhaps what Michel just asked Natasha.
Is this something from your story, completely different story, obviously, a satire of a captain who's taken charge of a ship, an incompetent, who
throws all the manuals and all the norms out the window, is this something from that, that we can learn about our country, our world?
Do you think about that now, a year after that book was published?
EGGERS: I think we have to take ourselves seriously again as a country.
And I think it starts at the educational level. I think that there's a maxim in this country that says anybody that can -- anybody can grow up and
become president. But I don't think we understand exactly what that means. It doesn't mean that anybody that has built golf courses and assigns his
name to steaks can then govern a nation of 330 million.
I think we have got to get back to respecting expertise, competence, and a respect for the work of governing. And until we do that, we're going to
keep spiraling into a laughingstock.
AMANPOUR: So, it's really interesting, because the end, as you said, is vaguely optimistic. The captain escaped, and the workers on board the ship
pull together to try to restore the Glory, as it's called, to its former working self.
So, I just want to read this to you. It's an excerpt.
"This additional part of life on the Glory, though horrifying and against every belief system and moral code ever devised by humans, was new, and
anything new was something different, and different was inherently good."
Again, does that remind you of anything? You talk about the captain. You talk about his supporters as his enthusiastic enablers, and you talk about
his opposition as basically the kindly mutineers, but incompetence.
Things -- how do you see that, the dynamic, playing out in the United States right now ahead of this election?
EGGERS: I think that his supporters -- and I noticed this going to Trump rallies while he was a candidate -- were really (AUDIO GAP) for its own
And they had a sort of gleeful attitude toward the prank, almost, of electing a clearly unqualified outsider with no respect for the nation's
history, Constitution, or rule of law. They thought, as we did in high school when you elect the least electable and least qualified person to be
your student council president, wouldn't it be funny if?
And I think that Trump was the most surprised to be elected, but his supporters were also shocked. And I think that it goes to just the lack of
seriousness among the electorate of the job of president and the dignity of the White House.
And I think we can get back to it. It feels like we're trending that way. And I really do -- I'm always optimistic. I do think that we can restore a
sort of sense of self-esteem and self-seriousness, and we can be a dignified nation again, and not sort of a reality show.
I think that the fever will probably break. I think it's breaking right now. Jeff Flake, when he was opposing Trump, he said that the nation is
caught in this fever, especially the GOP.
And I think that that fever is starting to break, and they're starting to leave Trump. But I don't know. I was -- I didn't think even it was remotely
possible that he would be elected in 2016. So, I'm cautiously optimistic.
But I do think that we need to start at the educational level and remind ourselves what it means to govern and how serious that task is. And it
should not be entrusted to any loudmouth or somebody who promises to disrupt for its own sake, to shake things up just to see what will happen.
Dave Eggers, author of "The Captain and the Glory," thank you very much.
And, of course, education, education, education, every parent tells you that.
And, finally, the pandemic has also forced many of us to put our dreams on hold, but it hasn't stopped this tourist stranded in Peru for nearly seven
months because of coronavirus restrictions. Jesse Katayama from Japan finally got his wish to visit Machu Picchu.
And he was the only visitor there. That is probably the first and last time that'll happen. He scaled this challenging height with the blessing of
Peru's culture minister, capturing these spectacular views at the peak of what is an ancient Inca citadel designated a World Heritage Site. It's
expected to open to the public again next month.
Talking of Machu Picchu and other amazing destinations, join us later this week for a conversation with Michael Palin, who, of course, morphed from
his cult comedy status with Monty Python to indispensable global travel guide in his series "Around the World in 80 Days."
That is it for now.
You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thanks for watching.
And now we return to CNN's continuing coverage of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett.
Goodbye from London.