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Democratic Activists Fighting at Grass Roots Level; Joe Biden Leading in CNN's Poll of Polls; Lori Goldman, Founder, Fems for Dems, and Leah Greenberg, Co-Founder, Indivisible, are Interviewed About 2020 Election and Trump; Breaking the Vicious Partisan Cycle; Interview With David Byrne; Interview With Harvard University Professor Danielle Allen. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired October 20, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: We're going to win. I wouldn't have said that three weeks ago. Three weeks ago, two weeks ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: President Trump says he's got this, but Democrats beg to differ after spending four years building a countermovement. I speak to grass
roots organizers, Leah Greenberg and Lori Goldman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELLE ALLEN, POLITICAL THEORIST, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: At the end of the day, it markedly depends on a common purpose if we're going to have
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: What if this democracy doesn't work for the majority anymore? Our Walter Isaacson speaks to Harvard professor, Danielle Allen, about
breaking the vicious partisan cycle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Despite all that's happened and despite all that's still happening, it's still a possibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: A healing bomb for dystopian America. We celebrate HBO's new film version of "American Utopia" with a look back with at my interview
with musician and star, David Byrn.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
There are two weeks to go until the American election, either a blink of an eye or an eternity depending on how your mindset, and Donald Trump is
playing defense on the campaign trail, holding non-socially distant rallies in key states like Arizona and Pennsylvania which he won in 2016. As new
COVID cases rise to numbers not seen since the summer peak, Trump is torching his own scientific experts as one public health adviser calls, it
attacking the fire department when the house is burning down.
Meanwhile, Democrat, Joe Biden, leads in CNN's Poll of Polls by 53 percent to 42 percent, and he's on track to gather well more than the 270 electoral
votes that he'll need to win the presidency. However, there are always the unknowns of actual election day or election week, as the case may be. 2020
is also a critical census year as each state gears up to apportion power over the next 10 years. In the 2010 census, Republicans racked up major
advantages in Congress and the states. Now, Democratic activists are fighting back at the grass roots level.
Leah Greenberg is the co-founder of the Indivisible Project and Lori Goldman launched her own action group, Fems for Dems.
Ladies, activists, welcome to the program.
Let me ask you what you -- you know, hear we are. We've said what the poll of polls is saying. We're talking about how they seem to be putting Vice
President Biden ahead, but that President Trump feels that he might not have thought this a couple of weeks ago but now that he's sure that he's
going to win. Let me ask you, Leah, you're with your husband former congressional staffers, you formed this project to get to the grass roots.
What do you see as an avenue in terms of registration and other things that Republicans may be able to do to to actually pull out a victory?
OK. No, not hearing you.
OK. Lori, let me turn to you. Lori, let me turn to you because Fems for Dems is a really very, you know, catchy name, and what we're hearing,
especially in the suburbs is the story of a gender gap and in certain major key swing states or key states, President Trump down by "record-breaking
margins." What are you finding in those voters who you're trying to target?
LORI GOLDMAN, FOUNDER, FEMS FOR DEMS: Well, people are very excited. We still all have PTSD from our failure to elect Hillary Clinton as the first
female president, but we're not losing hope, and we're not taking anything for granted like we did back in 2016. So, we're out on the streets. Even
when a lot of Democratic Party and the Biden campaign wasn't out knocking doors, we thought it was very important to show that we're ready to go out
and meet with the public and to let them know about our candidates and Joe Biden and his ticket and to get them motivated to vote.
So, we're also working very hard to stop voter suppression and to counteract it because on the November 3rd voting day, we have to make sure
people have access to vote, they have a way to get there, they have a chair to sit in for six or a seven-hour line, an umbrella to be held over their
head and a tuna sandwich to keep them sustained until they can get into their voting box.
AMANPOUR: OK. The tuna sandwich, that sounds really good. I'm going to play a soundbite from President Trump about 10 days ago or so anyway,
recently, when he appealed to those suburban, as he likes to call them housewives, and he was playing the whole, you know, '60s, Nixon law and
order card. Let's just listen to it for a second.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don't want to build low-income housing next to your house, OK. Suburban women, will you please like me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
TRUMP: Please, please. I saved your damn neighborhood, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, I don't know how you parse that but it's sort of a mixture of desperate and divisive because I'm not going to let them build low-
income housing in your neighborhood is a dog whistle or it's a full- throated, you know, divisive connotation there. Just quickly, Lori, what are women saying in, for instance, Michigan, which he won by, you know,
over 10,000 votes the last time around?
GOLDMAN: The women that I know, and they run in the thousands, and you can call us housewives, you can call us suburban, you can call us just women,
we don't care what you call us. We're not stupid, and they are not stupid, and they don't even care what he says anymore. We're focused on the prize
which is November the 3rd.
So, we don't care what the president trots out to his acolytes, to the people that are star-struck and following him blindly. We're women. It's
been hundreds of years since we've had our due. In fact, since the start of the world, and we're going to do what we want right now and keep going.
AMANPOUR: Let me turn to Leah. Back to you, Leah, now that we have your sound. As I was saying, you heard the president say, this is the first time
I'm saying that maybe we have a path to victory. I might not have the said it a few weeks ago. And his campaign manager is at least briefing the press
on what he wants them to hear, which is that he believes that the president has a path to that 270 electoral college magic number. What are you hearing
on the street with your grass roots action group? What are you sort of tapping into right now?
LEAH GREENBERG, CO-FOUNDER, INDIVISIBLE: Well, what we're hearing when we do voter outreach is very much along the lines of what Lori said, people
are tired and they are determined. They are tired of this administration. They are tired of the divisiveness. They are tired of the hatefulness. They
are tired of the fact that they seem to be doing everything that they can to actively prolong the national ordeal that we're experiencing with COVID
and they are determined.
We talked to a lot of voters who are grateful to have information about how to vote but they are so fired up and so ready to vote they want to vote
yesterday. So, what we're seeing is an unprecedented level of enthusiasm for voting this cycle and I think you're seeing that as well in the early
AMANPOUR: And in terms of the voter registration, there are lots of anecdotal and polling information that shows that the Republicans seem to
be targeting right now very heavily more and more voters to register. How are you seeing that play out in the neighborhoods where -- I know you're a
Democratic activist, but you must know what the other camp is doing.
GREENBERG: Sure, and obviously you would rather see those totals be higher rather than lower for the Democratic side. That said, I think that's one
stat among a lot that we are trying to put in context to understand the whole picture of what's going on. And one of the things we're seeing a lot
of those voters, when you look at places like the Florida Panhandle, right, those are people who -- they switched from being Democrats to Republicans a
while ago in their voting patterns, and they are actually just now getting around to formalizing their party status. So, those are people who -- they
voted for Trump in 2016 and they have been factored into a lot of folks political analysis of what's going on at the moment.
And so, while it is -- while it's not the best stat, we want to look at the full picture of enthusiasm of how -- who's turning out and how and the
polls to make it make sense.
AMANPOUR: So, you did start this Indivisible Project along with your husband. I mean, you have both been congressional staffers and you wanted
to get out there and do something different. What exactly are you doing? How does it work, your project?
GREENBERG: Well, we started Indivisible when we wrote a simple guide to congressional advocacy back in 2016 right after Trump had been elected, and
the idea we very simple. We could replicate the Tea Party model of political activism, we could form local groups all over the country
dedicated to pressuring our elected representatives to make sure they did not go along with Donald Trump, that they fought back, that they -- to save
health care. And then ultimately, turn those into political action units that were capable of helping to build a big blue wave in 2018 and capable
of helping to get Donald Trump out of office in 2020.
So, we formed our organization after that guide went viral and thousands of people all over the country started forming Indivisible groups, small
volunteer-based communities dedicated to action. And these have formed the basis for a lot of incredibly inspired, incredibly creative local
organizing all over the country, from super rural areas to suburban areas to cities, red states, blue states, purple states. They are everywhere and
they are really dedicated to getting Donald Trump out of office and holding everybody who has been behind him accountable right now.
AMANPOUR: If Leah has been, you know, in politics for a long, long time, Lori, you haven't, have you? You're not a politician. You're not a born
activist. How did you come to this?
GOLDMAN: Well, in February of 2016, I was so inspired and motivated that Hillary Clinton, a woman, a credible woman that was talented and able to be
a fine president was running that I took a leap, I sent an e-mail out to 500 women, mostly a few men that I knew, asking who wanted to join me to
try to make sure that this dream that has been so forestalled happened, and I got a great response. And ever since then, women and men of all colors,
all backgrounds, all sexual orientations from our home in Oakland County to all the surrounding counties and even other parts of the country and the
world have been reaching out to join us. We believe super strongly in relational organizing.
So, everything starts at home with your friends, your families, your neighbors, your hairdresser, your dog walkers, your grocer and out from
there, and if everybody does that, we can build a very strong network of grass roots organizers which we have. We're over 9,000 strong right now and
we keep in touch with everyone. We've built a family, a community as our board chair, Julie Campbell-Bode, for Fems for Dems like to say, we
activate, we engage, we inform and when that election is over, we're not done because even though we hope to have a president worthy of the Oval
Office, we're going to make sure we work towards addressing all of the wrongs that have recently come to fore and have been here for a long time.
AMANPOUR: And I just want to ask you about, because you are, I think, you know, going around knocking on doors in Oakland County, Michigan. Again,
Michigan, the president won by over 10,000 votes. It's not a massive, massive amount, but he won it. And his slogan, the soundbite that I played,
his idea that suburbs are all housewives women, that they are all white, has really, A, it's outdated and, B, it's caused a severe backlash. What
are you seeing, Lori, when you're out there knocking on doors right now? Do you feel you have it in the bag for your team or not?
GOLDMAN: OK. I'm never going to have it in the bag after what happened in 2016. I'm never going to let myself feel that way but a big difference from
2016 is that people that used to support Trump are in big numbers saying, I'm sick of both of them. I'm just disgusted. I'm not going to vote for
Trump. I may not vote for Biden, but I'm not voting for Trump anymore, and that's a huge change from 2016.
People have been very gracious even when they are flying Trump flags and they have six-foot tall banners posted in their front yards. We still go to
those doors. We knock on them and they may not agree with us and they may not be changing their vote, but they are not slamming the door in our
faces. Because, Christiane, after this election is over, we still have to live with one another, all right, and there will be many more elections,
God willing after this one. So, we have to be a community that we have to try to agree on those things that we can agree on and disagree on those
things that we can't but we have to work together as a community. That's what Fems for Dems is trying to accomplish.
AMANPOUR: Well, that's really very encouraging, the idea of trying to knit back a very fractious society. I think a lot of people will be grateful to
hear that there are activists trying to do that.
Leah, you're also targeting up and down the ballot. So, you're talking about Senate races as well, there's some very tight races. And in terms of
numbers, Republicans have to defend 23 Senate seats. Democrats only 12. What are you seeing about -- and what races are you focusing on in terms of
GREENBERG: Well, what we're seeing with the Senate is that the map has expanded beyond what anyone would have thought were possible pickup
opportunities even earlier this year. We are looking at races where people are getting scared in Texas and Alaska, where Iowa is now moving into a
tossup or even a lame Democratic status. That is not what anyone predicted earlier in the year, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that these are
folks who have tied themselves so closely to Donald Trump for the last four years and as his popularity is plummeting, so is theirs.
So, you have folks like John Cornyn who is now, just now, in the last couple of weeks of this election, trying to distance himself from Donald
Trump after four years of enabling his agenda, and it's not working out, and you don't do that unless you are seeing some pretty scary internal
polling numbers and you are really starting to get worried. So, what we're seeing is the map is much bigger than we would have expected and there's
going to be real surprises on election night.
AMANPOUR: You know, I talked about what Indivisible is aiming to do and you just mentioned also, and also, Lori, it's not just about the election,
it's about after the election, it's about protecting democracy. What about the census? Leah, you're doing quite a lot of work to try to bolster the
idea that the census actually does represent everybody who is eligible to be counted, and your aim is to fix, you know, democracy through electoral
reform and campaign finance reform.
How are you reading all the latest rules around the census, what, you know, the stopping of the count and this and that? Tell me how that's playing
into your attempt to use that to continue this grass roots activism.
GREENBERG: Well, I think it's incredibly troubling what the Trump administration has been doing, and we should not be shy about recognizing
that this is part of a broader project of theirs. They are trying to systematically undercount some sets of people so that they can actually
maintain political power, and specifically, they are trying to undercount black and brown folks.
The latest ruling particularly on -- their latest effort to not count immigrants specifically. This is all part of a political project that's
about maintaining white control. It's about continuing to advantage largely more rural, more conservative whiter areas of the country over diverser
areas. And so, we should be -- we should understand that in the same vain that we understand their voter suppression efforts, that understand their
gerrymandering, that we see all of the attacks on protests. This is part of their effort to repress the power of the people.
AMANPOUR: And, Lori, finally to you, we've got a short period left. You know, everybody talked a lot about the biggest voting bloc. It's going to
be millennials for the first time, you know, the baby boomers are not the biggest voting bloc for the 2020 election. What are you seeing not just in
women mobilization but the youth in the areas that you're working?
GOLDMAN: Well, when we have been canvassing through the Oakland County and the Michigan Democratic Party, we've been sent to houses where I scratch my
head because I know the people that live in the houses and I know they are staunch Republicans, but I look at the list and it's their 18, 19, 20
something-year-old children that are making the switch. They are not following their parents into their Republicanism. They are becoming
Democrats and they are voting and they're voting in very large numbers. And I think that Trump has done himself no favors by being so behind the times
in his feelings about minorities and immigration and health care and all the things that he's against. He's helped us immensely. Thank you,
AMANPOUR: On that note, Lori Goldman and Leah Greenberg, thank you so much indeed for joining us.
Now, while so much of politics in America today is about winner takes all, our next guest makes the case for unity. Harvard professor, Danielle Allen,
is director of the University Center for Ethics, and she spearheads their COVID-19 response initiative. Here she is speaking to our Walter Isaacson
about that major roadblock to governance as we've heard, rampant factionalism.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And Professor Danielle Allen, welcome to the show.
DANIELLE ALLEN, POLITICAL THEORIST, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Thanks so much, Walter. Good to be here.
ISAACSON: Now, we're going through a hellacious period and you've written a concept called "Becoming Citizen Again." What do you mean by that?
ALLEN: Well, I think for a long time many of us have sat back and sort of expected the powers at be to take care of our security and wellbeing.
There's been reductions in participation, voting, so forth, we all know those facts and details. And I've really been working hard to try to
reinvigorate civic spirit and encourage people to rejoin the community of free and equal self-governing citizens and participate directly in as many
ways as possible.
ISAACSON: And you've won the Kluge Prize at the Library of Congress and part of that is our common purpose. Explain what you are doing with that.
ALLEN: Sure. Well, I was really fortunate to serve over several years on a commission sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. I was
investigating the future of democratic citizenship in American, and it was an incredible experience. We interviewed people all over the country,
really learned about the challenges and obstacles of participation and thought about pathways to solutions.
One of the things that came to the fore though really was the fact that we do lack a sense of common purpose in this country. And that's not a small
thing. It's not sort of an airy fairy thing, because at the end of the day, a democracy depends on a common purpose if we're going to have effective
governance. We have to be able to consolidate and converge and come together around some shared goal.
ISAACSON: And what is that common purpose in America?
ALLEN: Well, I think we have to make it. We have to get back to the business of making it. So, to take a very concrete example, when the COVID
crisis hit, you might have thought that we would really have a strong common purpose that was about defeating the virus, really suppressing it.
And to some extent, in the very early weeks that common purpose did exist but it fragmented really quickly. It got sucked into the kind of
polarization and gridlock of fighting in Washington and we just short of watched the potential for a common purpose, you know, dissipate and fade
That is an (ph) example of where we really needed a common purpose so that our federal governments, our state governments, our local governments could
work in concert to suppress the virus. We could have achieved it. We could have really driven the spread back down to zero early on if we had the
ISAACSON: I guess the evidence of common purpose is what the founders called factionalism. They kept warning against it. George Washington's, I
guess, farewell address talks about that. Tell us what we learn from the farewell address.
ALLEN: Exactly. It's a really powerful speech. Washington warns about the dangers of faction. And his warning is really that once you have a
situation where people aren't willing to focus on a unity principle, on coming together, then people really are fighting to the death and they will
hand their fortunes over to whichever figure which seems more powerful in a near-term moment for getting an immediate victory. And so, people will
sacrifice the sort of preservation of kind of a long-term structure for making decisions together just for their short-term wins and victories over
ISAACSON: Do you think we're seeing that now?
ALLEN: I do actually, yes. I think it's the thing that most afflicts our politics is that we've all become much more focused on complete victory
over our adversaries than on the fact that our flourishing, our participation in society of free and equal self-governing citizens actually
depends on our preserving the tools we use to make decisions together, it depends on being able to govern together, to find compromises, to forge
solutions that bring together different interest perspectives. It's the ability to govern that way, again, with compromises, with some sympathetic
solutions that make us free. That's the thing that we've lost sight of.
So, we think we want a victory on climate or we think we want a victory on guns or we're pursuing those themes so aggressively that we're losing sight
of the fact that we can't actually have any victories that matters if we've lost the freedom of sound, functioning constitutional democracy.
ISAACSON: But what do you say to Democrats who have, you know, faced four years of Trump with no compromise, no compromise? How do you tell them if
Biden wins, you're now going to go back to the principles of compromise?
ALLEN: So, Mitch McConnell really, I think, has conveyed the politics of our age and certainly, the politics of the Republicans that have been
practicing for the last period of years, and he's famously said, you know, winners make policy and losers go home. That's exactly the wrong way to
think about democracy.
But at the end of the day, there is no point in participating in a democracy unless -- even if you lose out in a particular vote, you're still
incorporated in the overall decision-making. So, the right attituded is that winners get to chair the committee meetings where decisions are made
but losers are still on the committee, and it's that orientation that we have to have.
It's a big ask at this moment, I agree, when the Democrats have suffered under that incredible (INAUDIBLE) adversarial perspective driven by Mitch
McConnell. It's a big ask not to turn around and want to do it right back. And I honestly think we have to summon Lincoln's spirit in this moment and,
you know, try to embrace it with charity to all, malice towards none.
We're going to lead. You know, we're going to take these chairmanships of every committee and we're going to lead and shape the agenda. But, yes, you
know, losers, you'll be in the conversation, too.
ISAACSON: You talk about compromise and, you know, you're a great historian. Benjamin Franklin at the end of the constitutional convention
sort of conveyed the message that compromisers may not make great heroes but they do make great democracies. I know in your report you quote the
wonderful speech of Franklin, too. So, what do we learn from that?
ALLEN: So, the Franklin quote is really powerful. For me, in all honesty, it really cuts two ways. I mean, he stands up in the last day of the
convention and says basically, it's time for us all to commit to this, whatever reservations we may have had about it will die here. We will never
share them in the public. We'll all stand in full consent behind this.
We use that in our commission when we're trying to develop recommendations for democracy innovation, democracy reform. We wanted to achieve consensus.
People had different levels of preference or affirmation for the different proposals on the table, but we collectively agreed we would bury our
reservations there in that committee room. So, Franklin does set a model for what you need in a democracy.
I said his quotation cuts both ways and it does because, of course, in that context with the constitution, he was burying reservations as were others
about the compromises around enslavement, for example, The Three-Fifths Clause that counted enslaved people as three-fifths of a free person, and
there were people already, at that point of the convention, who did object to enslavement. You know, abolition had already been achieved by the time
of the constitutional convention in both Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. So, the reservations were real and serious yet they accepted that
For me, that really means you have to kind of bear down on the question of what makes a difference between a good compromise and bad compromise. Why
would the slavery compromises be out of bounds? What counts as a good compromise?
ISAACSON: As you push back against the forces of faction and divisiveness, you talk about the need for unity. Is unity just a practical thing or is
there a moral component to unity when it comes to the United States?
ALLEN: There is a moral component, and it comes back to this word I often use, human flourishing, OK. Now, there's probably a long distance of people
wondering (ph) and how do you get from unity to human flourishing, Danielle? Explain that one. It comes back to the idea that human beings
thrive to their fullest when they are empowered, when they are empowered to chart their own life course, or as we sometimes say, pursue happiness. And
when they are empowered as decision-makers in their communities, contributing to our collective decisions.
So, from my point of view, human beings thrive, again, they flourish when maybe well when they are empowered. That then leads to a puzzle. How do we
maximize our chance for empowerment? The answer there is free self- government in a constitutional democracy. And the problem is, of course, you always have, in any given decision, people who win and people who lose,
right? That's the problem.
So, the number one problem that democracy has to solve is, what can make it worthwhile for the losers to continue to participate? Otherwise you start
to fragment and break up. So, a commitment to free self-government is the thing that motivate people's willingness to go along with decisions even if
they are not what their first choice would have been.
ISAACSON: You talked, too, about civility, but civility is not an indent of itself, right? Sometimes you need heavy pushback.
ALLEN: So, civility is not actually a word I use too much. I would separate unity from civility. So, I take unity to be that commitment to
maintaining the institutions of free self-government among free and equal citizens, the institutions of constitutional democracy. You can fight hard
in the context of maintaining that commitment. It's great when you can fight civilly, when you can have civil disagreements. But sometimes,
there's a need for social movements or taking to the street as part of the element of fighting.
So, it's more the commitment to the project of constitutional democracy, being able to convey that commitment through articulating, expressing what
the vision for common purpose is, for being willing to tap into a personal love of country, share that love of country with the others. Those are the
kinds of things I think that are important for anchoring common purpose.
ISAACSON: Senator Mike Lee said something a few days ago about democracy is not the objective, he said. He said liberty, peace and prosperity are.
We want flourishing, as you put it, but rank democracy can thwart that. Is democracy simply a tool or is it actually an objective?
ALLEN: So, this is an important conversation.
It's an objective, in the sense that democracy is a thing that we do. It's an activity. We are fulfilled in the activity of participating in
Now, I have to, though, say a little bit more about Senator Lee's comment, because something really important is happening there. At the dawn of our
country, at the dawn of our constitutional democracy, the founders used both the vocabulary of a republic and of a democracy.
So, Hamilton in the Constitutional Convention in New York referred to what had been designed as a representative democracy. Madison, in the Federalist
Papers, spent a lot of time saying it's a republic, not a direct democracy, like those ancient Athenians had, right?
So, the vocabulary was all over the place. They did use both terms. But, in the 20th century, among Republican circles in particular, there's become a
habit of saying that the country is a republic, not a democracy, that the founders chose a republic, not a democracy.
And what people have meant by that is that the founders chose a hierarchically structured entity, not something that focused on universal
suffrage, universal participation. This used to be a kind of pedantic red herring argument, but it is actually becoming an ideological argument.
And this is the thing that I'm concerned about. So, I think, when Senator Lee said that, he is actually positively embracing a view that we should
roll back the development of a robust commitment to universal suffrage, that we should roll back a commitment to egalitarian participation.
So I think it was not a trivial comment. We have to pay attention to it. We should hear it. And it's a funny thing, where a red herring pedantic
argument about, are we a republic or are we a democracy, has, I think, begun to turn into an actual ideological position.
ISAACSON: And do you tie that into voter suppression even?
ALLEN: This is my concern, yes.
My concern is that, on the right, there is beginning to develop a proactive argument that is undercutting the hard-won commitment to universal
ISAACSON: You're an African-American with, as you want to put it, a complex family history.
How does that give you insight on what I would call our nation's complex family history?
ALLEN: Well, Ralph Ellison is one of my presiding spirits. We all have our few spirits who live in our heads and hearts every day.
And Ralph Ellison was somebody -- he's got this beautiful essay. What would America be like without blacks, he said, and it's this incredible account
of everything that exists in this country, and the ways in which African- American experience has given it meaning.
And one of the things the African-American experience has given the deepest meaning to is the concept of freedom, OK? So, insofar as this is a liberty-
loving country, well, African-Americans know that in a deeper and truer way than anybody.
And that is, we -- it's universal. Everybody is part of that story, is in it, and welcome, and shares it absolutely. Others have their own stories of
oppression and domination and escape that give them too that deep connection to the story of freedom.
But it's just important to say that, because, sometimes, we think that these sort of ideals we have kind of came down on high from young men in
white wigs, so that looked older than they actually were, but, in fact, it's the lived experiences of people in this country who struggle to
achieve their own empowerment that have given us collectively our deepest understanding of the value of freedom.
ISAACSON: There's been a pushback on some of the historical American narrative, especially from progressives.
Do you think, in some ways, that can go too far?
ALLEN: I think it has gone too far.
So, the story about race, racial domination in this country, and its -- the depth of its impact is absolutely real and accurate.
At the same time, however, the story of abolitionists and their hard work, which started already in the early 1700s, has disappeared from view. And
it's really important to recognize that the voices of abolitionists were actually fundamental to the Declaration of Independence, to the
Their voices were already working at that point in time. And they gave this country gifts of vision that we're still working on achieving the full
ISAACSON: You're teaching a course at Harvard this semester called After the Pandemic. And I guess we're all hoping for that.
But what are we going to try to build after the pandemic to make it better than it was before?
ALLEN: Well, I hope we can achieve a new social compact.
I was really personally shocked, at the start of this pandemic, by how quickly people were willing to abandon parts of our population, so, for
example, the language about elderly Americans, maybe we should just let them go, it's their time, or the slowness that we had in terms of getting
PPE and so forth with essential workers, this kind of thing.
And so, from my point of view, a healthy society depends on a first principle being we don't abandon anybody. In a moment of crisis, we don't
abandon anybody. We do the hard work of figuring out how we can maximize well-being, the health and safety of the people, for all.
So, I think we need, honestly, articulation of a moral vision. We need leadership and doing that at all levels of our society. And then we need
policies that make real that concept of not abandoning anybody, rebuilding a public health infrastructure. We have let that erode in this country,
finally building a viable health infrastructure broadly for individual health and well-being, rebuilding foundations of educational opportunity,
which have eroded significantly.
ISAACSON: So, how do we turn ourselves back to the right direction?
ALLEN: Well, so leadership at all levels matters, but every citizen can be a leader. That's the important thing.
And so this is where I do think that, in every decision-making context, it's really important to be a bridge-builder, to find people who have
different kinds of social experiences or different political perspectives, and try to figure out how to build a conversation in which you can
participate together on decision-making.
How can you rebuild, for your community, a sense that you want a social compact that really is good for all, where nobody's abandoned? What does
that mean? I have had the pleasure of speaking with a number of mayors over the course of the last few months who are engaging their communities in
exactly this kind of discussion.
They're staging workshops and fora on the question what kind of social compact their cities want. And that feels to me like the work we have to
do. We need to be in the same space, look at one another, and ask the question of how we can achieve well-being for all of us.
ISAACSON: Professor Danielle Allen, thank you for being with us.
ALLEN: Thank you, Walter. Thanks so much.
AMANPOUR: Really fascinating insights.
Now, another sort of antidote to the toxic politics of today, to rave reviews, HBO has just launched the film adaptation of David Byrne's
Broadway masterpiece "American Utopia."
The film is directed by Spike Lee. Byrne, of course, headed the cult classic band Talking Heads. And with New York City's Broadway, London's
West End, and live musical performances everywhere devastated by coronavirus, his new film is a reminder that the indomitable creative
spirit will survive to flourish again.
When I spoke with David Byrne in the before times, when Broadway was still packing the house, we talked about his vision of a diverse and harmonious
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program.
DAVID BYRNE, CREATOR, "DAVID BYRNE'S AMERICAN UTOPIA": Thank you. Good to be here.
AMANPOUR: So, "American Utopia," it might sound a little sort of off- kilter really in this, as we've described, partisan and kind of toxic atmosphere.
But you say it without any irony. I mean, you're quite careful to say this is not an ironic statement.
BYRNE: Yes, it's not meant ironically.
It's meant to be -- well, as a friend from London who saw the show early on said, well, the utopia is right there on stage. We see it. We see what's
possible. We see what can be or what we can aspire to.
And it's not just like empty words. It's like there it is. There's evidence.
AMANPOUR: I mean, you took some very important themes and highlighted them. Give me one of them.
The utopia, what do you see on the stage? You talk about your band, for instance.
BYRNE: Yes, the band is from a lot of different places all over the world. There's people from different races, different genders, yes, all that. It's
very mixed up in a way I feel like, that's America. That's the America that I know. That's the America that I think what America stands for.
AMANPOUR: You're an immigrant yourself.
BYRNE: I'm an immigrant myself. I mentioned that. I mentioned that my parents brought me over from Scotland when I was little and that we've all
made homes here.
AMANPOUR: And I just wonder what kind of reaction you get from the audience, from people who come back and see you.
Well, what do they say about what you're trying to say and what you are saying there?
BYRNE: They tell me that it's -- well, they tell me that it gives them home, that it's a tonic, that it's something that they need right now, this
sort of thing, which could make it sound like it's just like, oh, this is going to cheer you up. This is like a happy little thing.
We hit on a lot of issues, we talk about a lot of things that are kind of dark, and -- but in the end, we kind of show you that here we are, we're
together in this.
AMANPOUR: See, I think that's really interesting because, as you say, a lot of the music is very up, but as you've just touched on, there are
issues that are very dark.
And one of them, I just want you to explain. You asked Janelle Monae for her permission to sing her song, essentially in English. It's, what the
hell are you talking about, but it's called -- what is...
BYRNE: "Hell You Talmbout."
AMANPOUR: Which is street talk, correct?
BYRNE: Yes, yes, yes.
And this is -- describe it. Describe what it is, because it's got audience participation, which I didn't expect.
It's a song that she sang at the Women's March years ago, and I heard a recording of it, and I thought it was incredibly moving. And, essentially,
it's like a drum march kind of rhythm, drum line kind of thing with a kind of gospel shout.
And, basically, it's just asking people to remember the names of these young people who have been killed, murdered, as many would say. And...
AMANPOUR: Police violence.
BYRNE: Yes, police violence.
And it doesn't say anything else. It doesn't point fingers. It just says, remember their names.
AMANPOUR: Say their names, and we say their names.
BYRNE: Yes, the audience does that.
And it's -- so, it's not us kind of assaulting the audience or accusing people. It's saying, just remember this. Remember this. Remember these
lives that have been taken.
AMANPOUR: And you also again, mention, and it's very interesting, because you say, have you seen -- in the lobby, we've got these big signs that say,
register to vote. Why did you decide to do that?
BYRNE: I have been doing that for a long time.
Voter turnout -- voter turnout, as I mention in the show, the turnout for the 2016 election was the best it had been in decades in the United States.
And it was 55 percent, which to me is still kind of pathetic. I'm personally in favor of mandatory voting.
AMANPOUR: Yes, like the Australians do, and it's very successful.
BYRNE: Yes, the Australians do it. They do it in Brazil. They do it in other places. It's not perfect. Some people don't vote, and they just pay
But, overall, it does better. And the idea that everyone has a voice is a big start at fixing a lot of things.
AMANPOUR: So, for those who will remember you, obviously, from the Talking Heads, your body movement was very sort of rigid. You were kind of rooted
to the floor in front of the mic, and it was just very different.
Here, you look much more expansive. Your movement is much more joyful or unbridled. What's happened in the interim?
BYRNE: You know, we get older. And it's not just age, but it's kind of like, as time goes by, we change as people. We're not the same people we
were 20, 30 -- I don't know how long it is -- years ago.
AMANPOUR: About 40-ish.
BYRNE: Yes, 40 years ago.
And it's -- yes. There's things that get lost. There's qualities that get lost. Some of that kind of angst and rigidity is kind of charming in a way,
and the fact that it's not entirely there anymore might be seen as a loss. But there's other things that get gained.
AMANPOUR: Well, you were actually, also, I think, saying something. I think you were talking about back then stripping away, the stripped-back
nature of the music and the performance in the '80s.
In the early days, yes, I wanted to strip everything back and say, OK, we're not going to have any received notions. We're not going to dress like
rock stars. We're not going to move like rock stars. We're not going to do all the things that maybe we're supposed to do.
We're going to start from nothing, take everything down, start from nothing, and let's build things, add things on that really feel like they
belong to us.
AMANPOUR: See, you're still not dressed like a rock star. You've always really worn the suit, and you're still wearing it.
AMANPOUR: And you wear it on -- in "American Utopia" as well.
Does the suit say something? It was a feature in the film "Stop Making Sense."
BYRNE: Very early on in my career, I tried wearing a suit on stage, and I bought a very cheap suit at an outlet downtown.
And then, in a rock club, it gets very, very sweaty. So, I threw it in the washing machine, and it just shrunk.
BYRNE: And I realized, at this stage in my career, this is not a very practical thing.
But the idea was, I wanted to look like every man. I wanted to look like I wasn't wearing -- what you would expect a performer...
AMANPOUR: You weren't Elton John, let's say, in terms of stage presence.
BYRNE: No, I wasn't Elton John.
But I wanted to look like -- I wanted my outfit to disappear. It's not possible. I was deceiving myself. But I wanted my outfit to disappear, and
so that what I was saying, what I was doing, the music would be what you paid attention to, not the other kinds of trappings.
I learned better, that you can't make things disappear.
AMANPOUR: Yes, maybe.
You made your shyness maybe disappear. I -- you know, in reading about you and listening to previous interviews, I was quite surprised to hear how shy
you were as a child, and, obviously, how not you are now.
Tell me about the shyness and what the stage meant for you.
BYRNE: Yes, I was very shy, as a child. As a young adult performing. I would do -- be my crazy self on stage, and then retreat and kind of not
talk to anyone afterwards or go into a corner, all those kinds of things.
To a lot of people, that seems like, how could you do that? How could you be on stage if you're shy? But that explains it exactly. That became my
outlet, my way to kind of put myself out in the world, to say what I had to say, to communicate to people, to announce my existence.
And then I could close up again. And, gradually, I think by playing music, my career, working with musicians, performing, the joy of performing and
music, I think it started to change. It's sort of like I invented my own therapy.
BYRNE: And, over the years, it worked.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that leads me to, obviously, the Talking Heads.
You founded this group with your other members there, and then it kind of broke up somewhat acrimoniously. Why did it -- why was it acrimonious, the
breakup? And Tina Weymouth, who was the bassist, right, she...
BYRNE: Yes. Yes.
AMANPOUR: She had something like, David Byrne doesn't react emotionally. He doesn't react emotionally with us.
Tell me about what was going on. Do you accept that?
BYRNE: I don't remember exactly, but she might have -- there might be a grain of truth to that.
I can accept that I may have been a somewhat colder, less understanding person than I was -- than I am now. A lot of people say this, but I tend to
think that it's true, that I think a lot of our parting was very musical.
I had gotten very interested in Latin and Brazilian rhythms and all this kind of thing, which meant that I really had to work with other -- other
kinds of musicians, which I did.
AMANPOUR: And you not only did that.
I mean, you scored the original score for "The Last Emperor." You won an Oscar for that. You have got all sorts of other interests, including -- I
mean, I know that you biked over here. You are a fervent biker, in terms of bicycle.
You have got a charity for that, like, Bike Rack, you started?
BYRNE: Oh, I did some Bike Racks for the city and for the Academy of Music in Brooklyn and different places.
I started biking quite a while ago as just a way of getting around in New York. It seemed very practical, a little risky. It's gotten easier. There's
more secure bike lanes now. You can get from one place to another in a very kind of protected way that you couldn't before.
But I found it just a joy, the kind of -- this idea of floating under your own power, the wind in your face, and you can stop and look at things or
examine stuff or go into a shop, or whatever it might be, whenever you want. You feel like it's just you floating through all this -- not through
heavy traffic, I hope.
AMANPOUR: It's good for your mind.
BYRNE: Yes, I found it really good for my mind. It cleared my mind on my way to work in the morning going to an office or whatever. It kind of
clears your mind or you -- and, at the same time, you're kind of thinking about what you're going to do that day.
It's like when you sleep on an idea and you wake up and you have the solution. It does a little bit of that. Of course, there's other benefits,
like your carbon footprint and all that kind of stuff.
But I -- to me, that's not the reason I did it. I do it because it feels good.
AMANPOUR: I want to play a little clip that we have of -- I mean, it's a long time ago now. It was a performance you did on "The South Bank Show."
And it's a classic Talking Heads, "Psycho Killer."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So that was a little clip.
What do you feel when you see that? Do you miss the Talking Heads?
BYRNE: No, not so much.
I mean, I have gone on to do a lot of things. The fact that now I have ended up with a show that is incredibly emotional, which I thought, me, me
do something incredibly emotional?
Look -- look where you have come to.
AMANPOUR: So, tell me. That's interesting, because I did bring that up a moment ago, but doing smaller, intimate gatherings, what does that mean for
you? What sort of different vibe do you get from that?
BYRNE: There's a much more intimate connection. There's a much more -- a closer connection with the audience. And they feel closer to us as
For me, it gives me an opportunity kind of to take things a little slower, step by step, tell a story, take the audience on a journey, whereas, with a
big concert, it's kind of like entertainment and celebration and everybody have a good time.
But, in this, you can kind of connect the dots and take people from one thing to another, where it actually leads somewhere.
AMANPOUR: So, what else is next for you?
BYRNE: I have a couple of things I'm working on. Thank you for asking.
BYRNE: I guess it's what's called solutions-journalism project...
BYRNE: ... called Reasons to Be Cheerful.
BYRNE: We're very small, but we're doing work and putting out articles and posts and things like that of successful initiatives that we find around
AMANPOUR: So, give me an example.
BYRNE: Oh, OK.
AMANPOUR: I mean, you see something and then you match it with something cheerful; is that right?
BYRNE: Well, we -- it's generally some sort of -- some problem in the world, and we found -- find a place that has found a solution to that, and
we want to make that known.
Like, here's -- so, for instance, I think the last two pieces that I wrote were on housing. Housing is a huge issue in London, New York, San
Francisco, you name it, housing, homelessness, all these kinds of things.
Sol, I asked some people. And they said, OK, you should check out Vienna and Singapore, two different, very different places, very different
approaches to this. But both of them in their own ways have kind of solved the housing problem.
And, in the process, they solve other problems. For instance, Vienna -- it's a long story, but in...
AMANPOUR: And we have only got 30 seconds.
In solving the housing problem, housing for everyone in the city, they have also made it so that you can't tell how wealthy someone is by their
BYRNE: Everything is -- everyone is mixed up.
AMANPOUR: Reasons to Be Cheerful there.
And, of course, one of the reasons to be cheerful is the idea of being able to sit together without masks and have real conversations. And, of course,
that show is now a film, and it's available on HBO Max, part of Warner Media, the parent company of CNN.
And, of course, for many around the world right now, renewed cheer and light at the end of a long, dark tunnel would come in the form of a COVID
vaccine. China is cautiously, but steadily rolling out trials of its version.
And correspondent David Culver went to the city of Yiwu, an international trading hub close to Shanghai, to meet the people who are eager to get in
DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They arrived early from all over China, folks lured to the international manufacturing hub of Yiwu
city, specifically to this small community hospital.
This is one of the first public locations where China's rolled out an experimental COVID -- 19 vaccine. They began injecting people over the
weekend. The cost, about 60 U.S. dollars for two doses.
Word spread quickly. Some showed up Monday thinking they would get a shot, Annie Choo (ph) among them.
This is something important to you. Isn't it? I asked her. Yes, she replied. Adding, because, well, if you have the vaccine it's much safer to
leave the country.
For more than 20 years, Choo's worked in import/export, in Chili and returned home to China amidst the outbreak. She flew to Yiwu the night
before we met her. It's a two-hour flight from her home in southern China. Either and admittedly a bit desperate for immunity.
(on camera): And so, they told you they don't have any and so you have to go and find another place.
(voice-over): Hospital staff confirmed to CNN they had run out. Local officials later announced this distribution was only for those with
specific foreign travel needs and pre-approval. Choo was not the only one disappointed. Notice the groups of people waiting around the hospital
parking lot. Some of them traveled in from neighboring provinces, wanting the vaccine.
(on camera): Yes, would you take the vaccine?
(voice-over): Originally from Syria, we met Anas Chahouta, as he pulled up with his young daughter and wife in the backseat of their car. He was
curious, if not also a bit hesitant.
(on camera): If you were to walk in there, and they had it, would you take it today?
ANAS CHAHOUTA, YIWU RESIDENT: Actually, I don't know, I don't have the answer.
CULVER: As you kind of go through this main interest here, we do know folks are going in to inquire about how they might be part of this trial,
essentially. Because you've got to remember, this is part of the emergency approval use granted by the Chinese government. This is not an actual
release of an approved drug as of yet.
(voice-over): The vaccine distributed at this Yiwu hospital is made by Sinovac Biotech. CNN took you through the Beijing-based biotech company in
August. It is more than a dozen Chinese companies working on a coronavirus vaccine. At the time of our visit in late summer, they were construct a new
facility to meet the production demands, while still going through phase 3 clinical trials which have not yet concluded. It all seemed to be happening
at rapid speeds.
HELEN YANG, SINOVAC YOU BIOTECH: None of the staff is sacrificing any quality of our vaccine, because Sinovac's goal is to provide a vaccine
that's good quality, good safety, good immunogenicity, to the people in the world.
CULVER: China has been trying to push past the early allegations of mishandling, cover ups and silencing of whistle-blowers surrounding the
initial outbreak in Wuhan. And instead, officials here have highlighted their swift and seemingly successful responses to many cluster outbreaks,
the most recent, Qingdao, last week following a major travel holiday.
After only a handful of confirmed cases surfaced health officials began strict contact tracing and tested more than 10 million people in less than
a week, and life it seems quickly returned to near normal again.
But that's mostly within China, a bubble of sorts. For some whose livelihood is rooted in other parts of the world where cases are surging
once again, their only hope may be the vaccine.
Annie Choo and others on to the next location to track one down.
David Culver, CNN, Yiwu, China.
AMANPOUR: David Culver for us there.
And, finally, last week, we reported on this program that tens of thousands of people around the world, predominantly young, had signed up to get
deliberately infected with the virus in order to help fight it.
Well, now the British government has approved this first human challenge study at Imperial College London in the form of controlled clinical trials.
It's all part of the effort to understand the virus better, faster, and find a vaccine.
And two volunteers told us why this is so important to them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALASTAIR FRASER-URQUHART, VOLUNTEER: I can potentially protect thousands of other peoples from having to be infected without consenting to it.
ESTEFANIA HIDALGO, VOLUNTEER: This was a way for me to take great control of the situation, to be like, OK, I can do this, to make it better. I chose
not to be in fear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: A reminder of just how seriously the younger generation is taking the situation and how much they want to be part of the solution to
the crisis of their lifetimes.
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.