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Interview With Author Tom Ricks; Interview With El Paso, Texas, Mayor Dee Margo; Nigerian Protests. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired November 18, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The police came. We are peaceful. They came and start shooting at us.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Blood and bullets in Nigeria. Our Nima Elbagir delivers a chilling investigative report on shooting to kill peaceful
MINERVA MORALES, MOTHER OF COVID-19 VICTIM: If I lose my house, if I lose my car, I will replace it, I will rebuild, but you cannot bring my son
AMANPOUR: A COVID catastrophe in West Texas. We ask El Paso Mayor Dee Margo what he will do to stop the virus ravaging his city.
CHRISTOPHER MILLER, ACTING U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: By January 15, 2021, our forces, their size in Afghanistan will be 2,500 troops.
AMANPOUR: Trump trims U.S. troops abroad again. Military historian Tom Ricks joins us with reaction and reflections from the classics on America's
Plus: One billion Americans? Journalist Matt Yglesias tells our Walter Isaacson why the U.S. needs more people power.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
It's a phenomenon we're seeing all over the world, peaceful protesters out on the streets making their voices heard and calling for justice and
equality. But, sadly, sometimes those voices are silenced with violence.
And that is precisely what happened in Nigeria last month, when thousands of young people protested against police brutality. It was part of a
largely peaceful movement called End SARS.
Now, on October 20, these protests turned deadly, as the military and police moved in an unarmed civilians. The Nigerian army has called
allegations that it fired into the crowd fake news and has told a judiciary panel of inquiry that it did not shoot at any civilian.
But a new and exclusive investigation by CNN from correspondent Nima Elbagir can reveal that this is not true.
And we warn you that some of the images you're about to see may be disturbing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have killed him. They have killed him.
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Nigerian government denies this happened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are killing my people.
ELBAGIR: A peaceful protest turned deadly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The police came. We were peaceful. They came and start shooting at us.
ELBAGIR: CNN investigated the events of Lekki Toll Gate the night of October 20 in Lagos, Nigeria. After analyzing hours of footage, we are
going to tell a story that is radically different than the one the authorities are telling.
This is Godson. He was one of the demonstrators having fun livestreaming the event. He, like many others, gathered in a peaceful demonstration of
discontent, after weeks of protests against what they called systemic police brutality and corruption.
What Godson and the protesters did not know is that the army is already on its way.
This is Bonny Camp, a military garrison on the south side of Lagos. We know through analyzing footage they left at 6:29 p.m. heading towards Lekki Toll
Gate. We can see here the Nigerian government forces approaching. The protesters are gathered on the other side of the gate.
As Nigerian forces get closer, you can see shots. At 6:43 p.m., we start hearing gunfire. We know this from the time stamp and data on this video.
Here's another angle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are releasing fire. They are releasing fire.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They shoot. They shoot. They shoot. They shoot.
ELBAGIR: Nigerian authorities say they fired blanks into the air, and not at protesters. But CNN obtained video that appears to show the army
shooting toward the crowd, here and at the top of your screen here.
In the midst of the chaotic scenes is D.J. Switch. A Nigerian celebrity and activist, she is broadcasting live on Instagram.
D.J. SWITCH, NIGERIAN ACTIVIST: I wanted people to see what was happening. I didn't want anybody to come and twist the story.
ELBAGIR: Witnesses tell CNN ambulances were stopped from entering by Nigerian authorities. You can see here people at the scene trying to
D.J. SWITCH: Please explain to me how in this part of the world do you go to a protest with live bullets?
Everybody, look at this. These are the bullets that were falling, that were falling by our side as we were dodging bullets.
ELBAGIR: CNN verified that these bullet casings are from live ammunition. They are of mixed origin. Some are Serbian, this one from 2005.
Nigerian military sources verified that these ammunitions, they are currently in use by Nigeria's army.
And in collaboration with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network we were also able to procure Serbian export documents proving that Nigeria
purchased weaponry from Serbia for almost every year between 2005 and 2016.
The shooting continued past midnight. Eyewitnesses tell us it wasn't just the army. At this point, they say police arrived and opened fire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My hand is broken. My leg is broken. And police are still shooting at us. And if I don't make it through the night, let it be
known that I died fighting for our freedom.
ELBAGIR: So, why were live rounds used at a peaceful protest? Many family members of those still missing are asking that question, as they hunt for
answers or the bodies of their loved ones.
Elijah's brother Victor was at the protest that night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Someone picked my brother phone and call me and say my brother Victor Sunday is amongst those who died, who was shot at Lekki Toll
And I entered into the hospital and searched. I did not see him. And we are trying. We are trying our best to just find him. But there is no way to
ELBAGIR: What we're about to show you is incredibly graphic, but it's also incredibly important.
This is Elijah's brother Victor. The data in this footage shows it was filmed at 1:04 a.m. at Lekki Toll Gate. Elijah says he received a call
about his brother's death around this time.
This places Victor exactly at the location of the protests on the night witnesses say they were shot at. This is important because Nigerian
authorities deny anyone was killed at the scene.
Since this incident, CNN has contacted over 100 protesters and family members.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They pointed their guns at us and they started shooting.
ELBAGIR: We asked what they heard...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard gunshots from behind the toll.
ELBAGIR: ... and felt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where I was shot, and the bullet went through my back.
ELBAGIR: Many are in hiding. Some have fled the country. CNN tried to share these findings with the Nigerian army, but received no response.
Lagos state authorities would not comment on our reporting until, they said, a judicial panel of inquiry presents its findings. The wait for
answers here continues.
AMANPOUR: Painstaking reporting by Nima Elbagir there.
Now, this network has repeatedly reached out to the Nigerian government for comment, but has not heard back. However, while before a judicial tribunal,
a Nigerian army general testified: "There is no way officers and men will kill their brothers and sisters. I repeat, no way."
And now we turn to the COVID crisis. France today passed an unenviable milestone, becoming the first European country to reach the two million
case mark, as Boris Johnson over in the U.K. becomes the first leader in its history to do a virtual prime minister's questions. He's isolating.
Meanwhile, across the ocean, coronavirus hot spots in the United States are almost too many to count now. One city that has been particularly hard-hit
is El Paso, Texas, recording about 1,000 cases per day, and hospitals are overflowing. And inmates now have been recruited to help transport victims'
Mayor Dee Margo is joining me now from there.
Welcome to the program, again, from El Paso.
Mayor Dee Margo, it looks like your city is being rapidly overwhelmed. Can you tell me the state of play right now? Do you have any capacity to keep
this under control?
DEE MARGO (R), MAYOR OF EL PASO, TEXAS: We do have capacity, and we have been provided with resources both from the federal government through FEMA
and through our state government.
Unfortunately, we have set up an alternate care site, which is like a care hospital, at our Convention Center with up to 100 beds. And the other
hospitals, we have tents around the hospitals, but the -- but the existing hospitals have been able to find 550 more beds.
Today, we announced just under 1,000 positives. We're probably at about 91 percent of our hospital capacity at this juncture. And that's less than
yesterday. We're trying to follow -- the closest area that went through what we're going through was the Rio Grande Valley of Texas in Hidalgo
And when we reached out to them when I had our public health -- the head of our public health department reach out to her counterpart down there, they
said -- I asked, how long did it take them to get control, so to speak, or to have some plateaus?
And they said it was about four to five weeks. And we're hitting our fifth week this week. It's not good, but, so far, we have been able to handle it.
We have got about 1,500 additional medical personnel that have been sent to us through the state Texas Department of Emergency Management, and we're
And we have done some deep dives to analyze, where are these positives coming from? And we think we have some better data that we just picked up
that I was given yesterday.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, let me ask you, where are they coming from? And what is it that's helping you get the curve -- as you say, you're doing a little
better today than you did yesterday, thank goodness.
What is helping you do that? Because I know that you actually -- you're a Republican, but you don't mind masks, and you have supported the use of
But you don't like the idea of a lockdown. And there's a bit of a back-and- forth over how that's gone with the court order and all the rest of it. How are you getting it down, then, this case -- these cases?
MARGO: Well, first of all, everything seems to point to human behavior, the failure to wear the mask and maintain the distancing and do that.
When we talked to our counterparts in the Rio Grande Valley, they said most of their positives, after they did their deep dive into the data after it
settled down, was mostly home gatherings.
Now, what we have gathered -- we did an analysis from November the 10th through November the 16th of all of our positives. And we found out that
55.11 percent were coming from shopping at what we could call the big box stores. And those are considered essential. And, under federal guidelines,
if I wanted to shut them down, I couldn't anyway.
So it didn't make sense just to go out there and deal with that. What we have tried to do is, I have done a couple of things. We have asked that
families in El Paso -- in our nature, our border culture, it's a family event to go shopping, always has been.
And so we have asked that families restrict the number of people who shopping to one, if possible. If you're a single parent, we understand you
are going to have to take your kids. We have asked the big box retailers, the Walmarts and others, to do metering, which is limiting their occupancy
in their stores.
We can't shut them down, but we can ask for voluntary metering. Walmart announced yesterday that they would go along with that. We have reached out
to other of the big box stores as well to receive some kind of voluntary agreement.
We have reduced the restaurant, bar restaurant, bar hours from -- to 9:00 p.m. I did that about a month ago, almost five weeks ago, takeout only
after that. We seem to think that that is starting to materialize into some...
MARGO: We're also finding out that people were just leaving the bars or the restaurants and going elsewhere and congregating and continuing to
AMANPOUR: Right, yes.
Well, I wanted to ask you, because you obviously sound frustrated by that. And, of course, it's human behavior and also an issue, I guess, of
consistent guidance and modeling from the top.
So, I wanted to ask you whether -- well, let me just play this sound bite from one of the chief nurses. You say the hospitals now may be able to
cope, but this is over this period that you have talked about since November 10 trying to do a deep dive.
This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUAN ANCHONDO, CHIEF NURSE, LAS PALMAS MEDICAL CENTER: This order is especially a disaster for our health care system, which is in near collapse
here in El Paso, from the calamity just ripping through our facilities every day.
I work at the med surge unit, and I get floated quite often, our colleagues on our unit, to the COVID floors. So I have seen firsthand what it does.
People need to take this much more seriously, and more patients are dying every day, and we're not able to keep up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, he's obviously talking about how he feels that, actually, it's negatively impacting the hospitals to have this stay-at-home or
shutdown order reversed, as you all know.
And there's a lot of -- there's a lot of confusion, it seems, between state, city, local officials' orders, recommendations.
How difficult is that? And how do people -- how are they meant to know what to do, when so many people are telling them different things, Mayor?
MARGO: Well, we have got to attack the problem.
And the issue related to the shutdown would have no bearing on the big box retailers or all of those that are considered essential. So, if you do a
shutdown, which is what was attempted to do, and we did months ago, if you do a shutdown, then you're picking winners and losers.
And what we have shown is that gyms are not the problem. Yet we're going to shut down gyms, and people need to be physically fit to be able to weather
But the bottom line, it's an unequal balancing act, that I've said now we're in the middle of it. I'm on a tightwire. We have had 32,000, almost
33,000 El Pasoans file for unemployment. We have 148,000 El Pasoans being fed by our food bank. It's -- it can't go either way.
And the emotional toll on both sides. People are just trying to put food on the table, and pay for their own medicines and their rent. But, also,
everything I read about the shutdowns from the WHO and other say the most dramatic impact is on the lowest rung of our economic ladder.
So, my issue was, let's target where those things are. That's why I shut the restaurants down at 9:00 p.m., except for takeout. But it boils down
to, you have got to -- it's human behavior. We're going to -- even when the vaccine comes out, we're going to have to adjust our behavior.
And that means we are going to have to continue to wear face coverings, maintain distancing, and wash your hands frequently. There's just --
there's no way around it. Our behavior must change. And over 50 percent of our positives are coming from the ages of 20 to 39.
AMANPOUR: Mayor, you say it's human behavior. You're absolutely right, of course, and there are leadership issues as well.
I mean, here in Europe, we have had, again, lockdown 2.0. And in some of the worst-affected countries, like this one, like France, the R-rate is
coming down because of the lockdowns. And, clearly, nobody likes them, and, clearly, it affects the economy, but the medical and scientific advice is
that you can't get the economy stable until you control this virus.
So, you have told me about your feelings here. But human behavior, I wonder what you think of, I'm sorry to say, these terrible right-wing news
organizations that are mocking human behavior specifically designed and recommended to slow this virus, mocking the idea of masks, still calling it
a hoax, still saying that there are conspiracies to spread coronavirus to the president and that Dr. Fauci is in on it.
I mean, it's just madness. And you're talking to me about human behavior. What do you wish the -- either the social media or these networks or
whatever would be doing in a situation like this?
MARGO: Everybody needs to wear a mask. It goes without saying. And it's almost 24/7.
You have got to limit your family gatherings. That's a big issue with us. I'm very concerned about Thanksgiving coming up week year. The travel to
Mexico is an issue for us. We're the largest U.S. city on the Mexican border. It's a lot of things that we need to control.
But the shutdown was only going to shut down the businesses that we have shown from our data and analysis...
AMANPOUR: Right. You have said that.
MARGO: ... weren't the...
MARGO: ... to begin with.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Yes, I get that. But I just...
MARGO: But everybody needs to be wearing a mask.
MARGO: The pictures of people not wearing them and not maintaining distancing is just ludicrous.
AMANPOUR: I know, but they are being egged on, Mayor.
I don't know, as a leader, what you can say maybe to these media organizations that is costing people's lives, and it's making your jobs
MARGO: Well, Christiane...
AMANPOUR: I mean, look, you've just now had to recruit -- you've had to recruit prisoners to a pretty low pay to move bodies around. And they're
not medically trained. And they're having to do this now.
How long is that sustainable?
MARGO: Well, I'm hopeful that we're starting to plateau.
But we're in a highly vulnerable population. We're 85 percent Hispanic. We have high levels of hypertension and diabetes, which makes us doubly
vulnerable, given where we are. And virtually 95 percent to 98 percent of our deaths, unfortunately, have come with underlying conditions.
So, it's just we have an exceptionally vulnerable population.
I initiated, along with my county judge -- back in March, we initiated a mask mandate. And then the governor said no, and then he came back and said
yes. Under our guidance, under our health directives it's a 200 -- it's a warning initially if you're not wearing a mask, and then it's a $250 fine
each time you're cited.
So we're doing the best we can to try to do that, to handle it accordingly. But, again, I say we have got to limit the family gatherings. That's where
people let their guards down. And we have multigenerational families here. It's part of our nature and culture. And we just -- we can't continue that
But I'm hopeful that we will trend similar to the Rio Grande Valley with Hidalgo County, and that we will start to see some plateauing. But today is
the first day that it's been below 1,000 since the first of last week, and then we had a spike.
So, I -- but, right now -- and every number that I cite is a person. And I'm trying to explain to people, it's not a statistic. It's a person with a
AMANPOUR: Yes. Yes.
MARGO: And they are siblings. They're brothers. They're sisters. They're parents, grandparents. They're children.
And people need to understand that. But, at the same time, we go back, our death rate is 1.04 percent. And we have tested almost 600,000 El Pasoans.
So we're testing. Our asymptomatic tests -- those that are asymptomatic has dropped from 27-some-odd percent to about 12 percent.
So more people are ill, and I think that's starting to register with people.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, Mr. Mayor, because you say behind every death and every statistic is a person, obviously.
Here's a person, a mother who lost her son, and this is her talking to us in -- on November 10, which is around the time you start doing your major
investigation into this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MORALES: We have an empty chair now. We have a void that will never be filled. And you know what? If I lose my house, if I lose my car, I'll
replace it, I'll rebuild, but you cannot bring my son back. You can't.
And they are arguing over this, and it makes me angry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Mr. Mayor, it's really, really sad.
And I just want to ask you, because you have seen with your own eyes what's going on right now in Washington. President Trump is refusing not just to
concede, but to help the incoming president-elect and his team with the transition, including on coronavirus, including on vaccine preparation.
And president-elect Biden has said that more people will die unless the normal procedure starts to launch right now. What would you say to
Washington, or -- I mean, is this realistic to you? Is this OK to you that the incoming administration that's got to deal with people in your city and
all over the United States who are dying and getting sick don't have the wherewithal to do it?
MARGO: Well, Christiane, I have avoided politicizing anything I have dealt. And, as you have interviewed me before, I have gone through an
immigration crisis here. I have gone through our tragic August 3 shooting, and the attacks on who we are as a people, and now this.
I'm focused on what we can do locally. I have received all the support I need from the federal government and from the -- and from the state
government related to personnel support, hospital facility setups, PPE, medical personnel, everything.
We're just trying to get our arms around this and maybe stop some of this that that mother that you just played is having to go through. And at the
same time, we're getting -- I'm getting the calls from the people who say, I'm at my wit's end. I don't have any more money. I can't pay my rent. I
can't buy my medicines. And I'm having trouble putting food on the table.
And the mental strain on both sides, the emotional strain, is untenable. We have got to the get this behind us. We need the vaccines and people need to
change their behavior.
AMANPOUR: Well, Mayor Dee Margo, I appreciate you joining me. I can feel the strain and the stress in your voice in the way you're talking to me,
and I really do wish your city good luck.
When the United States Constitution was drafted back in 1787, it was with one clear aim, democracy, but, today, what are its strengths and what are
President Trump's tenure and his refusal to concede have many at home and, of course, around the world questioning the American experiment now. And,
in his last days in office, he seems to be trying to box Joe Biden in, not just over coronavirus, but, for instance, including over significant U.S.
troops withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq, while the dangers of ISIS and the Taliban persist.
Our next guest is military historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tom Ricks. He's covered the U.S. military at war for some two decades for
both "The Wall Street Journal" and "The Washington Post." And after the 2016 election, he turned to the classics to understand how they influence
America's founding fathers.
The result is his new book first principles. And he is joining me now.
Tom Ricks, welcome back to the program.
TOM RICKS, AUTHOR, "FIRST PRINCIPLES": Thank you. Good to be...
AMANPOUR: Let me first ask you -- yes.
Let me first ask you just to draw on your memories and your coverage of all these military operations in the field.
Does it sound reasonable to you? Of course, everybody wants troops home. The Afghan war has been going on since 9/11. So, that is a long, long time.
Does it sound reasonable to draw down troops at this point, given the current conditions on the ground?
RICKS: No, it doesn't.
You have a lame-duck president who only has got a few weeks left in office who seems to have stopped working entirely on his job. It's a bad way to do
The way it should be done is in coordination with the Afghan government. And if the Afghan government says, please leave behind at least a small
anti-terrorism force to help us, a coordinating force, that has to be considered. And so you may not get what Trump is talking about.
But I think it's just bad medicine for him to try to be doing these things when he only has a couple of months left in office.
AMANPOUR: Let me just play just for you and our viewers to hear what even the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has said about this. It's sort
of a bipartisan rejection of this troop withdrawal that's just been suddenly announced. Let's just play what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight, delight the people who
wish us harm.
The consequences of a premature American exit would likely be even worse than President Obama's withdrawal from Iraq back in 2011, which fueled,
fueled the rise of ISIS and a new round of global terrorism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Do you agree, Tom Ricks?
RICKS: I am surprised to say that, yes, for the first time in my life, I agree with Mitch McConnell, especially the point on the allies.
This seems to me just one more way for Trump to antagonize NATO. He never seems to have understood what the purpose of NATO is. I don't think he
understands it, but then I don't think he understands the U.S. Constitution either.
AMANPOUR: Yes, and we have to say, obviously, for those who don't know, that NATO allies are on the ground with the United States forces in these
areas. And they, too, are very, very concerned about that.
So, let us get back to your book, "First Principles." Now, you said that you woke up after the 2016 election and tried to figure out, I think, if
I'm not mistaken: "What kind of nation do we have now? Is this what was design or intended by the nation's founders?"
What have you discovered after four years of research?
RICKS: Well, asking that question took me back to sort of the fundamentals. So I went and read Aristotle's "Politics," which, by the way,
says an oligarchy is the most volatile and unsustainable form of government.
And I think the United States has become kind of an oligarchy ruled by the rich, with democratic trappings.
So, I went through reading a lot of ancient philosophy and history and literature. And that took me into Roman history more, and that took me into
the American Revolutionary generation, because that was the core of their education.
But, for them, the central event in political history was the decline of the Roman republic, with Cato, Cicero, Julius Caesar. And that's what they
thought they needed to imitate: What can we do as a republic, and how can we prevent happening to the United States as we design it from what
happened to the Roman republic and the eventual takeover by a general, Julius Caesar?
And so what they did is say, how can we avoid the mistakes they made in Rome? And they thought the two big mistakes Rome were faction and
corruption. By faction, they meant partisanship, political parties. And by corruption, they meant the influence of money on politicians.
Well, I think they would be very surprised, the founders, the framers of the American Constitution, if they saw the role that money plays in
American politics now, that the dollar is more important than the vote.
AMANPOUR: I mean, that's pretty strong stuff you're saying right now.
But I do want to actually ask you about the issue of the republic, because, as you were speaking then, I remember, not so long ago -- and I can't
remember which senator it is -- it's a Republican senator who said that the founders envisioned a republic and not a democracy.
Take me through that.
RICKS: I would say that they envisioned -- they envisioned a democratic republic.
But the emphasis was on republic, which -- it had aspects of monarchy and aristocracy and democracy, the presidency being a kind of short-term
monarchy, subject to the will of the people, the Senate and the Supreme Court both representing an aristocratic element, and the House of
Representatives representing a more democratic element directly elected by the people, which for the first half of the history of this country, the
Senate was not, the Senate was sent by the state legislatures.
So, they wanted a mixed form of government partly because they read in ancient history that that was the most sustainable form. They had been
taught, and their entire political vocabulary comes from this history that Republics are not sustainable. They tend to fail quickly and fall apart and
also that Republics can't be big. Montesquieu, the French philosopher of the Enlightenment very influenced by the Romans as well, Montesquieu tells
them in his writings that you can't have a big Republic, and to them this had the urgency or front-page news and what are we going to do?
And James Madison who is, I think, underappreciated, is probably, I think, the second most important person in the founding of the country. James
Madison comes along and says, OK, and he studies Ancient Greek history and Republics and federations for four years, and then he bangs the drum to get
together a constitutional convention and then he gives the big speech at beginning of the convention that offers a Zion for the country, then he
gets the -- he leads the ratification campaign.
And he offers a plan that says, you know what we're going to do, we're going to radically disperse power across the country. We're going to divide
power between state governments and a central federal government. Within the federal government, we're going to have three branches, legislative,
executive and judiciary. And we're also going to have two branches within legislative. Power is thrown across the country because he wants to make it
so if you're going to make any progress forward, you're going to have to have coalitions. You're going to have to have alliances. You're going to
have to compromise and make deals. You're going to have to have balance.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you.
RICKS: Go ahead.
AMANPOUR: Because that's checks and balances that you're talking about and it's Madison. You know, obviously, we're speaking in the midst of a
completely unprecedented presidential action in the United States. I don't think it's ever happened, and you tell me, you correct me, you know, I'm
just sitting over here in the U.K., has ever a president who lost an election refused to concede, refused to do the transition, refused to
Right now, people around the world are looking at the United States with deep fear that their vision of a great democracy is kind of imploding in
front of their eyes. So, just try to connect the classics, Madison, the founders and what we're seeing today and what could protect the democracy
of the United States from the, you know, assault on all the values that we're seeing right now?
RICKS: No problem. Absolutely. John Adams, the second American president, comes after Washington. He's a lousy president. He believes he should not
be criticized. He throws a bunch of newspaper editors in jail. He loses his re-election bid. So, he's a birth one-term president. He turns over power
to Thomas Jefferson. It's the first transfer of power in the United States to the opposition, but a bitter angry man, he does two things to kind of
undercut that peaceful transition. The first thing he does is make a bunch of appointments right at the end of his term and then refuses to go to
Jefferson's inauguration and instead, gets on the 4:00 a.m. coach to Baltimore and leaves Washington before Jefferson takes power.
AMANPOUR: That is very interesting. So, right now, you have this president not yet conceding and not taking part in the normal transition, but you
have his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo who is traveling around the world right now, he's been to Georgia where he's talking up the idea, that's the
Country of Georgia, of free and fair elections and respecting the vote. He's been doing that all over the world. And yet, in the State of Georgia
in the United States, the Trump administration is still is not, you know, prepared to accept the count as it's being recounted right now, and, you
know, trying to do all sorts of legal efforts against this and tweeting that he's won the election.
RICKS: Hold on.
AMANPOUR: Again, where do you see this ending up?
RICKS: This group in power right now or losing power right now, they are a bunch of bums, grifters and scoundrels. They are all in it for themselves.
They are not look out for the interests of the country, and I think the rest of the world recognizes this. It's not going to take Pompeo very
seriously. These people are looking to their own.
And, you know, we've had bad people in power before. As James Madison said, if men were angels, we wouldn't need a government. I think it will end with
a whimper. I think Trump will claim -- he'll eventually leave peacefully but he's going to claim that the election was stolen from him, you know,
he's never going to concede it and he's going to try to see if he can either lead a right wing movement or start a T.V. channel or come up with
some other scam. But he basically is a not very competent jerk, and I think it's going to be hard for him to keep up this act, but I think there will
be a small 1 percent to 4 percent of Americans who will take his word as gospel.
AMANPOUR: Well, yes. And, again, just put it in the classics then. What happens because Trumpism hasn't been defeated and many people around the
world keep saying to me, you know, this is the election, but the ism has not been defeated and that will continue. Put that back into classical
history for us.
RICKS: Sure, and I'll take it back to American history, too. Aaron Burr was commonly referred to as a Catiline, a conspirator coming out of Roman
history, a real dangerous fellow, and, you know, after he killed Alexander Hamilton a few years later he was indicted for treason, a former vice
president. But as Thomas Jefferson said in taking over from John Adams, he said, look, two points. Number one, not every opinion is a principle. We
don't have to fight over everything. Number two, he said, I'm not going to shut down the federalist, the opposition. I'm not going to put my critics
in jail. Let people speak. Let the public arena hear them, and if they are right, people will listen to them. If they are wrong people will ignore
And I think in the long run --
AMANPOUR: All right.
RICKS: -- what the constitution demonstrates and American history demonstrates is the constitution, which has a lot of flaws in it, still is
a very resilient mechanism. It has lasted for well over 250 years now because I think of the genius of it being an amendable system and a system
that is built that force people to compromise.
AMANPOUR: All right. Thomas Ricks, we're out of time. That's really interesting and ending on an optimistic note. Thank you so much. Author of
And our next guest says that when it comes to America's population size bigger is better. His latest book is called "One Billion Americans, The
Case for Thinking Bigger." Matthew Yglesias is an American journalist and co-founder of Vox News. And here, he's speaking to our Walter Isaacson
about this thesis.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNNI HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And Matthew, welcome to the show.
MATTHEW YGLESIAS, CO-FOUNDER, VOX: Very glad to be here.
ISAACSON: You are one of the co-founders with Ezra Klein of Vox, that wonderful explainer news site. And recently, you just left. Why did you
YGLESIAS: Well, you know, I was a co-founder there but hadn't been in management for several years and, you know, I was just sort of trying to be
a writer. But it's hard when you're so closely affiliated with a place to also be an independent voice on your own. And I think we've seen some
trends in digital media in particular that don't really rub me the right way. I think less interest t in provocation and challenging people than it
used to have or than I'm interested in doing. So, it seemed like a new time to explore new opportunities and do something more independent.
ISAACSON: Well, certainly digital media has a lot of provocation. It seems to me the problem you were facing there was that there was sort of a
newsroom and woke newsroom that was in a bubble that didn't like the progressive view being challenged too much.
YGLESIAS: You know, I mean, you know, you have a lot of people, young people, college graduates living in a couple big cities, a lot of very
left-wing ideas sort of being mainstreamed, and I think it's not a really healthy environment. You know, I think people need to have some of their
perceptions challenged. I think that's the role of journalism to, you know, tell people not necessarily what they want to hear. And I think at Vox and
at lot of places the prevailing temper really sort of goes against that.
ISAACSON: Give me some examples of pushback you got.
YGLESIAS: Really early on after George Floyd died. I wanted to write a piece about how police departments were actually killing fewer African-
Americans, particularly fewer unarmed African-Americans, and I didn't mean that as a critique exactly of Black Lives Matter so much as to say that,
you know, activists were having some success here or a reform process was working. But a lot of people reacted very negatively to that idea. It was
like to say that progress was existing was to be dismissive of people's complaints.
And to me, like that doesn't make any sense, right. Like we need to get a realistic view of problems and of solutions and what is happening, and, you
know, that then moved on to the debates about do we need to defund or somehow abolish the police because if you think institutions are
unreformable or unredeemable, of course, you'll go in that direction. But the facts just don't support that analysis. Relatively small changes that
had been made since Michael Brown, since Ferguson, were making a real difference, and you could continue on the path of changing things.
And, you know, any time you try to make progress, some people will be frustrated, some people will resist, some things won't go fast enough, but
we potentially had this going in a healthy direction, and then instead it spun out. There was an incredible fad across so many media organizations
for these police defunding and incredibly superficial reads of the literature on policing and crime, and then we saw it blew up, right.
There's been great reporting more recently out of Minneapolis where suddenly all kinds of people there, black, white, you know, all kinds of
people are saying, hey, wait a minute, crime is soaring now and that's really bad.
And to me it was just a really odd environment over the summer where there was incredible pressure not just at one institution but at so many
institutions to sort of not talk about the full complexity of urban crime as a political issue.
ISAACSON: Do you think the fact that almost all people in these mainstream newsrooms and digital newsrooms, college educated, puts them in a bubble
where they are somehow clueless about what a lot of people in this country were feeling about words like defund the police?
YGLESIAS: I mean, I think we've seen it time and again. We saw it first with Donald Trump where so many people were surprise that had he could win
the Republican nomination. So many people were surprised he could win the presidency. Then so many people were surprised that had Biden could win the
Democratic nomination for the exact same reason, not paying attention to older and more working-class people who are simply the majority of the
And then we saw it again, I think, with defund the police type of rhetoric, and when you see a group of people -- I mean, you know, I'm 39, college
graduate, living in Washington, D.C. I'm not so different from anybody else in the media, but it's when you don't realize that you are not typical of
the country, right, that the average voter is a bit over 50. The average voter didn't go to college. The average voter is just more conservative on
social and cultural issues.
ISAACSON: You have a sentence which I'm going to read to you and I'd like you to unpack it for me, it's pretty powerful in, I guess, one of your
latest newsletters that says, Democrats have increasingly got themselves sucked into a vortex of highbrow cultural politics. What do you mean by
YGLESIAS: The use of the word Latinx is one that is really salient to me. In sort of activist circles, this idea arose that Latino is not a good word
because it uses grammatical gender, right, as Spanish words do. So, we needed a gender-neutral term so people would start to right Latino/A, which
is not pronounceable. Then they came up with the idea of Latinx. And people started using that in activist circles, but almost no Hispanic people use
that is term. No Mexican-Americans, no Puerto Ricans, no Cuban-Americans use that term. And so many progressives didn't even realize that they were
sort of imposing this word that was invented outside the community for other reasons.
And if you think about it with any kind of sensitivity, right, to say to people, you know, who are maybe native Spanish-speakers or learned it from
their parents that the entire grammar of the Spanish language is problematic and bad and needs to be eliminated, that's a very out-of-touch
kind of thing to say to a group of people, and it's really only since the election that I've started to hear some of the Hispanic members of Congress
talking about this and how -- like they don't think people should be using this kind of verbiage.
Again, you know, like one word does not hinge elections, but the fact that you could come up with this kind of thing and not realize that it's out of
touch with the people you're trying to speak to was to me a big sign of trouble here, that Democrats watched non-college white voters slip away
over a number of decades, and they told themselves, you know, it's OK. We've got a growing black and Hispanic population in the United States. And
now, those non-college non-white voters also started to slip to Trump. And Republicans could do a lot better than Donald Trump in terms of outreach to
non-white people in the United States. So, it's something, you know, democrats really ought to be worried about.
ISAACSON: What do you take from the fact that Proposition 16 which tried to reinstate affirmative action in California, probably the most liberal
state in the country, failed?
YGLESIAS: I mean, that kind of racial justice politics, you see it has a very narrow constituency. California is about 40 percent non-Hispanic
white. The white population of California is much more liberal than the national average and, you know, it didn't go over there even though the
governor, the lieutenant governor, almost every statewide elected official, the mayors of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, they all
lined up for this thing. It didn't fly.
And at the same time, you saw, you know, a referendum in Florida to raise the minimum wage. That passed. Two years ago, minimum wage referendum
passed in Arkansas, it passed in Missouri. Those kinds of more traditional liberal issues have actually become more popular than they were in the
past, but a lot of progressives' sort of have moved beyond that kind of thing and they want to get into what I guess they consider to be anti-
racist politics, very minute attention to the allocation of elite positions. A lot of focus on special diversity initiatives, and it has very
little purchase with the mass public, in part, I think because it violates people's sense of fairness but also because it has so little to do with
most people's lives. Like, exactly who gets to go to Berkeley actually doesn't help the vast majority of people in California or any state.
ISAACSON: But, Matt, isn't it a deep moral issue that we have to be more inclusive, have to have more diversity and have to make sure that people
who have been discriminated against over the past generations get to be brought to be part of our society, including in good jobs as well as in
good colleges and universities?
YGLESIAS: I mean, I think we absolutely have to be more inclusive. You know, Trump, right, put forward for most of his term this very exclusionary
idea of America, this obsession with the idea that immigrants were weakening our country, and I think that's really wrong. I mean, America is
always sort of at its strongest when it is a haven for all sorts of people, when it is a diverse society, when people from all different backgrounds
At the same time, you know, the United States really is that diverse society. We had Barack Obama as president. We're going to have Kamala
Harris as vice president. When you look at, you know, European country, you look at Asian democracies, you don't see the levels of diversity and
inclusion that exist in the United States. And there is something to be said, I think, for having a somewhat more positive view of these things
than either this is very dyspeptic, you know, Trumpy, like, oh, we need to make America great again, you know, things have become horrible in the
recent past, and there's a dyspeptic view on the left that like this country is irredeemable or original sins that need to be expunged.
But in fact, you know, we have problems, like all countries do. Nothing is perfect. But America is pretty good, you know, in a lot of ways, right. The
essence of the whole immigration debate is that people would like to come here. People from lots of different countries who are aware that the United
States is imperfect are also aware that it provides extraordinary opportunities to a lot of people and we should fight to make sure that that
continues to be the case.
ISAACSON: You've written a book called "One Billion Americans" that has just come out, and I think that what more than would triple the size of the
population. Why will we do that?
YGLESIAS: Well, you know, my big idea in this book, right, was to think seriously about international competition with China. It's a big topic.
It's something -- Trump spoke about it. It's something Biden's transition team is thinking about. It's something that Americans care about.
Fundamentally, why is China a major power on the world stage with an economy that's about as prosperous as Mexico and Bulgaria? It's because the
country is so big. There's 1.2 billion people in China. The United States historically has been a major power in a way that say Canada is not. Canada
is a nice place, you know. I've been there. I know Canadian people. But the reason America is a great power in the world is that American leaders in
the 19th and 20th centuries acted to sort of build-up the United States, right. A lot that have was immigrants. Some of it is just, you know,
domestic fertility. People have children, to be a really big country. American leaders wanted us to be a big deal in the world.
And I think Americans still have that aspiration and I want to challenge us to take seriously what that means, to support families with young children
so that people can have as many kids as they say they want to have, to continue to be welcoming to immigrants and then look at the problems, you
know, traffic jams and other things that would arise if we had more population growth and solve them.
ISAACSON: What about the environmental impact?
YGLESIAS: So, you know, in a lot of ways I think America has natural resources we need to have more people. We have incredible holdings of
federal lands where the big trade-off is -- it's really with the mining and logging and ranching interests, not with human habitation. We have a lot of
fresh water. We have cleaner air and cleaner water than we've had in the past before.
There's an important question about climate change, right. So, if people come here from poor countries and they achieve American living standards,
their greenhouse gas emissions go up, and that is an issue. That is the downside. At the same time, I don't think if you speak to any thoughtful
environmentalist and you say, well, what's your solution to this problem? They are not going to say, well, we're going to keep half at planet trapped
in poverty forever and ever. That's not a real solution to climate change, right. Real solutions have to come from deploying renewable energy and from
developing new storage technologies and new ways to do, you know, shipping, air travel, these other kinds of things.
So, if we can do that such to have a prosperous green society then we can have a being lather population. If we don't do that stuff, I think they are
trying to shrink the country or abandon economic growth or tell other countries that they are going to stay poor, that to me doesn't work. That's
not a moral solution. It's not had a politically practical solution. It's not in line with how any environmental challenge has ever been met.
ISAACSON: Other than trying to compete with China or maybe India, is there a moral reason why our country should be one billion Americans as you say
in your book?
YGLESIAS: I mean, I think there's incredibly powerful moral reasons to be more open to immigration. I think one of the greatest things that the
United States does for the world and has done historically is provide be an opportunity for people to move here. I also think it's not just moral
though, it's self-interested, right. We look at the Moderna vaccine and one of the founders of that company is ethnically Armenian, born in Lebanon,
immigrated to Canada, then from Canada to the United States. Other born in France, came here. The BioNTech vaccine, that's made by people of Turkish
ancestry whose parents moved to Germany.
Letting people from poorer and less free countries have the opportunity to move to richer and freer ones, it helps them but it helps the whole world,
right, when people are able to reach their fullest potential to innovate, to make great things, those benefits scale tremendously, and it's so far
outweighs small problems of labor market competition.
ISAACSON: But what about the increase of the challenges and problems we'll face with everything from education to health care to even economic
disparity if you open the gates to a lot more immigration?
YGLESIAS: Well, you know, when you do immigration in a smart way, you can help ameliorate those kinds of problems. So, right now, it's incredibly
difficult for a foreign-trained doctor to qualify to practice medicine in the United States. But our medical professionals, they earn much more money
than foreign doctors, and, you know, they are great. We've got great doctors and nurses in the United States, but there's a lot of great doctors
and nurses around the world.
If you can create a pathway for foreign-trained physicians to practice here, that helps make our health care problems easier. It helps solve our
inequality problems. One of the ideas that I have in the book that I borrowed from the U.S. conference of mayors is that we should let cities
that have experienced population decline, a lot of them in the Midwest, some in the northeast and a few in the south, we should let them sponsor
extra visas for people who would like to move here. So, a place like an Akron or a Toledo or a Binghamton can get a new nucleus of skilled workers
coming in and new economic opportunities.
So, a measure like that could help lessen some of the disparities, regional disparities that have kind of pulled apart to an extent the fabric of this
country. So, I think it's not wrong of people to look at social problems and worry about immigration, perhaps exacerbating them, but the world is
such a big place, and the desire to come here is so large that there are ways we can design our programs to actually make those problems better.
ISAACSON: Matthew Yglesias, thanks so much for joining the show.
YGLESIAS: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And that's a debate that happens periodically in Europe, too. And finally, tonight, the queen of country music strikes again. Singer,
songwriter and feminist, Dolly Parton, has donated $1 million to fund the search for a coronavirus vaccine. Parton had announced that back in April,
saying she was donating the large sum to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a partner of American drug-maker, Moderna.
The legendary performer found out this week that her money was used during vital early trials of Moderna's highly successful coronavirus vaccine, and
she said she's so proud to have given the little seed money that will grow into something great and heal this world. Civic duty.
And that is it for now. Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.