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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
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ANDREW LELLING, U.S. ATTORNEY, DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS: The largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
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AMANPOUR: A major criminal investigation highlights the way the rich and powerful can cheat their way into America’s top universities. While in
Britain, the Brexit train rolls on ever closer to the cliff. Who better to talk about all of this? Why the former president of Harvard and former
U.S. Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers.
And blessed relief from all of the above. Music and conversation with superstar pianist Lang Lang.
Plus, love your enemies. Conservative thought leader, Arthur Brooks, wants to end what he calls America’s culture of contempt.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
A major college corruption scandal rocks America’s rich and famous, as 50 defendants across six states face charges in a multi-million-dollar scam to
rig the admission system. Business leaders, CEO’s and Hollywood stars like the actresses, Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives” and Lori Loughlin
from the family sitcom “Full House” are accused of conspiring to buy their children’s way into some of America’s top schools. Channeling bribes to a
college counseling business run by the key government witness, William Singer.
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LELLING: Between roughly 2011 and 2018, wealthy parents paid Singer about $25 million in total to guarantee their children’s admission to elite
schools including Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas, UCLA and Wake Forest.
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AMANPOUR: The case calls into question the many ways America’s college admissions system is already legally skewed in favor of the wealthiest and
the best connected. As always, the world wonders what would Harvard do as the epitome of elite global education where the rich and the powerful buy
to see their children admitted.
My guest, Larry Summers, was president of Harvard in the early 2000s. He was also President Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary and President Barack
Obama’s chief economic advisor. So, he is very well placed to address our other big story here as well, in Britain, the shock to the global financial
system if Brexit happens with a crash and not a deal later this month. He’s joining me now in London.
Larry Summers, welcome back to the program.
LAWRENCE SUMMERS, FORMER PRESIDENT OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Good to be with you.
AMANPOUR: So, you probably didn’t expect to be talking about this but this is water cooler chat all over the United States and people have been taken
really by shock at this alleged bribery and corruption to get into some of the top schools.
You were president of Harvard. It is not directly implicated here, but we’ll talk a little bit about it. What do you know about this? Was it —
was there ever anything like this that came across your table when you were president? Did you — is this sort of (INAUDIBLE), half of the course
we’re only just seeing it put into the public now?
SUMMERS: This is shocking. I didn’t see anything like this, had no idea that anything like this would be going on. I guess I had three reactions,
remembering of course that we don’t know the whole story added, these are accusations.
The first is to suggest a stunning lack of controls, if coaches can be bribed, if fake people can take SATs for other people, if admissions
officers are being subverted, there’s a failure to maintain — apparent failure to maintain controls at a variety of schools.
Second, it bespeaks to something almost pathological in what parents are prepared to do for their kids and to advance their kids’ interests in ways
that must be terribly, terribly unhealthy for the kids. And so, it says something about the culture.
And of course, third, as is often true crime bespeaks and highlights what is grotesque and legal and that can be the role of privilege in our system
and we’ve known that there’s too much privilege that has too much benefit in admissions for a long time. That’s why I was very focused on this part
of it during my time at — as president of Harvard.
We instituted a policy that anyone with an income under $60,000 could go to Harvard paying nothing if they were admitted. We made special efforts to
recruit students from the most disadvantaged ZIP codes in the country. We launched a summer program at Harvard to get disadvantaged kids ready for
college. And we tried, in general, to offset the kinds of benefits that people could hire coaches and teach their kids how to be interviewed and
all of that we’re getting. I don’t think we were able to do enough. But we certainly were able to raise very substantially the extent to which
Harvard was a route to opportunity. And I’m very proud that that’s been continued expanded in wonderful ways by my successor, particularly
president — current president, Larry Bacow.
This kind of thing is now being done it many universities. But this is a this — it connects with the broad sense that too many have in America and
they’re not entirely wrong that elites are rigging the system for their own benefit and for the benefit of their families and not in the common
interest. I think there needs to be a lot of soul searching in higher education.
AMANPOUR: So, let’s just drill down a little bit because we’ve seen what the allegations of the criminality are but you just talked about legally
skewed. I mean, the legal inequality, inequity and rigging of the system and you’ve just laid it out, rich and powerful people can donate, for
instance, Jared Kushner’s father who donated $2.5 million to Harvard before his son got in there. And I’m just using that because it’s a famous name.
SUMMERS: I obviously did comment to that particular admission case.
AMANPOUR: No, I know. I know.
SUMMERS: And I don’t know what the —
AMANPOUR: I know. But you —
SUMMERS: And I don’t know what the facts of that case are. Look —
AMANPOUR: Not that case necessarily.
SUMMERS: — you have a very difficult — in fairness, Christiane, you have a difficult problem, you want universities to admit the best students.
Often the best students are the students who learned the most. Well, there are a lot of things parents can do to help their kids learn the most. We
probably don’t want to say that that can’t be any part of admissions. We have all kinds of arrange — all kinds of arrangements but I do think we’re
— there does need to be a lot of soul searching about the role of privilege.
I mean, that’s true with respect to admissions to top schools, that’s true, Christiane, with respect to who becomes an intern at CNN.
AMANPOUR: Well, not necessarily but certainly in many places.
SUMMERS: Certainly, in many different —
AMANPOUR: Rich people can afford to use their connections and give their children internships rather than sending them out to work.
SUMMERS: So, I think — exactly. That’s what I mean. That’s what I say. Interns, I don’t know the details of CNN. But interns of media
organizations, interns in many different things, first jobs. I think it’s something that we all do need to reflect a great deal on.
AMANPOUR: You’re absolutely right. But let’s — since we’re talking about this college stuff and you’re so uniquely placed to talk about it, first of
all, interns here are paid. That’s the law. It have to be paid.
SUMMERS: Even if they’re paid —
SUMMERS: Even if they’re paid, I would —
AMANPOUR: So, here’s what —
SUMMERS: — be surprised if it were not the case at many media organizations.
AMANPOUR: Right. So, you’re right. Many, many rich and famous —
SUMMERS: That people call and ask if their children —
SUMMERS: — can get —
AMANPOUR: I’m sure that is true.
SUMMERS: — those internships. And if they’re paid, that doesn’t make it better.
AMANPOUR: Right. You’re true. Here’s what a friend told me anecdotally. That she asked one of New York’s most expensive college advisers, off the
record, what the price tag might be to get a daughter into Harvard. He said without missing a beat, “$5 million, but I might go higher if I wanted
to be sure.”
SUMMERS: That’s just not true.
AMANPOUR: But this is what somebody said.
SUMMERS: Lots of people say lots of things about lots of things. That’s not true. I mean, am I going to deny that just as doctors are
disproportionately — the children of doctors that those who have been associated with Harvard for several generations that that’s something our
admissions office notices, of course it — of course our admissions office does. Does our admissions office notice if someone has been a strong
supporter of the school? Yes, it does.
AMANPOUR: And —
SUMMERS: Is there anything — but is there anything like say all of positions independent of the merit of the student? Absolutely not. Are
there students who get in who we think are unable to do the work? Absolutely not, in my experience.
I think you need to recognize, to understand this, and I am not denying that there are real issues and a problem. But if you look at a school, any
of the schools in the Ivy League, they have 30 applicants for every place and they have a half dozen applicants who are — you have near perfect test
scores and virtually all A’s. And yes, in choosing between those super qualified applicants, they do recognize who has been supportive of the
school on occasion. But that’s not grotesquery like accepting bribes, that’s not selling space. But does all of this need to be looked at and
thought about very hard? Absolutely.
I think that — I think the — that people who want to make reform in this area need to think about whether they want to be angry at some kid who’s
privileged who got in or whether they want to do more to get more — less privileged kids in. I think part of the real scandal is that these places,
even though they have all this money, haven’t grown, haven’t expanded their student bodies to reflect a growing America and a growing world.
And in terms of creating opportunity, I’d rather see more growth in these institutions and that would be more where I would put my focus —
AMANPOUR: Meanwhile —
SUMMERS: — creating opportunity. But absolutely, this thing is almost beyond belief and it absolutely should put the issue of what kinds of
benefits or privilege are we —
AMANPOUR: Just so that we — yes.
SUMMERS: — permit on the table.
AMANPOUR: Just so that we kind of know what we’re talking about in this case and then we’re going to move on to other issues. This is what the
federal indictment says, “A private equity executive from Massachusetts ‘sought’ to use bribes to obtain the admission of his two daughters to
Stanford University and Harvard University as recruited athletes. Now, it turns out that the person he thought he was bribing didn’t even exist.” I
mean, this person didn’t exist.
And now, here’s another thing that the U.S. attorney says about a case involving Yale. Let’s listen.
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LELLING: In one example, the head women’s soccer coach at Yale in exchange for $400,000 accepted an applicant as a recruit for the Yale women’s team
despite knowing that the applicant did not even play competitive soccer. The student was, in fact, admitted and afterward, the student’s family paid
Singer $1.2 million for that service.
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AMANPOUR: And —
SUMMERS: Look, look, that stuff is beyond belief. If anyone at Harvard took a bribe, took money and made any kind of assurance of any kind about
admissions, they would — when I was president, they wouldn’t have been working at Harvard the next day. That stuff is beyond belief.
If somebody on the outside is claiming that they can deliver admissions to Harvard and, in fact, has no nexus with Harvard, Harvard obviously would go
after that kind of fraud as well. But you know, people who take bribes will get prosecuted, that happens, it happens in every sector.
I think the deeper issue is the one you started on, which is what’s the role of privilege and even more what are we going to be able to do to get
more of the children of the vast majority of people in the United States who work hard play by the rules into our top schools, and that’s what every
university president should be thinking about.
They — of course, they need better controls and stop the bribes. But the really important thing for the future of the country is what are we going
to do for the vast majority of kids in terms of providing opportunity.
And by the way, also, just one other thing, it’s — yes, this is about Harvard and Yale and Stanford and all that, but it’s also about
strengthening the thousand institutions across the country that aren’t getting the resources they need and where inevitably most kids are going to
go and making sure that you can get a great education at those institutions as well as at the top institutions and that’s a place where we as a country
have really abdicated our responsibility as state legislatures across the country have slashed the budgets of public higher education.
AMANPOUR: So, we’re sort of running out the clock a moment among. But I do want to go on to another manifestation of this inequality is what’s
happening in Brexit and the United States, all these populous politics.
You’re here, you’re talking about the economy, about China, about other things. What do you see as the future of the U.S. economy, China, what’s
going to happen in Brexit as it is tied to this sense of grievance, inequality, injustice?
SUMMERS: Well, let me just say first, Christiane, I didn’t think it was possible to make the U.S. Congress look at extraordinary functional and the
House of Commons that is handling Brexit makes the House — makes the U.S. Congress look extraordinary efficient and affective. And in all of this
raises deep questions about the functionality of Congress.
Britain should get off this wicket (ph), there should be a new referendum and people should vote to remain and that’s the right thing. And if
anything else happens, it will be a tragic error that will haunt Britain for decades to come.
The globally economy, we need ways of, in every country, supporting the middle class more effectively than we are. People feel that their
government is working for the people who go to Davos and is working for people who stay on the sidelines and don’t want to work. And until we fix
that, we’re going to have more Donald Trumps, more Brexits, more (INAUDIBLE) and more problems.
AMANPOUR: If you could wave a magic wand, what would you start to do to erase this notion or this reality that capitalism does not work for the
betterment of the majority anymore? That’s the deep thought and feeling —
SUMMERS: I’d make every public school in the United States a competent well-functioning institution that doesn’t have paint chipping off the
walls, that has qualified dedicated teachers in the classroom and that was — that didn’t have 40 kids to a class and that was determined to maximize
the opportunity of everyone’s kid across the country.
And I think if we did that, people would notice and they’d feel better about the society of which they were part.
AMANPOUR: Larry Summers, former treasury secretary, former president of Harvard, always good to talk to you.
SUMMERS: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Thank you so much.
Now, it’s time for a little musical interlude. And for that we turn to international phenomenon, Lang Lang. The Chinese concert pianist who first
made a splash on the world stage as a child prodigy. For more than a year, Lang Lang has been out of commission with an injured left arm. But now
he’s back with a new album called “Piano Book.” It’s a collection of pieces that he hopes will inspire the next generation. And we sat down at
the piano together at London’s Royal College of Music.
Lang Lang, welcome to the program.
LANG LANG, PIANIST: Such a pleasure.
AMANPOUR: It’s really great to see you in London. I just want to — is this what you’re here to promote here? Is this your new project?
LANG: Yes, it’s the “Piano Book.” But it’s actually a recording with a book together.
AMANPOUR: And what does that mean, a book?
LANG: Yes. So, for me, I would like to share some of my music which I played as a children. I mean, like Fur Elise or the (INAUDIBLE), the
Twinkle Twinkle because those are the first love for me in music and I want to record those pieces for the next generation.
AMANPOUR: Can you give me a little tinkle or Fur Elise and Twinkle Twinkle?
LANG: Absolute. Yes. So, I would the Fur Elise first.
It’s beautiful. I mean, it’s obviously for many, many young people, they would recognize that as —
AMANPOUR: — perhaps the first —
AMANPOUR: — the first piece they would learn.
LANG: Absolutely. Yes.
AMANPOUR: How difficult was it for you to learn? Especially — I mean, in China, was it obviously you were going to learn European music?
LANG: Yes. I mean, as a beginner, most of the piece, I would say, 80 percent are Western classical music and there’s another smaller percent
that we are doing some kind of our arrangement from the Chinese folk music into the piano. Some interesting — they’re OK. Sure.
AMANPOUR: Just a Chinese folk music.
This is kind of like a little happy cowboy song.
AMANPOUR: But I mean, did you grow up listening to music in your household? What was it like growing up?
LANG: Yes. So I had a very, very musical environment because my father plays traditional instrument, he’s orchestra — I mean, not he’s orchestra
but he’s in the orchestra. And then — so, he had many colleagues. So, we all — both of my parents and me, we all live in the same dormitory as the
other musicians and they all play a different type of music and all their children are into the piano playing.
AMANPOUR: So, it was considered something that you would have to do, you’d be expected to follow your parents in the musical —
LANG: It’s actually quite natural because everyone somehow as a piano in their home andeveryone just kind of start to try to who’s number one in the
morning, like waking up to start, you know, push the keys/
AMANPOUR: How much practice do you have? I mean, you were young, you were a little boy and I think you had to do a huge amount of practice before
LANG: Sure, sure.
AMANPOUR: — before going to school and when you came back from school.
LANG: Yes. I always had to show them (ph). Like yes, it depends on how older you are. If you’re five, practice five hours. If you’re six, six
hours. I mean, just — I know when I say that everyone was like, “Are you crazy?” What about you know? I mean, 36 hours you practice.”
LANG: I did practice at least five to six hours during the schooldays. And then off schooldays, then eight hours a day.
AMANPOUR: That’s a lot.
LANG: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: And you actually did get injured last year, right?
AMANPOUR: You spent a lot of time recovering from your injury.
LANG: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: I mean, was it because you overplayed and over practiced? I mean, how did you get an injury? How does a pianist get an injury?
LANG: Yes. It’s a sort of — I would say overuse, overuse and also, I was practicing, you know, a left-hand piece and I did not know the position.
So, you know, you kind of somehow — you know, inflamed after, you know.
AMANPOUR: So, you got a tendinitis?
AMANPOUR: What are your favorite pieces to play? Do you have favorites, for instance, when you’re on stage?
LANG: Sure. I mean, there — I mean, really — I mean, it depends on the moment. And I would say, you know, now, my favorite piece is — because
the next year I’m going to do the Goldberg Variations by Bach. So — and so, my favorite is this — the world most incredible melody, I think.
Yes. But, of course, if I’m a little depressed, then I would like to play like (INAUDIBLE). Get out the — from the struggling. So, it depends on
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, I can feel it. I really can. But I can just see in this instance here what everybody knows about you, and that is not only
are you a great talent but you’re also a great showman. You are, you’re a great actor, you feel, you’re dramatic. A lot of people love that and some
There’s some critics who say, you know, “He’s too much of a showman.” What is your answer to them?
LANG: You know, people can say whatever they want. But I — for me, the parity is to be a great musician first. And then if I establish that
first, then to be on the side, a showman, is not so bad.
AMANPOUR: And there have been in the past, right. I mean, there’s some — what — do you have mentors? Do you have pianists who you look up as sort
of in your style?
LANG: Sure. I mean, there — I mean, obviously, from the great musician I love like Vladimir Horowit, Arthur Rubinstein, there’s people who’s not
just played the piano but who also inspire me like Leonard Bernstein, like Pavarotti.
AMANPOUR: All very dramatic.
AMANPOUR: Live as in live musical talents.
LANG: Yes. And I also like the musicians who not only influence the people in our classical music world but also to the bigger public.
AMANPOUR: Well, I was going to ask you about that because, you know, you obviously had it growing up and many people, if they’re lucky enough, have
music lessons when they’re young. And yet, certainly in the West, schools are cutting back on Music and Arts. What would — what do you think about
that? I mean, how important do you think it is for kids to actually know music, even if they’re all going to be a musician?
LANG: Right. I believe, you know, music changed my life and I believe music has the most powerful magic to change everyone’s life. And this is
something we must bring music back to those schools which cut the budget. And this is what’s, you know, we’ve been doing for the last ten years with
my foundation, with many of my friend, we’re trying to bring music back to the schools.
And now, we have — around the globe, we have almost 100 schools which work with us and we sponsor their software, hardware and training the teachers.
So, I think this is something that we try to continue to be build.
AMANPOUR: You said it change your life. Is there something spiritual also the you get from it, something — I don’t know, is there something
LANG: Sure. So, I would say, you know, musically because when you’re touched pianos, I mean, the keys, this is not just one note, right, it
needs to work as a team. And the way you learn a piece, that’s the best way of teaching you how to be creative, how, you know, be as a team player
and how to open your heart. It’s a real community, you know.
I think piano is a community. And once you know about those, you know, communities, then it’s easier for you to build the bridge between the
AMANPOUR: You’ve played for the president of your own country and many other leaders and all over the place. Do you think music can be used to
build bridges, music as diplomacy?
LANG: Absolutely. I believe that because in music there are so many wonderful contents, you know, with music from all over the world, you know.
And I always felt that it’s the best way to open people’s heart and to build the bridge or, you know, to build something which will solve some
kind of misunderstanding between culture. Because in the end, you play a song that everybody understand, everybody having a good time. So, I do
believe in that.
AMANPOUR: What was it like when you were growing up? I mean, you said you lived in dormitories with your —
AMANPOUR: And also, apartments. And at one point, I think you were separated from your mother or your father and you went from where you were
living to Beijing.
LANG: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: What was it like? What were the conditions like for you?
LANG: So, in my home city, Shenyang, I had actually pretty nice time, even though my father pushed be pretty hard. But still, you know, the condition
was OK. But then we moved to Beijing because we thought the Central Conservatory is the best school in China. We wanted to be there to — you
know, to have a better study.
AMANPOUR: The Central Conservatory which is in Beijing.
LANG: Yes, yes. In Beijing. Yes.
LANG: But then, of course, everything — you know, the living standard went down. My mom have to work by herself and then my father quit his job.
And we were really kind of short of money. And then, so, we rented a place like $10 per month, that time of place. And —
AMANPOUR: So, it wasn’t the nicest place?
LANG: No, no. And then, also, you know, when I play those pieces every day, my neighbor really hate me, you know. But like — everyday. I mean,
AMANPOUR: So, they just wanted to shut you up.
LANG: Oh, my God. They want to kill me. You know, it was like, “You’re so (INAUDIBLE). Where you come from? Why you do this torturning thing for
AMANPOUR: Do they have to know who you became?
LANG: I mean, yes, yes. We all became great friend, you know. They even gave me their home to stay because later my — also, some of my — like my
cousins came. So, we did not have enough room and they were, “OK. Come to us.” So, they actually —
AMANPOUR: And you talk — I mean, you said, you know, your father was quite pushy. But I mean, he was very hard on you, wasn’t he?
AMANPOUR: I mean, very hard and you had a teacher who you — I think you called Teacher Angry, Mrs. Angry or something.
LANG: Yes. I had —
AMANPOUR: What was going on?
LANG: So, when I — when we came to Beijing at the age of nine, we thought there’s a professor really great and we’d like to study with her. But then
I realized, you know, she’s like a super angry. So, that’s why call her Professor Angry.
So every time I play something, like if I play, and then she’s like ye, “Yes, play like you work at a potato field.” Or if I play, you know, then
she’s like, “You’re drinking water. I need some sparkling water. And I need some Coca-Cola.” I mean she just must be a big fan of Coca-Cola.
And then I was like, OK, so how should I get that? And then she said, “You know, find out yourself. I don’t know.” So after six months, she fired
me. She said, “You’re really — you don’t listen. You don’t get what I’m talking about. You’re not talented. Get out of my class.” So I got fired
AMANPOUR: And what does she say about you now? Have you ever seen her?
LANG: She’s still the professor there but no. I —
AMANPOUR: Is she proud of you now?
LANG: I don’t know. But I forgive her, that’s for sure.
AMANPOUR: So what do you want to pass on to these youngsters who you’re teaching and with your academics?
LANG: I would really love to share the passion for them because classical music is a very serious kind of form of art. And sometimes after eight
hours of practicing, we all kind of lose our interest or kind of getting a bit bored.
So whether your studying in the school or in the conservatories, sometimes we get a little bit kind of so into our own world and not open enough for
other things. So every time — when I go somewhere to teach, I try to kind of explain some kind of a lifetime story. I try to give them the
characters that they can work with.
So music is not just music note but it’s stories behind, it’s characters behind, it’s a movie behind. And it’s the same thing to the public
schools. It’s the same thing when they hear music, I want to give them more vertical dimensions.
AMANPOUR: What piece inspired you? I mean I read that it was Tom & Jerry.
LANG: I was — yes, I was actually very little and then that time, my favorite cartoon was Tom and Jerry and they were incredible, like playing.
And then I mean it’s brilliant. And then actually later I found out actually Bugs Bunny also did the same piece in the same year.
AMANPOUR: Bugs Bunny?
LANG: Yes. But I did not know Bugs Bunny so well that time. I only know Tom and Jerry. But later, I compared, the Bugs Bunny also played this
piece with his ear.
AMANPOUR: With his ear?
LANG: Yes. So I think that was like — kind of like a little reverie between the two cartoons.
AMANPOUR: But I mean it’s weird to think that cartoons would use classical music to tell their stories.
LANG: Back then, it was a regular case because you will listen to the old Disney cartoons, Mickey Mouse. These are classical music or like jazz.
You hear a lot of classical or jazz music.
AMANPOUR: But those are two of the highest forms of music.
LANG: Yes. I mean I love jazz. I mean I’m a big fan. But, of course, I like others too. I mean I think Hip Hop is cool, EDM is quite —
AMANPOUR: Do you do any Hip Hop?
LANG: I worked with a few wonderful musicians like Pharell Williams and there are some musicians we are always talking to and to see whether
there’s some new, kind of new way of doing something new Hip Hop things. I mean who knows in the future.
AMANPOUR: Not much is known about your personal life. Are you married?
LANG: Not yet.
AMANPOUR: Are you going to get married?
LANG: This is going to be — this is — I mean it’s still a secret.
AMANPOUR: Is there a lucky person waiting in the wings?
LANG: Soon, we’ll find out.
AMANPOUR: Really? We’ll leave it on that secretive note.
LANG: Because a surprise would be nice, right?
AMANPOUR: Lang Lang, thank you very much indeed.
LANG: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Would you like to play us out something?
LANG: Sure, of course. Of course. Maybe I would like to play a song from a movie, the Emily’s Waltz.
AMANPOUR: OK. That is beautiful.
LANG: For you.
AMANPOUR: Thank you. I feel like we’ve had our own personal concert.
And really, what a treat and a privilege for all of us, a much-needed dose of musical medicine there.
But now, we turn back to today’s political division. Our next guest believes “all you need is love.” You know you’ve heard that before.
Arthur Brooks is a social scientist and he’s director of the American Enterprise Institute which is a conservative think tank in the United
His new book “Love Your Enemies” argues that America’s political back and forth needs less trolling and more respect. He told our Michel Martin that
we need to learn not how to disagree but how to disagree better.
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Your latest book, “Love Your Enemies, How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt.” What
motivated this book? Was there a eureka moment where you said to yourself this is what I have to talk about?
ARTHUR BROOKS, AUTHOR, LOVE YOUR ENEMIES: Yes, it is. I’ve been talking about specific public policies for a long time. But I was reading a study
in 2014 by researchers at Northwestern University on something called “motive attribution asymmetry” which is a fancy way of saying something
When you have two sides in a conflict and each side thinks that they are motivated by love but the other side is motivated by hatred. They both
think that. Now, when that happens in circumstances of war or intractable hatred, both sides can’t be right. Both sides can be wrong but all sides
can’t be right.
You see it in the Palestinian Israeli conflict for example or the Balkans, that here’s what that paper in 2014 showed me. I mean it demonstrated with
survey data that in the United States, Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives, now have the same level of polarization, motive
attribution asymmetry as the Palestinians and Israelis.
I was thinking about that. I thought what can I do to make it better. And right after that, I had this experience that was pretty much of an epiphany
for me. I was giving a talk and I do lots of talks for different kinds of audiences, very left-wing audiences on campuses, and very conservative
right-wing audiences who are activists, all in between. And I love talking to everybody.
But in this last category, it was a bunch of conservative activists in New Hampshire in 2014, 700 activists or something, and very committed to their
work. And I stopped in the middle of my talk and I said, I want you to remember the people who are not here because they don’t agree with you.
These are political Progressives. And what I want you to remember is they’re not stupid and they’re not evil. They’re simply Americans who
disagree with us on public policy.
And I knew it was going to be an applause line, right. But the applause line —
MARTIN: It was not?
BROOKS: It was not going to be an applause line. But the applause line came later when a lady said, “Actually, I think they’re a stupid needle.”
And it was a joke. I mean she wasn’t trying to offend and it was a kind of a genial crowd internally.
But at that moment, I thought of Seattle because that’s my hometown. And I grew up in a family, not a Super political family but to give you an idea,
Seattle’s arguably the most progressive city in America. My mother was a painter and my father was a college professor. What do you think their
MARTIN: I would not presume.
BROOKS: Yes. But it’s one might and one would be right that I don’t come from a conservative family. My own politics tend toward the center-right
but I’m an outlier.
And one thing I’ll tell you about my family is they’re not stupid, they’re not evil. They’re great people. They’re smart people. They’re right on a
lot of stuff.
I’m not right on everything. And it offended me. I wasn’t mad at the lady. But what it showed me is there was a train coming down the tracks in
this country that was not about anger. It was something mixed with anger, disgust. It was to treat other people who disagree with us as a pathogen.
It was what philosophers call contempt which is the conviction of other worthlessness of other human beings. And that’s what we’re feeling,
contempt for each other and. In terms of politics, I said I have to do something about this. And so I wrote this book.
MARTIN: And talk to me about how contempt is different from anger. Contempt is not the same as say a strong disagreement, even when it’s
deeply rooted in religion or just deeply held belief. How is contempt different from all the other things that people may experience?
BROOKS: Anger is a hot emotion. It says I care what you think. Marriage counselors, they have found — or social psychologists have found that
divorce and separation are uncorrelated with anger. There’s a guy named John Gottman who’s the world’s leading expert on marital reconciliation,
He can predict after meeting a couple once with 94 percent accuracy if they will be divorced within three years. He’s looking for eye rolling. He’s
looking for dismissal and sarcasm and derisive humor. He’s looking for the things that you should absolutely not do.
Now, what’s bad for a couple is bad for a society. You know we live in a country where we should be able to disagree with each other, not with
civility because civility is basically a garbage standard.
We should have a standard of brotherly love, of solidarity for each other. That’s the only way that we can function with a competition of ideas.
That’s really what will make America great and that’s what we’ve lost.
MARTIN: A couple of things I wanted to dig into here. First of all, is there something distinct about the era that we are in? Is there something
that says to you — and I understand that you’re an economist and not a historian, if you think there’s something unique about the period that we
Or does it even really matter because it’s just terrible? So it doesn’t matter if it was equally terrible some other time. But is there something
special about the moment that we’re in with you?
BROOKS: There is. There is. So populism always comes or nearly always comes in the wake of a financial crisis. So I’ll be kind of historian but
an economist at the same time.
A financial crisis ordinarily is very different than an ordinary recession. It happens a couple of times a century, after a burst of a big asset bubble
like what we had in 2008 or in 1929 or there was a big railroad bust in 1896 and it goes back through history.
And when that happens, what you find is not that growth is slow for people. It’s that growth is uneven for a long time, usually 10 or 15 years after a
financial crisis. All of the fruits of economic growth go to the top 20 percent of the income distribution. And the political result of that is
Populism says somebody’s got your stuff and I’m going to get it back, whether it’s immigrants or foreigners or rich people or bankers or people
from the other party. Somebody’s got your stuff and I’m going to get it back.
You basically you have an era where the popular politicians are kind of walking middle fingers and that’s what people want under those
circumstances. That’s what’s unique about this era but that’s the opportunity too because people don’t like it.
MARTIN: So you’re saying it’s — well, but what you’re describing, it isn’t unique, that we’ve been through this before.
MARTIN: I mean what you’re telling me is that this is part of a pattern, that after that period of kind of deprivation, particularly uneven
deprivation, that people are inclined to these kinds of feelings which would say to me that we’ve been through this before.
BROOKS: That is correct.
MARTIN: So is there something unique about the moment that we are in or is this just not just?
BROOKS: Well, it’s
MARTIN: I think your description is it’s quite terrible but —
BROOKS: It’s quite terrible.
MARTIN: — is there something —
BROOKS: It’s common.
MARTIN: It’s common?
BROOKS: But it doesn’t happen all — it doesn’t happen every decade. It happens a couple of times a century. And what we know is we don’t have
strong institutions and we don’t see it as an opportunity. It can turn out poorly.
You can go rail or rail. You don’t like this party the way they govern themselves, you can get a version of that in the other party. And it takes
longer than it should for us to go back to equilibrium.
When it goes well in this country and other countries, we have data on 800 elections over 120 years in financial crises. We’ve seen this in a lot of
places is when leaders start a social movement and they say I want my culture back because here’s the empirical regularity. That’s how
economists talk. Sorry.
This is the thing that we see over and over again. Ninety-three — right now, 93 percent of the American population hate how divided we’ve become.
Now, we have a habit of treating each other with contempt.
I mean I’m guilty, I’m super guilty, and I’ve seen clips of myself on television where I roll my eyes when somebody says something I disagree
with. And I’m really sorry for that because I didn’t mean any harm but I realize that I have a habit, I mean there’s an ingrained habit, it’s a
neurological phenomenon. But what we find is that 93 percent of us at the same time don’t like it.
MARTIN: So what are we aiming for here? I have heard you say that striving for civility or striving for tolerance is weak sauce.
BROOKS: It’s totally weak sauce.
MARTIN: What do we need? What is it that we’re striving for?
BROOKS: Well, if I said — and a lot of people are thinking what was wrong with civility. And I’ll tell you, I mean if I said my wife Esther and I,
we’re civil to each other, you’d say, “Pff, you guys need some counseling.”
Or if I said, my employees in American Enterprise Institute, they tolerate me. You’d say, “They tolerate you? This is a huge problem. You got a
moral problem on your hands.”
The other thing is agreement is not something that we should be going for either because disagreement —
MARTIN: Why not? Agreement is not open wide.
BROOKS: Well, because agreement’s monopoly. The idea of agreement- disagreement is the competition of ideas. Disagreement actually is iron sharpening. Iron is the secret to success. I mean I don’t want agreement
inside the American Enterprise Institute. I want a competition of ideas.
You really — I know you believe in that as a journalist. You want disagreement but you need to not to disagree less, you need to disagree
MARTIN: Actually, I would disagree with you. I’m going to say what we want as journalists is clarity of ideas. We want clarity of ideas
BROOKS: Yes. That’s — well, and indeed —
MARTIN: Without contempt.
BROOKS: — you need people to be able to disagree. And in point of fact, if you’re not surrounded by some people who do disagree with you, you
become weak, you become full of groupthink. That’s my point.
And so agreement is not the goal. Civility is not the goal. Tolerance is not the goal. We need to be able to disagree with each other to compete
with each other and do so in an environment that’s filled with respect, with kindness, with warm-heartedness, with love.
MARTIN: With love. You make a compelling case in the book that A, there is a serious problem, right, that contempt is kind of like the opioid
crisis of our civil discourse of our public life together. You make a compelling case that this is something that infects so many areas of life,
including interpersonal relations. This is a very serious problem.
I have observed that the one name you avoid mentioning in this book is Donald Trump. And I do have to ask why. I mean because if anybody
expresses contempt for people on an ongoing basis, people who work for him, people who disagree with him, can we not agree that it is he — it is his
BROOKS: This is not a book strictly about politics. Politics is like the weather, it changes. People don’t have — you know people all have views
on it but very few people are actually experts.
This is a book about the climate. I’m a climatologist, not a meteorologist. And if I actually start talking about the current weather,
the politics about Donald Trump or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or about Bernie Sanders or about Elizabeth Warren or anybody who might be in the Republican
field, it’s limited to this political world.
MARTIN: Except that this is a very unique politician for this particular moment in time. This is a political figure who expresses contempt even for
the people who have worked for him, who he has appointed to key positions, on a regular basis who has addressed people of different races,
And I have to ask you, there are other principled conservatives like yourself who have felt it necessary to identify and speak to this, in the
same way, that other principal people have felt it necessary to speak about the origins of the opioid crisis. And I have to ask why you are not.
BROOKS: Well, I have a chapter in this book about leadership that talks about the difference between coercive and authoritative leadership. And in
that chapter, I talk about the rise of President Donald Trump as a course of leader, as somebody who tried to shake up the system. And as a result,
who alienated a lot of people because coercive leadership generally tends not to last.
So I do talk about the Trump phenomenon in the same way that I talk about the Sanders phenomenon which was very populist on the other side. I think
under very realistic scenarios, lots of realistic scenarios, we could have had a President Bernie Sanders and we would have been having a conversation
about Sanders talking about, you know, making ad hominem arguments about what’s really in the heart of these people, these rich people, and these
capitalists, these bankers in the same way.
And again, these are not the marginalized populations that’s so offensive to hear anybody in the Republican or Democratic Party, especially and
including President Trump talking about. But then notwithstanding, I think that it’s very limiting to say this is because of a particular political
A key point I make in this book is that the populism of President Donald Trump, or for that matter, of Bernie Sanders or anybody on the left-wing of
the Democratic Party, these are symptoms. These are not the cause that causes our culture of contempt. Our culture of contempt which is
We can fix this but we can’t do it if we’re stuck talking about the circus if we’re only talking about the politics per se. We have to talk about the
cultural cause and not the symptoms of the cause. We’ll be going in the right direction.
MARTIN: This is one of those questions that it’s just very difficult for you sort of to answer hypothetically. But when you’ve got the president of
the United States who refuses to — or who morally equivocates about white supremacists, who have actually killed a person, what is one to do? Is one
to ignore that?
BROOKS: No, no. One is not to ignore that. I would never say somebody — we should disagree and we should disagree vocally and we should go hammer
and tongs after the things that we think are inappropriate and incorrect and even evil.
But we should separate the people from the ideas and that’s what the people that are manipulating us in this country, the people that are in politics,
in media, in entertainment, on college campuses who are saying the other side’s stupid and evil.
MARTIN: But I keep — you keep talking about the other side. And I find that when people want to criticize Donald Trump that then they wrap
themselves around Trump supporters. Oh, you’re calling all Trump supporters racist.
No, there are people who find President Trump — they find his utterances racist, misogynistic, in some cases anti-Semitic, course destructive,
narcissistic, and destructive to the body politic.
MARTIN: Trump supporters, that’s not the issue. I mean that’s — so the question —
BROOKS: Right. You’re talking about President Trump’s utterances.
MARTIN: Right. So then the question is what is one to do about that?
BROOKS: My belief is that when you don’t like who you disagree with strongly when you repudiate the utterances of another person, another
politician, you have the right, you have the obligation, you have the privilege in the United States of repudiating those utterances.
I strongly would suggest to people that they not repudiate the person per se. Why? Number one is that’s ad hominem where there’s a lot of cases in
which we don’t know about that actual person but we do know about the utterances.
The second point is it’s not very convincing to other people. Look, if you’re in the business of persuasion, if you don’t like how Donald Trump
talks or by the way, we’re in the middle of a big controversy right now about anti-Semitism from a sitting member of Congress in the Democratic
Party, it’s a big mistake to say she is an anti-Semite. It’s a big mistake because you don’t know that.
What you do know is what she said is anti-Semitic in your judgment. And that’s completely legitimate to say that.
MARTIN: Is it your view that this is an individual problem that is to be addressed in an individual way? Because you are describing a cultural
problem, something that is indeed systemic as you’ve laid it out for us. Is your view that this has to be handled individually, that this really is
about individual discipline, individual emotional discipline.
BROOKS: I’ve come to that conclusion.
MARTIN: Really? Tell me why.
BROOKS: Yes. And you know part of it is I’ve spent my career studying institutions, looking for institutional solutions to cultural problems.
And a lot of times, it’s really appropriate. You know you have a cultural problem and you want to solve problems of poverty for example and you want
a better welfare system.
Great, I think that’s terrific. You want to improve incentives for people and you want the government to provide benefits in a different more
efficient or more humane way. I think that’s great.
But in this case, love is not an institution that starts with a government level. It doesn’t start at the level of a million. You don’t love people
starting at 1 million and above.
You love other people. And so that means if we want to start a movement, that movement actually starts — it’s a little tiny movement that starts
between individuals and it starts with my own behavior. Now, this is a — this is something that I came to through a lot of thought and through a lot
of mistakes quite frankly because I’m an institutionalist, because I’m a social scientist, dealing with public policy. But I realized I was going
about it in the wrong way.
I needed to change my heart. I needed to actually treat people with more love. And I needed to teach people, as well as I could, using the platform
that I’ve got that they can be — as Barack Obama used to say, they can be the change that they really wanted.
MARTIN: You know it’s interesting because a lot of people when you’re talking about race for example in this country, I think it is fair to say
that racism has been a stain on the American character. I think that’s. fair.
BROOKS: I agree with you.
MARTIN: A lot of people have argued about whether this is something that can be systemically addressed. And some people say, oh, it’s changing
people’s hearts. OK, you have to change people’s hearts. You can’t change people’s hearts.
The people who are suffering under racist systems would say, “No, actually, I’d like you to change other people’s behavior. I’d like you to stop
discriminating against me in housing, in my ability to access credit, in education. I’d like you to stop killing me when I don’t have a weapon.
I’d like you” – you know what I mean.
So how do we resolve that? What do you say to them? Wait for people’s hearts to change?
BROOKS: No. I say that these are things that are not mutually exclusive.
BROOKS: If you can change the institution, you can change hearts. We can walk and chew gum. One of the things that we know is there are lots of
cases where institutions have to change laws for example.
I mean the Civil Rights Movement is a classic case where you changed institutions, the Department of Justice in the 1950s and 1960s, despite the
fact that we had not caught up in people’s hearts that were living in really racist parts of the United States. So that made tremendous gains.
People’s hearts caught up some later. We still have more work to do. But it was very important that we change the institutions. At the same time,
there are certain — we don’t want to pass laws against contempt, we don’t want to pass laws against treating people with contempt to disagree with us
on politics because this would be radical violations of our rights to free speech and free expression.
So those are the things where our hearts are more important than the institutions because that’s what we have at our disposal. And in every
case where we need to change institutions and we need to change hearts, we should be able to do both. And I want to work on the latter in this
MARTIN: Thank you so much for talking to me.
BROOKS: I appreciate it so much. I appreciate very much this interview.
AMANPOUR: So that’s a valuable and important reminder that we need to accept. There is always another side to every coin and we need to get
better at hearing the story of the other on the way to making critical judgments.
That’s it for our program tonight.
Thanks for watching Amanpour and Company on PBS and join us again tomorrow.